Back on October 23rd, I reported on a horribly misleading headline I discovered on the CBC website that claimed a tweet that was critical of Islam was “racist.” The article appeared during the Canadian federal election campaign, during a time when some reporters and media including Warren Kinsella were on a campaign to label Maxime Bernier as “racist.”
You can read my original report here (opens in a new browser tab) for more background and my subsequent complaint to the CBC Ombudsman.
Yesterday, I received a formal response from Mr. Bob Becken, Executive Producer, CBC Windsor which included a PDF and the emailed cover message, which stated:
Hi Mr. Scott,
Your concerns re: CBC Windsor’s Sep. 30, 2019 story were forwarded to me as the local programming manager on-site.Â
Attached is my formal response.
CBC Windsor takes its responsibility of providing fair and balanced journalism to its audiences, very seriously. I hope my reply will reassure you of the continuing integrity of our station and our news service.
Should you wish to discuss further please don’t hesitate to contact me directly.
I will say that I was generally satisfied with the results of my complaint and the acknowledgement that “negatively characterizing Islam is not, technically, racism.” Mr. Becken then pointed to three places in the article, including the Headline, Lede line, and another part of the article where the word “racist” had been removed and replaced with “culturally” so instead of “….racist, insensitive,” it reads as “…culturally insensitive.”
However, there were other areas of Mr. Becken’s correspondence to me that concerned me. I would encourage you to download the PDF he sent me and peruse it before reading further and my reply to him:
PDF Reply From Mr. Bob Becken
My reply via email to Mr. Becken, and cc’d to the reporter, Jennifer McGuire and the CBC Ombudsman (Jennifer McGuire was cc’d on Mr. Becken’s reply to me as was the Ombudsman):
Good Morning Mr. Becken,
Thank you for your positive reply to my complaint to the CBC Ombudsman’s office on October 23rd, 2019. I appreciate the fact that you have spoken with the reporter of the story and discussed the language that was used in the original article, and that you have agreed that the term “racist” should not apply.
In my opinion, that is a positive step and gives me some confidence that future stories in the CBC will be reported on more accurately. I would however, like to bring to your attention to some errors in your reply.
The first error that I would like to point out is that while you correctly changed the headline and the lede line, there was also a quote by Mr. Bernier that was changed and it should not have been:
“Bernier, when asked about Essex PPC candidate Bill Capes’ posts of a similar nature, said people know the PPC party is not a culturally insensitive party.”
This is actually NOT what Bernier said, if you listen to the video posted in the article. To be clear, Bernier, when asked…. said people “know the PPC party is not a racist party” is what he actually said.
I believe you should not have changed this sentence as it does not reflect exactly what Bernier said. I realize that for the story’s reporting, and now that the article is more accurate than the original, it may seem to be odd to quote Bernier exactly, however it is important.
It is actually news in of itself and shows how some news media members were twisting a statement about a religion into racism. The media can also be a part of the news – and it is important to ensure full accuracy of what Mr. Bernier actually said. (It may actually be newsworthy for a reporter to investigate why some news media members are twisting statements about a religion and calling them “racist”).
*Your second error is also important, in my opinion, when you wrote in your reply: *
“Similarly, we could have also used different terms such as “Islamophobic”….”
I have often seen the suffix of “phobic” or “phobia” tacked on to the end of words when “attacking” another’s ideas that might include criticism of some philosophy’s or ideas that appear to be against a particular group of people. However, there is simply no justification for using the suffix of “phobic” or “phobia,” especially in this case. When reporters and others tack on “phobic” or “phobia,” they are actually denying the fact that the term is used to describe a medical condition in which people truly suffer from fears and are affected by it, often requiring medical treatment.
I would refer you to the Harvard Health Publishing and their definition of a phobia:
I would also refer you to the US National Library of Medicine (I realize this is a US medicine website, but my Canadian doctor appears to trust it and has referred me to this website for medical information on occasion):
After you have learned about the condition of having a phobia, I am sure you will agree that tacking this prefix on to the end of words as is often done these days when it is not truly a “phobic” condition does a disservice to those who suffer from real phobias. Using this term does nothing for balanced reporting or journalism but instead, is a false term of projection that actually carries a stigma – a stigma on the one hand that medical professionals are trying hard to erase in regard to mental illness – but that is further promoted when journalists and reporters use the term.
I would ask you, with this in mind, to request of your reporters and journalists to be very careful about tacking on the suffixes “phobia” or “phobic” unless they have truly investigated and discovered a deep anxiety order as per today’s medical use of the terms.
*It is my opinion that you have made a third error in your letter to me:*
“But because he characterized the entire faith, it was a generalization against all Muslim people.”
This is incorrect and shows a confusion about the difference between “ideas” and “people who hold ideas.” This can be very dangerous – not just to Muslims – but to any group of people, when the distinction between ideas and people holding ideas is not made. I myself was brought up in the Christian faith as a Protestant, coming from Northern Ireland, where there has been much criticism of the different ideas of the sects of Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, and it is partly the failure to recognize this distinction between criticism of ideas and criticism of people that has caused so much suffering where I was born. From my perspective, I can say, “Roman Catholicism has been the wart on the ass on the world” and I can also say “Protestantism has been the wart on the ass on the world,” and in neither case am I generalizing against all
Roman Catholics or Protestants. (Nor do I have a “phobia” of the Christian faith or its various sects).
In fact, I reserve the right to criticize all religions and compare them negatively while maintaining very good friendships with peoples from many different faiths. Of course, those friends don’t have to be friendly toward me if they feel “offended” by my criticism of their faith. However, that does not mean that my characterization from my own point of view is directed to them personally. When reporters and news media ignore this truth, they are in fact doing a disservice to truth and are in fact, projecting and making claims about what a statement means, when in fact it might not have meant what they are insinuating, suggesting, or claiming when they write news.
I hope that you will consider my response and while it does contain some further critique of your reply, I am encouraged by the fact that you considered my initial complaint and made some changes to the news article in question. Thank you for that.
I do hope that Mr. Becken (and the CBC reporter Jennifer McGuire) will seriously consider the issues I have pointed to in his reply to me.
Notwithstanding those issues, I do appreciate the seriousness with which he, along with the CBC Ombudsman, took my complaint and for the changes to the article (except for what the new change claims Mr. Bernier said in the interview).