Thursday, 1 May 2014

A "Cable Tax:" A Way CBC Can Fight for its Future

The CBC has not brought much attention to the fact that its current financial problem is caused mostly by funding cuts from the Harper government. Instead, CBC recently told the government it is “grateful” for the money its gets.
CBC is reeling from a $115 million dollar annual reduction in funding from the federal government, which fully kicks in this year. CBC seems reluctant to discuss that not only has the government cut the budget, it won’t provide any money for staff severance payments or inflation on salaries for those who remain at CBC. This is the first government in history that has not only cut the budget but treated CBC employees in this manner.
CBC has also lost all future advertising revenue from NHL hockey, although the president of CBC, Hubert Lacroix, has admitted that CBC was at best breaking even on the NHL. Yet Mr. Lacroix highlights the loss of hockey and a downturn in TV and radio advertising revenues generally as the culprits for CBC’s financial problems rather than government cuts. He at least has adopted the idea of a cable tax, or what might better be called a “Canadian programming fee” to fund CBC.

A cable tax seems an easy target for the cable and satellite companies to attack and the media would pile on, since no one likes a new (or old) tax.
The cable companies would hate the idea but what do average Canadians think about paying a little bit more for better quality Canadian TV programming?
First some background: previously it was pointed out that the entire Canadian English TV industry generates revenues from advertising, subscription fees and government of about $5 billion annually. The BBC alone has more funding than our entire TV industry. The U.S. TV industry, with which Canada's broadcasters must compete, had annual revenues in 2011 of $165 billion or 33 times that of Canadian broadcasters. Critics bemoan the lack of quality in Canadian TV compared to the U.S. but they offer no solutions other than to suggest Canadian TV (CBC) needs to be "cool" and make do with less money!  These critics have scant knowledge of how TV is financed or produced.  Don't get me started. 

What Canadian TV has always lacked is adequate funding that would allow for experimentation, expensive failures, and the occasional hit program. That is how the industry works in the U.S. and elsewhere. In Canada we have starved both CBC TV and private conventional networks of funds and neither CBC nor the privates can produce high quality TV drama that compares with HBO and other U.S. networks. Canadian TV will never produce a Six Feet Under, Sopranos or The Wire with the budgets given to Canadian writers and producers.

CBC can only afford to broadcast (in a good week) 2 hours of original prime time drama while Canadian private networks mostly buy U.S. dramas and air them at the same time as the U.S. networks. This allows cable and satellite companies to unplug the U.S. channel and replace it with the Canadian channel, meaning that viewers see the Canadian commercials on both the Canadian and U.S. channel.
CMRI tracks public opinion about Canadian TV and for over a decade we have asked Canadians if they would be willing to pay for better quality TV. Surprisingly, on average, about 4 in 10 have agreed to paying $5 more per month. So there is clearly some willingness to pay for better quality. $5 per month would be enough to dramatically improve the drama and other programming of CBC TV and private networks. 

Cable and satellite subscribers are far more willing to pay an extra $5 a month for better quality TV than people who watch TV off-air via an antenna. This makes sense. Off-air viewers have always been used to receiving TV for "free." Interestingly, willingness to pay for better quality TV is highest among those who voted Conservative in the last election, something the folks at Sun Media should take note of.
One of the great ironies in Canadian TV is that a large majority of Canadians think that a high percentage of their monthly cable bill already goes to CBC and other local stations. In our most recent survey only about 1 in 3 people thought that none of the money from their monthly bill went to local stations, almost 1 in 2 thought it was 10% of the bill and about 1 in 4 thought that 25% or more went to local stations. In other words, Canadians already think there is a cable tax!

On average Canadians think that about 20% of their bill goes to CBC and other local stations, when it is actually zero. Specialty channels, the majority of which are owned by cable and satellite companies, such as TSN and Sportsnet, receive a percentage of what you pay to Rogers, Bell, etc. but CBC and private TV networks that have local stations receive nothing. They can only benefit indirectly from a small cable fund that underwrites some of the cost of independent programming. If CBC, CTV, etc. were to get even 10% of our cable bill, it would amount to almost $500 million per year and change Canadian TV overnight.  If the cable tax were applied to internet and mobile telecommunications, which also distribute TV/video, it would raise more than $2 billion annually.

The survey data provide a clue as to how such a tax or programming fee could be introduced. Perhaps it should be a direct corporate tax on cable and satellite companies rather than on consumers. If cable companies chose to pass on the tax and try to blame it on the government or CBC, many subscribers would be very surprised, even perturbed to learn that Rogers, Bell and other TV distributors have not been giving some of the money to the CBC all along.

The 2011 survey results are from CMRI's Media Trends Survey conducted November-December 2011 among a representative national sample of approximately 900 Anglophone respondents aged 18-plus.  Margin of error +/-3.3%.  The Media Trends Survey has been conducted for ten consecutive years and has surveyed over 15,000 Canadians in total. In our analysis we usually only report Anglophone results.   Both Anglophones and Francophones have been surveyed in this period, using questionnaires in each respective language.  Francophones have been surveyed in 5 of the 10 years.  To compensate for poorer response rates among younger adults results are statistically weighted in keeping with industry standards.  It is the only survey to have measured media use and attitudes continuously over this decade. The Media Trends Survey is not sponsored by any one industry or affiliated with a media company.

Friday, 11 April 2014

How My Tweet Ended Up in the Globe and Mail

John Doyle published  a column recently contemplating a smaller and distinctive CBC.  

A quote attributed to me appears in this column.  The quote is taken from a tweet of mine, which outlined a possible strategy for CBC. It was a bullet-form, single page document. I sent John and others this tweet asking for suggestions a day or so before his column appeared.  He initially responded via Twitter, commenting on one element of my tweet and including an accusation he probably wouldn't put into his column.

In his published article John introduced two criticisms of the proposals contained in my tweet.  The first referred to requests for viewer donations and the second to producing more TV drama based on Canadian fiction.  John, after quoting me slightly incorrectly, says that "the idea that iconic novels can be turned into compelling TV is, frankly, ludicrous."  

Putting these criticisms aside, has John respected journalistic ethics by not acknowledging his source was Twitter? 

John's use of Twitter is not explicitly stated in his article.  The reader could assume that there exists a published "Strategy for CBC," not something which John simply found on social media - Twitter.   Guidelines for dealing with social media have been established by most news organizations.  Does the Globe and Mail provide guidelines to its journalists, the majority of whom are on Twitter, on how to use social media?. 
NPR, for example, have established clear policies, which stipulate, among other things: "when a social media posting is itself news, try to contact the source to confirm the origin of the information and attain a better understanding of its meaning."  John didn't contact me, although he has done so in the past.  NPR, like most news organizations, has a policy about how its journalists should behave on social media: "Don’t express personal views on a political or other controversial issue that you could not write for the air or post on"  Google "Twitter and journalistic ethics" to find the policies of other media outlets and note the references to how journalists should behave on social media.  To be fair to the Globe, all news outlets are struggling with this issue.  

The Globe and Mail may not have clear guidelines about social media, so John's use of Twitter may be acceptable to them.  Unfortunately, this has lead to a misrepresentation of my views about the CBC and mislead readers of the Globe and Mail on an important issue. 

P.S. John didn't think asking for donations from viewers of CBC New Network was a good idea (lots of people don't).  On Twitter he called it "on-air begging" and "unseemly."  For the record I am in no way proposing that CBC considers beg-a-thons or offering tote bags and coffee cups as a way of funding the network.  However, some believe that requests for viewer donations could take many forms, for example a low key graphic after program credits.  Those who support donations cite not only the financial rewards but also the interaction and engagement with viewers.  For example, TVO reports that over 41,000 people made donations in 2012-13, totaling over $5 million. Not much, although it pays for a few staff,  and 41,000 people feel invested.  If nothing else, musing about donations, as the CBC president did this week, might be a strategy to get the public and politicians to consider innovative, new ways of funding CBC.

P.P.S. The premise of John's article is based on the claim that the Conservatives have cut the CBC government subsidy to " well below $1 billion" but this is in error.  According to CBC's most recent corporate plan the grant will continue to be over $1 billion for a number of years to come and that's not counting government funds from the Canadian Media Fund and production tax credits.  John can't be referring to only CBC English because its government grant has never been $1 billion.   If the CBC is to find its way out of this crisis, the facts about its funding, staffing and audiences need to be complete and understood.  

P.P.P.S. As for the opinion that making TV programs based on great Canadian fiction is "unworkable," some readers must have been scratching their heads, especially those who remember "Anne of Green Gables," "Road to Avonlea," "The Piano Man's Daughter," or "The Englishman's Boy," which John gave two-thumbs up when it appeared on CBC in 2008.  Internationally there are hundreds of TV shows based on novels.  "Anne of Green Gables'" record audience of almost 6 million viewers still stands today. Note to self---tweet that to John to get his feedback.


Saturday, 8 March 2014

Peter Mansbridge: A New Form of CBC Journalism?

Peter Mansbridge is probably the most recognized journalist in the country.  Disclosure: Peter kindly taught me how to hold a microphone when I replaced him at the now defunct CBC radio station in Churchill, Manitoba almost 50 years ago.  That’s right, Peter has been with CBC for almost half a century.

Peter has been the subject of some controversy for a speech he delivered to the Canadian oil lobby in 2012.  I haven’t seen the speech but I doubt it would be any different than one he would give to the Kiwanis and I believe his news judgment would not consciously be affected by accepting a payment from the lobby group. Though, in retrospect, he probably wishes he had agreed to speak to the Kiwanis. 

Peter has been reading the news on The National for the past 25 years. He also does numerous interviews, as well as moderating expert panels that usually include political pundits, pollsters and newspaper columnists, discussing political events. The panels are like newspaper columns, striving to understand the backroom workings of the political parties and their strategies. But looking at a number of episodes of The Insiders and the At Issue panels I noticed an interesting phenomenon.

When moderating the At Issue and The Insiders panels Peter is, I believe, breaking new journalistic ground that places the moderator on the same plane as the panelists. Peter not only questions the panelists but also offers his own comments on the news and issues discussed.  During a May 13, 2013 At Issue while commenting on the Nigel Wright affair, Peter looks at the three panelists, Chantal Hébert, Andrew Coyne and Bruce Anderson, and says, “What do we make of this?” 

In a rare non-political edition of At Issue on September 19, 2013, which dealt with the near collapse of Blackberry, Peter sums up the discussion by saying that Blackberry “…appears to be in serious trouble and yet nobody seems to be talking about it, or really seems to care about it.”  This is the sort of declaration that a columnist makes.  The rest of the segment responds to Peter’s general assertion.

At one point Peter interrupts Chantal saying, “But it’s really not about how we see ourselves. I am sure that most Canadians would, you know, like, pick Sydney Crosby or you pick Chris Hadfield or any number of things that define us. But outside of Canada when internationally we’re looked at I don’t think there is any question that a lot of people identified us with Blackberry five years ago but now, you know, it’s changed, it could be the oil sands that define us to a lot of people on the international stage.”  This is again a sweeping opinion that a CBC journalist would not make.

Peter as moderator employs other techniques that CBC journalists don’t normally use.  For example, he often prefaces his introduction of a topic by saying that “some people” or a lot of people” are saying something about an issue.  Or, he will say that a trusted person has said such and such about an issue. Those “people” are rarely identified.

For example, during a January 23, 2014 At Issue Peter comments on the political situation in Ottawa: “You know, a wise old political hand told me just in the last couple of weeks that if you are going to win, if you are going to win in politics, you gotta have three things going for you, you gotta have the polls in your favour, you gotta have crowds when you appear and you have to have money and if you have all three things, you got a really good shot at winning and of the three parties only one has got all those three things.”  It is somewhat unusual for a journalist not to attribute the source for the initial statement and even more unusual to offer the opinion that only one party has all three things.  I suspect that two of the three parties would disagree.  

The Senate scandal has been the focus of many At Issue segments.  Here are a few examples of when Peter has offered various opinions about aspects of the scandal:

*May 23, 2013: “You know, the NDP has been calling for an RCMP inquiry.  That’ll bury this story for a long time, right?” (Like a lot of columnists, Peter is not always right.)

*May 28, 2013: “When you run that against the back drop of some of the things we’ve talked about in the last few weeks, about, you know, the potential of, you know, a kind of open mutiny going on inside the Conservative caucus, I found that interesting.”

*October 25, 2013: “Well, where does the week come to an end with the Prime Minister? I mean his people are all running around saying he’s back, he’s on top of his game, he’s looking good.  How much of that is real? There’s no doubt he had a better week than he’s had lately.”

*November 20, 2013: “Some of the stuff in this document about some of those other senators that you just mentioned is pretty devastating stuff about the way they were operating.”

*November 21, 2013: “Well, (this is) as bad as it gets, unless somebody gets charged and there’s a trial and people have to be on the witness stand.”

*November 28, 2013: “Wow, you kinda wonder after that, like, what’s the role of everybody there and what’s the role of Question Period.”

There are many others...

The Insiders, which has a lower profile than At Issue, focused on the budget on February 11, 2014.  When Jamie Watt refers to the Conservative’s good management of the economy, Peter questions this: “That’s being challenged now more than it had been the last couple of years.”  Jamie Watt and the other pundits that appear on The Insiders are clearly identified as Conservative, Liberal or NDP strategists.  Oddly, when Jamie appears on a regular segment of another CBC show, Power and Politics, he is not identified as a Conservative.  

Peter Mansbridge is probably not only the most well known journalist in Canada but also among the most trusted.  Our public opinion surveys have shown in the past decade that despite declining budgets and audiences Canadians still feel CBC has the best quality national news and is highly trusted, and Peter can take some credit. 

Peter and his producers have in recent years re-shaped CBC’s flagship news program and his role in it.  He is no longer just a newsreader or interviewer. He has grown into the equivalent of a TV news columnist offering opinions on the news and current events. Peter seems to want to distance himself from his old role as just a CBC journalist; following each broadcast At Issue is posted on Youtube with no reference to CBC.

I suspect that Peter’s role as TV news columnist has gone unnoticed, except by the newspaper columnists and pundits who appear on his show. Does the CBC fully understand that Peter has developed a new journalistic form that does not seem to be captured in its journalistic policies?  CBC news management was unaware that Rex Murphy’s commentary on The National had been improperly labeled for five years. CBC should acknowledge Peter’s role as a commentator, not just a journalist, and revisit its journalistic policies. 

Friday, 7 February 2014

CBC Ombudsman and Management Agree CBC Contravening Journalistic Standards

CBC agrees that it has contravened its own journalistic policies.  CMRI found several instances where CBC failed to live up to its standards. First, we observed how public opinion polls were being reported without adhering to policies established decades ago. These policies ensure that the methodology in polls meet high research standards and are reported in a transparent fashion for the audience.

Then, we highlighted the improper use of online surveys, which CBC has of late implied are representative of public opinion or the audience’s views, rather than those who choose to respond to such online questions.  It is CBC policy to ensure the audience understands such survey results are not representative and CBC is violating the policy.  

Finally, we brought attention to the fact that Rex Murphy’s regular segment on The National was being presented as CBC’s opinion rather than that of Mr. Murphy. CBC had not noticed that the label identifying the segment as Mr. Murphy’s opinion had gone missing from the program almost five years earlier, prompting John Doyle to tweet that it was “shocking laxity.” CBC quickly re-introduced the label “Point of View,” which now appears throughout the segment.

CBC’s Ombudsman wrote a thorough and clear review of CMRI’s complaint.  The summary stated: “The complainant, Barry Keifl (sic), who runs Canadian Media Research and used to work here at CBC, had some concerns about some features on Power and Politics. He thought other programs were not living up to CBC’s polling policies either. He was right in at least two cases. Power and Politics is not living up to the rigors of CBC policy on polling in a couple of their regular features. I suggested CBC lay out some standard processes for polling approval and presentation.”

As a result, some changes in how poll results are presented on Power and Politics have already been introduced and the producer has indicated changes will be made in how online survey results are presented.  The latter, by policy, should not be characterized as percentages, only as raw vote totals, and it will be interesting to see if the program abides by the policy in future. 

The Ombudsman and CMRI disagreed about a segment of the program called Political Traction.  CMRI felt that it was being presented as though it were a poll, possibly misleading the audience.  The Ombudsman disagreed but the segment now concludes with a description of the methodology, where none had been present.  The very day the Ombudsman released her review, Political Traction contained a statement about “what Canadians are saying” about Justin Trudeau’s Senate decision.  Such a statement suggests that the results are representative of Canadians, i.e., a poll, when clearly they are not.

Political Traction Says it Knows What Canadians are Saying (@1'50")

CBC management responded positively to the complaint about polls and online surveys in a separate communication: “…the Ombudsman review reminds us that new ways of storytelling can't come at the expense of our journalistic standards. You can be sure we'll re-examine and tighten up our processes where necessary.” 

As for Rex Murphy, CBC management also addressed his status in a another communication this week: “The most important thing to understand is that Rex is not a regular reporter. He appears on The National as a commentator precisely to do analysis and offer his point of view on issues of the day…. As much as Rex is identified with the CBC, he is not a full-time employee of the CBC….his point of view is his own.”  Several people responded to this defense of Rex Murphy’s segment and raised some important issues, which I recommend you read.

This is fascinating in one very important respect.  CBC has for decades employed commentators or outspoken journalists like Rex Murphy, Jason Moscovitz, etc. Their role has always been explained as it was this week by the head of CBC News.  There is a sense of déjà vu.  CBC has been through all of this before but, like the forgotten label, seems to be forgetting its roots.

CBC journalism has traditionally occupied the high ground, providing the best news and current affairs, including commentary.  In a broadcasting environment controlled by Rogers, Bell and other conglomerates, the future of the CBC rests on its journalism.  Sports, such as the NHL, will henceforth be controlled by the conglomerates.  They can also purchase the best entertainment programming from Hollywood and the rest of the world and they have the resources to take greater risks in Canadian entertainment programs.

The one area where CBC can still compete is news and current affairs. CBC TV and CBC New Network spent over $200 million on news and current affairs in 2012, according to the CRTC, so we expect and deserve high quality from the public broadcaster.  Even if competitors wanted to spend more on news, it wouldn't necessarily displace CBC's central role.  Thus, any relaxation of CBC journalistic standards only plays into the hands of those who want to get the CBC on their ‘level playing field,’ which will be the undoing of the public broadcaster.  

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Is CBC Abandoning the Basic Principles of Public Broadcasting?

Important update:  After being notified that the label "Point of View" no longer appeared on Rex's segment, CBC informed me that it will be re-introduced within a few days.  Kudos to Peter, Rex and CBC News.

Another Update: Rex Murphy's "Point of View" returned on January 17, 2014, as shown in the photo at bottom of post.

Has CBC deserted its journalistic standards? CBC has mission statements and policies that are appropriate to a public broadcaster, including extensive policies relating to journalism, the crown jewel of CBC.  But CBC is ignoring these journalistic standards and appears to be in violation of its own policies virtually every day.  We will examine some concrete examples. 

A small but telling example of CBC veering from its own journalistic policies is the case of opinion polls, which was dealt with in an earlier post.  During the 1980’s, following the first Quebec referendum, senior management grew concerned about journalists designing and reporting on polls and possible effect of polls on elections.  A policy was created to ensure oversight by the professional survey researchers in the CBC research department, and reporting standards dealing with survey methodology were established. Most major newspapers began following CBC’s example and started reporting sample size, margin of error, etc.  

The policy on polling appears to have been jettisoned by both CBC radio and TV.  Programs like The House, The National, Day Six, Power and Politics and regular newscasts present poll results with little and sometimes no reference to methodology. 

Online surveys are another case in point.  They are being used virtually every day by CBC programs— ignoring the CBC policy that “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.”  Such surveys are specifically prohibited by the policy from “giv(ing) the results as a percentage, as we normally do with bona fide polls.”  Yet they all do, in direct contradiction to the policy. 

Decades ago CBC research determined that callers to Cross Country Checkup or those who write to CBC, i.e., online surveys, are not representative, but this knowledge has seemingly been discarded, along with journalistic policies.  How can legitimate polls possibly have any credibility in this environment?

A more serious concern is the CBC’s new-found approach to presenting opinion in news programs.  CBC TV and radio have journalistic policies dealing with the expression of opinion.  The policy states: “CBC journalists do not express their own personal opinion because it affects the perception of impartiality and could affect an open and honest exploration of an issue.”  If a guest or commentator offers an opinion, CBC must identify their affiliation or special interest.  The policy also states: “We maintain the same standards, no matter where we publish - on CBC platforms or in other media outside the CBC.”

Yet, Rex Murphy, one of CBC’s best known broadcasters, offers a regular opinion segment on The National, the nightly news program, and his pieces are archived on the CBC’s web site and YouTube, where there is no reference to his segment being commentary or opinion.  That was once the case, as per policy, but now it is implied that Rex represents not himself but CBC.

Rex’s segment ceased being labeled "Point of View" five years ago but nobody seems to have noticed.  The change occurred the same week that the news anchor for The National began reading the news standing up, emulating the sense of urgency in Eyewitness news programs.  Likewise, CBC Radio newsreaders have taken to offering spontaneous opinions about people and events, albeit usually celebrities and lighter items, in hourly newscasts.  This practice, along with a private media-like emphasis in local news on accidents, fires and crime, has crept into the radio news service the last few years.

The reasons for this are complex and will be addressed in future posts. What is clear is that CBC journalistic standards are now similar to those of any other broadcaster. Have CBC senior managers and its Board of Directors carefully considered the strategic direction being taken by the radio and TV networks?   

Rex Murphy October 22, 2009
Rex Murphy October 30, 2009
Rex Murphy January 17, 2014

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