Newsgathering, whether investigative or routine, lives and dies based on the quality of its sources of information. The more controversial the story, the more critical the credibility of sources becomes.
Our standards apply to all types of sources, including those coming via social media, when they are used for news gathering purposes.
There are two relationships at stake here – our relationship with the audience, and our relationship with the source.
Sources may be risking a great deal by sharing information. It is important that we are clear and explicit from the outset as to the degree of protection we are prepared to offer and how the information will be used (e.g. "on" or "off the record").
This same clarity is necessary in our relationship with our audiences. We are clear about the relationship with the source. We let people know as precisely as possible where and from whom the information comes. This helps them evaluate that information and to put facts into context.
The values of accuracy, fairness and integrity guide our handling of sources and the information they bring.
Our commitment to accuracy and integrity means we try where possible to verify the information with a second source. And there may be times when more than two sources are required.
Our stories are based on information we have verified. Wherever possible, our stories use first hand, identifiable sources– participants in an event or authenticated documents.
The importance of second sourcing is influenced by the nature and quality of the primary source.
If the primary source is confidential, we will, to the best of our ability, attempt to verify the accuracy of the information through independent corroboration.
We will refer any decision to publish a story based on a single confidential source to the Director.
Payment to Sources
To ensure we maintain our independence, we do not pay for information from a source in a story.
However, payment of fees at recognized rates to specialists for an expert report or a scientific analysis is acceptable. This is not chequebook journalism. In this context the payment of fees need not be reported on air.
Increasingly, audience members are becoming contributors; providing photos or footage of news events. As CBC does pay for freelance content, it may be appropriate, in rare circumstances, to pay for authenticated content. A decision to do so must be referred to the Director.
Recording of conversation or pre-interview with a source
We often record our conversations with information sources or potential guests for note-taking purposes. This is common practice and is generally done openly. It may also be done without the interviewee’s knowledge, on condition that:
- disclosure that the conversation is being recorded could interrupt or imperil the conversation; and
- the recording could contain useful evidence.
Whether made with or without the source’s knowledge, recordings of conversations or pre-interviews are generally not published. We are aware that publication of this type of material could undermine a source’s confidence in journalists. It could also have legal or regulatory consequences.
We accordingly take care to explore all alternatives to publication of this type of material, in keeping with our journalistic values, and will refer to senior editorial management. We will publish it only in cases when it is in the public interest and publication is the best way to ensure the accuracy, fairness and balance of our report.
Any proposal to broadcast a recording made without the knowledge of the interviewee is referred to the Director.
Agreements with sources
Before we agree to any conditions that would limit our use of information, we are explicit about what those conditions are. We also come to agreement with the source before the information is shared.
Most commonly, information is either on the record, not for attribution, or off the record. However, not everyone understands these terms in the same way, which is why conditions are explained, immediately and clearly.
Protection of Sources: Granting confidentiality
Our ability to protect sources allows people with important information to come forward and expose matters of public interest. If we do not properly protect our confidential sources, potential sources will not trust us. This compromises our ability to expose abuses of power.
We offer protection to sources based on such factors as: the potential impact and importance of the information on the lives of Canadians and its potential influence on public policy.
We also consider the extent of personal or professional hardship and possible danger the source may face if his/her identity becomes known.
We must make every effort to establish the source’s credibility and find means to corroborate the information.
Once we have undertaken to protect a source, we ensure no details that could lead to identification are used on air. We are careful in the use of research material. We use the best technical tools to hide an identity for broadcast.
Whenever anonymity is granted, both the journalist and the source must be fully aware that this commitment extends to CBC as well, and is not merely limited to the journalist granting it.
There may be legal implications in granting protection. Journalists should be familiar with relevant regulation or seek legal guidance.
Before a confidential source is used in a story or a story is published based on the information provided, the managing editor must be told who the source is, and what the agreement entails.
Disclosure of sources within the journalistic line of responsibility should not be confused with public disclosure of sources.
Seniority of required approvals will depend upon the scope and scale of the story and its potential impact on people or institutions.
Identification of interviewees
We are open and straightforward when we present interviewees and their statements. We make every effort to disclose the identity of interviewees and to give the context and explanations necessary for the audience to judge the relevance and credibility of their statements. In exceptional cases and for serious cause, we may decide to withhold such information in whole or in part. In such cases we explain the situation to the audience without disclosing the information that must be kept secret.
Use of Documents as Source Information
Leaked documents from known or anonymous sources can provide important research for a story.
When we receive leaked documents, we verify the authenticity, corroborate the information they contain, and carefully assess the motives of the person who leaked them.
There are also times when the content of the documents or the fact of their existence is an important part of the story. If we have agreed to protect the identity of the person who has provided the material, we are careful that the publication of the leaked documents does not inadvertently identify the source.
There may be national security or legal issues attached to the possession and publication of some leaked documents. We will take these issues into account and seek legal advice.
The decision to publish leaked documents raising legal or national security concerns is referred to the General Manager and Editor in Chief.
Persons or organizations preparing to publish the results of research or investigations will often offer us privileged access to the conclusions of their report on condition that we undertake to publish nothing of the shared content before a date set by the report’s author. This is called receiving information under embargo. A commitment to comply with the embargo may also have been made by a news agency that provides us with articles identified as embargoed.
Our policy is to fulfill our embargo commitments. Prior access to a study report allows us to better prepare our reports and to do rigorous reporting work on the results, and is thus a net benefit to the quality of information we publish. Also, we need to keep our word in order to keep information flowing from our sources.
However, if the embargo is violated by another media organization, we may consider publication after consulting editorial management and after informing the organization that asked for the embargo. We will inform them that the embargo has been broken and that we intend in turn to go public with the information.
If we have already obtained information covered by the material under embargo, we will avoid agreeing to an embargo and will publish the information according to our own criteria of newsworthiness and at the time we consider appropriate.
Verification of User Generated Content in news stories
CBC is responsible for all content on its news sites. This policy covers text, image, video or audio contributions from the public which are incorporated into news coverage on any platform.
Material that originates from a non-CBC source is clearly identified as such.
Before text, image, video or audio is published, its provenance and accuracy is verified.
In exceptional circumstances, it may be difficult to authenticate a contribution. There may be times where because of timeliness or if it is in the public interest, we decide to publish without full verification. We are clear with the audience about what we know. The decision to publish material without full authentication must be referred to the Director.