CBC Ombudsman weighs in on decision to exclude May from leaders’ debate

CBC Ombudsman Kirk LaPointe has added his voice to the Elizabeth May uproar. Although LaPointe has decided not to conduct a review into the Canadian broadcast consortium’s decision to exclude the Green Party from the televised leaders’ debate, despite what he called “hundreds of complaints”, he does have a few choice words for the consortium (which includes the big five: CBC, Radio-Canada,CTV, Global and TVA).

“There is increased relevance mathematically, politically and journalistically to include in pivotal events any party voters have supported significantly and nationally,” LaPointe writes in a blog entry posted to the Office of the Ombudsman website. “It is difficult to discern how the public interest is best served by exclusion … There might be no better time for the media to demonstrate their commitment to democracy than in an election.”

While LaPointe agreed with the consortium that the Green Party can’t claim official recognition because it doesn’t have a sitting MP in the House of Commons, he doesn’t believe the political reasoning should be a journalistic excuse.

“That logic nestles journalistic practice in behind political custom, perhaps a shelter in a storm but hardly the best long-term mooring for the craft,” he writes. “These debates are journalistic creations and ought to be governed only by their best practices.”

The (lack of) a Green Party MP has become a sticking point in the discussion. Although May was similarly banned from the debate in 2008, the decision was later reversed. At the time, the Green Party had one MP in the House; now it does not.

And while LaPointe may not agree, this is one of the reasons the consortium won’t reverse its decision this time around, chairman Troy Reeb told The Globe and Mail‘s Steve Ladurantaye.

“That [the 2008 reversal] has complicated the PR issue. But the difference, of course, was last time she had a sitting MP,” says Reeb. He continues:

“It is an editorial decision. The process for coming to a decision on format and participation is no different from what happens around the newsroom table of a newspaper. There’s always a vigorous discussion, oftentimes a really good argument. There was a really vigorous discussion this time as well, but on the Green Party question we very quickly came to unanimity.”

And in case anybody was still holding out hope, Reeb goes on to close (slam, really) the proverbial door: “Our decision is final and the decision is unanimous. It will not be reconsidered.”