By Esther Enkin for the CBC
The complainant, Lawrence Wilson, thought reproducing the graphic image of a tweet from a politician was like providing free political advertising. He thought it made it too easy for someone to follow the politician. Quoting a tweet is accepted practice and when it’s embedded in a story with lots of different views, there is no question of balance. It’s just one more way of sharing information.
You object to the practice of reproducing tweets in the body of news stories. Your specific complaint involved a budget story published on CBCNews.ca entitled Federal Budget 2016: Liberals push deficit to spend big on families, cities”. You noted that there were two tweets embedded in this story and that they were both posted by Conservative politicians. You characterized the tweets as “political attack ads” and stated that “CBC should not be a source of free political advertisements for one political party. It should not give any reason to promote Canadians to ‘Follow’ one political party or politician over others.”
You are concerned because within a given tweet there is a button which enables a reader to click and elect to follow the author of that particular account. You feel this provides an unfair advantage to the politician or party in question as it provides an opportunity to gain followers. You noted that since tweets are only 140 characters they can simply be turned into quotes within the story, and there is no reason to reproduce the Twitter format:
Twitter is an extremely effective method of getting a message to the public. Putting Twitter feeds into a CBC article should be considered a conflict of interest of balanced reporting. This is especially so when the Twitter feeds are connected to only one political party…. While the Twitter feed does not look like an attack ad, it still is an attack.
The senior producer of Politics, Chris Carter, responded to your concerns. He explained the budget story you cited was first published shortly after 4:00 p.m. on budget day, just as the budget was being released. He added that the story was updated throughout the afternoon and evening to provide more reaction and details of the budget as more information became available. He told you why one of the tweets you cited, from acting Conservative Party leader Rona Ambrose was used:
We posted tweets from Ambrose early on because they gave the Opposition’s overarching reaction and because they added a visual element, and because they showed readers how the Opposition chose to convey its own message on the budget. As we updated the story and had more reaction to use, we changed the position and number of the tweets and in the end left the two in that you see now because they provided useful reaction, in our view.