Broadcast of interview with Penny-Pinching Landlord Breaches Broadcast Codes,Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, December 17, 2004 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning the broadcast of a news item on CHEK-TV (Vancouver) regarding a landlord-tenant dispute that resulted in a condemnation against the landlord, which he paid off in pennies and small change. As a part of the 11:30 p.m. newscast, the reporter interviewed the tenant and then showed a clip in which the landlord was answering the reporter’s questions about the case and admitting that he had repaid the amount of the Tenancy Arbitrator’s ruling in petty change. The landlord agreed to speak to the reporter; however, he told him that  

I did not want to be put on the air […] because it could affect my business. […] I found out after the fact that the camera man had the camera on while [the reporter] was talking to me.  They also put my face on the air! Even in the broadcast [the reporter] stated that I did not want to be on the air. I feel that my rights have been violated.

 The broadcaster acknowledged that the complainant had not wanted to be on air; however, it explained that its 

reporter did his best to respect your privacy wishes by not using your name or showing anything that identified your business, which of course was unrelated to the landlord/tenant dispute we were reporting on.  But he felt it was necessary to use the brief videotape that had already been gathered of you telling your side of the story in order to ensure the story presented was as balanced as possible. 

The B.C. Regional Panel found no inaccuracy in the story, although it did comment that the landlord had “little going for him”, in terms of the facts of the dispute and payment.  The Panel did, however, consider that the reporting of the story constituted an invasion of the privacy of the landlord. 

The Panel does not […] dispute the right of the station to report the specific story and this even by reference to the individuals involved in it.  It does, however, draw the line at the broadcast of the interview with the landlord.  He specifically requested that there be no filming of him; however, the station ignored the request.  Their claim is that they did so in the interests of the landlord “in order to ensure the story presented was as balanced as possible.”  It rather appears to the Panel that CHEK-TV broadcast the footage in their own interest, whether in order to appear balanced in their report or because the story played better.  They could equally have observed in their report that the landlord declined to be interviewed on camera but did admit that he had repaid the award of the Tenancy Arbitrator in small change, so that this essential element of the story would have been corroborated. 

The Panel was also of the view that the standards relating to hidden cameras and recording devices came into play.  Although the camera was apparently in full view of the landlord during the course of the interview, the latter had reason to believe that it was not recording.  In other words, while the camera was not hidden, the fact that it was in fact functioning appears to have been kept from the complainant.  The Panel considered that this rendered the situations equivalent.  The principle it applied was that hidden recording devices should only be used “when they are necessary to the credibility or accuracy of a story in the public interest and the information thus revealed could only reasonably be discovered by their use.”  In the case of the news report, the Panel concluded that the use of the equivalent of a hidden camera constituted a breach of the provisions of the RTNDA Code of Ethics.  The Panel ruled that 

the information provided in the on-air interview would readily have been unearthed without the use of hidden recording devices.  It was in fact granted freely by the landlord.  Nothing more was needed.  There was no cause for hidden recording devices, other than the desire of the managers of the visual medium to have a videotape component to their story. 

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 550 radio and television stations and specialty services from across Canada are members of the Council.

– 30 –

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