CBC Ombudsman: Seeing is Believing
CBC Ottawa ran a story about a programme to match homeless people to rental housing. It documented a case where it went wrong, leaving the landlord with a trashed apartment. The story showed the damage, but focused on the gap between the promises and the delivery of the sponsoring agency. The complainant, Lorraine Cohen, questioned the value of doing a story pitched by the landlord and the authenticity of the photos of the damage. The story was well written and balanced, and there is no reason to doubt the honesty of the CBC team responsible for the visuals.
In October, CBC News Ottawa posted a story regarding the damage done to an apartment in that city. The landlord had agreed to take part in a municipal programme to provide homeless people apartments. CBC News reported that the apartment had been left in a filthy mess. The focus of the story was the landlord’s experience dealing with the city in light of the damage. The online piece was entitled “Rental unit overrun by maggots, mould and feces after city program fails landlord.” You questioned the veracity of the pictures and accused the news staff of staging the series of photos accompanying the article:
The trash seems localized in distinct heaps, the surrounding walls and floors are surprisingly clean in comparison. The mismatch between these makes me question the veracity of your images. Though the homeless resident reportedly lived in the dwelling for seven months, none of the usual wear and tear was outwardly apparent in the cupboards, fridge, kitchen backsplash, floors and walls, which retained an almost pristine appearance.
In stark contrast to the severe degradation of the inner fridge, toilet and bathtub, most of the trash in the dwelling appeared made up of new or recent packaging, as if planted there for shock value.
You had a second criticism of the piece – you pointed out that the origins of this story were from the landlord, who contacted CBC “about problems he had with the man who lived in the apartment.” This was a criminal matter, you asserted, and the landlord should have contacted the police. You asked why CBC got involved in this dispute. You said: “This story could be interpreted, in nature, as political and tarnish CBC’s image.”
The Managing Editor of CBC Ottawa, Ruth Zowdu, replied to your concerns. She told you that she was “disappointed” you would think CBC would publish a false story. She assured you that what was visible in the photos is what the photographer and reporter found on site. She mentioned that based on what they had been told, both the camera operator and reporter wore protective gear:
I cannot explain why the garbage was piled a certain way or why the walls may be more clean than the toilet or the bathtub, but I can confirm with confidence that the story we told was true. The photos are real. It is a very sad situation on many levels and it is authentic.
She added that after this story was published, the reporter continued to research it. She was able to track down the tenant responsible for the mess, and he confirmed he had indeed damaged the apartment.
Continue reading this on the CBC website, where it was first published.