Jay Rosen on CBC Bolsonaro story: 'The framing of the story was amoral'

Chris Hatch

CBC News has been taking criticism for its coverage of the “fresh opportunities” for Canadian businesses under Brazil’s president-elect. Although the public broadcaster has shifted its tone slightly, the original article stands and the criticism keeps mounting.

Jay Rosen, a journalism professor at New York University, had a back-and-forth with CBC writer Chris Arsenault and later spoke with National Observer. (The interview has been edited for clarity.)


National Observer: Why did you object to the CBC story?

Jay Rosen: The framing of the story was amoral. The story was written from the point of view that there’s no right or wrong, just business opportunities.

A new government had come to power — a militarist, a right wing populist figure that it’s valid to have lots of concerns about — and the story was about opportunities for Canadian business. As if there were no moral considerations there.

But you’re a journalism prof in the U.S., in the age of Trump. What’s so important about the Canadian public broadcaster reporting on a Brazilian election?

JR: Right wing populism around the world is on the rise. What some political scientists call illiberal democracy is on the rise. The response of professional journalists to the rise of right wing movements is important because they undermine democratic institutions. Journalists have to be able to reason through these puzzles in news coverage.

As a journalism prof, you took issue with the CBC writer directly on Twitter. What’s the responsibility of other journalists towards a story like this?

JR: Criticism among journalists is a good thing. We need to see from journalists that they have knowledge of what’s at stake here for democracy. If they don’t, other journalists have a responsibility to point it out.

But it’s important to note that I’m not calling for someone’s head here — no one should be fired over this. But it is appropriate for people trying to make sense of our times, to alert another author that something seems off here.

It is important to proceed with awareness that there is danger of mob momentum — the author or story is shouted down in a viral way. That’s something to be concerned about.




So, what should an outlet like the CBC do in a situation like this?

JR: The CBC Ombudsman should spring into action - announce that they’re looking into this. Let people know that the CBC is aware of the pushback that the headline and article received.

Then, move to editorial review - is this what we meant to say, was there a better way to report this?

Update Oct 30, 12:00 ET: The ombudsperson responds to Rosen:


Jay Rosen teaches journalism at New York University