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CBC clarifies Amber Alert stance

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TORONTO - On July 15, 2004 on The National, CBC made a short statement of its policy with regard to Amber Alert, a statement which left many confused.

Amber Alert is the early warning system created to try to quickly help locate children who go missing. Generally, the police and media and other agencies work together to, as speedily as possible, get word out on a missing child.

However, the CBC statement of policy on July 15th generated public attention, including comments from the Solicitor General of Alberta, questioning the policy.

"We have reviewed both our policy and our practice and have found that the policy as stated does not reflect either the reality of how we react to Amber Alerts nor the values and principles of the organization. We apologize for any concern this may have caused," said this week's press release, authored by Esther Enkin, deputy editor-in-chief CBC News.

"Let me state unequivocally, CBC/Radio-Canada is committed to the principles of the Amber Alert system, and to ensuring that our audiences receive timely, pertinent information from that system. To our knowledge, there has never been an Amber Alert that the CBC has not actively publicized through its broadcast services."

"As you know, there will soon be Amber Alert organizations in each Canadian Province, Saskatchewan, the final Province to act, having launched its program last week. In most parts of the country, Amber Alerts are a relatively new development and have not yet been put to a real life test. The programs in each province vary significantly in how Amber Alert information is shared with the public," continues Enkin's statement.

"That means, of course, that how we deal with the information we receive varies from place to place. We have identified three Provinces where, to date, where we have received Amber Alerts. In Alberta, for instance, where the Amber Alert is part of the automatic Weather Watch warning system, CBC has participated fully and officially from its inception in 1996.

"Similarly in Quebec, our colleagues at Radio-Canada are full participants and were gratified as recently as three weeks ago when an Amber Alert immediately lead to the discovery of a child gone missing. In Ontario, there have been five such alerts since 2002 including Holly Jones and Cecilia Zhang. In each case we were able to incorporate the information provided into our ongoing programming immediately and repeat it at high frequency.

"It is said that the first three hours can be crucial in cases of child abduction. We reach Canadians through 18 different platforms in every time zone in the country. Our objective is to reach citizens as quickly as possible using the appropriate service. Our people on the ground know how to work our systems; they know how to make the best use of our resources at any given time. And they are able and accustomed to react to emergencies. When local police put Amber Alert information into our hands, we have, as we have demonstrated, had it on the air in minutes, never mind hours."

"The statements made on behalf of CBC last week were not appropriate for the public broadcaster. We will ensure that, throughout the organization, our position is clear and understood and that we deal with Amber Alerts with all the rigour and professionalism they deserve."
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