Monday, 28 November 2011

Why does (only part of) the CBC hate wind? Conclusion

It's time to wrap up this series with some overall conclusions.  But first, here's a reminder of how this series started.  From September 21 to October 1, Dave Seglins and John Nicol authored the following stories (followed by two on-line polls):

2011 September 21: Wind farm health risks claimed in $1.5 M suit 
2011 September 22: Should there be stricter limits on wind turbines in rural areas? (online poll)
2011 September 22: Ont. wind farm health risks downplayed: documents
2011 October 1: Ontario wind power bringing down property values
2011 October 1: Would you live near wind turbines? (online poll)
2011 October 4: Ontario wind power faces test over property values

To the best of my knowledge, Seglins and Nicol have not covered the wind issue since the election.

Inquiring minds want to know .....

So, why did these reporters cover the story the way they did?  If I was the CBC Ombudsman, I'd ask these questions:

1. How did the story come to you?  

Based on how the stories were written, the interviewees and underlying evidence seemed to have been somewhat pre-packaged.  In other words, the tipster probably sat down with the reporters and laid out their case, offering documents and recommended interviews.

What is unknown is whether the tip came in "over-the-transom" or whether it was introduced by someone the reporters knew.  Beth Harrington is the Communications Director of Wind Concerns Ontario (WCO) and is, or was, also on the Board of the Alliance to Protect Prince Edward County.  She was also a CBC reporter in the 1990's when Seglins was starting his career.  Did Beth Harrington have any influence in introducing the tipster?

2. Why did you print the stories when you did?  

This story cycle seemed to have a well defined beginning and end, and the cycle appeared to synchronize with the Ontario provincial election on October 6.  It also appears that there was a concerted effort to get the story published during the campaign since it was packed into a time frame of less than month leading up to the election.

Some of the documentary evidence was a few months old and had already been published on a WCO website.  

Then, following the election, there was no follow-up reporting on the issues.

3.  Do you have any views on wind turbines that might have entered the story?  

I have absolutely no evidence that this might be the case and I don't believe that either reporter makes a habit of reporting on wind issues.  However, I'm continually amazed that when you dig below the outer skin of a wind story you find someone with a cottage or farm near a proposed wind farm.  I have well over a dozen examples, but that's a blog entry for a different day   So, if I was the ombudsman, I'd ask "Do you or your family have a residence near a proposed wind farm?"

4. Why didn't you dig deeper, cover both sides better?

I haven't analysed the number of words for and against wind in these stories, but they are decidedly anti-wind.  There were the typical calls to the usual suspects (CanWEA, Ministry of the Environment, developers' PR departments) but there could have been so much more.  It's easy enough to find a host landowner.  Pick a turbine and look around.

CBC isn't all that bad
I don't want to leave the impression that I believe that all of CBC is bad.  I listen to and watch CBC most of the time.  I've even donated to groups fighting to keep it alive.  And there are other areas of CBC that have been very pro-wind over the years:

Bob McDonald, host of Quirks and Quarks, first Canadian to be included in Sigma Xi, the most prestigious research society in the US and Officer of the Order of Canada, said this about wind turbines:

The point is this. We Canadians are among the worst energy hogs and highest emitters
of greenhouse gasses on the planet. When a clean alternative comes along, arguing
against it because it looks ugly is like standing on the tilted deck of the Titanic,
complaining about the colour of the lifeboats. Let’s get on with it.

George Stroumboulopoulos, while host of The Hour with George Stroumboulopoulos, provided leadership for One Million Acts of Green and celebrated the wind farm in the Ontario Highlands that is now featured in the Seglins/Nicols critique.

David Suzuki, founder of Quirks and Quarks, host of The Nature of Things, ...   Enough said.

However, for some reason Seglins and Nicol missed the boat on this one.

They're not the only media outlet to do the same.  The National Post is not only anti-wind but also proud climate change deniers.  The QMI Agency and the Sun Media network regularly write slanted coverage.  These, however, appear to be errors of commission.  

Then there are the other media channels that get caught up in the controversy and don't do a thorough job - the errors of omission.  I'll put these two reporters in that camp.

Root causes
So, what's the root cause of these errors?  Let's put aside the egregious errors of commission.  They arise from blind ideology, ignorance, denial and even outright support from wind's natural enemies - coal and nuclear power. 

Lets focus on the sources of the errors of omission.  They're harder to discern.

First, the media can be susceptible to tipsters who bring them their stories.  In this case, it was an easy story.  The documents had been mined by someone under a Freedom of Information request, posted on a website and then pointed out to the reporters.  It was probably backed up by a schedule to introduce reporters to real-life "victims".  Easy sound clips and web postings.

Second, wind is a topical issue.  For some reason, some people become quite polarized about wind turbines, especially when the turbines approach within a few kilometres of their bucolic life style .  Even though poll after poll reveals that over 70% of people support wind installations, even in their community, a reporter can always be guaranteed of a good response if they bring up the wind issue.  Talk radio thrives on it as do regional newspapers with their Letters to the Editor.  Editors, publishers and advertisers love it.  One local newspaper even dedicated an entire section to the issue after trolling for advertisers.

Third, is the fact that reporters have less resources than previously to truly investigate an issue and maybe even less motivation to do so.  I don't have much insight into the life of a reporter but those  that I've met are concerned about their ability to truly investigate a story.  Maybe it's a consequence of the internet stealing ad revenue from the traditional media.

Finally, is the question of consequences.  These reporters published a successful story if you measure it by the the numbers of comments - well over a thousand.  It was also successful for the tipster based on the results of the on-line poll results.  It may also have successful for the anti-wind candidates in the election.  They almost won the election.  

Now then, what are the consequences for the tipsters, reporters and candidates when the truth from this series of blogs is revealed?  Up until now, absolutely nothing.

For, as Winston Churchill once said:

" A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on."

So, how do we change that?

1 comment:

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