By Esther Enkin, CBC Ombudsman
The complainant, Robert Burnett, was present in the House of Commons 35 years ago when a female MP got up to ask a question about violence against women. Some MPs laughed, and when The Current re-ran the speech to illustrate the change in attitudes since then, Mr. Burnett objected. He said The Current deliberately edited out the one phrase that explained the laughter that did not pertain to issues about women. There is strong evidence to suggest they were, in fact, diminishing the issue of domestic violence. The edit did not distort the meaning.
In May, The Current produced a segment which featured a discussion concerning the changing attitudes about violence against women. In that context, the programmers played part of a May 1982 House of Commons question about domestic violence from Margaret Mitchell, then an NDP MP. The point of the quotation was to show that the mostly male parliamentarians responded with laughter.
You thought that the archival tape presented left out an extremely important phrase that completely changed the context of the laughter. The Current item left out her first phrase “I have an upbeat question for the Minister of the Status of Women,” before she went on to say “The Minister knows that the Parliamentary report on battered wives was tabled in the House yesterday. It states that 1 in 10 husbands beat their wives regularly…”
You said you were in the House of Commons that day and it was clear to you the laughter was prompted by her opening words, not the serious matter that followed:
The MPs present laughed at Ms. Mitchell’s characterization of her question as upbeat or were confused by her introduction and thought she was joking. To suggest by careful editing of the quote that the people present in the House that day laughed at the idea of violence against women is misleading and destructive. I request that the ombudsman have The Current acknowledge that it manipulated the facts to suit its own agenda and that it broadcast a clarification for its listeners who have been badly misled by an organization that is supposed to be striving for the truth rather than attempting to distort it by calculated editing leading to a distorted conclusion.
The Executive Producer of The Current, Kathleen Goldhar, replied to your concerns.