CBC’s unbelievably biased reporting

Subject:  Kristin Nelson’s documentary “Beauty and the Beast, aired on The Current, December 21, 2010

A regular radio listener, I value the CBC as a source of news and informed commentary.  Yet, on the topic of wind energy development, CBC has not kept up to date:  It continues to misrepresent the concerns mounting in Ontario and worldwide.  An appalling example was broadcast December 21 on The Current

Kristin Nelson’s documentary on Wolfe Island, “Beauty and the Beast,” is a seriously flawed piece of journalism.  The  bias is evident in the selection and omission of material, lack of context, lack of balance in the presentation, the narrator’s selective emphasis, ageism and gender stereotyping, use of repetition in the recordings, the background sound, and even the title.

Selection and Omission

The narrator states at the outset that the documentary is about the costs and benefits of wind development.  It then cites facts about the amount of electricity produced, financial payments to hosting landowners, and an amenities agreement with the municipality.  It cites no facts about the issues of noise and health, bird mortality, or property values.

Lack of Context

A number of statements are made as if they are accepted facts and not matters in dispute:

  • Even if the wind project produces 594,000 MWH of electricity, how much of it is actually used?
  • Even if there is sometimes enough electricity to provide for Kingston’s 100,000 residents, how often does the project meet Kingston’s needs?
  • If the average wholesale cost of power is typically 4-5 cents per kwh, why is the province’s paying 13.5 cents for wind power described as “a little bit more”?
  • Why is it not explained that due to the Green Energy Act communities can no longer negotiate an amenities agreement like Wolfe Island’s?
  • Why are the World Health Organization’s guidelines for noise quoted selectively and nothing mentioned about the recommended residential setbacks?
  • How does wind development meet Ontario’s need for power when it supplies most power (on a winter night) when least needed and little to no power (on an August day) when most needed?
  • How does fluctuating wind power replace scalable power from coal plants and therefore enable closure of the latter?
  • If the wind operator TransAlta acknowledges bird collisions, what is it doing about the number of deaths exceeding the predicted mortality, as reported when each turbine killed an average of 7 birds in July-December 2009?
  • What was the wind speed and how far away from the turbines was the reporter standing when she said she could “hear a little bit of the sound”?

Lack of balance in the presentation

The documentary presents an equivalent number of pro and con speakers, but it seldom leads to a dialogue because each side focuses, except for bird mortality, on a different set of issues.

The pro side is preoccupied with economics and Ontario’s electrical supply:

  • Baines:  “We need energy to run our society”; wind is a “new and better way”; “Kingston needs the power”; the project evolved to 86 turbines because of the grid capacity and the Ontario government’s desire for a “reasonable size”; “What’s wrong with industry?”; the next generation will accept it.
  • Pike:  Wind turbines “help farmers”; turbines are beautiful; geese fly around the turbines, and “I have yet to see any birds on the ground”.
  • Unnamed councillor:  He liked “the economic benefits” for the island.

The con side deals with social disharmony and personal discontent, though the latter is rarely clarified:

  • Gail Kenney: She objected to no community input into turbine sitings and numbers; the project destroys the environment through bird collisions; the turbines “feel like they are invading your home” (through shadow flicker); she reported “hard feelings in husband’s family” (because of two members participating in the project); it’s “hard to get past the anger”; “feeling it’s not fair”.
  • Janet White: From a rural island it’s become “almost a factory of wind turbines”; she thought the project would provide energy for the island; she has lost “use and enjoyment of 110 acres”.
  • Sarah McDermott:  She stressed that the project was not about “community or sustainable energy”; she felt “shunned” and was “phobic about going out in public” because of her dissent; she now tries to get away from the island as much as possible.

The most important flaw, however, is that there is little balancing of opinions.  Did the interviewees never express opinions about the other side’s views, or were they never asked?

Narrator’s Selective Emphasis

The reporter’s narration contains half-truths (as identified under Lack of Context), but it also gives emphasis to the opinions of the pro side.  The narrator confirms twice the view that project opponents are “a small minority”.  She interprets Jason Pike’s words, saying that “turbines are just part of his farm,” that turbines are “a thing of beauty,” and that she could see geese avoiding the turbines.   But the narrator never makes any confirming statements of con speakers’ thoughts.  The absence implies that she did not accept their views.

Gender and Age Bias

The documentary also contains two obvious instances of social bias.  Gender bias is evident in the selection of speakers and the reported content.  All the men are pro development; the women, con.   Stereotypically, men talk about money, while women discuss their feelings.

Moreover, the program also has an age bias.  On Wolfe Island perhaps it may be true that the majority of young people support the wind project while the opponents are 50 years or older.  But it is simplistic to suggest that the difference is due to older people’s dislike of change.   For one thing, the social marketing of wind energy has affected a whole generation.  Yet the last words of the documentary reduce the dispute to generational conflict.

Repetition in Sound Recordings

Ageism carries over into the program’s sound mix. The documentary repeats statements by several speakers but only one is repeated probably half a dozen times: “Turbines don’t make good neighbours”.  This tag might have been useful if it introduced a series of arguments.  Instead, it becomes a pathetic refrain which demeans the principal con speaker, Gail Kenney, who is made to sound like a querulous old woman.

Background Sound

The choice of background sound is also inappropriate.  Since the effect of wind turbine noise is much in dispute, a listener might have expected to hear a swooshing sound, not wind chimes, as a transitional device.  The repeated chiming didn’t just trivialize the noise issue but made it a mockery.

Program Title

The same trivialization can be seen in the title.  “Beauty and the Beast” recalls a fairytale and implies that the Wolfe Island story is of similar importance.  It also implicitly affirms the ending of the program, when wind developer Ian Baines opines that the next generation will accept wind turbines. Like the fairytale Beast, the wind turbine will be transformed into a good family member.  What a preposterous and childish analogy!

Conclusions

The Current’s “Beauty and the Beast” is, indeed, a strange tale; however, it is not a clever and enduring a piece of work.  It pretends to be a serious documentary exploring the divisions within a community, but it never delves beneath the surface.   At the same time it serves up a collection of disputable “facts” and misleading information.  Perhaps all of this is due to journalistic incompetence, but the damage to the public’s understanding of controversial matters is no less grave.

The CBC should act quickly to redress the harm by

(1)    publicly admitting to the faults of the program,

(2)    either deleting it from the CBC radio website or adding a preamble that lists all its deficiencies,

(3)    broadcasting, in the near future, another documentary that examines the true costs and benefits of wind energy.

Sincerely,

H. G. Garand

19 thoughts on “CBC’s unbelievably biased reporting

  1. This is just so typical of the way the media handles this situation. We are always at least where I’m at – “a small minority” by the media, at the public hearings in the small towns it’s “the speakers were split” or divided — even when we have one more it’s split. Our media has already stated in their editorial page they favor the wind development here for jobs and economic growth (HA, HA) and they agree it may affect a very small number of people for this huge economic growth. Their reporting reflects their bias. They will chose to pick “pro wind” national stories and ignore anything else.
    They will have more “pro wind development” in the local stories.

  2. That’s an impressive frying pan full of CBC spam.

  3. I listened to the podcast, I was not impressed. They really down played the health effects wind turbines have on people. If they seriously addressed that issue, the real question would be why put them up at all?

  4. Anyone who believes the comment set off below should read my article….

    Powering Ontario:
    http://ontariowindperformance.wordpress.com/2010/09/24/chapter-3-1-powering-ontario/

    **************************
    How does wind development meet Ontario’s need for power when it supplies most power (on a winter night) when least needed and little to no power (on an August day) when most needed?
    ***************************

    For the record folks: Wind Power output is equally low, and equally erratic at all hours in every season…. It makes no difference whatsoever to the Ontario Power system.

    Implying that Wind Power could actually be more useful at any given time is just wrong — especially in terms of the needs for power in Ontario. Of course given the Liberal Desire to de-develop the province it may become quite useful to a remaining half dozen families — when it is available.

    Even at the lowest draw the demand outstrips the ability of wind power to contribute in any meaningful way. Should the number of IWTs increase ten fold — this statement will remain equally true.

    As for the CBC. Their reporting in all areas is similar.

    FOX news does better reporting on Canada than does the CBC.

  5. This poorly-done piece of fluff should not be dignified by the title of “Documentary”. The author has done a commendable job of refuting the mis-information and biased presentation in this program.

  6. Ontarians need to follow the power situation in the U.K. this winter as this is what is planned for here.

    For ongoing discussion of U.K. present power situation read the commentaries at Bishop Hill Blog http://www.bishophill.squarespace.com.

    You find this information in the MSM.

  7. What does anyone expect from CBC and their extreme left wing ideology (read marxism/communism) The same goes for CBC as for the Green Energy Act/Fit subsidies — cut the funding!

  8. Anyone who listens to MSM, specially CBC, and expects to receive what we used to call “real news” is sadly out of touch with reality!

    They have long ago “sold out” to Industry and Government because they have basically become a bankrupt entity pleading for funding just to keep people working!

    Who shovels the money into MSM to keep them on life support?………….Industry and Governments who ram this crap down our collective throats!

    To expect any “honest” reporting from Mainstream Media in this day and age is like believing in the Tooth Fairy!

    The Internet has replaced these “fossilized institutions” and has become the “new media”, so quit complaining about how “you’d expect CBC to be more honourable and honest”. CBC, CTV, Global, among others, hasn’t “reported” on any of the specific details on Bill C36 that just passed last week have they? This Bill basically will control your food and make your farms “property of the state”! That’s just one example of their selective “reporting”, in case anyone wants proof.

    “The first casualty of war is the truth!”

  9. No surprises here. The CBC is utterly incapable of presenting objective analysis on a number of topics including industrial wind development. I thought the piece was not as bad as I expected, but still, a very poorly done bit of journalism. CBC so far has presented no alternate viewpoint, unless they read some letters. I have tuned out The Current long ago for their obvious biases.

  10. Unbiased news is going to be harder to get. Look at who owns the news,they are one big corporation. Usually hand picked for their usefulness. We are worse off then communism, we are run by rich corperatism which dictates to our elected premiers and others. It is their show until we or most of us wake up. We are losing our freedoms to live where we want,less of of our slave earnings for our family,more surveillance,more laws. more dictator acts, ect. We are losing so much every day and they are robbing us to live a normal life just so that the elites can rob and control us. Which means Slave.

  11. On one program examining rural issues, a caller spoke of the proposed gas plant in the Holland Marsh. She was cut off pretty quickly. They just wanted “cute” tales of farming, not the real issues of industrialization of our rural and natural lands.
    CBC is about as relevant as this current provincial government.

  12. C B C…

    Completely
    Biased
    Crap

    Has always been, will always be.

    B.B.W.

  13. Stopped listening to CBC TV and Radio due to the selective and filtering of their broadcasts, though appreciate those that do listen so this crap gets critiqued. CBC is worse than others because it had a history of representing Canadian people and attempts to keep that image even though CBC relies on non-government funds to operate. No surprise the documentary appears to be a blotched attempt to manipulate the audience. Industrial wind provides no useful power worth the expense and intelligent people who care should find the documentary an insult. The basic claim of economic gains from wind power can only translate into economic loses somewhere in Ontario. If someone is getting an economic gain we know who is paying. The main source of money is from the people of Ontario. We use and need reliable on-demand power and have little use for the erratic production of industrial wind power that reduces efficiencies in our reliable power production. Kristin Nelson obviously knows nothing about the true workings of industrial wind and more likely has a nose ring with chains attached to people like Baines.

  14. Hear, hear, H.G. Garand – your missive is bang on. I’m relieved to see this oldtimer isn’t the only one fed up with Mother Corp.’s biased reporting these days. It seems to me if CBC poohbahs (with their million$ in perks) are intent on catering to their urban Gen X followers, the time has arrived when they no longer deserve our billion$ in funding, and should be forced to go shopping for advertisers willing to support their agenda. I wonder how Frum and Gzowski would have handled themselves within today’s CBC confines – I suspect more than sparks would fly.

  15. RE:VOLT, I’ve previously contacted CBC’s Ombudsman, only to receive well contrived e-mails from him, and the producers he forwarded my complaints to. It appears the CBC brass feel they’re invincible. My first complaint in Nov/09 regarded CRU’s hacked e-mails not being covered by the CBC, and last spring I criticized Gian’s soft interview with Gore.

    It’s humourous looking back on the producer’s reply concerning CRU – something to the effect they had to prioritize their news items during heavy news days – seems to me they might have quite a few cherrypickers in their midst. We miss Rex, and hope he’s back to his old self soon.

    Nope, I’ve had enough CBC junk mail thank you.

    Brrr, time to throw another log on the fire – sure wish global warming would show itself soon.

  16. Kristen Nelson/ Anna Maria Tremonti/The Current will live on in infamy as long as there is an IWT left standing in Canada.

    Bravo, H.G.Garand for your powerful and insightful analysis of this travesty called a “documentary”. It is no more than trivial, tasteless, thoughtless, twaddle.

    To redeem itself perhaps the Fifth Estate might do the due diligence required of this torturous issue.

  17. Comments onsite have been disabled. I guess they don’t want the rest of the country to hear the truth.

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