Monday, 30 December 2013

CBC's Response to Violations of its Journalistic Policies

The previous post expressed concerns about how CBC has been presenting results of opinion polls and online surveys.  The post was sent to the CBC Ombudsman and the Executive Producer of Power and Politics was good enough to respond and explains that her program will take steps to improve how polls are presented.  Her response follows and afterwards are my comments to the producer: 

From: Amy Castle
Sent: Tuesday, December 24, 2013 11:56 AM
To: bkiefl
Cc: CBC Ombudsman
Subject: Letter to CBC Ombudsman
December 24, 2013
Dear Mr

Thank you for sharing your recent blog post
  with the CBC Ombudsman regarding Power & Politics.  As the Executive
  Producer, I can tell you your feedback is essential to how we do our work.

I must, however, disagree strongly with your
  suggestion that our program is "ignoring a vital area of CBC
  journalistic policy." On the contrary, we're very much living up to our
  Journalistic Standards and Practices.
You raised a number of concerns in your blog post.
 Let me respond to each of them in turn.

In terms of our weekly segment “Political Traction”
with Jaime Watt, you say “CBC should not be implying that this is
representative of Canadians and therefore possibly leading viewers into
thinking that Navigator has conducted representative polling.”

At no point do we characterize Political Traction as a poll.
 Rather, we are clear on the show and on our website that Jaime Watt is
tracking the political conversation in Ottawa
and across Canada.
 The goal of the segment is to discuss which political issues are trending
in the Canadian conversation, and to highlight the differences - if any - in
the conversation being held in Ottawa
compared to the national conversation.

The Traction methodology is explained on our website here:  
I am attaching to this note a detailed breakdown of that

You say that “Power and Politics should be more forthright
about the methodology used by Navigator.”  Although we have the
methodology on our website, I will ensure that we remind our viewers on air
where to find details of that methodology.

Regarding our weekly feature, The Nanos Number, pollster Nik Nanos
draws on a number of polls from reputable sources and we are always clear where
the polls come from.

CBC’s policy states this: 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.

We abide by these rules with the Nanos Number.  All polls
used in the Nanos Number meet CBC standards.  We also provide information
on the methodology, size of the sample and margin of error.  These details
are clearly stated on our website
I agree with you, however, that the information is difficult to
read when we post it on television.  This is due to a new graphics programme
that we recently started using.  I am currently working with our graphics
designer to ensure that our graphics are upgraded to ensure that the font is
more easily readable on air.

You raise concerns that Mr Nanos is using crowdsourcing in his polling.
 In fact the term crowdsource is a Nanos tradename and should not be
confused with a process.  The Nanos polling methodology includes a sample
of random land and cell lines where people are randomly selected to do a study
online.  His methodology is robust and meets our strict CBC standards.

Regarding our daily Ballot Box segment, interaction with our
audience is an important part of our show.  We welcome comments from
viewers, and encourage participation in our daily political conversation.
 The Ballot Box is an important part of that interaction.  

At no point do we refer to the Ballot Box as a poll.  As you
mentioned, we are transparent in showing the number of votes on screen whenever
the Ballot Box appears.

I will, however, ensure that the number of votes gets posted
online along with the percentage results at the end of each day.

Thank you very much for your feedback. It is also my
responsibility to tell you that if you are not satisfied with this response,
you may wish to submit the matter for review by the CBC Ombudsman. The
Office of the Ombudsman, an independent and impartial body reporting
directly to the President, is responsible for evaluating program compliance
with the CBC's journalistic policies. The Ombudsman may be reached by
mail at Box 500,
Terminal A, Toronto, Ontario M5W 1E6,
or by fax at 
(416) 205-2825, or by e-mail at

Amy Castle
Executive Producer, Power and Politics
CBC News Network

My Response to the Executive Producer of Power and Politics:

Ms. Castle, thank you for the response.  Below are my comments and concerns:
  1. Navigator or Political Traction: Your suggestion of “…ensur(ing) that we remind our viewers on air where to find details of th(e) methodology” would be beneficial and resolve my concern about Navigator. Putting that information on your web site is good but an on-air explanation is excellent.  I suspect only a handful of viewers have ever seen the web site reference.
  2. Nanos Number:  I think it is good that you are “currently working with (y)our graphics designer to ensure that…graphics are upgraded to ensure that the font is more easily readable on air.”  However, while I recognize that this would improve the viewer’s understanding of the polling methodology, the spirit of the policy on reporting polls would be better reflected if you did more than include a graphic, legible or not, with sampling details, etc.  A half minute explanation of the methodology is warranted and would add credibility to what Mr. Nanos says about results.  Mr. Nanos also appeared recently with Evan Solomon on The House and discussed poll results dealing with the PM’s credibility; there was scant reference to polling methodology.  Poll results from an unspecified source dealing with CPP were reported on December 16, 2013 on CBC News Network and again, there was no reference to methodology. So, this appears to be a wider issue than the Nanos Number on Power and Politics and I would appreciate your alerting Jennifer McQuire to this concern.  
  3. The Ballot Box:  the policy dealing with online surveys, which I had a hand in drafting, was to ensure that viewers/listeners understood specifically that such “surveys” are not scientific in any way.  The policy was to make that absolutely clear and so I suggest you include a reference to Ballot Box being unscientific each time you present the results in graphic form on air.  Moreover, my understanding of the policy dealing with online surveys is that only raw vote numbers will be presented; percentages will not be presented under any circumstances.  I appreciate your offer to “ensure that the number of votes gets posted online along with the percentage results at the end of each day.” But I believe this is a misinterpretation of the policy. Percentages should not be presented in any form.   To quote from the policy: “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 do with bona fide polls.”  So, including raw numbers on air and on your web site follows the policy but including percentages with or without the raw numbers violates the spirit and the letter of the policy.  I note that a number of CBC programs are using online surveys and all of them violate the policy by including just percentages on their web sites.  These include Day Six, Q and The National and I would appreciate your also bringing this to the attention of Jennifer McQuire.  (The online survey by The National gives percentages to two decimal places, giving the impression the results are especially accurate.)

While the above may seem like nitpicking to someone producing a show as fast moving and well produced as Power and Politics, I assure you that my concerns about CBC journalistic policy are much greater than how polls are presented.  CBC journalism has always occupied the high ground and relaxing journalistic standards only plays into the hands of critics who want to get the CBC on their ‘level playing field’. I firmly believe that the future of the CBC will be determined by the quality of its journalism and slippage in journalistic standards will spell the end of CBC TV and radio.
Barry Kiefl


  1. I have just read your excellent article on CBC's future in yesterday's Globe and Mail. Until a couple of years ago, our family always listened to, and appreciated, Radio One, but the dumbing down of the newscasts into personality-driven infotainment is a sad reflection on what now passes for content on our public broadcaster. There are still many excellent programs, but I can't help wondering how much longer they will last, given the lack of funding and the Harper government's unvarnished hatred for the corporation.

  2. I echo Kate's comments, however, the 'personality driven' aspect is clearly not a funding issue, however, I believe Harper named the current head of the CBC and several board members. Current technology means that research and access is now cheaper than ever, its just as easy to get headlines from the labour movement as it is to post sensational media stories. I also highly suspect that it takes just as much money to produce a show that talks about nothing of much import as it does to do one of 'quality' (for lack of a better word). And the high salaries which many 'administrators' make could easily pay the salaries of a number of content producers. CBC has always been far too bureaucratic, its almost a joke now to hear them talk on air about 'how much they want to hear from us', when the only access is that some shows read a couple of emails once a week. Online its even worse as most stories don't allow any comments at all, and most are highly censored out.
    But its good to hear critical commentary by somebody who sees the value in CBC rather than those who seem to simply hate it by instinct. Coming from New Brunswick, where CBC is literally the only media source apart from the Irving family of businesses, I know that it is extremely important, and its quite painful to see how its being turned into a fluff outfit. I listen to CBC when picking up my wife at dinner, and listening to radio one announcers attempt to make small talk amongst one another is downright painful.

  3. My concerns as a viewer are many but I do appreciate Evan Solomon. Truly troubling is the advocacy for Israel in coverage of Gaza. Does CBC hav responsibility and obligation to provide the viewers with balanced reporting..clearly when CBC has brought forward Israel issues, the current tragedy, avoiding any reflection of the aggression on a population held prisoner and blasted away from a remote control technology, over 800 children massacred from what the world is beginning to condemn as a Genocide..
    The photogdepicting Gaza has been 90% fluff! Avoiding the term or facts on the "Occupation" avoiding John Kerry being accused of "Systematic Terrorism" by Israel, avoiding coverage of the real horrors of the Gaza massacre , simply muting the voice of UNHR, accusing Israel of War Crimes , deleting any reference to Ban ki Moon's statement that "Killing children while they sleep is shameful" ,,,these are just a few concerns of media coverage in Canada. If we continue to be made to haer and learn a biased reporting on tragic murderous situations wherever and given the slaughter f over 800 children is being carried out as I write, what are the chances of change for the long term in the prison state of Gaza? Who can justify journalism that appears to be edited by our Harper, Baird , both who seem obsessed with psychological control anger issues, both mouthpieces seem co dependent on war and power political distrust Minister or Military wing of Netanyahu? Let's see CBC stop the propaganda and start helping justice and freedom for Palestine children and civilians with fact and photos that represent the reality of this occupation and the tragedy of Israel acting as tyrants with no regard for international law!!!