CBC finally responds to my complaint filed with Ombudsman on military’s bin Laden skit video coverage


To read my original complaint see earlier post here

Dear Mr. Skoreyko:

Thank you for your e-mail of November 11 addressed to Kirk LaPointe, CBC Ombudsman. At the end of November last year, CBC/Radio Canada President and CEO, Hubert T. Lacroix, named Esther Enkin to succeed Mr. LaPointe. That appointment took effect on January 1 of this year.

Since THE NATIONAL falls in my remit, I would like to reply. Please accept my apologies for the delay in doing so.

You wrote to draw our attention to shortcomings you find in a report broadcast on the November 8 editions of the program. The report by CBC News national correspondent Tom Murphy concerned a video prepared by members of the Canadian Forces featuring a short skit with a man in brown face paint dressed up as Osama bin Laden’s brother, “Eugene”.

Let me begin by saying that I sincerely regret you are disappointed in CBC, but – and I say this with respect – your view here is not one I share. Please allow me to explain why I say that.

Members of CFB Greenwood’s Air Maintenance Squadron made fun of themselves in the videotape through a series of vignettes and skits, including the mock interview with Osama bin Laden’s brother. It was commissioned and approved by squadron officers and was played more than two years ago at a formal mess dinner. Although some officers who saw it thought it was offensive and ordered it to be destroyed, late last fall a copy of the video was sent to CBC News in Halifax.

The mock interview with an unidentified woman acting as television interviewer was short, but in one clip shown in the report the character in brown-face and fake beard says, “What do you think I’m doing here you silly infidel? I’m driving one very nice taxi.” [He walks off camera and shouts] “Hey kid – get away from that car bomb, I mean taxi. It’s very dangerous”. At another point he named a woman of South Asian descent who works on the base as his niece and says she helped him come to Canada. (The woman, who had not been consulted, complained and received apologies from everyone involved.)

The CBC News report said the Canadian Forces members behind it intended the video to be funny, a humorous take on their work and activities.

Others, Mr. Murphy found, have different views. The head of the Islamic Association in the Maritimes said, “The typical Muslim means terrorist. This is typically the kind of stereotype that I think a great number of Muslims would find rather offensive”. Well-known comic Shaun Majumder, who has played Osama bin Laden in skits on CBC Television’s This Hour Has 22 Minutes, said he didn’t think it was funny, adding that comics are “not trying to win hearts and minds. That’s not our responsibility. Our Canadian military is.”

Defense Minister Peter MacKay said the video featured “inappropriate content and poor taste.” Lt.-Gen. Yvan Blondin, head of the Royal Canadian Air Force said the skit is “inappropriate and culturally insensitive”. He said the Canadian Forces has zero tolerance for acts that do not respect other cultures and religions, and said he “expressed his apologies to those who may feel offended”.

What lies at the heart of the notion of fairness in journalism is the equitable expression of differing points of view on controversial matters. Simply, we expect CBC journalists to report the facts accurately and to elicit comments and opinions from those who are involved in the events they are covering.  With that information, viewers may be reasonably expected to evaluate the comments, test them against each other and the facts, and decide whose “truth” to believe.

With respect to the specific points you raised, it is inaccurate to suggest CBC News delayed the story until just before Remembrance Day. We did not. Since it involved Canadian Forces members, we asked Canadian Forces headquarters in Halifax for their views. Two military police officers viewed the video at our office. The Canadian military subsequently said they were ordering what they called a full investigation. With a response from the Canadian Forces, we broadcast the story. We would not broadcast it without one. The timing was unrelated to Remembrance Day.

The subject matter is also unrelated. One squadron’s effort at humour for a mess dinner, however well intentioned, stands or falls on its own. The Canadian Forces – and Canadians – will reach their own conclusions about its appropriateness. That has and should have no impact on the solemn ceremonies held across the country three days later to commemorate the sacrifices of Canadian military personnel

It is facile and inaccurate to suggest the report is hypocritical in that it did not disclose that Mr. Majumder and CBC Television’s This Hour Has 22 Minutes have produced skits about Osama bin Laden.  Members of the Canadian Forces are held by their own organization to a higher standard than civilians. Mr. Majumder’s comments imply that. Comics may well – and may even be expected to – test society’s standards, members of the military are not. Quite the contrary, as Lt.-Gen. Blondin pointed out, the Canadian Forces respect other cultures and religions and has “zero tolerance” for acts that do not.

Your reference to Mr. Majumder’s Twitter account and “#whitepower” is unclear. I have reviewed his tweets for November 10 and 11, which include an exchange with Ezra Levant, conservative political activist and author, but I do not see that hashtag. Nor do I see anything that “inferred” he feels Canadian soldiers belong to such a group. What is abundantly clear in those tweets is Mr. Majumder’s consistent support for the Canadian Forces and Canadian Forces personnel and the high regard in which he holds them.

Thank you again for your e-mail. I hope my reply has reassured you of the continuing integrity of our program and CBC News.

Finally, it is 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 ombudsman@cbc.ca.


Mark Harrison
Executive Producer
Box 500, Station “A”,
Toronto, Ontario
M5W 1E6

%d bloggers like this: