OPEN LETTER: CBC headline and article mislead readers and tell an inaccurate story of bear encounter

OPEN LETTER: CBC headline and article mislead readers and tell an inaccurate story of bear encounter

Dear Ombudsman Enkin,

An article from the Edmonton office of CBC has left The Fur-Bearers concerned about the state of wildlife reporting at our public broadcaster.

The article, Man wrestles bear to protect his dog in Jasper National Park attack, was posted June 18 without a byline. The lede reads, “When a black bear lunged at his dog in Jasper National Park last month, the owner jumped on the wild animal to protect his pet.”

Both of these statements imply that the bear in question was the one responsible for the encounter. However, it is very clear that the dog approached the bear and initiated the conflict. The human-wildlife conflict specialist commenting later in the article stated the bear responded as though the dog were a predator.

This article appears to be symptomatic of a newsroom that does not fully comprehend the impact their writing can have on a community by causing unnecessary fear of wildlife.

Though the conflict specialist was able to explain the bear’s behaviour, the author of the article displays anthropomorphism in assigning judgement to the bear’s actions (which are contrary to the assessment by the specialist). An exercise that can help identify this is replacing the bear in the article with a hypothetical human. Would the headline or lede be acceptable? Or would they be considered libel?

In this story the facts show that the dog attacked the bear, who responded in defense. We ask that you adjust the headline and body to represent this and consider investing in training for news writing staff so they can better understand human-wildlife dynamics and how to represent them in the industry.

We look forward to your response.

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