Thursday, 5 December 2013

CBC Journalistic Policy Benched?

CBC’s weekday two-hour program, Power and Politics, covers politicians and political events in more depth than any other program on TV.  It carefully balances the time devoted to the political parties, ensuring all the main parties and their views are represented on various panels, etc.  Its choice of topics tends toward political scandal and sins, making it no different than most other media but that’s another topic.  For reasons unexplained, Power and Politics is ignoring a vital area of CBC journalistic policy.  CBC carefully developed journalistic policies relating to opinion polling and posts them on its website. However, basic tenets of the policy are ignored in almost every edition of Power and Politics.

The CBC policy in question states: “We report polls not commissioned by CBC as long as we can verify that the methodology meets CBC standards. The sample size, methodology and interpretation of results of non-CBC polls should be reviewed by the CBC research department. To help our audience place a poll in context, we provide relevant information about the methodology and size of the sample along with the results. Where applicable, we provide the margin of error.”

Two different non-CBC “polls” or what seem to be polls are regularly featured on Power and Politics, The Nanos Number and Navigator.   

Navigator is an example of non-CBC research that seemingly violates CBC policy.  The avuncular Jamie Watt, chairman of Navigator, a successful political consulting firm, appears on his own segment of Power and Politics and presents data that both he and Evan Solomon, host of Power and Politics, imply are representative of “Canadians.” In fact, only after digging into Navigator’s website does one learn that the "tracking" percentages characterized as being representative of Canadians are based primarily on analysis of blogs, online comments, Twitter, and comments on political talk shows (presumably including comments by Jamie Watt and his staff who appear on such programs.)  


There is nothing wrong with someone analyzing tweets and online comments but CBC should not be implying that this is representative of Canadians and therefore possibly leading viewers into thinking that Navigator has conducted representative polling.  We know that relatively few people tweet and research, including some done by CBC, determined that those who bother to write newspapers or call talk shows, etc. are generally not representative of either the audience or the population. Power and Politics should be more forthright about the methodology used by Navigator.

The Nanos Number, a product of Nanos Research, is also a regular segment on Power and Politics but featuring actual poll results.  Survey results on some occasions appear to come from a conventional telephone poll, while on other occasions, results are based on what Nanos calls an “RDD Crowdsource random survey of 1,000 Canadians… recruited by telephone through the proprietary Nanos Crowdsource sample and administered a survey online.”   Crowdsourcing has been used to fund entrepreneurs but it is very unclear how it has been used here. The Nanos Number segment, featuring the amiable and professional Nik Nanos, usually provides little or no information about the methodologies, other than an illegible footnote partially obscured by program graphics. One must go to the Nanos website to learn how the surveys have (presumably) been conducted.  So, once again, this seems to be in violation of the CBC’s journalistic policy.  Power and Politics should be transparent about the Nanos surveys and “provide relevant information about the methodology.”



CBC should utilize its in-house experts in survey research.  In one recent Nik Nanos segment on CBC radio’s The House, Evan Solomon did not accurately read the survey question put to respondents, perhaps because the question, which dealt with the Prime Minister’s credibility, seemed awkwardly worded, something CBC researchers and journalists should pick up on.

The third poll-related segment that regularly appears on Power and Politics is called The Ballot Box.  Each night a different survey question is put to viewers and visitors to CBC’s website and they are encouraged to vote online.   The CBC journalistic policy regarding online surveys is exceptionally well thought out and clear: “Online surveys are a tool of audience engagement. Since it does not fulfill any of the criteria set out in polling policy, the questions and the results are not characterized as polls. We report the results by giving the number of votes cast for each option. We do not give the results as a percentage, as we normally do with bona fide polls. If programs refer to online questions, the results are reported in a way that clearly indicates it has no scientific validity and are not meant to represent the accurate range of either public opinion nor the opinion of our audience.”   Power and Politics, which could be re-christened Polls and Politics, is clearly violating the CBC standards with regards to how these online results are being presented. only presents percentages and during the program percentages are presented along with raw results.  In my view this lends an air of polling legitimacy to The Ballot Box, which is not warranted, as any professional researcher and experienced journalist knows.

CBC TV is under greater duress than at any point in its history.  In recent years its role in our lives has been usurped by other broadcasters and media, the most recent example being a much reduced role in the broadcasting of NHL hockey.  Over time the funding that all Canadians provide to the CBC via Parliament has been reduced. Today we give our money, many times more than we ever provided to CBC, to private media conglomerates such as Rogers and Bell; for better or worse they have used those funds to push CBC out of many program areas. The one critical element that CBC TV and radio offer to Canadians still unmatched by private radio and TV is quality journalism.  That quality has been maintained because of the excellent journalists who work at CBC and CBC's journalistic standards.   Hopefully, Power and Politics will re-visit those standards.

While were at it, Power and Politics could you please stop running the same two or three commercials targeted to pensioners and the elderly day after day, hour after hour. Yes, I remember Paul Henderson's goal in 1972!  Does the sales department think CBC's older viewers have such impaired memory they can’t remember commercials aired every day for months and just minutes earlier?

1 comment:

  1. Thankyou for this excellent piece. CBC's implication that their polls represent public opinion has bothered me for some time. Not sure who is running the show there but their mandate should be to report the news, not to make it. I now mostly do not listen to news coverage from CBC and choose one of many other good sources.