CBC ombudsman: Does a story need absolute truth to be credible?

By Esther Enkin, CBC Ombudsman

By Esther Enkin, CBC Ombudsman

The complainant, Richard McKean, thought an exchange between Kevin O’Leary and Amanda Lang on the Lang O’Leary Exchange violated CBC policy. They were arguing about which province had the lowest rate of taxation in Canada. Not only did they not resolve the question, Mr. O’Leary responded that Amanda was telling him a lie. Mr. McKean thought the exchange undermined CBC credibility and that it was not appropriate for one CBC host to accuse the other of lying. Mr. O’Leary’s remark was a bit of hyperbole in the context of a heated exchange that is one of the hallmarks of the program.

As for the specific issue, it turns out, like many things, there is no absolute truth. Assessing tax jurisdictions is a complicated question. Journalistic policy requires that the issues be laid out. It does not require resolution. There was no violation of policy.


The Lang & O’Leary Exchange, a business show that runs nightly on CBC News Network, begins each broadcast with a feature called the Big 5. This comprises five brief headline-type stories the program hosts and producers deem interesting. It is followed by a discussion about each one in turn. The discussions are generally lively and fast paced. They are not full discussions of the story or issue raised but rather an opportunity for each host to give an opinion, analysis or further information on each headline. It is freewheeling and unscripted.

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On the December 16, 2013 broadcast, there was mention of a finance ministers meeting to discuss the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) and ways to change and augment it. The discussion moved on to a heated exchange between Lang and O’Leary about taxation in general and provincial corporate tax rates in particular. In the course of the discussion, Ms. Lang stated that Ontario was the jurisdiction with the lowest tax rate in North America. Mr. O’Leary disagreed, saying Amanda had lied to him.

This prompted your complaint: “This is unacceptable. Both cannot be right. Either Ms Lang has lied or she has been falsely accused by her colleague.” You felt that:

“The level of corporate tax rates in a given jurisdiction is a fact. Whether or not these rates should be changed is an opinion. This complaint is not about the opinions of the hosts but rather their representation of a fact.

These statements, the claim on relative tax rates by Ms Lang and the accusation by Mr. O'Leary, cannot both be true. If there is no further clarification, we don't know who is right.”

You thought that the exchange itself in the heat of the moment was not a problem, but that the credibility of CBC News is affected by not providing a resolution about who got the facts right.


Robert Lack, the Executive Producer of The Lang & O’Leary Exchange responded to your concerns. He explained that the dialogue between the two hosts was meant to be an entertaining take on news of the day:

“After receiving your e-mail I went back and re-watched the segment. In my view it is typical of the playful verbal jousting that Ms. Lang and Mr. O'Leary have developed in their more than eight years of working together on television.

Ms. Lang and Mr. O’Leary discuss many controversial topics on the program, and often end up with significant disagreements. Mr. O'Leary, in his role as business commentator on the program, holds strong and often provocative opinions and often uses colourful language to express them. It is something we encourage and something viewers regularly tell us they find informative and entertaining.”


It is a reasonable expectation that CBC News, in its presentation of news, provides accurate and balanced information. The Journalistic Standards and Practices commits CBC information programming to “serve the public interest: through a mission to inform, to reveal, to contribute to the understanding of issues of public interest and to encourage citizens to participate in our free and democratic society…”

There is also a commitment to accuracy, balance and fairness. The question in this case is whether this means that every moment of every broadcast meets that commitment. Context and audience expectations also matter. As Mr. Lack pointed out, Lang and O’Leary engage in this kind of repartee frequently. One of the conceits of the program is the point-counterpoint nature of the relationship between them. Mr. O’Leary is known for his hyperbole and his provocative stands on a variety of subjects. The Big 5 segment is designed to feature the nature of the relationship, while presumably bringing some insight into the stories highlighted.

To continue reading this column, please visit ombudsman.cbc.radio-canada.ca, where it was originally published.

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