CBC Ombudsman: Controversy vs. Controversial
John Carpay, President of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms and spokesperson for a Christian school in Alberta, thought coverage of a dispute between the local school board and his school was biased and rejected the description of the school as controversial.
You are the Counsel for Cornerstone Christian Academy and President of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms. You complained about two news stories published on the CBC News Edmonton website. They concerned a dispute between the Academy and the Board – which supervised it. The dispute had several aspects, and part of the complaint was that the position of the school was not properly represented. The Battle River board had requested some Bible verses be removed from a student vision statement and that the school refrain from studying or reading particular scripture that “could be considered offensive to particular individuals.” CBC covered the dispute in stories published on June 15th and 30th.
While the school agreed to remove the lines from the student vision statement, they did not agree to the second request. After a contentious meeting on June 15, the school and the Board met privately. There appeared to be resolution on the issue of autonomy. The Board asked for an addendum to its agreement with the Cornerstone Christian Academy Society that required both parties to seek agreement of the other before releasing communications between them, and to consider communication not publicly disseminated as private. There were other provisions, including mention of the way the Society interacted with school board staff. You characterized this proposed amendment as a “gag order” which school officials declined to sign. You say that was the reason that the school board terminated its agreement with the school you represent. One of the complaints you had with the coverage was the news story about this turn of events. You felt it ignored the issue of the gag order, and the article did not make clear this was what motivated the Battle River School Board to end the agreement. The story was entitled: “Alberta school board serves notice it will stop operating controversial Christian academy.”
You questioned why the school was characterized as “controversial.” You thought this was a pejorative term and could equally be applied to the school board and its conduct and role in the dispute. You requested the headline be changed:
For CBC-Edmonton to characterize this school – but not the school board – as “controversial” is blatant editorializing, and has no place in a news story. Further, as you know, the headline of a news story is often the only thing that many people read, so the headline’s contents are even more important than the story itself.
Your characterization of the school belongs in an opinion editorial, not in a news story. Although this highly biased headline has now been viewed by thousands of people, causing damage to the reputation of Cornerstone Christian Academy, I request that the word “controversial” be removed from the headline.
You noted it was the school board which created the controversy by making its demand that the Christian Academy refrain from studying certain Bible verses. You also pointed out that saying the school is at the centre of the controversy and not the Board “pre-supposes that there is nothing controversial about a school board demanding that a religious school refrain from reading and studying its sacred text in its entirety.”
Continue reading this story on the CBC website, where it was first published.