by BRIAN LOCKHART
A Tri-National Agricultural Accord statement urging media outlets to refrain from using the term ‘swine flu’ is unlikely to get much airplay at CBC.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s ombudsman has concluded using the term doesn’t conflict with the Canadian news outlet’s journalistic standards.
The Accord has requested that the media use the clinical term H1N1 when reporting on that strain of flu citing a negative impact on the pork industry as a result of public misconception about the ‘swine flu’ designation.
The Tri-National Agricultural Accord is an annual meeting of ministers, secretaries, commissioners, and directors of agriculture from Canada, Mexico, and the United States. Government officials meet to discuss issues of agricultural trade relations and rural development activities.
The statement was issued at this year’s meeting held Aug. 11-14 in Gimli, Manitoba.
A spokesperson from the office of Manitoba Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives, Rosann Wowchuck, who hosted the meeting, said the statement goes hand in hand with farm groups who claim the term ‘swine flu’ is what hurt the pork industry.
Concerns were raised when a report in an agricultural industry publication cited a CBC reporter saying he was instructed to use the term ‘swine flu’ by CBC law staff.
However, Jeff Keay, head of media relations at the CBC said the decision was editorial in nature.
“There was never a directive from our lawyers,” Keay said. “It was a journalistic decision. Our approach on this is to canvas people in the medical industry for information. Our position at this time, is that the term swine flu is generally known to the public, and so is H1N1 to a degree. It is also important to point out that it is not contracted from pigs. We evaluate as we go on, and re-evaluate.”
A report issued by CBC Ombudsman Vince Carlin on Aug. 11 said his office had received 62 complaints from individuals and groups regarding the use of the terminology.
The report concludes the term "swine flu" does not violate the CBC’s Journalistic Standards and Practices.
When asked if the Accord would consider legal action to try to force media outlets to change their terminology, Accord spokesperson Carolynn Osborne said, “There is no legal action that I’m aware of and it wouldn’t be from the Accord.”
The industry in Ontario has taken a $9 million hit this year because of the use of the term, said Keith Robbins, Ontario Pork Director of Communications and Consumer Marketing.
“The price dropped when the term first came out,” he said. “It was fairly significant. But the Canadian consumer has overlooked it for the most part and has continued to buy our product. And retailers have done a great job of marketing as well.” BF