This week's #BSLbytes are devoted to analyzing and deconstructing the most recent episode of CBC's The Fifth Estate titled “Pit Bulls Unleashed”. If you are not familiar with this piece, see Saturday’s #BSLbyte for an outline.
An ethical reporter seeks balanced, non-biased reporting. They try to show “both sides” of an issue. This is harder than you might think. Assuming there are two camps to an issue, there might be multiple perspectives within those camps.
It’s not always easy, but we rely on reporters to make an honest effort, and to correct themselves when they don't live up to a journalistic standard.
How did The Fifth Estate do?
The primary spokesperson for the breed-neutral perspective was Ledy VanKavage of Best Friends Animal Society. She was shown only in a series of short segments, in some cases where she clearly didn’t have time to finish a full thought.
By contrast, there were a several structured, sit-down interviews with pro-BSL spokespeople. A former shelter worker, a plastic surgeon, and the families of two different victims were given significant screen time. Of these four interviewees, three have ties to the organizations Daxton’s Friends and the affiliated Dogsbite dot org. Both of these groups have a clear and active agenda to ban “pit bulls” and Rottweilers.
All of the pro-BSL interviewees were given several uninterrupted minutes of screen time to make their points.
We were told that Ms. VanKavage spoke about statistics and studies in her full interview, and pointed out that all major professional and academic organizations oppose BSL. These points were not aired. Instead, the host ambushed her with a series of headlines she was obviously not prepared to respond to.
There were a couple of other people who were interviewed and spoke out against BSL: a shelter worker, a rescue worker, and a few people at a pet event. The producers may have meant this to represent “balance” - but riding along with someone while they do their job, or showing up at a pre-scheduled event is not the same as seeking out an expert for an interview.
Without indulging in conspiracy theories, we have some speculation about what happened. When people try to put together a “pit bull” piece they may reach out to legitimate spokespeople who are familiar with dogs, dog bites, and effective legislation. City councillors, veterinarians, trainers, academics, and – yes – advocates.
The trouble is, most of these people will say that dog bite problems are complex and targeting a specific group of dogs is not the answer. You can find a lot of reasonable people who will say this but that probably makes for a boring (if more accurate) news piece.
If you want to show the “other side” and feature a strong pro-BSL perspective you have to work harder, because the average dog expert isn’t going to give you the soundbite you need.
In this case, Canadian producers had to travel to Wisconsin, St. Louis, and Arkansas to find experts who were able to give them those soundbites.
Does that seem like "balance" to you? If you need to look that hard for a pro-BSL spokesperson, perhaps the "pit bull debate" isn't so much of a debate after all.
#BSLbytes is a joint initiative of Hugabull Advocacy & Rescue Society and Justice for Bullies.