Broadcast of Government Representative’s Voice without Permission Violates Privacy, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, June 26, 2002 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning a report broadcast on TVA's investigative journalism program J.E. The report contained taped excerpts from a telephone conversation between J.E.'s reporter and a representative from the Quebec Ministry of Employment and Social Assistance. The CBSC Quebec Regional Panel determined that the broadcast of the representative's voice without his permission was in breach of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters' (CAB) Code of Ethics and the Radio-Television News Directors Association of Canada (RTNDA) Code of (Journalistic) Ethics.

The report, broadcast on April 6, 2001, was a follow-up to a story first covered by J.E. in March. It concerned the investigation of two welfare recipients who had taken a “sexual holiday” in the Dominican Republic. The voice of the Ministry's Media Relations Officer was heard on three occasions during the report. He stated the Ministry's general policy on welfare recipients taking vacations and informed the reporter that the two men were being investigated.

The complaint filed with the CBSC came from the Ministry itself, which explained that, although the Media Relations Officer had agreed to speak to J.E.'s reporter, he had not been informed that the telephone conversation was being taped, nor had he granted permission to TVA to broadcast his voice. TVA claimed that, since the Officer had refused to give an on-camera interview, the recording of his voice without his knowledge was J.E.'s only means of obtaining the information.

The Quebec Panel disagreed with this explanation and found the broadcast in breach of both of the aforementioned Codes. Although the CBSC has found that the use of hidden recording equipment is permissible when the information cannot be obtained through any other means, that was not the case here. The Panel stated that, although the story was certainly in the public interest to tell,

the information was available. The Ministry representative had no hesitation in providing it on the telephone. It was in fact acknowledged that he had previously done an on-camera interview on the same subject for the March 16 episode of J.E. Nor did the Ministry make any objection to the use of the information provided by M. Lortie. The Panel assumes that he could even have been directly quoted without objection; the Ministry's complaint related solely to the use of M. Lortie's voice.

The Panel also noted that TVA “did nothing to distort the facts of the story or to sully the reputation of either M. Lortie or the Ministry he represented;” their fault lay in their failure to obtain the Officer's permission to use his voice, which constituted an improper presentation of news or opinion in breach of the CAB Code of Ethics and an unwarranted invasion of privacy under the RTNDA Code of (Journalistic) 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 500 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