The CBC's ombudsman Esther Enkin writes an online and radio story on a trial in Whitehourse was extremely brief, and "in its compression, it sacrifices presenting a full picture of what occurred in the trial." She urges CBC news management to ensure reporters assigned to court or the justice beat have adequate training to do their jobs properly.

The CBC's ombudsman Esther Enkin writes an online and radio story on a trial in Whitehourse was extremely brief, and "in its compression, it sacrifices presenting a full picture of what occurred in the trial." She urges CBC news management to ensure reporters assigned to court or the justice beat have adequate training to do their jobs properly.

 By Esther Enkin, CBC ombudsman

The complainant, Mandeep Sidhu, was the defendant in a court case in which he was acquitted of a charge of uttering a death threat against a police officer. He felt the coverage of the case in Whitehorse was seriously flawed and showed bias in favor of the RCMP. The coverage fell short of the standards of CBC journalism. There was no obvious bias, but there was inadequate reporting.

 

COMPLAINT

You were the defendant in a trial in Whitehorse in which you were tried on a charge of uttering a death threat against an RCMP officer. You were acquitted of the charge. You felt an account of the trial on CBC radio and on cbcnews.ca was biased and misleading. You felt the story did not accurately reflect what occurred at trial: “Much like the testimony given by the R.CM.P, it seems as though the broadcast CBC aired provided no context and henpecked (sic) details.” You felt there were many details of the case omitted because there was an inherent bias in favour of the RCMP. Your saw the phrasing of the last sentence in the story as further evidence of bias because it begins with the word ‘but’ when it mentions the judge acquitted you. You thought this implied that there should have been a conviction based on the evidence, but the judge acquitted you anyway.

But on Friday morning, Judge Richard Thompson ruled that, despite the character portrayed by Sidhu, he can't be sure his words were threats”.


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You also said the story got the testimony wrong:

Your story also misquotes testimony; at no time was it said "Someone's gonna die!" and "A bullet sounds the same in every language" (not "bullets have no name") was a line from Family Guy which was explained to the judge. Dunmall and myself were speaking about pop culture, Family Guy and music were brought up, the line was a direct quote from the show. Also the call made to 911 that was "filled" with homophobic slurs is completely false. The word "faggot" was used once (court transcripts prove this)”.

MANAGEMENT RESPONSE

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The managing editor of news for the north, Archie McLean responded to your concerns.

He explained this was a “straightforward news story” and that it emphasized you were acquitted of the charges. He explained the lack of detail and context:

Given the constraints of radio news, our scripts are often short as are the subsequent web articles. For that reason, we have to carefully choose the information that goes into our stories — it's simply not possible to include all the testimony that happens in court.”

He added that many of the details you provided about what happened prior to the incident that led to the charges were not relevant in this context.

He assured you that the use of the word ‘but’ in the last sentence was in no way used to imply guilt. Rather “It simply reflects the fact that despite evidence presented in court by the prosecution, the judge did not agree.”

The story was modified in a small way to reflect that you used the word “faggot” only once; to say you had used a homophobic slur, singular, not plural as the original story had stated. The change is noted on the web site.

REVIEW

You were found not guilty of the charge because the judge said there was reasonable doubt that a threat was uttered. I will not go into great detail here, because my job is not to report the event, but to assess whether CBC News adequately did so.

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

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.