CFRN-TV re Eyewitness News

PRAIRIE REGIONAL COUNCIL
(CBSC Decision 96/97-0149)
S. Hall (Chair), D. Braun (Vice-Chair), K. Christensen, D. Dobbie, V. Dubois and D. Ish

The Facts

During its Eyewitness news broadcast of March 3, 1997, CFRN ran a news feature, an
“Eyewitness News Extra” on the subject of indoor playgrounds at fast food restaurants in
the Edmonton area. The transcription of the entire feature news item follows, beginning
with the introduction by the station's news anchor:

News Anchor: Tonight on Eyewitness News Extra: How safe are your kids when they use
indoor playgrounds? They might be taking home more than just happy memories. A viewer
recently told us that he believes his son got sick from playing in a ball pen. So investigative
reporter Janice Johnston tested some of the local facilities to find out if there is foul play.

Video cut to kids playing in one of the indoor playgrounds.

Reporter: How come the balls are so much fun?

Little Girl: Because I get to pour myself in and jump into it.

Reporter: Kids love these places. They dive, roll, throw, bury themselves in ball pens. But
wherever there's kids there's germs.

Nelson Fok: You may get food particles in there. The kids can have accidents. The
diapers may leak.

Little Girl: The germs are invisible but they are there.

Reporter: Our Eyewitness news team wanted to find out what germs, what bacteria lurk
where your kids just want to have fun. We tested the surfaces of balls like these by
following instructions from the lab that worked with us, first picking up the balls very
carefully from different sections of the ball pit. Then we would drop them into a provided
sterile bag. A solution was provided to us. We washed the ball in that solution. And it is
that solution that was sent here to the lab for analysis.

We chose six locations at random: a Discovery Zone, Bonkers, Ikea, Galaxyland at West
Edmonton Mall and two McDonald's, in Castledowns and St. Albert. Every speck, every
growth in these dishes is bacteria. Prairie Biological Research suggests a level over ten
thousand should be considered as a trigger to remedy the problem. Here's how the ball
pens stacked up. Ikea was the lowest at a 2,600 total bacteria count per ball. There's
weekly spotcleaning done here and a thorough washing every three months.

Ikea Representative: Each one is cleaned and dried by hand and then brought back to the
ball room. And, while that is happening, the ball room is completely cleaned.

Reporter: Discovery Zone's total bacteria count per ball came in at 2,700, Galaxyland at
West Edmonton Mall, 2,800; Bonkers in North Edmonton 4,300. The two McDonald's
locations tested highest. Castledowns at 28,000. St. Albert McDonald's 191,000.

Mother: Holy …

Reporter: One Mom is shocked when we show her the results.

Mother: As it is right now, there are very few occasions when I allow them to go in anyway
but there's even going to be less. This is too high. It's unacceptable, in my opinion. I just
won't let my daughters play in them.

Reporter: We shared our test results with the president and CEO of McDonald's Western
Canada. Ron Marcoux tells us, 'As far as we're concerned, the balls are really maintained
very very well. If we're not doing something right, we'll make that change, I guarantee it.
Maybe cleaning once a week isn't enough. It's not our intention to harm anyone.' Back in
the lab further testing of all the samples found no toxic bacteria that could make your child
really sick. That surprised a Senior Inspector with the Edmonton Board of Health.

Reporter: So, what does that mean? If there's nothing harmful, then parents don't need
to worry?

Nelson Fok: No, not finding harmful bacteria does not mean it is safe. Like I said, the
potential for contamination is there.

Reporter: And if your child licks a ball, puts it in his mouth or finishes playing, then sits right
down to eat, that contamination can go right into your child's system.

News Anchor: Let's check in with Janice again through live. Janice, what is the bottom
line in all of this?

Reporter: The bottom line in all of this, Darrell, is that these ball places are fun places for
your kids to play but, when they do go in to play, keep an eye on them. Make sure that
nothing goes into the mouth. And, when they're finished playing, well, make sure that they
wash their hands off really well before they go on and do the next thing.

News Anchor: A good idea almost any time of the day. In fairness to McDonald's the
Board of Health points out that their higher levels could be a natural result of higher traffic
and the closeness of their ball pens to food. Was McDonald's surprised by your results,
Janice?

Reporter: Definitely. They say that they do their own testing. They've even developed
their own cleaning solution and clean those ball pens on a regular basis. I should mention,
Darrell, that just a couple of hours ago, we received a fax from McDonald's telling us that
they randomly selected three locations to do some testing – we don't know when – and that
all of those levels came back at low levels that they believe are not dangerous.

News Anchor: Okay, thanks, Janice Johnston, for that report.

The Complaint

The President and Chief Executive Officer of McDonald's Restaurants, Western Canada,
wrote a letter to the President of CFRN-TV on March 5. A copy was sent to the CRTC and
that copy, in the normal course of events, was forwarded to the CBSC to be dealt with
pursuant to the standard processes regarding complaints made with respect to any of
Canada's private broadcasters who are members of the CBSC. The text of that letter is
as follows:

It is a rare occasion when I feel compelled to write to senior management of any media
outlet about news coverage. The CFRN-TV “Eyewitness News Extra” broadcast during your
station's 6 p.m. Eyewitness News on Monday, March 3, 1997, was, in my view, such a
strong example of irresponsible TV journalism that I cannot let it go unchallenged.

First, the five-minute report was unduly alarming, using information without proper context
to imply that the bacteria counts mentioned pose a serious threat to the health of children
who play in these ball pits. That is not so. From our information, your reporter, Janice
Johnston, was told by Nelson Fok, the Senior Health and Environmental Consultant for
Capital Health in Edmonton, that test results she showed him were insignificant in the health
safety context.

Ms. Johnston was less than honest with McDonald's when she called us to request an
on-camera interview. In a telephone conversation on February 28, she told me that her
tests were conducted through the cooperation of the Public Health Inspector (Mr. Fok). Mr.
Fok advises that he and his department were asked to interpret the results, but had no part
in the actual testing.

Ms. Johnston faxed to me a copy of a Prairie Biological Research Ltd. report that showed
results from two McDonald's restaurants. She did not mention to us that she would report
additional lab results showing another McDonald's restaurant with a higher count. I can only
assume she was practising “sand bag” journalism, intending to disclose that information to
McDonald's only if and when she had us in front of the cameras.

In addition, Ms. Johnston indicated in her telephone conversation with me that the bacteria
count for the McDonald's location was, in itself, harmless, just higher than at other locations.
That's not the message her report delivered.

Presenting that factual information, of course, would have made viewers ask “What's the
story?”. Instead, with clever editing, the report cut from a set of numbers to a mother's
“Holy lord!” exclamation, thereby creating reason for alarm and concern about health safety.

In my view, that is very bad journalism and, in fact, I suggest that trying to scare the public
where there is no good reason to do so is irresponsible in the extreme.

There was nothing in the broadcast report to identify how many balls were tested, or whether
the persons who picked the balls out of the Play Place were qualified to do so. Nor was
there any acknowledgment that the balls had been picked out clandestinely. Had that been
done, the viewers may have shared our concern about the validity of Ms. Johnston's testing
process and the accuracy of the results.

I told Ms. Johnston of our concerns in that regard. I also told her of the extensive steps we
take to clean and maintain our Play Place locations. And we provided her with the results
of random scientific tests conducted by professionals of Norwest Labs and a Health
Microbiology professional's interpretation stating that “the results (ranging from 1,200 to
16,000 CFU/ball), are not alarming In any way,” and well within the limits expected.

At the very end of a report designed to alarm viewers, Janice Johnston acknowledged our
information. She did not acknowledge the credibility of the tests or the fact that the
assessment of safety was that of a professional microbiologist. She attributed that
assessment to McDonald's.

I suggest that, if you examine what your station has done in this event, you will find the
report is inaccurate, alarmist and irresponsible. I can only hope that you will take whatever
steps are necessary to improve on the quality of your so-called “investigative” journalism
in future. I await your reply.

The Broadcaster's Response

On March 13, the Vice-President and General Manager of CFRN-TV responded to
McDonald's and forwarded a copy of that letter to the CRTC. It was also forwarded to the
CBSC, which in turn communicated with the President of McDonald's, forwarding a Ruling
Request, again a standard procedure. The text of the CFRN-TV reply was as follows:

Thank you for your letter of March 5 regarding our news coverage. Your concern and
comments have been taken with complete attention.

I have reviewed the approach to the story with respect to balance and I have been assured
that our news department attempted to balance the story and still give the public information
concerning the potential hazard of ball pits.

The story was reviewed prior to telecast and some of the “alarmist” elements were
subsequently edited prior to airing.

The final comment in Ms. Johnston's live report was that ball pits are fun spots for children,
but a reminder to parents not to let children put the balls in their mouth and to make sure
they wash their hands once they have finished playing.

Again, thank you for your letter. Your comments and opinions caused much debate in our
news operation. Receiving your feedback was beneficial and will help and guide us in future
decisions.

The concerns of McDonald's President were unallayed and he requested, on March 25,
that the CBSC refer the matter to the appropriate Regional Council for adjudication.

The CBSCs Prairie Regional Council considered the complaint under the Code of Ethics
of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB) and the Code of (Journalistic) Ethics
of the Radio and Television News Directors Association (RTNDA). The relevant clauses
of those Codes read as follows:

RTNDA Code of (Journalistic) Ethics, Article 3:

Broadcast journalists will not sensationalize news items and will resist pressures, whether
from inside or outside the broadcasting industry, to do so. They will in no way distort the
news. Broadcast journalists will not edit taped interviews to distort the meaning, intent, or
actual words of the interviewee.

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 newscast in question and reviewed
all of the correspondence. For the reasons given below, the Council considers that the
broadcaster has not breached either of the Codes.

The Perspective of an “Involved” Complainant

On most, but not all, occasions, the CBSC is called upon to deal with complaints filed by
viewers or listeners who have no direct interest in the news or public affairs report in
question. It is interesting, although only peripherally relevant, that there was, in Great
Britain until a short while ago, an entirely different complaints mechanism for dealing with
matters in which the complainant felt personally aggrieved by the report. As it happens,
in Canada, as in almost every other jurisdiction of which the Council is aware (including
Great Britain today, following the merging of the two complaints bodies into the
Broadcasting Standards Commission), all complaints, whether from an aggrieved or a
“disinterested” party, are treated with equal diligence. That being said, the complaint of
an aggrieved party does require particular attention to the words used in the letter of
complaint on the assumption that the party may be expected to know more about the facts
surrounding his or her complaint. The Council is, however, equally aware, that an
aggrieved party may come to an issue with a “thinner skin” regarding any allegations
made. There is, in that sense, a very particular balance to be brought to the viewing of
such issues.

In the case at hand, the President and C.E.O., Western Canada, of food giant McDonald's
complains of the coverage of an aspect of its business activities, namely, children's indoor
playgrounds. The coverage did not focus on McDonald's alone; it dealt with “six locations
[chosen] at random: a Discovery Zone, Bonkers, Ikea, Galaxyland at West Edmonton Mall
and two McDonald's, in Castledowns and St. Albert.” In his letter of complaint, McDonald's
President used terms such as “irresponsible TV journalism”, “unduly alarming”, “pose a
serious threat”, “'sand bag' journalism”, “clever editing”, “irresponsible in the
extreme”,”alarmist” and so on. He also suggested that “less than honest” techniques were
used to elicit an on-camera interview and to perhaps surprise the McDonald's official
ultimately interviewed with previously undisclosed information before the camera. It was
also alleged that “clever editing” techniques were used to make the report more dramatic,
“creating reason for alarm and concern about health safety.”

The Council members watched and re-watched the news story in an effort to determine
whether the effect of the story was as dramatic and “alarmist” as McDonald's President
had alleged. The Council's conclusion is not the same. That being said, there is no doubt,
in the view of the Council, that the intention of the news reporter was not to recount a story
that would not attract attention. This alone does not mean that her story would be breach
of either of the above-noted Codes. There is not either any doubt, in the view of the
Council, that the news reporter would have merely threaded together the interviews she
obtained in a chronological or other nondescript order. This also does not mean that her
story would breach the aforementioned Codes. There is, in fact, an expectation on the part
of the Council that the feature item was “ordered” in the first place because it would be
newsworthy and that it was edited to be interesting and to have impact. The question for
the Council is whether either goal was achieved at the cost of any contravention of the
Codes.

The Allegation of Alarmist or Sensationalised Treatment

McDonald's President used the word “alarming” or one of its derivations no less than four
times in his letter and accused the station of “trying to scare the public”. While the Council
members understand that McDonald's would be concerned over any report that cast
aspersions on any of its business practices, their view is that the issue was not alarmist
or sensationalised, either as to its substance or as to its treatment.

To begin with, the Council considers that a careful and thorough review of the news
feature reveals that there was nothing either particularly dramatic or even of anything more
than a normal level of concern for a parent in the report. There was not, for example, any
allegation of even a serious illness, much less a death, on the part of any individual in the
Edmonton area (or elsewhere) resulting from playing in the ball pens or from any other
aspect of the fast food business. Nor is this a small point for, in making this observation,
the Council notes that several cases of deaths in fast food chains in the United States
have been revealed in the relatively recent past. The present matter stands in stark
contrast to such problems. No viewer would have drawn any such dramatic or alarmist
conclusions from the Eyewitness News Extra. In this case, the most serious allegation was
that “a viewer recently told us that he believes his son got sick from playing in a ball pen.
[Emphasis added.]” While this was apparently the motivation to do the story, the Council
considers that the implications of it were largely benign. At two points, there is a mention
of germs. In one, the reporter observes that “wherever there's kids, there's germs ” and
a little girl observes shortly thereafter that “the germs are invisible but they are there.”

Thereafter, the reporter describes the method of conducting the tests, which appears to
be reasonable but is not presented so as to fool any audience into believing that this is the
equivalent of a formal study on a grave infectious disease which would merit inclusion in
a medical journal. The only shocked individual in the story as told by the station was a
mother, whose concerns were understandable but not likely to frighten anyone into doing
anything more dramatic than taking the reasonable degree of care with what young
children put in their mouths anywhere. Even the reporter observed at one point that “back
in the lab, further testing of all the samples found no toxic bacteria that could make your
child really sick
. [Emphasis added.]” While her comment was followed with a reaction from
a Senior Inspector with the Edmonton Board of Health who said that “the potential for
contamination is there,” the conclusion was that the ball pens are fun places to play, that
parents should keep an eye on their children, that parents should “make sure that nothing
goes into the [child's] mouth”, and that, when the children are finished playing, parents
should “make sure that they wash their hands off really well before they go on and do the
next thing.” As the news anchor then concluded, this advice would be “a good idea almost
any time of the day.” All in all, the Prairie Regional Council is of the view that the feature
news story was not either sensational or significant, much less sensationalized, in terms
of the RTNDA Code of (Journalistic) Ethics.

Previous CBSC Decisions Dealing with Sensationalisation

The Council believes that the foregoing conclusion will be perfectly clear when considered
in comparison with other matters in which the CBSC has been called upon to deal with the
issue of sensationalisation of a news or other story. Two groups of decisions will be
referred to. In the first, the CBSC found that the broadcasters had not sensationalised the
reporting of the stories, each of which was, in the Prairie Regional Council's view, more
dramatic than the news feature under consideration. In the second group, the CBSC found
that there had been breaches by reason of sensationalisation. These matters will readily
be seen to be far more concerning than the matter at hand.

In CITY-TV re Newscast (Toronto Humane Society) (CBSC Decision 95/96-0226, October
21, 1996), the broadcaster had reported the case of a couple who had been charged by
police with unnecessary cruelty to animals, fraud, and other offences after a police raid
revealed that the couple had some 70 cats and dogs living in their home. It showed the
couple, the exterior of their residence and also informed viewers about the activities of
animal welfare organizations. The complaint came from the couple involved who felt that
the coverage was biased and sensationalized for profit. The Ontario Regional Council
disagreed.

If sensationalism there was, it arose out of the story itself and not from the station's reporting
of it. There was no distortion in the recounting of events by CITY-TV.

In CKEN-AM re Newscast (CBSC Decision 95/96-0134, February 14, 1997) the
broadcaster, in three newscasts, reported on a traffic accident which had resulted in the
death of the complainants' daughter. In those newscasts, the broadcaster had added a
reference to the fact that the deceased had herself been involved in a traffic accident one
and a half years previously in which a man had died. The report did include a reference
to the fact that she had been cleared of any wrongdoing in relation to that death. Here,
too, the Atlantic Regional Council concluded that there had been no sensationalisation of
the story. They did find against the broadcaster but only on the ground that the
information about the previous accident had been irrelevant background information in
terms of Article 2 of the RTNDA Code.

In CTV re Canada AM (News Graphic) (CBSC Decision 93/94-0071, June 22, 1994), CTV
was accused of using the graphic of a firearm to illustrate a case involving the
strangulation of a Montreal priest. The Ontario Regional Council found no intention to
sensationalize the story.

In the first place, the opening words of the news reader were: “The strangling death of a
Montreal priest, Reverend …, has heightened the fears among the city's gay community that
someone is stalking and killing homosexuals.” While the graphic used was that of a
handgun, it was the view of the Regional Council that the gun had been used as a symbol
of crime, not as an indication of the means of assassination. Any doubt on this issue was
clearly resolved by the broadcaster in her three opening words “the strangling death”. Short
of not using any background graphic, the Council members were hard pressed to conjure
up a generalized depiction of a strangling. … Furthermore, the Council did not consider that
this graphic depiction in any way sensationalized the event, which was in and of itself
sufficiently horrifying, without regard for the method used in murdering the priest.
Consequently, the Council did not consider that the use of the graphic could be considered
a sensationalisation of the news so as to constitute a breach of article 3 of the RTNDA Code
of Ethics
.

In CJOH-TV re Nightline News (CBSC Decision 94/95-0081, March 12, 1996), the Ontario
Regional Council dealt with a broadcast report of the vigil held in Minto Park in
remembrance of the massacre at the Université de Montréal. A viewer who had attended
the vigil objected to the coverage of the event and felt that the broadcaster showed
disrespect for women and violated her privacy and that of other women in attendance by
showing the final few moments of the vigil despite a collective request to allow them “a
private moment of grief/rage/sorrow/etc.” After careful consideration of the questions of
“full, fair and proper presentation” of the news as required under clause 6 of the CAB Code
of Ethics
and of sensationalising the news as prohibited by Article 3 of the RTNDA Code
of (Journalistic) Ethics
, the Council concluded that there had been no breaches of either
Code.

Although the Council fully appreciates the sensitivity of individuals to the coverage which
they or their events receive (after all, no-one is closer to a news story than the person or
persons involved in the story), it does not believe that there is any question of Code
impropriety in either respect in this case. The story as told was neither sensational nor
sensationalized; it was sombre, evocative, thoughtful, even wrenching in the memory of the
tragic events which gave rise to the need for the vigil in the first place.

As a result of the important coverage accorded to the Canadian Forces Airborne hazing
story by CTV, the Ontario Regional Council dealt with the airing of certain very unpleasant
footage. In CTV re Canada-AM (Airborne Hazing) (CBSC Decision 94/95-0159, March 12,
1996), the Ontario Regional Council dealt with the use of a lengthy video segment showing
the subsequently disbanded Airborne Regiment's unpleasant hazing practices, which was
included in the 7:00 a.m. newscast on Canada AM. The Council stated that

A story broadcast simply to engage the public's attention would likely be characterized as
sensationalism and thus in breach of the RTNDA Code of Ethics.

The Council explained that this was not such a case. As the Council put the matter,

In the view of the Council, the CTV News Department fulfilled all of its responsibilities. In
the first place, it is clear that the story had to be told. With the benefit of hindsight,
Canadians know that this story has remained a matter of great institutional importance up
to and including the date of this decision and current events indicate that the end of this
sorry episode of Canadian military history is not yet in sight. There can thus be no doubt
but that CTV's foresight in running the story was entirely justified.

The question is then whether the editorial judgment exercised was appropriate. Members
of the Council were aware not only of what material was used by CTV but also, broadly
speaking, of how much more video material might have been selected. However
unpleasant was the material which was used, there were, Council concluded, much more
explicit and lengthier clips which could have been chosen for airing. If anything, members
were hard pressed, in viewing and re-viewing the 15 seconds of material, to find bits which
were as visually unpleasant as the warning had suggested. In the view of the Council, CTV
News, while clearly not sanitizing the report, had not either exaggerated or exploited it as
a function of what could have been shown.

The foregoing examples have been included to provide examples of stories in which the
broadcaster had not been found to have sensationalized the news items. The Prairie
Regional Council considers that the ball pens story is considerably more innocuous both
in its nature and in its presentation than any of the above non-sensational items.
Consider, moreover, the nature of the stories which the CBSC has occasionally found to
be sensationalized.

In CJRQ-FM re Opinion Poll (CBSC Decision 94/95-0135, March 26, 1996), the on-air host
had asked the audience, in conjunction with a standard polling segment, the question
“Should taxpayers pick up the tab for sex-change operations that are deemed medically
necessary?” A selection of listener's views were later chosen by the station as a cross-section of listeners' views and broadcast. One such call contained the following
phraseology: “some sick demented obviously mentally disturbed homosexual”, “minces
into a hospital or clinic” and “this misfit of the natural order”. Other callers, while agreeing
with this point of view, used more temperate language. As the broadcaster had selected
this call from among 198 calls received in response to their invitation, the Council also
concluded that

the choice of the first caller's message was made for the purpose of sensationalizing the
item, contrary to the provisions of Article 3 of the RTNDA Code of (Journalistic) Ethics.

In CTV re News Report (Police Shooting) (CBSC Decision 94/95-0213, March 26, 1996),
the 7:00 AM newscast included as its final story a 22-second item which showed a woman
getting out of her van and being shot by California police. The Ontario Regional Council
believed that the network's coverage of this matter stood in stark contrast to the incident
treated in CTV re CANADA-AM (Airborne Hazing), (CBSC Decision 94/95-0159, March 12,
1996). The Council expressed the difference in the two decisions in the following terms:

There was no fundamental relevance of this American story to Canadian viewers, nor was
there any attempt made to establish such a link. In general terms, there was no editorial
context given for the piece, for viewers in any country. Furthermore, except for the moment
of the shooting, no story was even told. There had been no information on the reasons for
the shooting and no details on whether the woman in question had been armed. There was
neither introduction nor follow-up. The Council believes that the airing of the news item
simply turned on the availability of the video component. The piece ran because of the
video clip whereas, in the case of the Airborne Hazing, there was a story without the clip.
It was, of course, a better story with it but there was a story to be hold. In this matter, the
Council considers that there was none, other than the “shock value” of the film clip itself.

In consequence, the Council considers that the running of the news item in question
constituted a totally unnecessary “pictorial representation of violence”, contrary to the CAB
Violence Code
, and that, in airing the story without providing any context, the broadcaster
had sensationalized the news, contrary to the RTNDA Code of Ethics.

On balance, then, it is the view of the Prairie Regional Council that, objectively viewed,
and when weighed with the CBSC's previous decisions on similar matters, CFRN-TV
cannot be seen as having breached Article 3 of the RTNDA Code of (Journalistic) Ethics.
This is not, however, the end of the matter, for, even if the report was not sensationalised,
the Prairie Regional Council must assess the fairness and balance in Janice Johnston's
report.

Fairness and Balance

The Council here deals only with the on-air portion of the reporter's comments. In the first
place, it had no way to determine what transpired during telephone conversations
attempting to set up interviews. Not only does the CBSC never have a tape or transcript
of such conversations, but it is also not an evidence-gathering body. It does not hold
“hearings” in a quasi-judicial sense. It limits its review, in almost all cases, to the
evaluation of the on-air program against the Codes which it administers. While the
correspondence between the complainant and the broadcaster is always taken into
consideration, these letters are treated only as argument and not as evidence. The CBSC
members understand that issues of what the broadcaster intended to be the effect of the
program or the way in which the listener of viewer understood the program are not
ultimately determinative. What reaches the airwaves is the issue. How then it is evaluated
by the fair-minded Regional Council members, representing both the public and industry,
who had neither involvement in its creation nor legal interest with the broadcaster is the
bottom line. Whether mere coincidence or not, it is remarkable that, to the date of this
decision, every single decision has been unanimous, whether for or against the
broadcaster. This decision is no exception.

The Prairie Regional Council is unable to assess the scientific rigour of the testing process
which the station used. It does, however, believe, from the report, that there was full
disclosure of the process used and that the issues and consequences were not of such
moment that science is material in the determination. Moreover, it does appear that a
provincial health official was given the opportunity to be heard on the report and that,
beyond the simple potential of non-toxic contamination, no serious consequences were
alluded to. An Ikea representative appeared on air and the invitation was apparently
extended to McDonald's. While no representative of the chain chose to appear, the
company was adequately represented in the report. McDonald's President's statement,
quoted by the reporter was clear and unequivocal:

As far as we're concerned, the balls are really maintained very very well. If we're not doing
something right, we'll make that change, I guarantee it. Maybe cleaning once a week isn't
enough. It's not our intention to harm anyone

And then, at the very conclusion of the piece, the following dialogue between the reporter
and the news anchor again underscored McDonald's view on the issue. It is quoted earlier
in the context of the entire news report but worth reiterating here:

News Anchor: A good idea almost any time of the day. In fairness to McDonald's the
Board of Health points out that their higher levels could be a natural result of higher traffic
and the closeness of their ball pens to food. Was McDonald's surprised by your results,
Janice?

Reporter: Definitely. They say that they do their own testing. They've even developed
their own cleaning solution and clean those ball pens on a regular basis. I should mention,
Darrell, that just a couple of hours ago, we received a fax from McDonald's telling us that
they randomly selected three locations to do some testing – we don't know when – and that
all of those levels came back at low levels that they believe are not dangerous.

The Prairie Regional Council has no hesitation in concluding that the broadcaster's
presentation of the issue was “full, fair and proper”, to quote the words of Clause 6,
paragraph 3, of the CAB Code of Ethics. Although McDonald's would obviously have
preferred that the news feature not air at all, the presentation was, in the view of the
CBSC, balanced and McDonald's, even though not on air itself, had its point of view fully
and fairly presented.

The Broadcasters Response

In addition to assessing the relevance of the Codes to the complaint, the CBSC always
assesses the responsiveness of the broadcaster to the substance of the complaint. In this
case, the Vice-President and General Manager dealt with the points raised by the
President of McDonald's in a thoughtful way. His position did not satisfy the complainant
but the Council is always aware that this is necessarily the case with matters which get to
a Regional Council adjudication. It does not in any way diminish the appropriateness of
the broadcaster's response.

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.