ONO Newsletter August 2019

This month’s topic…

Who are you calling a racist?

President Trump’s tweets and public comments targeting four Democrat congresswomen – Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar and Ayanna Pressley – provoked huge controversy and reaction.

After telling them to go back to where they came from, President Trump was accused of being racist.

The reaction was widespread and understandable, but contained within it was a challenge for news organisations and, by extension, for standards editors and ombudsmen too.

Was calling President Trump a racist for his comments, or alternatively clearly branding the remarks themselves racist, the expression of an opinion or the statement of a fact?

Was it an appropriate, impartial editorial judgement or a perspective open to challenge or debate?

And depending on your view on that, what was the correct advice to give newsroom staff seeking guidance or members of the public making complaints?

We’d be very keen to hear from members who grappled with this issue in relation to Trump’s remarks or other similar examples, and if anyone would like to share their perspective we will include it in our next newsletter.

In the meantime, here are some perspectives already out there:

If you have made a recent decision that covers this ground or you have some thoughts you would like to share, email us at newsombudsmenorg@gmail.com

Member Profile

Each month, ONO will profile one of its members in this newsletter, as part of our plan to increase awareness of colleagues around the world.

This month, our featured profile is Jack Nagler, the News Ombudsman for the English language services of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

Jack took up the position in January this year after spending five years as CBC News’ Director of Journalistic Public Accountability and Engagement. We asked him a few questions for our newsletter:

Tell us about yourself. What is your current role and how long have you been in the position? What are your chief duties/responsibilities?

I became the Ombudsman for CBC in January of 2019. I deal with complaints about journalistic content broadcast or published on any platform by CBC English Services. (My colleague Guy Gendron does the same for French Services at Radio-Canada.) My primary role is as an appeal authority when complainants are dissatisfied with the responses they receive from CBC management. I conduct reviews to determine if the article, segment, or program in question adhered to the corporation’s journalistic policies – and then report back publicly.

Ultimately, I see myself as an advocate in equal parts for both the audience and the craft of journalism. 

What was your career/background prior to taking up your current role? 

I’ve been a journalist for three decades, the vast majority in broadcast. That includes many years in the field as a producer, many years in newsrooms running programs, many years running CBC’s international coverage, and many years as a manager juggling all the pleasant challenges media leaders face these days. I also led the most recent update to CBC’s Journalistic Standards and Practices, so I can’t claim as Ombudsman that I don’t understand the thinking that went into them!

What are the biggest challenges and/or opportunities faced by your organisation/the media in general in your country?

It feels as though every news organization faces two existential challenges – one is navigating the churning seas of finance, and the other is navigating the churning sea of public discourse. Earning the trust and confidence of citizens is a task that has to be addressed each and every day, and journalists cannot cut corners.

As a public broadcaster, CBC/Radio-Canada faces additional challenges, and has unique opportunities as well, in serving a country as vast as Canada.

Feel free to share any of the most significant or challenging issues you have had to deal with recently in your role.

Honestly, I have found every review to be challenging. There are many misconceptions about how journalists work and what distinguishes them from anyone with a social media account. So I try to make reviews as much about public education as professional adjudication.

Is there any question or comment you would like to make to the ONO membership generally as part of this profile? Something you would like advice or input on?

Attending the ONO conference in New York City was an eye-opener for me. It was a privilege to hear so many smart people grappling with similar issues, but with different pressure-points and different methods of working. I look forward to learning more from you in the future.

Over time, these member profiles will all appear on the ONO website. If you would like to be profiled in our newsletter, please send a photo and some biographical information (which could be based on the questions above or on any other matters you wish to discuss) to the ONO Executive Director, Alan Sunderland, at newsombudsmanorg@gmail.com

Ombudsmen decisions and news

Each month, we will aim to draw attention to recent decisions, comments and articles by ONO members and other ombudsmen/public editors/complaints handlers that may be of interest.

We are always on the lookout for new material, so if you have recently published something (in any language) you would like to share or if you have seen something of interest, please let us know via email to newsombudsmenorg@gmail.com and we will include it in our next newsletter.

  1. In India, ONO member A.S. Paneerselvan from the Hindu provides this interesting analysis of the challenges of verification: https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/Readers-Editor/the-act-of-verification-requires-time/article28428964.ece
  2. In the UK, ONO member Paul Chadwick from the Guardian discusses the tricky issue of spoilers: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jul/14/spoiler-alert-plot-lines-tv-shows
  3. In Canada, French services Ombudsman for CBC and ONO Member Guy Gendron looks at some of the intricacies around impartiality when interviewers paraphrase the views of others: https://cbc.radio-canada.ca/fr/ombudsman/revisions/reformuler-idee-revient-exprimer-sienne
  4. And finally, off the back of some interesting comments on the same topic at our conference in New York in June, ONO Member and Public Editor of News24 and Media24 in South Africa, George Claassen, discusses the appropriate way to deal with science denialism: https://www.news24.com/Columnists/GeorgeClaassen/science-denialism-is-a-litmus-test-for-quality-journalism-20190625


Industry News


Visit our website for a short summary of our recent New York Conference and for some extra photos from the event: https://www.newsombudsmen.org/2019-conference/  You can also find past copies of all of our newsletters here: https://www.newsombudsmen.org/category/ono-bulletins/

Follow us on Twitter

ONO has a Twitter account and we are planning to bring it back to life this year and use it regularly to post items of interest to members.

If you have a presence on Twitter yourself, you can do two things to promote ONO on this platform:

  1. Follow us. The ONO twitter account is @ONOOrgOmbuds
  2. Use the hashtag. Whenever you are sharing something that you think will be of interest to fellow ombudsmen and standards editors, use the hashtag #ONONews That will make it easier for us to find your contributions and share them via our Twitter feed and our website.

Bjarne Schilling                                                                     Alan Sunderland

ONO President                                                               ONO Executive Director

Bjarne.Schilling@pol.dk                                newsombudsmenorg@gmail.com

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