Broadcast of Civic Address in Breach of Standards, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, July 18, 2006 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning the broadcast of a civic address on CKYK-FM (Alma) on October 31 and November 1, 2005.  On Halloween, the station’s hosts announced that a convicted pedophile lived at a particular address in Alma.  They mentioned the street name and number on air that day and again the following morning.  The CBSC Quebec Regional Panel determined that the broadcasts violated the privacy article of the Radio-Television News Directors Association of Canada (RTNDA) Code of (Journalistic) Ethics

During the day on Halloween, the hosts were discussing Halloween safety tips.  One host mentioned that a listener had called the station to inform them that a convicted pedophile was living in the city and that this person’s house was decorated for Halloween.  Apparently after verifying the information, the station announced the civic address on air.  They indicated that the person was within his rights to decorate his home, but that parents should be aware of which house it was.  While they did not give the person’s name, they did give the exact civic address.  The following day, the morning show hosts discussed the issue again and repeated the address. 

The CBSC received a complaint from three individuals who lived at the address.  They complained that the broadcasts had violated their privacy and they had been harassed as a result of the on-air announcements.  The station argued that the information about the conviction was publicly available in court documents and that it was in the public interest to provide safety information related to Halloween. 

The Quebec Regional Panel found that the broadcasts violated the complainants’ privacy for the following reasons: 

[T]here may be public information about private individuals that is inappropriate for broadcast.  […]  (It is not without importance to note in this context that there were three persons living at that address, at least two of whom would apparently not fall within the category of the station’s designated target yet they were also made to suffer the consequences of the disclosure.)

 […]

While it must be acknowledged that criminal records may well be matters of public record and reasonably easily verified, this does not automatically render them appropriate for broadcast.  It is, after all, a goal of the penal system that those who have been incarcerated for their crimes and released be seen as rehabilitated and susceptible of re-integration into society at large.  […]  The broadcaster has assumed that the public interest was being served by the disclosure of such information on a day when children could be expected to be roaming the streets in search of candy and other treats.  The Panel disagrees.  The broadcast of such information can only be justified when a convicted and released offender can reasonably be considered to represent a genuine and verifiable threat to the lives and safety of the community.  The Panel considers it unreasonable to assume that every criminal (which would include every sex offender) poses a danger once his or her societal re-integration is underway.  Consequently, the broadcast of privacy-piercing information constitutes a breach of Article 4 of the RTNDA Code of (Journalistic) Ethics.  […]  Moreover, there is no indication that the provision of the civic address was necessary in order to achieve the broadcaster’s desired result.  Generalized advice to parents to accompany their children from door to door on Halloween would have quite sufficed. 

Canada’s private broadcasters have themselves created industry standards in the form of Codes on ethics, gender portrayal and television violence by which they expect the members of their profession will abide.  In 1990, they also created the CBSC, which is the self-regulatory body with the responsibility of administering those professional broadcast Codes, as well as the Code dealing with journalistic practices first created by the Radio Television News Directors Association of Canada (RTNDA) in 1970.  More than 590 radio and television stations and specialty services from across Canada are members of the Council. 

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All CBSC decisions, Codes, links to members' and other web sites, and related information are available on the CBSC's website at www.cbsc.ca. For more information, please contact the CBSC National Chair, Mme Andrée Noël CBSC Executive Director, John MacNab