By Esther Enkin, CBC Ombudsman
The complainant, Gregory Duffell, thought a story on The National about Liberal cabinet minister Maryam Monsef was a journalistic failure. He considered it a “cover-up” to counter criticism of the minister and the entire Liberal government. He asked why details of Ms. Monsef’s life story were reported as fact when a contradiction had just been revealed and there was no way CBC journalists knew for sure it was true. The story focused on reaction to the revelation while other coverage explored other perspectives. There was no violation of policy.
You had concerns about The National’s September 22, 2016 coverage of a controversy over the birthplace of Maryam Monsef, the Minister of Democratic Institutions. That day the Globe and Mail ran a story stating that contrary to what Ms. Monsef had said in the past; that she was born in Iran and not Afghanistan. You had several objections to the segment that The National carried that night. You thought that the tone of the report lacked “skepticism”, that it took at face value Ms. Monsef’s statement that she did not know that she was born and spent some early years in Iran. You thought the tone should have been far more questioning. You wondered how CBC journalists could simply repeat Ms. Monsef’s version of her life story and accept that she did not know until this story broke, where she was born.
I would also put forward that just because members of Canada’s political parties are all treating her as a victim; it is not the role of television journalists to necessarily follow their lead.
You found other shortcomings in the report. You said that there was no mention of the fact that Ms. Monsef was a cabinet minister, and that she was “portrayed as a sad little girl” rather than a minister who had “major responsibility over our lives and future.” You added that the framing of the story made it sound like there was very little criticism of this event, and that the only two Members of Parliament quoted were members of the NDP rather than a member of the Conservative Party, which is the official opposition. You added that Tony Clement, a senior Conservative MP and contender for leadership of that party had much harsher criticism of Ms. Monsef. You noted that he was calling for Ms. Monsef to resign from cabinet and for an investigation into her explanation for the discrepancy in her birthplace.
You were concerned that the rest of Ms. Monsef’s narrative – that her family were refugees and that her father was killed in the Afghan conflict – was repeated without any doubt. You wondered why the entire narrative was accepted without question, in the absence of any proof. You thought this treatment of the story showed bias in favor of the Liberal government:
Overall, the CBC report seemed to be more of a cover-up or one tailored to reduce criticism of Ms. Monsef, in particular, and the Liberal government of Justin Trudeau as a whole.
You thought that CBC journalists should be exploring and reporting on all the details of Ms. Monsef’s story.
The Executive Producer of The National, Don Spandier, replied to your complaint. He pointed out that particular segment on The National followed a day of coverage on radio, News Network and on-line. He said there had been coverage of various opposition members, Tony Clement among them, over the course of the day, and that Stockwell Day, a former Conservative party leader, had participated in a discussion on CBC News’ political programme, Power & Politics. He explained that there were few new developments in the story since it had initially broken in the Globe and Mail that morning, so the editorial decision was taken to focus on the muted political reaction, which news staff considered unusual.