CFMT-TV re South Asian Newsweek

ONTARIO REGIONAL COUNCIL
(CBSC Decision 95/96-0160)
A. MacKay (Chair), R. Stanbury (Vice-Chair), R. Cohen (ad hoc), P. Fockler, M. Hogarth, M. Ziniak*

THE FACTS

“South Asian Newsweek” is a weekly hour-long news show (re-broadcast once
on the week-end) focussing on news and current events, whether local or
international, which might be of interest to the South Asian community within
broadcast reach of CFMT-TV (Toronto, with UHF re-transmitters in Ottawa
and London, Ontario). Among the many issues covered in the program of
March 16 and 17, 1996 (1:00-2:00 p.m. on the Saturday and 7:30-8:30 p.m.
on the Sunday) were the story of a missing man of South Asian descent
possibly found in Ontario, an election in India, temples in Bangalore, fluoride
problems in India, an interview with the author of a West Indies book on
cricket, a poet born in Sri Lanka, and the subject matter of this complaint, the
reporting of the cricket World Cup semi-final match between Sri Lanka and
India. Twenty minutes into the program, the host introduced the report on the
cricket championship in the following words:

The cricket World Cup is over for the next four years at last. Sri
Lanka won, defeating Australia roundly in the finals. But before
the finals, one match was a riot, literally. Fans in Calcutta, India
forced the match between Sri Lanka and India to be called off.
India would have lost anyway but this made the defeat even
worse. Later in the program Jai will be interviewing [someone]
who has written a book on the rise of West Indian cricket.

The actual news story on the riot began with the following words:

There was all round condemnation of the Indian cricket team
following their disastrous performance in the first semi-final
match of the Sixth World Cup against Sri Lanka on March 13.

The host reported that the match was called when spectators started behaving
in an unruly manner. He stated that those inside the stadium could not
“stomach an Indian upset by the Lankans” and began throwing bottles on the
field. Reference was made to the Indian team's lackluster performance and
there was an allegation by one spectator that the Indian team had been
bribed. The host did add that “there were others who praised the Lankans.”
Some of those were interviewed, including one person who had quite positive
comments and another who said that the Indian team should have taken full
advantage of the home turf. She also pointed out “that the Indian team is
desperately bad in fielding.” And then the report pointed out the
demonstration against the unruly fans and the criticism in speeches by local
luminaries.

The Letter of Complaint

The complaint, which was sent with seventeen supporting signatures, stated
that generally the signatories were unhappy with “the manner in which the
South Asian Newsweek producers have been telecasting views concerning
matters to Sri Lankans.” The signatories were particularly concerned with the
manner in which the cricket World Cup results had been reported. They said:

But to the bitter disappointment of the Sri Lankan Cricket fans
living here, the South Asian Newsweek carried only negative
issues, and the event of the winning of the World Cup Trophy
was undermined. Why? This was a great achievement for us Sri
Lankans not only to the cricket enthusiasts, but to all Sri Lankans
who share patriotic feelings about our motherland! We have
found that the South Asian Newsweek will always give much
publicity to the rest of the countries like India, Pakistan,
Bangladesh and so on in the region. But any news from Sri
Lanka has been negative publicity. And acceptance given to the
Ealam Activists and demonstration by them, who in fact fund the
notorious terrorist crime and suicide bombing in Sri Lanka.
Therefore there is only one conclusion that can be made out of
this South Asian Newscasters [sic], and producers, and that is
they have been encouraging terrorist activities and violence in
another country.

The Broadcaster's Response

In her letter of April 17, 1996, CFMT-TV's Vice President and Executive
Producer explained that

The news story at issue, the cricket championships in India and
Pakistan, was carried as a news story, not as a sports or
community story. It was reported as quickly as our schedule
would allow on a weekly program. …

We also reported on the events that surrounded the forfeit by
India of the semi-final game and the behaviour that caused such
an unusual thing to occur at any world championship. We assure
you that we did not broadcast in an unbalanced manner,
intentionally or otherwise, nor do we have any intended prejudice
in our editorial coverage.

CFMT is multilingual and multicultural in its focus to serve
Canadians. Our coverage is designed to be informative and
relates primarily to cultures not countries and we certainly do not
take political positions. …

In our continuing quest for equitable reflection in South Asian
Newsweek, our senior producer met in Ottawa recently with Mr.
S. B. Weregama, Minister-Counsellor of the High Commission of
the Republic of Sri Lanka. The object of this meeting was to try
to source more news footage directly from Sri Lanka. Efforts in
this respect are ongoing.

The complainant was unsatisfied with this response and requested, on April
22, 1996, that the CBSC refer the matter to the appropriate Regional Council
for adjudication.

THE DECISION

The CBSCs Ontario Regional Council considered the complaint under Clause
6 of the CAB Code of Ethics, which reads as follows:

CAB Code of Ethics, Clause 6 (News)

It shall be the responsibility of member stations to ensure that
news shall be represented with accuracy and without bias. The
member station shall satisfy itself that the arrangements made
for obtaining news ensure this result. It shall also ensure that
news broadcasts are not editorial. News shall not be selected
for the purpose of furthering or hindering either side of any
controversial public issue, nor shall it be designed by the beliefs
or opinions or desires of the station management, the editor or
others engaged in its preparation or delivery. The fundamental
purpose of news dissemination in a democracy is to enable
people to know what is happening, and to understand events so
that they may form their own conclusions.

Therefore, nothing in the foregoing shall be understood as
preventing news broadcasters from analysing and elucidating
news so long as such analysis or comment is clearly labelled as
such and kept distinct from regular news presentations. Member
stations will, insofar as practical, endeavour to provide editorial
opinion which shall be clearly labelled as such and kept entirely
distinct from regular broadcasts of news or analysis and opinion.

It is recognized that the full, fair and proper presentation of news,
opinion, comment and editorial is the prime and fundamental
responsibility of the broadcast publisher.

The Regional Council members viewed a tape of the program in question and
reviewed all of the correspondence. The Council considers that the program
in question does not violate the CAB Code of Ethics.

The Content of the Program

The content of the complaint had, as a context, the question of the
broadcaster's overall treatment of Sri Lankan news but the specific issue
related to CFMT-TV's coverage of the World Cup within the particular South
Asian Newsweek episode. Since the program in question provided ample
opportunity to evaluate the fairness of the broadcaster's treatment of this Sri
Lankan report, the Council will limit its comments to the show in question. If,
on another occasion, it is called upon to deal with the accuracy or fairness of
CFMT-TV's treatment of a different Sri Lankan matter, it will comment with the
specific matter at that time.

The CBSC has, on several occasions, dealt with the treatment of a story when
the station has not dealt with the matter in the way in which the complainant
would have wished. The emphasis may have been placed on one aspect of
a report when a viewer or listener believed that another matter deserved the
attention of the broadcaster. On occasion, a story from one part of the world
may have had its emphasis altered by a broadcaster who wished to make the
report more relevant to its own audience. In some cases a story may have
been reported which a member of the audience wished would not have been
told at all.

What all of these concerns have in common is that the broadcaster will have
made a choice not shared by one or some members of its audience.
Ultimately, though, the broadcaster has the responsibility as well as the
obligation to make those choices. Moreover, those decisions generally have
to be made either quickly or very quickly. Nor should it be forgotten that, in
a broadcast news (and even a public affairs) context, those choices are
circumscribed by many constraints, one of the most critical of which is time,
that is to say, the length of the time slot available to treat the issue. Another
is, of course, audience interest. With the exception of major news events,
which usurp all available broadcast time, news or public affairs stories must
fit into a 60-minute, 30-minute, 10-minute or even shorter news period. And
news and public affairs directors must constantly juggle the material available
to them to deal with the newsworthy in a way which will appeal to the
newshungry. Some examples from previous CBSC decisions follow.

In CFTO-TV re Newscast (Pollution) (CBSC Decision 92/93-0178, October 26,
1993), the broadcaster had referred to an American pollution study, using the
information to give the story local relevance. The Council did not find that
there had been a breach of the Code.

CFTO-TV used the American report only as a “top” to its story,
which dealt with a local perspective, oriented more particularly
toward the automobile. It did not represent that this was the
essence of the study, or even a part of it. The complainant was
obviously dissatisfied that the report did not adequately explain
the American study; this was not the story which CFTO-TV chose
to tell .
In that, it was not inaccurate or biased. At worst, it
simplified the more complex issues raised by the study. This
does not, however, constitute a breach of the CAB Code of
Ethics
.

In CHEK-TV re Evening News (CBSC Decision 94/95-0137, December 18,
1996), the newscast included an item on the non-renewal of the B.C.
government's contract with NOW Communications. The report covered the
statement by a Liberal MLA that NOW had been paid $3,500 to write and print
a letter to the Premier. A viewer complained that the news item had been
biased, since the station made no mention of the previous government's
contracting practices or those of Liberal governments in other provinces. The
Council found that the reporting of the allegation was objective and fair.

The complainant's issue seems to be that the station did not go
far enough in providing the balance to the political allegation at
hand by providing an historical context for any issue of pork
barrel politics. That, though, is a part of the political cut-and-thrust and is thus the job of the political opponents, not the news
reporting bodies, electronic or print. A news-gathering body may
legitimately choose to research and tell such a tale but it is not
obliged to do so every time. The absence of such context to a
report does not imply an absence of balance in it.

The bottom line is this. As long as the reporting does not breach the
standards established in the various industry Codes, the broadcaster is free
to tell the story the way it wishes to. Those rules have largely to do with
accuracy, absence of bias, non-intermingling of news and editorial comment,
avoidance of distortion and sensationalisation, respect for privacy and
avoidance of conflict of interest. Once those constraints have been respected,
the broadcaster has considerable freedom of choice in the presentation of its
news story.

In the matter at hand, the complainant suggested that the World Cup victory
was an opportunity to broadcast some positive news about Sri Lanka which
the broadcaster had missed. The Council does not come to the same
conclusion. It considers, first of all, that the broadcaster obviously agreed that
the event itself was newsworthy; otherwise the story would not have appeared
at all. It is, however, possible that the broadcaster deemed the story worthy
of reporting primarily because of the existence of the fan riot. If this was the
case, the Council considers that it fell to the broadcaster to make such a
choice. It may even be that the story would not have been covered at all
without the riots. The Council cannot, of course, know what the coverage, if
any, would have been in the absence of the riot. As the station's Vice-President stated in her letter, “We also reported on the events that surrounded
the forfeit by India of the semi-final game and the behaviour that caused such
an unusual thing to occur at any world championship.”

The Council can, however, make an evaluation of the coverage as it actually
occurred. In this respect, it concludes that the newscast did not ignore the Sri
Lankan victory, nor did it associate the negative riots with the Sri Lankans; the
reporting clearly attributed the riots to the Indian fans. Furthermore, the
broadcaster did present a factual and positive account of the Sri Lankan
victory, which is evidenced by the interviews with various fans. Accordingly,
the Council considers that there was both balance and fairness in this specific
news presentation.

The Broadcasters Response

The CBSC always recognizes the broadcaster's obligation, as a CBSC
member, to be responsive to complainants. In this case, the Regional Council
considers that the response from the broadcaster dealt fairly with the issues
raised by the complainant. Nothing more could have been expected of her.
Consequently, the station did not breach the Council's standard of
responsiveness.

This decision is a public document upon its release by the Canadian
Broadcast Standards Council. It may be reported, announced or read by the
station against which the complaint had originally been made; however, in the
case of a favourable decision, the station is under no obligation to announce
the result.