Tuesday, July 19, 2005

CBC, Terrorism, and Inconsistency

Date: Tue, 19 Jul 2005 19:03:10 -0700
From: Jonathan
To: ombudsman@cbc.ca
Subject: Political labelling

Dear Ombudsman,

I am disappointed in the inconsistency of the CBC when it comes to
political labelling.

I just read today in the National Post of a CBC memo describing their
policy on politically neutral language, particular when using the word
"terrorism."

Further, I read a story on the CBC web site today which violated CBC's principles when it came to political labelling.

Here are the facts:

The CBC memo regarding the policy on reporting involving bombings and
using the word terrorism contains the following guidelines:

"[Terrorism is] a highly controversial term that can leave journalists
taking sides in a conflict.

Avoid labelling any specific bombing or other assault as a "terrorist
act" unless it's attributed (in a TV or Radio clip, or in a direct
quote on the Web).

By restricting ourselves to neutral language, we aren't faced with the
problem of calling one incident a "terrorist act" (e.g., the
destruction of the World Trade Center) while classifying another as,
say, a mere "bombing" (e.g., the destruction of a crowded shopping
mall in the Middle East).

Use specific descriptions. Instead of reaching for a label
("terrorist" or "terrorism") when news breaks, try describing what
happened.

The guiding principle should be that we don't judge specific acts as
"terrorism" or people as "terrorists." Such labels must be
attributed."

CBC News editor-in-chief Tony Burman has said: "Our preference is to
describe the act or individual, and let the viewer or listener or
political representatives make their own judgment."

TODAY, I read a CBC story ("Bush nominates Supreme Court candidate")
which contained politically charged labelling without attribution of
the source of such a label by using the word "conservative" when
describing US Supreme Court nominee John Roberts. I would regard
using the word "conservative" to describe someone that is not a) a
republican party member or b) not a self-confessed conservative to be
politically charged, a private judgment, and highly bias.

"Conservative" is a VERY loaded word to describe someone, especially
a judge. Note that the CBC did NOT use the word "conservative" or
"liberal" to describe the recent appointments by PM Paul Martin to the
Canadian Supreme Court (see "Charron, Abella to fill Supreme Court
vacancies"
).

The CBC report did not source the term "conservative" to any one "TV
or Radio clip, or in a direct quote on the Web" like the
politically-neutral language memo had suggested. See the end of this
email for the full story and headline on the main CBC site.

1. The sub-headline on CBC.ca and the first line of the story was as
follows: "President George W. Bush has confirmed that his first
nominee for a seat on the Supreme Court will be a conservative judge
from Washington." Here, there is no attribution to a source that
describes him as conservative. Proper headlines which attribute
labels will say something like "will be a conservative judge from
Washington, say Globe and Mail reporters."

2. The second line says he will be a "controversial" choice. There is
two problems with this. a) There is no attribution to a source which
says that this is "controversial" b) How would a reporter appear to
justify this use when he was confirmed to the US appeals court by a
unanimous vote. The reporter judged Roberts to be a "controversial"
choice based on his own judgement. This is in direct conflict with
CBC News preference " to describe the act or individual, and let the
viewer or listener or political representatives make their own
judgment." Note that not only ACTS are covered by this policy, but
also INDIVIDUALS. Roberts has been judged controversial by the CBC
WITHOUT ANY attribution to a source which labels him so, and WITHOUT
ANY facts that supports that judgment.

It appears that by virtue of his nomination by a Republican President
that CBC reporters deem it a fair judgement to call him
"conservative." This logic is pure rubbish: The last nominee for
Supreme Court justice, David Souter, has often been called a very
"liberal" choice via attributed quotes (not in the news text) (see this story:"When
the right looks at Judge Gonzales, they have tended to worry they are
getting another David Souter," Brad Berenson, a White House lawyer
during Bush's first term, said about how conservatives were
disappointed when Justice Souter sides with the court's more liberal
members."

3. The story says this: "Roberts has been described as a rock solid
conservative." By who? a) There is no attribution to a "TV or Radio
clip, or in a direct quote on the Web" of this description. b) The
reporter is not letting people make judgments about an individual
based on his actions, record, or facts. There are plenty of web
sources describing his qualities as a person, his record as a judge,
and job performance as a lawyer. But none referenced, quoted, or
linked in this story.

I request that CBC publicly retract the story in question in a
prominent notice on the main (cbc.ca) page, where it was first seen by
all people.

Jonathan



Appendix:

Headline on CBC.ca: Bush nominates Supreme Court candidate
sub-headline: President George W. Bush has confirmed that his first
nominee for a seat on the Supreme Court will be a conservative judge
from Washington.

http://www.cbc.ca/story/world/national/2005/07/19/scotus050719.html

Bush nominates Supreme Court candidate
Last Updated Tue, 19 Jul 2005 21:16:20 EDT
CBC News
President George W. Bush has confirmed that his first nominee for a
seat on the Supreme Court will be a conservative judge from
Washington.

Appeals Court judge John G. Roberts is Bush's choice, a selection
which will be a controversial choice. His nomination could lead to a
major battle over the ideological direction of the top court.

Roberts has been described as a rock solid conservative.

"John Roberts has devoted his entire professional life to the cause of
justice and is widely admired for his intellect his sound judgment and
his personal decency," said Bush in announcing his decision.

Bush's selection came as a surprise since there had been some
expectations that he would replace retiring Justice Sandra Day
O'Connor with a woman or minority.

"My nominee will be a fair-minded individual who represents the
mainstream of American law and American values," said Bush earlier in
the day. "The nominee will meet the highest standards of intellect,
character, and ability, and will pledge to faithfully interpret the
Constitution and laws of our country."

Roberts, 50, is a native of Buffalo, N.Y., and attended Harvard Law
School. He is also no stranger to the corridors of power.

He worked at the White House during the Reagan administration as
special assistant to the attorney general and associate counsel to the
president.

Later he was principal deputy solicitor general, the government's
second highest lawyer, who argues cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Roberts' nomination needs to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

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