The CBC Ombudsman has responded to complaints regarding the misleading CBC reporting on the now-infamous peer-reviewed study that alleged one child in Ontario is injured every day by a firearm. The report has since been amended slightly, but initially completely ignored the misleading manner in which the study defined firearms; including all injuries caused by bb, paintball, and airsoft guns in their reportage. Likewise, CBC also ignored that the study included injuries for adults as old as 24, and instead referred solely to children. Immediately sparking controversy, the CBC amended their reporting to include quotations around the term firearms to denote the questionable nature of their definition for the purposes of the study, and added the term youth to their headline to reflect the age range in question.

The following is the Ombudsman’s response to complaints that the reporting remained biased and misleading:

“Thank you for your email of March 27 addressed to Esther Enkin, CBC Ombudsman, drawing our attention to what you see as a flawed CBCNews.ca story. The story was posted earlier that day and concerned a study about firearm-related injuries in Ontario published in a recent issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal. (You can find the CBC story here: “1 child or youth injured by ‘firearms’ nearly every day in Ontario, pediatricians find).

As the head of CBC’s Health, Science and Technology content unit, Jennifer McGuire, General Manager and Editor in Chief of CBC News, asked me to reply to you directly. I would like to apologize for the delay in doing so.

You raised a number of concerns and wrote, “I believe that CBCNews.ca author deliberately used an inflammatory headline to mislead the public about a public health crisis that simply did not exist.

I believe their actions were unethical, lacked due diligence, proper explanation and context in a deliberate attempt to support forthcoming gun control legislation proposed by the current government.”

This is not the case. I can’t be more direct in saying so. While I regret you are disappointed in CBC, your view here is one with which I disagree.

Let me emphasize that the CBC story is based on and taken from an academic study, conducted by, among others, Dr. Natasha Saunders, a respected researcher at Toronto’s Sick Children’s Hospital. It was peer reviewed and published in the CMAJ, one of Canada’s leading medical journals.

It was a controversial study to be sure, particularly for Canadians who are responsible gun owners. Many felt, for instance, that it wasn’t reasonable to group injuries and deaths from guns together with those from non-lethal products, such as BB guns, paintball or airguns.

The study did give “firearms” an unconventional definition. And we made that clear in the story. The story’s headline puts “firearms” in quotation marks to indicate its meaning here is unusual. The sub-headline clarifies the meaning. It reads: “About 75 per cent of injuries from guns, airguns and paintballs are unintentional or accidental.” Later on, the story also has this section: “But the study doesn’t detail the type of injuries or the guns that are used, said Tony Bernardo, executive director of the Canadian Shooting Sports Association. The study’s authors and the society (Canadian Paediatric Society) included BB guns and other non-lethal versions as firearms.”

However, it is fair to say, as you did, that the original headline on the story was not as clear as it should have been. When we realized that, we revised it to change the word “gunfire” to “firearms”. We also added a prominent “Clarification” box to explain the change to readers. In the accompanying note we say: “An earlier version of the story included a headline referring to “gunfire.” It has been replaced with the word “firearms,” the precise term used in the study, which covers weapons of all kinds, including BB, paintball and airguns.”

You wrote that it is misleading to say “one child a day is being injured …” when the age range of the study is 10 to 24-years-old.

In fact, what the headline says is “one child or youth ….” The parameters used were chosen by the study’s authors, but I understand most national and international bodies classify youth injuries and youth violence to include people up the age of 24. In the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention uses ages 10-24 as youths. The United Nations and the World Health Organization use ages 15-24. That’s because the period between 15 and 24 is seen, clinically, as a transition time between childhood and the development of the cognitive and executive functioning that guide decisions around risk-taking behaviours. Statistics Canada uses the same range when it classifies youth unemployment.

One of the researchers told us that she has “a responsibility to ensure the transition into adulthood is a healthy one and therefore measuring health outcomes in this group is essential.” To be clear, we made the age range clear high in the story.

We used “child or youth” only in an effort to be accurate and represent the full age range covered by the research.

You wrote that the researchers did not misrepresent their work, but that CBC “deliberately used an inflammatory headline to mislead the public.”

We did not. As I said, when we realized the headline wasn’t as clear as should have been, we revised it and prominently explained what we had done and why.

Thank you again for your email. I hope my reply has reassured you of the continuing integrity of our unit and our news service.

It is also my responsibility to tell you that if you are not satisfied with this response, you may wish to submit the matter for review by the CBC Ombudsman. The Office of the Ombudsman, an independent and impartial body reporting directly to the President, is responsible for evaluating program compliance with the CBC’s journalistic policies. The Ombudsman may be reached by mail at Box 500, Terminal A, Toronto, Ontario M5W 1E6, or by fax at (416) 205-2825, or by e-mail at ombudsman@cbc.ca

Sincerely,

Mark Harrison
CBC News, Health, Science and Technology Content Unit
Cc. Esther Enkin, CBC Ombudsman”

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