Broadcasters Must Identify Known Sources of Photographs Used in News Reports, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, May 8, 2008 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning a news report about an attempted burglary broadcast by CablePulse 24 on its CityNews program of July 25, 2007.  The report failed to identify the photographer of still photographs that were used in the report, which the majority of the CBSC’s National Specialty Services Panel determined was contrary to Article 11 of the Radio-Television News Directors Association – The Association of Electronic Journalists Code of Ethics.

The report in question was about a bungled robbery attempt at a home in Toronto.  The would-be burglar fell from a second-storey deck and injured his leg.  The homeowner witnessed the incident and took photographs of the burglar lying on the ground, which he posted on his photography website, which is hosted on Flickr.  The photos were then used in the broadcast of the report.

The complaint came from the homeowner-photographer, who stated that the station had not obtained his permission to use the photographs and should have credited him in the broadcast.  The broadcaster responded that its news team had received verbal permission when they came to the home to film the event.  The National Specialty Services Panel examined the complaint under Article 11 of the RTNDA Code of (Journalistic) Ethics which states: “Plagiarism is unacceptable.  Broadcast journalists will strive to honour the intellectual property of others, including video and audio materials.”  The majority of the Panel concluded that the broadcast violated this article for the following reasons:

The broadcaster knew full well the identity of the photographer whose still shots were used in the news report, and the Panel’s decision should be read as being limited to such an instance.  […]  [T]he definition of what is fair, what, in terms of the RTNDA Code, will “honour the intellectual property of others”, must, at the very least, and consistent with Section 29.2 of the Copyright Act, mention the source, including the name of the author, of the photographic work.  It seems to the Panel to be the opposite of honouring the intellectual property of a creator to take his or her work without acknowledgment and to, in effect, pass that work off as the broadcaster’s own.  Although that may not be the intention of the broadcaster, it is the inevitable effect of the failure to accord credit, particularly where, as in the present matter, the identity of the photographer was known. […]  [The Panel] does not take a formal position on the differing versions of the complainant and the broadcaster as to whether or not permission was granted.  Nor does it consider that it needs to do so, since it finds that, unless the broadcaster is in a position to establish that permission was granted and that that permission extended to the non-inclusion of credit for the creator, the use made of photographic works for purposes of Article 11 of the RTNDA Code of (Journalistic) Ethics would be unfair.

One Panel Adjudicator, however, dissented on the grounds that the broadcaster had reasonably assumed it had been given permission to use the photographs and that Article 11 of the RTNDA Code of (Journalistic) Ethics was not intended to cover issues relating to giving credit for the use of materials, as in this case.

Canada’s private broadcasters have themselves created industry standards in the form of Codes on ethics, equitable portrayal, television violence and journalistic independence 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 ethics created by the RTNDA – Association of Electronic Journalists.  More than 630 radio stations, satellite radio services, 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