By Esther Enkin, CBC Ombudsman
The complainant, Mary MacDonald, thought Anna Maria Tremonti was hostile and biased in an interview with Conservative Party leadership candidate Kellie Leitch. The topic was a proposal to have a values-screening of immigrants. The interview was challenging, the questions were appropriate, and the interviewee was able to present her views and position. There was no violation of policy.
In early September one of the Conservative Party leadership candidates, Kellie Leitch, sent a survey question to her supporters asking if prospective immigrants to this country should be screened for “anti-Canadian values.” The Current featured an interview with Ms. Leitch in light of the strong reaction to her proposal. You thought the interview was “partisan and one-sided.” You said you found the host, Anna Maria Tremonti, had a hostile tone and was disrespectful. You felt her tone “went far beyond the probing questions …from a diligent journalist.” This was not only a disservice to Ms. Leitch, you noted, but to the people listening to the programme:
I was interested in what Ms. Leitch had to say, and found that she responded politely and respectfully throughout to Tremonti’s hostile questioning. It is my understanding that Ms. Leitch is a highly-regarded medical practitioner. I am compelled to ask why Ms. Leitch was addressed as “Kellie” and not “Dr. Leitch”. It is disrespectful that Anna Maria Tremonti does not do so…She was not only disrespectful to Ms. Leitch, but to the listening audience who deserved to hear a non-partisan discussion of the merits or lack thereof of Ms. Leitch’s proposals. Anna Maria Tremonti intimated that Kellie Leitch had no right to raise these questions.
You found further evidence of bias in the interview of two guests after Ms. Leitch. You said they both opposed her and contributed to the one-sided nature of the broadcast. You said Canadians should be able to hear Ms. Leitch’s views and form their own conclusions, and the programme host should have used a neutral tone.
Listeners of this radio program are capable of forming their own judgements and opinions based on what the guest has to say. The hostile and accusatory approach adopted by Anna Maria Tremonti conveys to the audience that MP Kellie Leitch has no right to express any such viewpoint or opinion.
The Executive Producer of The Current, Kathleen Goldhar, responded to your complaint.
She pointed out that Kellie Leitch’s proposal had stirred up quite a bit of controversy and had received extensive coverage across Canada. The interview was intended to probe the proposal and to hear Ms. Leitch’s thoughts and concerns. She added that Ms. Leitch was able to present her point of view and position fully. She stated that Ms. Tremonti encouraged her to “explain her point of view” and that she was able to speak “at some length about her views uninterrupted.”
It is fair to say that Dr. Leitch is a respected Member of Parliament, a former cabinet minister in the previous government, and Conservative Party member, and medical doctor. She is articulate, outspoken, and a skilled debater. She came on the program to present her point of view and put her case skillfully and convincingly.
She explained that it is not the goal of the interview to simply offer a political candidate a platform to present her position. She said it is the task of the journalist to probe, challenge and test the assumptions a politician presents, as well as to remind listeners that there are other views on the subject at hand.