This is my initial complaint to the CBC Ombudsman:
While I can appreciate that the CBC considers it within its mandate to report on events relating to the current federal election that are light-hearted or entertaining, I believe the CBC News Newfoundland and Labrador crossed a severe line of good taste and objectivity when it chose to embed a video of “Marg Delahunty” (Mary Walsh) in a October 7, 2015 story on the comedian’s election antics (“’Save’ Stephen Harper, Marg Delahunty says in protest video”).
In the embedded video, Walsh calls Stephen Harper by a variety of names including “Stasi Steve” and “Herr Harper” intended to make allusions between the Conservative leader and communist or Nazi regimes. These are very serious, ugly, and possibly slanderous slurs to be levelled against any politician and I believe the CBC should not have given forum to them, particularly without any sort of comment in the accompanying article.
Mary Walsh should be barred from appearing on the CBC until such time as a review is completed on how the producers and CBC management will ensure Mary Walsh and others appearing on CBC never use these types of slurs again to personally attack and if she is reinstated, be forced to issue an apology.
And this is the response I received:
This is in response to your email of October 9 addressed to Esther Enkin, CBC Ombudsman, and blog post of the same date (“My complaint to CBC Ombudsman about Mary Walsh equating Harper to Hitler”) drawing our attention to a CBCNews.ca story posted on October 7 on the Newfoundland and Labrador page under the headline, “’Save’ Stephen Harper, Marg Delahunty says in protest video”.
Since CBCNews.ca in Newfoundland and Labrador falls under my responsibility, Jennifer McGuire, General Manager and Editor in Chief of CBC News, asked me to reply to you directly.
Let me say immediately that I regret you found Ms. Walsh’s words offensive. However, I want to be clear at the outset that the video you are referring to was written and produced entirely by Ms. Walsh and subsequently posted on her online protest page. CBCNews.ca subsequently published a news story about the video and only provided a link to it to illustrate the story.
Of course, Ms. Walsh is a popular figure in Newfoundland and Labrador. As I expect you know, she is a multiple award-winning comedian and actress, who for many years performed in the long-running CBC program This Hour Has 22 Minutes. Among the most popular of the characters she played is Marg Delahunty, a super-heroine. Dressed In her colourful Princess Warrior costume, Ms. Walsh has been widely covered in the news media over the years surprising politicians across the country, often mock-admonishing them for their perceived public shortcomings. You may recall stories from a few years ago, when in the guise of the Princess Warrior, Ms. Walsh visited then Mayor Rob Ford’s house in suburban Toronto.
On October 5, the popular comic, once again dressed as the Princess Warrior, posted a video to her online political protest page, “Marg Brings Change”. The tongue-in-cheek, anti-Conservative video, which was later uploaded to YouTube, was quickly viewed tens of thousands of times.
Whether you share it or not, anti-Harper sentiment was a recurrent theme heard during the election campaign. Ms. Walsh was the latest popular performer to urge Canadians not to vote Conservative.
On October 7, two days after it had been publicly released, CBC News posted an online story about recent artistic performances critical of Mr. Harper, noting that Ms. Walsh as Marg 2 Delahunty had now joined Blue Rodeo, Hey Rosetta! and Yukon Blonde in expressing her political views. It was not serious political coverage or analysis; nevertheless, we felt it contributed one more perspective to CBC’s extensive cross-platform election coverage.
The story briefly describes the video and quotes Ms. Delahunty before including something of the popular local performer’s background and pointing out that she and Mr. Harper had not always been so adversarial, noting that the two had once “famously locked lips”. By way of illustration, the story included Ms. Walsh’s video as well as links to the Blue Rodeo song, the Hey Rosetta! and Yukon Blonde tune and video clips of Ms. Walsh on This Hour Has 22 Minutes.
I should emphasize that the video expresses Ms. Walsh’s views, not the CBC’s — CBC is prohibited from advocating or supporting any particular point of view – and she is in the best position to explain or defend it. However, I can tell you that she does not at any point in the video equate or compare Mr. Harper to Adolf Hitler.
At one point, she suggests the government has cloaked itself in secrecy. In that vein she refers to Mr. Harper, using his first name, as “Stasi Steve”, an alliterative, if clearly absurd, reference to the former East German secret police. Seconds later, she follows that with the alliterative Germanic honorific, “Herr”, ahead of his surname. Her rant is exaggerated, inflated, evidently untrue and, certainly, partisan, but in our view it is not hateful.
I fully realize that any comparison to Adolf Hitler is offensive to many. And rightly so. But we do not believe Ms. Walsh’s video crossed that threshold. It’s something we are sensitive to and I regret that you understood her as “equating” the two in this instance.
Senior Managing Director