Canada’s National NewsMedia Council Finds Serious Flaws in The Globe & Mail’s Coverage of Bombardier

GettyImages-499382647.jpg

A self-regulating body that oversees fairness and ethics in the press, the National NewsMedia Council, has issued a formal ruling that a prominent Globe & Mail article on Bombardier was marred by key journalistic flaws and the paper has been ordered to publicly set the record straight.  

Here’s how it happened.

On July 31, the Globe ran a front-page story that hinged on the notion that our contract to provide $8M worth of rail signaling components for a Russian rail project called the Ukraine Bypass somehow undermined Canadian foreign policy. 

But the lack of balance, the errors, and the one-sided sourcing in the Globe’s reporting again called into question the paper’s commitment to providing honest and objective coverage of our company. 

We presented our objections to the Globe in writing (the correspondence is here) but the paper waved them off without addressing most of our points. So we filed a complaint with the Council. The full details can be read at this link, and here is an overview:

  • The simple truth is that our providing rail signaling equipment for the Ukraine Bypass project fully complied with all laws and regulations, including the various sanctions and prohibitions our government has put in place for conducting business in Russia. No one has ever argued otherwise. This is a matter of fact that the Globe failed to confirm and report accurately.

  • Instead, the more than 1,200-word article was built on what the paper says are “critics” claiming that the project “never should have happened” because of Canadian policy. But to support this grave allegation, the Globe presented only a single source – a part-time lobbyist for the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC), Paul Grod. Numerous times throughout the article, the use of the word “critics” appeared, and yet Mr. Grod is the only person who voices objection on this basis. 

  • The Globe goes to great lengths to discuss the potential military uses of the railway while withholding the highly relevant fact that the rail line is actually and actively being used for freight transport and passenger travel. Freight travel began last September followed by passenger travel last November. News reports confirm that up to 190 trains use these tracks on a daily basis. People visiting Russia for the World Cup, for example, could easily go online and purchase tickets. These facts were provided, but completely ignored, by the Globe in an article that covered three full pages.

  • Even in the abbreviated portion of our statement that the Globe printed, there appeared an egregious factual error. The story quoted our spokesman, Olivier Marcil, saying “This project is located 100 percent inside the Unrecognized borders of Russia…”  But that’s not what we said. Instead, we pointed out that the project is completely inside the UN-recognized borders of Russia, obviously referring to the United Nations. This error completely inverted the meaning of what we had told the Globe in writing.

  • When the Globe attempted to correct its error, there was no real explanation for how a mistake of this magnitude happened. The original article covered the entire front page and two full additional pages. In contrast, the Globe’s correction was merely two sentences and ran at the bottom of page A2. The initial story was touted by the Globe on social media, including by many of its senior editors and reporters. And although the paper could easily have pointed readers to the correction by using those same social media accounts, it did not.  

After a six-week review process, the Council agreed with us that the way the Globe framed the sourcing was improper. The Council also ruled that the Globe omitted key information about the actual reality of Canadian policy and sanctions – which was the entire premise of the story.  

Summary of Flaws in the Globe’s Coverage of Bombardier

1. The Council found that the Globe failed to fully inform readers of the actual facts of the sanctions regime and related government policies, and by extension, that Bombardier was, indeed, in compliance with government policy.

As the Council noted, “it is the job of journalism to find and present information in a responsible manner so that the public can be informed – and ask questions – about political and business decisions.” In upholding Bombardier’s complaint, it found that “there was an obvious need for readers to understand more specifically what those policies and sanctions were.”

In other words, the entire story is premised on whether Bombardier was adhering to government policy. To actively choose to omit material information that does not fit that narrative does not meet the Globe’s own code of conduct with regard to balanced, objective reporting, and does readers, as well, as Bombardier, a huge disservice.

2. The Council also found that the Globe failed to offer evidence of more than one critic who questioned the rail project’s adherence to Government of Canada policies. The Council noted that “[the Globe] alludes to other critics…but does not name them in the article or in its response [to the Council].” It goes on to state that “numbers matter. Numbers can imply support or importance, and can alter a reader’s view. Without evidence of others who share criticism of the Bombardier contract, best practice would be to say ‘one critic,’ ‘an outspoken critic,’ or to simply state the person’s name and credentials.”

In other words, the contention that the rail project is somehow in contravention of Government of Canada policies is based on the view of a single source, a part-time lobbyist for the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC). Once again, it would be appear that the Globe selectively chose or exaggerated information to fit its own narrative.

We appreciate the Council’s thoughtful help in holding the Globe and Mail accountable.

There are several aspects of the Council’s findings, however, on which we have a different view. It’s worth noting that in each of these areas, it is Bombardier advocating for having more information presented to the public, more disclosure, and more accountability. 

For example, the Council said it was acceptable for the Globe to withhold our full statement and to omit any independent sources to back up what we asserted. Similarly, the Council held it was acceptable for the Globe to withhold information about the actual uses of the railway at issue, stating that it was “a journalist's prerogative to select the focus of an article.” 

We strongly disagree. We believe it a disservice to the public and our employees when journalists either ignore or actively hold back selective facts in coverage to present a single side of an issue. 

Of course, we don’t expect every article to discuss every detail and nuance of an issue. But in the present case, the facts that were concealed are directly relevant to the article’s focus — the use and purpose of the railway. The Globe’s own standards promise full and balanced coverage of its subjects. Yet here, in a lengthy article that ran more than 1,200 words, they made a willful decision to omit central details, obviously because those specifics ran contrary to the negative framing they were pushing. That’s not objective journalism. It is slanted and it misleads the public.  

Finally, it was particularly surprising that the Council regarded the Globe’s bare-minimum effort to correct an egregious factual error as acceptable. We believe the paper’s stated commitment to full accountability in its corrections is simply not matched by its actions. When a story containing a serious error is hyped on social media by the paper, the correction should be presented through the same social media channels. In 2018, a corrections policy that does not include using social media channels in this manner is indefensible. We call on the Globe to acknowledge this point and to update their policy.

Fortunately, the public remains the ultimate judge of what is ethical and responsible in news reporting. That’s why we will continue to point out journalistic flaws when they arise, add more facts to the public record, and invite people to make up their own minds.  As such, we invite you again to read our full complaint here and draw your own conclusions on the matter.

Mike Nadolski
Vice President Communications and Public Affairs
Bombardier

Follow us on Twitter @Bombardier or subscribe to our mailing list to get the latest updates