By Esther Enkin, CBC Ombudsman
The complainant, Paula Vallee, had a relative die in a car crash. While she herself was not contacted, she alleged the reporter was insensitive and insistent with other family members. She also said some reports had errors and her messages were ignored. CBC News staff in Edmonton acted appropriately in their interactions with the family and respectfully in their responses to her. Dealing with the tension between the need to verify basic facts and respecting the grief of families is one of the harder jobs journalists do.
You objected to several articles published on the CBC News Edmonton site. The stories were about a fatal collision on a road near Myrnam, northeast of Edmonton. There were two women killed, one of whom was your niece. I extend my condolences for your loss. Two boys were injured, and the family dog was killed. You had multiple complaints about the coverage. You said there were inaccuracies in the story, and when you informed the reporter no action was taken. You cited a story published on October 21st, 2016 as particularly egregious but noted that the story was no longer on the website. You were concerned its removal was part of a cover-up. There is one story left on the website, and you said there is still an error in it. You wondered why there was no acknowledgment of the errors posted until January of this year. You said the report wrongly states the family was returning to Fort McMurray after leaving sometime after the fire last May. In fact, you stated the family had left before the outbreak of the wildfire that swept the area.
As well as the inaccuracies, you accused the reporter, Marion Warnica, of harassing family members, exhibiting callous behaviour and publishing family names against the wishes of the family itself. You thought it wrong that she used comments taken from Facebook from people who were not close to the family and did so without any process of verification. You told her, in a series of emails, that the family did not want the names of their loved ones released, and that while some of the story was correct, there were errors - although you did not point out what those errors were. You felt it was sufficient that you had asked her “to correct her errors and that I would not do her job for her.”
She could have researched and verified from her original sources before simply asking me to supply the information for her. Information in fact that was never intended to be released to the public in a news article. This again violates the Right to Privacy ethic which was indeed relayed to her through the RCMP whom she spoke with.
You wanted CBC to admit its errors, retract the story and to publish an article indicating that there had been an accident, but omitting anything that would identify who was involved.
You acknowledged that Alana Wenger’s husband, Chris Wenger, spoke with Ms. Warnica, but you said he was distraught and did so under duress.