A long and arduous campaign by professional engineer Robert Muir finally led the CBC ombudsman to rebuke its Radio Canada International branch for a story that claimed an increase in extreme rain events in Canada was pushing up insurance claims. Although the ombudsman did not side with Muir on every point, he slapped RCI down on the main one, saying “One only had to examine the official Environment Canada data for Ontario as well as for the entire country to acknowledge that the claim made in the article was inaccurate.” Yes, but that’s asking a lot. So, apparently is expecting a correction even when the error has been pointed out.
The ombudsman counselled that it is not a mark of shame for a journalistic outlet to admit and fix a mistake. But “the response provided by RCI did not amount to a correction, but a substitution, which does not comply with the values of transparency and accuracy articulated in the JSP” or Journalistic Standards and Practices. Kudos to the ombudsman for pushing back. It’s just one instance. But a welcome one. If you’re a journalist, don’t invent extreme weather.
The corrected story is here. But, Muir tells us, the CBC promptly put the inaccurate claims into a new story. And Terence Corcoran in the Financial Post complains that “there have so far been no corrections issued by CBC’s The National, which last September broadcast a[n]… interview and commentary on the insurance industry claims” that repeated the claims and cited the expert whose testimony Muir had shown to be inaccurate.
It may be part of a battle of attrition, or simply of journalists uncritically searching their own archives and reprinting what they find. But it reflects the fact that, on this issue at least, far too many journalists are not reporting the story, they’re making it… or making it up. They are disguising advocacy as information. And in the long run, they pay a heavy price in credibility for doing so.