The complainant thought an interview with a World War II vet during a live Remembrance Day special was exploitive and inappropriate.

By Esther Enkin, CBC Ombudsman

The complainant, Whit Fraser, thought an interview with a World War II vet during a live Remembrance Day special was exploitive and inappropriate. He thought the reporter was relentless in her questioning until the vet choked up on air and could not answer. He felt this showed ignorance about PTSD. Response to emotion is subjective, but CBC policy cautions against exploiting vulnerable people. I found the questioning was gentle and there was no undue focus on the strong emotion.

COMPLAINT

You considered an interview conducted by CBC reporter Hannah Thibedeau with a 93 year-old World War II veteran during the 2016 Remembrance Day special insensitive and inappropriate. You thought she “pursued a line of questioning that borders on harassment.” You said that she “pushed, prodded and pressed” him to tears, and only then handed the broadcast back to host Peter Mansbridge. You felt the entire approach was ill-informed. The reporters and producers should understand that many of these veterans may still suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and that greater sensitivity should be used in doing interviews. You thought the approach taken indicated there was no understanding that the vets may have PTSD and asking them to talk about their thoughts and feelings was completely unacceptable.

Consider, both the Chaplain and Rabbi for the Armed Forces of Canada spoke about the degree of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) so prevalent among veterans. Statistics were quoted on the rates of suicide among veterans. Did it occur to the broadcasters that these old vets also suffered and may still suffer PTSD although they called it “shell shock”? Perhaps it is why the elderly gentleman couldn’t remember the faces of the “27” comrades he lost and an indication of why on Remembrance Day his “mind goes blank”. Even after disclosing that much, he was still subjected to the final question”

What do you think of during the two minutes of silence? That’s when his tears flowed, and the words “mission accomplished” raced through my mind…

The point is, we learn and we change and I submit that if the Public Broadcaster and other media do not learn about the genuine effects of PTSD, and are not respectful of the scope of this tragedy, then the audience will remain subject to the predictable “how does it feel” question on live TV- which is insulting to both.

You thought the reporter finished the interview because she had achieved her goal in inducing tears. You said your own experience working for the CBC made you think that some “reporters and producers were quite pleased with making “great television” when the veteran began to cry. You added many of your friends and relatives shared your view of the programme.

MANAGEMENT RESPONSE

The Director for Journalistic Public Accountability and Engagement, Jack Nagler, replied to your concern. He told you he “sincerely regretted” that you thought the interview was “callous and insensitive.”

Continue reading this story on the CBC website, where it first appeared.