Even when ad libbing, one should choose words carefully, writes CBC ombudsman Esther Enkin. 

By Esther Enkin, CBC ombudsman

The complainant, Sharon Dixon, objected to a reference to Tom Mulcair in an introduction to a discussion about him on Power and Politics. She thought it showed unacceptable disrespect from a CBC journalist. Rosemary Barton played on the term “kick it around” which can mean toss around ideas or, of course, to abuse the opposition leader in some way. The aside was meant humorously and could easily be understood in that fashion. But it is a reminder that even when ad libbing, one should choose words carefully.


You were concerned about the way substitute host Rosemary Barton introduced a discussion about Opposition leader Tom Mulcair as part of a Power Panel segment on the May 16, 2004 edition of Power & Politics. You thought it completely inappropriate that she said “Let’s kick around Tom Mulcair.” You stated that this was “unprofessional no matter what your politics” and that “the public broadcaster owes more dignity to the opposition leader than that.” In a later email, you stated that you were not concerned about the panelists and the ensuing discussion, but that your complaint was very specifically about Ms. Barton’s language.

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The executive producer of Power & Politics, Amy Castle, responded to your concerns. She explained the remark was in an unscripted moment, as the host was transitioning from a previous topic with the Power Panel to a commercial. She acknowledged that this was likely not the best choice of words but that there was never any intent to, as you put it, “kick around Tom Mulcair.” She pointed out that the ensuing discussion among the panel members treated Mr. Mulcair respectfully. She added that the program is committed to treating “all parties and all perspectives with respect.”


On the May 16th edition of Power & Politics, its “Power Panel” took on a variety of issues. The last one concerned the appearance of NDP Opposition leader Tom Mulcair before the Procedure and House Committee. He was called to account for the fact that the NDP had set up satellite offices outside of Ottawa. There were allegations that the NDP had used House of Commons funds for political activities. Mr. Mulcair went before the committee to answer questions, and to put the argument that there was nothing inappropriate about the payment and staffing of these offices. The Power Panel had examined many other issues, and were coming back for one more round to address Canadian policy vis a vis sanctions against Russia and to assess the effectiveness of Mr. Mulcair’s committee appearance the day before. It was not set up to examine the substance of the controversy, but rather to rate the performance of Mr. Mulcair.

To continue reading this review, please go to the CBC ombudsman's website where this was originally published.

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Tamara Baluja is an award-winning journalist with CBC Vancouver and the 2018 Michener-Deacon fellow for journalism education. She was the associate editor for J-Source from 2013-2014.