Complaint to the CBC’s Ombudsman

Marketplace; A Shot of Confusion

On her own initiative, Karen Wehrstein has sent a letter of complaint to the CBC’s Ombudsman

 

March 23, 2015

Dear Ms. Enkin:

I feel that MarketPlace’s clear intention to discredit homeopathy and the homeopathic profession is causing it to cut corners on journalistic ethics and sometimes outright break them, as demonstrated in this particular episode.

1) False statement in question to potential interviewees

In CBC’s “Journalistic Standards and Practices,” I cannot find a reference to potential interviewees being asked questions that include false claims, possibly because not doing so is such basic journalistic ethics that it goes without saying.

In my capacity as Media Co-ordinator of the Canadian Consumers Centre for Homeopathy, I received an email from associate producer Tyana Grundig stating:

“Marketplace has documented homeopaths in Vancouver and Toronto selling homeopathic nosodes without the required disclaimer”

…and asking for our comment on this.

It is my understanding that three homeopathic professional associations, namely the National United Professional Association of Trained Homeopaths, the Canadian Society of Homeopaths and the Ontario Homeopathic Association, all received emails from Ms. Grundig containing the same statement and request for comment.

I was quite surprised and alarmed, as I know that homeopaths are generally very careful to know the regulations and adhere to them. I answered that if they were doing something illegal, of course we would object, but weren’t aware of any cases. Checking with the homeopaths themselves, I learned that they were selling the nosodes in a way which complies with Health Canada’s (HC) regulations as per information on its website, here: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/dhp-mps/prodnatur/legislation/pol/policy_compound-politique_compose-eng.php (See “Scenario\Requirement for Site Licence” table, #14. The homeopaths were coating blank pellets with a medicating potency, a standard method of homeopathic dispensing used by homeopaths.)

Marketplace put through two complaints to HC (against homeopaths Beth Landau-Halpern and Sonya MacLeod) that were dismissed – a fact that was not mentioned on the show. (I can give you their contact information for verification purposes.) Marketplace staff clearly made an assumption that the homeopaths were likely doing something illegal due to the prejudice the show has, that homeopathy is a criminal enterprise, rather than doing proper research on the regulations, and hence slipped up, both in making specious complaints to HC and in falsely claiming to other possible sources that homeopaths were acting illegally. Note the title of the previous episode on the topic, “Homeopathy: Cure or Con?”

I will send the relevant emails directly to your email address.

2) Likely improper clandestine reporting

CBC’s “Journalist Standards and Practices” states:

Before bringing hidden recording equipment into private spaces, to which access is restricted, we will ensure the following:
– We have credible information indicating the likelihood of illegal or antisocial activity or an abuse of trust;
– We are confident that an open attempt to gather the information sought would fail; and,
– The information sought would be useful evidence for a demonstration of illegal or antisocial activity or abuse of trust.

And, re justification for a reporter concealing identity:

– We have a credible source that gives us reason to believe a subject of our reporting is behaving illegally or antisocially or abusing a trust.

Because Marketplace staff was so certain that homeopaths were selling nosodes illegally when they weren’t, I am curious as to whether the show’s permission requests for hidden cameras and false identities to Director, General Manager and Editor in Chief used “illegality” as the grounds. In an email to me and a comment on a newspaper website (see here – http://www.straight.com/life/780371/beth-landau-halpern-shot-deceit/page/1 – bottom comment), Marketplace staff avowed it was “abuse of trust,” but I wasn’t entirely convinced. Accordingly, I requested a copy of the permission request from Ms. Grundig. She refused to provide it, as did the executive producer, Marie Caloz, the author of the above-linked comment.

I also asked who the “credible source” was, and received the same response.

I was told by you in an email that you would review such information but not necessarily share it with us. I don’t see why you wouldn’t be willing to, if what it shows matches what Marketplace publicly stated. Does it?

“Abuse of trust” does not generally apply to health professions which are not regulated (regulation is in process but not yet in force in Ontario), and even so, it generally refers to conscious falsehoods on the part of the perpetrator and/or sexual abuse or theft. All five homeopaths who were clandestinely interviewed are convinced of the effectiveness of nosodes, based on science from more sources than the one mentioned on the show, Isaac Golden, as well as clinical experience. Further studies were shared by them and by me with Marketplace staff, but were not evaluated by the expert in research methodology cited on the show, as far as I know, or even mentioned. Separate issue: a false impression was created that homeopaths offering homeoprophylaxis base their work on the research of one person alone.

Further, hidden cameras and concealed identity requires that the information gained cannot be gained any other way. But some of the homeopaths at least had this information posted openly on their websites. Marketplace’s difficulty in getting homeopaths to consent to on-camera interviews is an artifact of its own making, due to the ridicule and humiliation they’ve subjected homeopaths to on air, particularly the well-respected Caroline Smoyer of Boiron Canada in the “Cure or Con” episode of January 2010. (See former Ombudsman Kirk LaPointe’s review of a complaint against that episode, admonishing the show not to trivialize an important topic.)

3) Dismissing valid science

CBC “Journalistic Standards and Practices” states:

We take care to understand properly and reflect the true implications of medical or scientific study results that we obtain, especially those involving statistical data.

In response to Ms. Grundig’s query, I provided her with numerous research papers or references thereto, some on the efficacy of homeopathy and others on the nature and property of homeopathic medicines. I asserted to her that sufficient comparisons of the properties of homeopathic medicine solutions with plain water have been made that it is not valid to say that there is no difference, even if the reason for the difference, is not yet agreed upon, and I shared many of those comparisons. (Chemical analysis, as was done for “Homeopathy: Cure or Con,” is an insufficiently fine measure, as any homeopath would tell you; to make a proper investigation you basically have to look at the physics.) In other words, the cartoon video suggesting that due to the way homeopathic medicines are made they are no different from water ignores a body of evidence and thus is inaccurate.

Note: We find often that when we share efficacy science about homeopathy, we frequently run into the notion that studies that show efficacy are flawed based merely on the idea that they show efficacy. This is circular reasoning and is not valid in science. Also, less explicitly spoken but often present is an assumption that studies from places other than Europe or North America are inevitably flawed. This is racism.

I am sending the email with studies that I sent Ms. Grundig directly to your email address also.

4) Distortions and false blame by information selection and presentation

a) Marketplace researched vaccine non-compliance and gave percentages across the country, averaging around 40% of seven-year-olds not having received all shots, then focused the show on homeopaths, giving the false impression that homeopaths are significantly to blame for said non-compliance. Homeopathy is not prevalent enough for this to be possible. According to a Fraser Institute survey performed in 2006, some 5% of Canadians regularly use homeopathy, and about a third of this 5% visit homeopathic practitioners. (See here – http://www.fraserinstitute.org/uploadedFiles/fraser-ca/Content/research-news/research/publications/complementary-alternative-medicine-in-canada-2007.pdf .)
b) Marketplace excluded the fact that alternative health practitioners in fields other than homeopathy, and even some doctors, have concerns about vaccination. As one homeopath asked me, “Why are they picking on us?” To me the answer is clear: a bias against homeopathy.
c) Marketplace excluded the fact that not all homeopaths practice preventive homeopathy and the majority do not offer homeopathy as vaccine alternative and never have. A major school of thought in the field is that you do not give a homeopathic medicine until there is an existing condition.

My feeling is that Marketplace has sufficient bias against homeopathy as to be incapable of presenting a truly accurate episode about it, and this episode therefore was a disservice to the public.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

 

Karen Wehrstein

 

March 23, 2015

Mrs Enkin has acknoledged receipt of the complaint and has forwarded the email to the relevant programmer, who have the right and responsibility to respond; in this case, Jennifer McGuire, General Manager and Editor in Chief of CBC News. Programmers are asked to try to respond within 20 working days.

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