By Esther Enkin, CBC Ombudsman
The Alberta Teachers’ Association released a toolkit for creating curriculum dealing with “sexual and minority genders.” The complainant, Greg Murphy, questioned the balance and fairness of an article about the handbook framed by the objections raised by a critic. He thought it misrepresented the document and distorted its meaning. There were other perspectives in the piece, and other articles on the subject. There was no violation of policy.
You found an article about a new publication created by the Alberta Teachers’ Association to help teachers develop curriculum and foster discussion of LGBTQ issues to have violated CBC Journalistic Policy on several counts. I note that you initially sent an email to this office on November 2nd, 2016, the day the article was published. Unfortunately we never received it, it never arrived, and it wasn’t until you inquired about it on December 19 that the process began. I apologize for the time lag.
You thought that starting with the headline, the piece entitled “Should Drag shows be used as a teaching tool in Alberta schools” generated controversy for the sake of it. You said the article used as its frame the criticism of one blogger, and ignored the substance and issues raised in the handbook. You added that beginning with this controversial notion of drag shows as a teaching tool, the article lacked the context needed and instead “presents it as indicative of the whole document.”
The document suggests using drag shows as an option to supplement cosmetology and/or drama classes, should the teacher feel that it would be appropriate for his or her students. At no point is there a suggestion that drag shows be used in any other context or to teach any other group of students.
You considered this a lack of nuance you saw throughout the report. You said that the article focused its attention on one blogger who was critical and did not provide enough information about the report itself.
It reduces a comprehensive document about inclusion to two or three specific ideas (presented without context), and serves to further stigmatize children and teens who already face intense discrimination and bullying, and the host of physical and mental health problems that follow. It legitimizes the “gay panic” narrative that leads to bullying and discrimination in the first place.
You also had concerns about the use of language in the article. Not only did it violate CBC Journalistic Standards relating to balance and fairness, but also its many provisions on the use of language, in particular the guidelines on “quality and precision,” “language level and good taste” and “respect and absence of prejudice”:
... it repeats the views of the blogger without attribution and functionally parrots the blog post, giving a national platform to Theresa Ng's intolerant and anti-government viewpoints.
You believe the article lacks balance because other perspectives regarding the Prism handbook are not referenced until quite far down in the story.
Ashley Geddes, Senior Producer Digital, CBC News Edmonton, responded to your concerns. He explained that the focus of the story was the 150-page Prism booklet, which had just been distributed to Alberta schools. He said that there was opposition to the publication, so the “theme of controversy, of opposing views” is the thread throughout the story.
The story’s first sentence says the booklet is being “slammed by critics”, for suggesting schools should stage drag shows and address students as “comrades”, rather than boys and girls – both salient issues in the mind of critics. The third paragraph adds more context saying the booklet is “just the latest in a divisive battle over LGBTQ rights for students, pitting advocates against religious and parental groups”