TVO: Toronto Island Airport - Responding to Criticism

Producers of The Agenda Backpedal After Airing Deluce 'Advertorial': Read the TVO Blog Post October 23, 2013 TORONTO - Our Monday interview with Porter CEO Robert Deluce about his desire to expand Toronto's downtown island airport to include jet traffic was met with one of the most critical responses online that we've encountered in a long time. We got a lot of negative comments particularly via Twitter. People were basically upset over two things: First, a perceived lack of balance by not having someone opposed to the airport expansion on the same program as Deluce. Second, the sense that the interview failed to ask Deluce several key questions. Given the amount of negative comments we received, I'd like to explain the editorial rationale for inviting Deluce solo, and then go over some of the steps we've taken to address some of the concerns expressed. Why Interview Deluce One-on-One? We typically do at least one interview one-on-one per program. We feel that while multi-guest debates are an important way to get at the issues, one-on-one interviews can also be an effective way to examine ideas and get people to justify their proposals. I'd like to make it clear that, contrary to some suspicions raised on Twitter, it was our idea to interview Deluce and we contacted his office first, not the other way around. Since Deluce represents the group arguing for a change to the status quo, we thought it made sense to invite him on to justify his plan to expand the island airport. (I know many feel we could have done a much better job interviewing him, and I'll address that later.) Porter is also an interesting example of business success during a period of economic difficulty for the province. Many Ontarians seem pleased with the company and its aims, and their interest in Porter's story needs to be reflected on our program as well. We've interviewed a wide variety of people one-on-one. We've interviewed powerful people from business, such as Mr. Deluce, one-on-one. We've also interviewed heads of prominent charitable organizations, such as Stephen Cornish of Doctors Without Borders, one-on-one. We've interviewed one-on-one people who want society to take a more sustainable approach to food and agriculture, such as Elizabeth May and Michael Pollan. We've interviewed one-on-one people opposing powerful business and political interests, such as when we interviewed Toronto's Medical Officer of Health Dr. David McKeownover his concerns about the health risks of a major casino, or when we interviewedGeorge Galloway, the outspoken, anti-war British politician. These are but a few examples of many. The list goes on. Our program does firmly believe in balance. But we think that balance can sometimes be best achieved over the course of several programs. For example, if the prime minister is available for an interview, we will make an effort to invite the leader of the opposition on as well, but we know that might not happen on the very same day. The leader of the opposition might only be available the following week, or it might make sense editorially to wait until later to give him an opportunity to put forward his view. In the case of the island airport, it is not until December that Toronto will render a decision. We actually thought it would make more sense to wait until we get closer to the actual decision time to explore the issue again. Just because we only had Deluce on Monday's program did not mean that we were not interested in featuring other voices on the issue in the future. Monday is not meant to be the final statement on the airport debate. It's also important to point out that in an Internet age the notion of journalistic balance also crosses platforms. Counterpoints to a broadcast interview can be raised in blog posts, graphics and other content posted online (and vice versa). We have done some of that already as you'll read in a moment. Why Didn't You Ask "X"? As for concerns that we could have done a better job on the questions we put to Deluce: we have read the suggestions and complaints that have been made, and I'm sure they will inform any more segments we produce on this subject. Let me tell you about a few things we have done over the past few days to try and address the concern that Monday's program lacked balance and the complaints that some important points were missed in the interview. I'm not suggesting that these efforts will completely eliminate some viewers' frustration with Monday's segment. But please understand they are efforts on our part to respond to viewer concerns and to better inform the debate over the proposed airport expansion. A word or two about adding the airport issue to our Story of the Week poll. Some viewers have taken offence to this, arguing that we're making them "beg for balance" and that we're relegating the anti-expansion view to lesser status by making it have to "compete" with other issues. I'd like to assure everyone that this is not the case, for the following reasons:
  • Our Story of the Week poll is something we do every week, and is an effort to take some power out of the producers' hands and put it in the viewers' hands. It is seen by us as a way for viewers to help shape our content rather than leaving all editorial decisions solely to the judgment of the Agenda's staff. Polling was selected in part because it was seen as the most effective way to reach out to all our viewers across the province and -- while internet polls are far from perfect -- make sure that the story of the week was not selected based on just a few loud voices.
  • The Story of the Week poll was amended to include the airport story in response to viewer feedback.
  • We had programming pre-committed for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The Story of the Week segment was the earliest we could do a second interview on the airport situation. So it is the quickest way to address viewer concerns.
  • If the airport story had not been selected by the poll respondents to be the Story of the Week, it did not mean we would not produce another airport expansion segment before the City's decision. I think it would have been quite likely we would have produced another segment on the airport proposal closer to the December decision date had the poll turned out differently.
Again, I realize some people will remain very dissatisfied by the interview and our decision not to have a counterpoint view on the same broadcast as Deluce. But hopefully some of the efforts we've taken over the past few days shows that we are listening to our viewers and will satisfy at least some of the concerns expressed. Source: TVO blog post, 2013-10-23