3. Who Makes the Ultimate Call

Grant discussed the case with management at CBC Calgary, including senior editor Helen Henderson. “Meghan [knew] instinctively this was getting to the point where it was more than just a personal judgment call,” said Henderson. “It was an institutional call.”1Helen Henderson. Interview done by Dan LeBaron, Devika Desai. December 12, 2017.

Due to the nature of the case they also needed to bring in national management including David Studer, director of CBC’s Journalistic Standards and Practices (JSP). “I’d say we probably make 70 to 80 per cent of the calls, and then the other 15 or 20 per cent would go up to David,” said Henderson.

Every judgment call involved extensive use of the the JSP, according to Henderson. The guidelines stats that, when reporting the outcome of legal proceedings, the CBC must “report fairly on the evidence and the claims of all the parties and give significant play to the verdict.”2Journalistic Standards and Practices. Fair treatment and reporting of outcome. http://www.cbc.radio-canada.ca/en/reporting-to-canadians/acts-and-policies/programming/journalism/court-reporting/. Accessed December 13, 2017.

The JSP also includes a section on the depiction of violence. Here, the guidelines state:

  1. We respect our audience by assessing the impact of our images according to time of day and the context of the program where such material is appearing.
  2. Scenes of violence and suffering are part of our coverage of wars, disaster, crime and conflict.
  3. We respect our audience by assessing the impact of our images according to the time of day and the context of the program where such material is appearing.
  4. Programmers and journalists must be familiar with CRTC regulations about the depiction of violence and adhere to those guidelines.
  5. If it is necessary to use graphic images, we will put a warning ahead of their use.3Journalistic Standards and Practices. Depiction of Violence. http://www.cbc.radio-canada.ca/en/reporting-to-canadians/acts-and-policies/programming/journalism/crime-and-police-reporting/. Accessed December 13, 2017.

Here’s Henderson speaking about the CBC’s general approach to covering cases with graphic evidence:

 

In Henderson’s experience, viewers have often requested that CBC not use graphic images all. “We don’t need to be reminded, it’s disrespectful to the victims and their families,” Henderson said, paraphrasing common feedback she has received. While the feedback has produced stronger warning labels and more discreet image placement, CBC seldom removes published graphic material altogether.

In 2014, CBC Calgary used images of a dead dog and cat with taped muzzles when anchors introduced a story about animal cruelty. According to its archived complaint reviews, CBC received a complaint on the use of the images and lack of warning that accompanied it. The complainant, Faisal Jhandir, said he was watching the news with his two young children when the images appeared on screen. His children were “shocked and could not take their eyes off and seem[ed] visibly disturbed by that story and images.”4 Complaint Reviews. “Warning: Disturbing Material – The public deserves to know when they are going to have to see or hear shocking images”. CBC Ombudsman. Accessed December 13, 2017. Jhandir criticized the news organization for its “inappropriate” timing.

Henderson responded to these concerns. Although she agreed with Jhandir on the need for stronger warnings, she also explained that “by definition, news by its very nature is often about disturbing events.” CBC Ombudsman Esther Enkin reviewed the complaint and agreed with Henderson.

“Violence, whether man made or nature induced, features in many news stories. Sanitizing the presentation of information would violate CBC journalism policy which demands accuracy and a fair representation of events.” wrote Enkin. “The competing need to respect sensibilities and to shield young children is achieved through the use of warnings, and judicious and minimal use of the disturbing images.”

The Saretzky trial presented similar dilemmas for CBC. Because it was reported in both online and broadcast formats, Grant and her colleagues had to apply different strategies to cover the trial sensitively and fairly across the different platforms.

Next: 4. Different Measures for Different Platforms

References   [ + ]

1. Helen Henderson. Interview done by Dan LeBaron, Devika Desai. December 12, 2017.
2. Journalistic Standards and Practices. Fair treatment and reporting of outcome. http://www.cbc.radio-canada.ca/en/reporting-to-canadians/acts-and-policies/programming/journalism/court-reporting/. Accessed December 13, 2017.
3. Journalistic Standards and Practices. Depiction of Violence. http://www.cbc.radio-canada.ca/en/reporting-to-canadians/acts-and-policies/programming/journalism/crime-and-police-reporting/. Accessed December 13, 2017.
4. Complaint Reviews. “Warning: Disturbing Material – The public deserves to know when they are going to have to see or hear shocking images”. CBC Ombudsman. Accessed December 13, 2017.