Broadcast of Documentary “Confrontation at Concordia” Complies with Codes, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, May 11, 2004 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released a decision concerning the documentary film “Confrontation at Concordia”, which was written and directed by Martin Himel and broadcast on Global Television, initially on May 9, 2003 but also on subsequent occasions.

Of a total of 19 complaints originally received, only 4 complainants requested adjudication by the CBSC’s National Conventional Television Panel.  Although they collectively raised a variety of issues, their principal focus was on what the viewers described as the bias of the film, which documented the tense relations between the different factions in the then upcoming Concordia University Student Council elections.  There was also mention of a comment made late in the program relating to anti-Semitism in Quebec. 

In telling his documentary story, the filmmaker also dealt with the incident of September 9, 2002, in which former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had been prevented from speaking at Concordia as the result of street protests and the physical confrontation of the opposing sides.  There were interviews with Netanyahu, Concordia University representatives, the Vice President of Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights and the President of Montreal Hillel, among others.

The National Conventional Television Panel did not find that the documentary was “objective, dispassionate and even-handed” but it considered that there was no reason to expect that it ought to have been.  It was, the Panel explained, a “point-of-view documentary”, with the consequence that “a viewer can expect from such a genre of film great latitude in the expression of the filmmaker’s viewpoint and opinions, and even in the tone and style of presentation of that perspective.”  The Panel went on to distinguish this genre from traditional broadcast journalism. 

Accurate, comprehensive, fair and objective presentation is a hallmark of broadcast journalism.  Documentary filmmaking, on the other hand, should not be inaccurate but it need not be objective.  It is, in fact, an artistic genre of filmmaking.  It will frequently carry the creator’s name in a prominent way, since it can be expected to express his or her perspective on a subject.  As a genre, it permits artistic licence, although that licence is not unrestricted.  A point-of-view documentary is not false but it is the expression of the truth through the eyes of its creator.  The truth is told as the filmmaker seeks to represent that truth.  There is bound to be a significant element of subjectivity in the work.  By techniques of video footage selection and judicious editing, the creator of the documentary film can be expected to manipulate the viewer since his or her goal is, after all, to either convince the viewer of the filmmaker’s perspective or to, at the very least, stimulate discussion of the subject treated. 

The Panel dealt with many specific questions and issues raised by the complainants but concluded that the filmmaker had expressed his point of view regarding the responsibility for the Concordia events without distortion: “in reviewing the [filmmaking] tools he [Himel] has used, the Panel finds no fault on his part.” 

In responding to the complaint that accused the broadcast of a disparaging remark about anti-Semitism in Quebec, the Panel referred to the fact that it was a single, brief reference which was only the filmmaker’s “warning of potential modern resurgence”.  It concluded that “the peripheral statement relating to historical anti-Semitic events in Quebec does not constitute unfair or improper comment, in violation of Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics.” 

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 530 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