CBC ombudsman: How deep do you go?
A complainant was dissatisifed with the amount of reporting on a fundraising effort.
By Esther Enkin, CBC ombudsman
The complainant, Hui Wu, was dissatisfied with the level of coverage surrounding a fundraising effort on behalf of a widowed Ottawa woman. She thought the facts used, and those left out, created a deceptive impression, and legitimized the fundraising request. In fact, the fundraising was a small part of a story about a family whose father had drowned in Cuba. There was no advocacy or endorsement of the money request.
You were very concerned about the coverage of fundraising efforts on behalf of an Ottawa family after the father, Yue Liu, drowned while on a family vacation in Cuba. There are two stories on the website: “Ottawa Father Yue Liu drowns while trying to save son in Cuba” and “B.C. man saved drowning boy but couldn’t save father.” Both stories made reference to fundraising efforts on behalf of the family. In the first one, a man named Andy Wang provided information about the family, and the costs of repatriating the body and the funeral for the drowned father.
You had several issues with the reports, and were concerned that the “news content on the fundraising does not comply with CBC’s journalist standards.” You thought there were omissions that created bias and inaccuracy in the story. You thought that rather than saying close friends were raising the money, it appeared that the “Chinese community” was doing so, thereby lending an air of legitimacy to the endeavour. You were concerned with the omission of the fact that Andy Wang, only identified as a family friend, was in fact the “English media spokesperson of the fundraising committee”:
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“Since many details in the news were supplied by Mr. Wang, without proper identification of him, the audience was not provided the context necessary to judge the credibility of Mr. Wang’s statements.”
You were also bothered by the reference to the “Chinese community”:
“In fact, as a Canadian immigrating from China, I have not been aware of any entity called ‘Ottawa's Chinese Community’ that would be capable of and responsible for any actions like fundraising.”
You also thought there was bias in the article because the stories did not reveal the fact that the couple were “professionals employed by the federal government,” and that Ms. Bu, the widow, would be entitled to death benefits. The article did mention that the family had no insurance and you thought this was done to emphasize the need for financial support and that the mention of some financial information, like the cost of repatriation and burying the body, meant that other financial information should be given in the interests of balance.
Overall, you thought it inappropriate that the needs of one family should be promoted on the website of the public broadcaster:
“I don’t know what social values the journalist and programmer were advocating when public resources were consumed to promote a private fundraising for one family who didn't use insurances to manage its financial security, which is contrary to what Canadian families should have been doing in a modern society. I also don't understand why the news had to single out ‘Ottawa's Chinese Community’ when the only relevancy was that the fundraiser and the beneficiary happened to come from the Chinese ethnic group and that they started soliciting funds from people around them.”
The executive producer of regional news in Ottawa, Paula Waddell, responded to your concerns. She explained that the reporter had gone to the bereaved household a few days after the family returned to Ottawa from Cuba, where Mr. Liu had drowned. When she was there to talk to the widow, she also encountered Andy Wang, “consoling the grieving family.” He identified himself as a family friend. She noted that is why he was identified in that way in the news stories. It was from him, Ms. Waddell said, that the reporter got the information that Ms. Bu would now be the sole support for her two children and two parents. He is quoted as saying that the Chinese community had raised $20,000 at that point. He also provided the details of the cost of repatriation and burial, a total of $30,000. The reporter followed policy because she attributed this information to the source, Mr. Wang. Ms. Waddell wrote:
“Reporters are our eyes and ears bringing us information about events that we did not witness ourselves. But – as is often the case – when reporters do not know about something with certainty, we expect that they will attribute that information. That way viewers or readers know the source of the information and can make their own judgment about its reliability. That is what happened here.”
Since you questioned why the story did not include the details of Ms. Bu and Mr. Liu’s employment and eligibility of death benefits, she told you the focus of the story was about the family and its time of grief, and “not about their financial circumstances or trying to establish whether or how much money they needed. Pursuing questions of that sort at the time would, rightly I believe, appear churlish and insensitive.” She added that the story did not go into much detail about the fundraising, merely noted that it was going on, and left it to members of the public to decide whether they wished to contribute or not.
CBC Journalistic policy requires accuracy, and providing members of the public with adequate information to form a judgment about an event or controversy. Most of your concerns center on a belief not enough information was provided.
To continue reading this review, please go 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.