We use this editor’s blog to explain our journalism and what’s happening at CBC News. You can find more blogs here.
As the Russian invasion of Ukraine enters its third week, I wanted to take a moment to explain some of the journalistic decisions we made and the unusual circumstances we faced in trying to tell this important story.
The first rule of journalism is to bear witness — to see for ourselves the events that shape the world so that we can report to Canadians the facts, context and truth of those events.
To this end, we have devoted significant resources to Ukraine’s history. We have deployed journalists, presenters and field teams to the war zone and neighboring countries, including PolandLatvia and Slovakia, without forgetting Finland at the Russian border.
Their work has been remarkable and not without risks. We have witnessed poignant scenes of war. We took Canadians deep into a beleaguered country and told the stories of desperate people who fled their homes when under attack.
I am grateful for the countless hours and risks our reporters took to tell this story to Canadians.
Pictures of war
Photos and videos of the carnage of war are always difficult for a news organization – and never more so than in the age of social media, which can be riddled with misinformation, propaganda and unverified imagery. We rely heavily on visuals that we gather ourselves, but we can’t be everywhere.
We make every effort to verify content from other sources. We rely on reputable organizations and news agencies. And we will always be transparent with our audience about the origins of the images we post and broadcast.
We had a heated discussion in our newsroom about the possibility of showing images of people killed in this conflict, and specifically their faces. Our Journalistic standards and practices has a section on war coverage that details the competing priorities we are forced to consider: “We reflect the reality of the situations we report. We also respect the sensitivities of our viewers, listeners and readers.”
To this would be added a third priority: the need to respect the dignity of those killed by war and those who mourn them.
Yet neither would we ever want to downplay the reality of this war or somehow erase the lives it killed. It is a difficult balancing act. We use graphic images, but sparingly and with caveats – and only as much as necessary to tell the story. We will never sensationalize death and graphic imagery.
On rare occasions, if we show the face of a deceased person up close, there will be a specific focus and story to tell about that person. At the same time, we will not shield the public from the truth about the war, which is again a war of massive human death, loss and displacement.
Language and pronunciation
We had some questions from the audience about how we pronounce Ukrainian names and cities, such as the capital Kyiv. We have heard concerns about inconsistency.
The CBC Kiev pronunciation is KEE-ef, relying heavily on the first syllable. The pronunciation changed several years ago, around the same time the spelling “Kyiv” replaced “Kiev”. Although the language is changing, we generally change the pronunciations of place names only to reflect a genuine change in how English-speaking Canadians refer to a country, or to match widespread changes in transliterations (such as when Bombay became Mumbai), or to eliminate really problematic pronunciations.
It’s important to note that we’re not trying to make it sound like a native Ukrainian speaker would say it. Instead, we try to reflect an English-Canadian pronunciation, as we do for other place names like Paris and Mexico. Of course, Ukrainian-speaking hosts will say Kyiv in the way most natural to them, which may well involve very subtle vowels and consonants that deviate slightly from KEE-ef phonetics.
Report from Russia
On March 4, we temporarily suspended our reports from Russia after President Vladimir Putin signed a bill providing for a prison term of up to 15 years for disseminating information contrary to the Russian government’s position on the war in Ukraine. The legislation criminalizes the intentional dissemination of what Russia considers “false” war reports.
As the only Canadian news agency with a permanent office in Russia, we don’t want to stop reporting in the country. Again, task #1 is to witness. But we needed time to assess the law to make sure we weren’t putting our team in Moscow at risk. Our office there remains open and staffed. We will continue to report on what is happening in Russia, in some cases from outside the country. We are assessing the situation daily. We strongly believe in a free press and unhindered access to accurate and independent journalism in Ukraine and Russia.
Pandemic divisions, cost of living
Even with much of our attention focused on Russia and Ukraine at this time, we continue to do important journalism on other important issues facing Canadians.
To mark the two-year anniversary of the World Health Organization’s declaration of a COVID-19 pandemic, we have begun reporting on an extensive investigation conducted by the Angus Reid Institute in partnership with CBC News. The majority of online survey respondents said that the pandemic has significantly disrupted their livesalienated Canadians further, brought out the worst in people and weakened their compassion for one another.
However, all was not catastrophic. A large majority of Canadians (70%) said they were grateful to live in Canada during the pandemic. You will see many more reports in the coming weeks on other survey findings, including politicians and public health officials who rated their handling of the pandemic well, as well as the impact of COVID- 19 about families and our workplaces.
The survey hints at some of the COVID-related divisions we saw exposed in Ottawa just three weeks ago as police moved in to dismantle a illegal occupation of the city’s downtown. Our continued coverage of the protest and subsequent police crackdown has seen audience record log in and log in.
In the past month, we have produced over three dozen articles on affordability and the high cost of living in Canada. The series, titled Priced Out, examines the forces that make everything more expensive – from food, gas and housing to the cost of raising a family. We still have more stories to come, including a look at wages and the rising cost of education.
As noted in a previous blog, our commitment to climate change journalism continues. Look for the Our Changing Planet series which will continue throughout this year. Here is some recent stories.
It is a privilege to tell these stories and to testify on behalf of Canadians. Thank you for your continued trust in our journalism.