Ombudsman Says CBC Failed to Meet Journalistic Standards in Headline Citing Race

Ombudsman Says CBC Failed to Meet Journalistic Standards in Headline Citing Race
People walk toward the CBC building in Toronto in a file photo. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)
Amanda Brown

An ombudsman’s ruling on a CBC report that labelled criminal suspects as “white” and “disgruntled,” has found it in violation of the public broadcaster’s journalism code.

The story implied that violent criminals in British Columbia were predominantly young, Caucasian, and characterized the offenders as angry, according to the ruling first covered by Blacklock’s Reporter.

“Given how fraught it is to discuss the intersection of race and crime, more care was required here,” wrote CBC Ombudsman Jack Nagler. “This is especially the case with the headline.”

In the online article published on July 6, 2022, by CBC Vancouver reporter Karin Larsen, the report alluded to criminology while examining the demographic characteristics of a group of offenders.

“White, Male, Young and Disgruntled: Saanich Bank Robbers Latest In A Line Of Violent B.C. Criminals,” read the headline.

According to the ombudsman, it was unnecessary to mention that some British Columbia felons were Caucasian.

“Race was listed in the body of the story as being relevant,” wrote Mr. Nagler. “Importantly it was also a key part of the headline: ‘White, Male, Young And Disgruntled.’”

He explained that readers would naturally assume from the headline that the CBC was making race a significant factor in the story even though evidence of its significance was absent from the story. He further explained the CBC had hypothesized about race in the article.

“It is entirely understandable readers would assume from reading this headline that CBC was saying race was a significant factor in the story,” wrote Mr. Nagler. “Yet CBC did not offer any particular evidence that race was important to the understanding of the subject.”

A criminologist cited in the article refuted the assertion that the racial profile of certain criminals was the central focus of his analysis.

“The handling of issues related to race did not adhere to a sufficiently high standard, particularly the treatment in the headline,” wrote Mr. Nagler. “I encourage the programmers to rephrase the headline and reflect on better ways to approach such stories in future.”

The public broadcaster’s own standards and practices guide stipulates that journalists are not to mention national or ethnic origin, colour, religious affiliation, physical characteristics or disabilities, mental illness, sexual orientation, or age “except when important to an understanding of the subject.”

As of Sept. 19, the CBC headline had not been altered. According to Blacklock’s, a CBC executive has defended the “white male” reference as newsworthy.

“It’s an offender type that happens to be the focus of a lot of study among criminologists,” Shiral Tobin, director of journalism for CBC British Columbia told Blacklock’s. Tobin said “most perpetrators of mass shootings in the United States and Canada” were young white men.