The complainant, Eric Wredenhagen, Registrar and CEO of the College of Massage Therapists of British Columbia, thought an analysis piece regarding the deficiencies in reports about disciplinary actions from various health care colleges was opinion and not analysis. He also said the reporter did not properly identify the purpose of her inquiries. The report failed to meet journalistic standards because of lack of attribution of the inferences and conclusions drawn. It has since been corrected, but a quote was taken out of context as well.
You had several concerns about an article published on cbcnews.ca entitled “Information underload: Public starved for details when health professionals misbehave.” You are the Registrar and CEO of the College of Massage Therapists of British Columbia (CMTBC) and you believe the story portrayed the college in “an extremely unfair and inaccurate light.” You said you were contacted by reporter Bethany Lindsay via the general email account of the college with three specific questions:
- How do you decide how much information to include in your notices of disciplinary action
- Why doesn’t your college publish full disciplinary decisions similar to those provided by the Law Society of B.C.?
- If someone wanted to file an FOI request with the college, how would they do that?
It appeared that she was seeking facts and would be reporting on those facts. She did not indicate to you that she was doing an analysis piece about disclosure of disciplinary action in various health care professions. You considered it unethical to take your answers, asked without context, and to use selective quotes to prove her thesis. She did not indicate that the thrust of the article was built around the idea that there was insufficient information regarding decisions against health care professionals. She gave you no reasons for seeking the information, nor cited any of the concerns raised by another source in the story, Mike Larsen, President of the BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association:
…at no point was I given any opportunity to respond to what Ms. Lindsay presents as concerns or criticisms – she portrayed herself as just gathering information. At no point, for example, was Mr. Larsen or his organization mentioned, or their viewpoint (which, as presented in the article, is quite simplistic – there’s more at stake here than changing a website).
You thought Ms. Lindsay did not sufficiently provide important context and information, thereby distorting the reality and misleading readers. For example, you explained that your college and other regulatory bodies for healthcare providers are governed by the Health Professions Act (HPA), which lays out a framework for what must be disclosed while balancing the need for privacy protection. You said she “conflated two issues that not really connected: disclosure obligations under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) and public notification of disciple decisions and consent resolutions.”
Had Ms. Lindsay been clear that she saw this as an FOI issue, we could have had a meaningful discussion about how colleges operating under the HPA are actually required by law …to balance disclosure to the public with protection of complainants’ privacy interests.
You said the piece was more opinion than analysis. The reporter took your answers, given in a general context, and applied them to her assertions in ways that were misleading. You felt she did not fully grasp the complexity of the issue she was dealing with. For example, she compared a law society decision to one of yours unfavorably. In reality, when you looked at them, you said the law society decision might be longer, but there was more detail of the wrongdoing in yours. You also felt your quotes were misrepresented and taken out of context because you answered them in the absence of any understanding of how they were to be used. This misrepresented what you said about the amount of details published in a decision, depending on the way the decision was arrived at – either a consent order, or a disciplinary hearing:
Ms. Lindsay makes no mention of that context in her story, and therefore presents a quote that misrepresents what I told her and portrays me and CMTBC in an extremely unfair and inaccurate light. (I also gave her a very clear answer about how to make an FOI request, and she ignored that as well in favour of painting an overall picture of confusion and complexity.)