The CBC Ombudsman ruled that he was “disappointed that programmers” linked Russia to the Freedom Convoy during a Power & Politics segment with Liberal Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino in January.
The Oct. 6 review by Ombudsman Jack Nagler followed a complaint against CBC news anchor Nil Koksal by viewer James Sali. During that episode, Koksal asked without any substantiating evidence whether “Russian actors” were involved in organizing the convoy.
“I do ask that because, you know, given Canada’s support of Ukraine in this current crisis with Russia, I don’t know if it’s far-fetched to ask – but there is concern that Russian actors could be continuing to fuel things as this protest grows, but perhaps even instigating it from the outset?” claimed Koksal on Jan. 28.
Sali’s complaint argued that Koksal had “no facts backing up the claim” and was attempting to “misrepresent the protest” which was a grassroots movement with key organizers originating in Alberta.
CBC did issue a clarification note after the fact on Youtube and their website.
“At 4:15, there is a question about the possibility Russian actors could be fuelling or instigating a truck convoy protest headed to Parliament Hill. The question should have referenced experts’ concerns that during the current tension over Ukraine, Moscow could use its cyber and disinformation capabilities to “sow confusion” among Ukraine’s allies during a crisis,” the note reads.
Although satisfied with the clarification, Nagler claimed that it came too late – five days after the broadcast was aired.
“The fundamental flaw, in my view, was the use of a speculative question when it was not called for,” wrote Nagler.
“Instead, Power & Politics presented its question without attribution. It was not clear to viewers whether anyone was offering evidence that Russia was involved in the convoy – or why they would have such a concern. Asking the question in this way left room for people to surmise that CBC believed such evidence existed.”
According to Koksal, program producers at the CBC “decided in advance” to include the question to Mendicino.
“These questions, as phrased, did not meet the standard to ‘clearly explain the facts’ or ‘contribute to the understanding of issues of public interest’,” Nagler wrote in reference to CBC’s Journalistic Standards and Practices (JSP).
“While I agree that it was a breach of the JSP, I disagree with any suggestion that this was an act of disinformation,” ruled Nagler.
“I am disappointed that it took others to point out to CBC that the question was “off” – it should have been caught before broadcast. I am also disappointed that programmers were not more sensitive in advance to the perils of speculating on subjects such as the convoy, or Russian interference in Canadian affairs.”