Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Open Letter to the fifth estate

I am writing a letter to the fifth estate, a Canadian investigative journalism program. Here it is:

Philip Lynch

Tuesday, May 1st, 2007

Hana Gartner

Dear Ms. Gartner,

Please let me congratulate the Fifth Estate on producing some fine documentaries in the legacy of investigative journalism. Over the years, journalists of the Fifth Estate have taken it upon themselves to expose some of the most unpalatable behavior occurring in Canada and elsewhere. Many of your programs are head and shoulders above anything else I have seen from other networks, including from American and British television. Shows like the Fifth Estate are valuable for keeping the public informed and public figures in check.

Having said this, however, I am very disappointed at your recent report on the Catholic Church and sexual abuse. Although you are a dedicated and tireless journalist, it seems on this one you were lazy, and instead of uncovering something truly worthwhile, you decided to beat a dead horse. The story of Roman Catholic clergy sexual abuse is so overdone on Canadian and American television, you would think it is the only thing happening in the world. Instead of being a real trailblazer and reporting that not all priests are pedophiles, you took the low road, perhaps a road with more ratings, but certainly not more honorable.

To go the road of television sensationalism is something one might expect from American tabloid-style news broadcasts, but not from the CBC. The fact is your story portrayed a few individual priests. If you did a story on 5 rabbis who were murderers, some people could become very suspicious of the Jewish people. Instead of emphasizing that only a tiny percentage of priests ever committed such crimes, you tried to implicate the whole church. You profiled people leaving the church and never returning. Why, all of a sudden, does the minority represent the whole? The vast majority of priests would never hurt a fly, but no one would have that impression after watching your show.

As an investigative journalist, you have an obligation to remain unbiased, and to present all the evidence. You chose not to do this however. Take for example, the following information. Christianity Today noted that there were "70 child abuse allegations reported against American Protestant churches each week during the last ten years," a quarter of which were against pastors ("Go Figure," May 21, 2002).

When the American federal government shut down the "Candyman" pedophile web site last March, it was reported that the site’s more than 7,000 visitors included members of the military, police and fire departments, teachers, Little League coaches, and eight members of the clergy, including two Catholic priests—two out of 7,000.

Another statistic I read said teachers were charged with sexual abuse at a rate 4 times higher than Catholic clergy. I do not know the source, but it is the job of a journalist to find out.

The Fifth Estate is ultimately paid for by Canadian citizens in the form of taxes, as well as advertising from sponsors. Forty three percent of these Canadians are Roman Catholic, and I think it would be high time for your program to earn its reputation again by doing a real investigative report that shows the hypocrisy of singling out the Roman Catholic Church when it comes to sexual abuse.


Philip Lynch