CFTM-TV (TVA) re J.E. en direct (Alternative Medicine)

QUEBEC REGIONAL COUNCIL
(CBSC Decision 97/98-0580)
P. Audet (Chair), Y. Chouinard (Vice-Chair), R. Cohen (ad hoc),M. Gervais and S. Gouin

THE FACTS

J.E. en direct is a news and public affairs program (co-hosted at
the time of this complaint by reporters Gaëtan Girouard and Jocelyne Cazin) which is
aired Monday to Friday on TVA during the lunch hour, broadly speaking. On February 12,
1998, the show contained a half-hour segment on alternative medicine, stemming from an
investigative report on the practice of a particular practitioner of homeopathy, a Mr. G.
The segment began by airing the report which included an interview with a person who was
dissatisfied with the homeopathic services she had been given, as well as hidden
camera-generated video footage of the alternative medical practitioner in question
diagnosing a slipped disk (between the 4th and 5 th vertebrae) by floating his hands over,
but not actually contacting, the back of another “patient” (who was, in
fact, a journalist in perfect health working “undercover”). In the video
footage, the homeopath gave the startling prognosis that, had the “patient”waited any longer to come to see him, she would have spent the rest of her life in a
wheelchair.

Following the airing of the report, the issues raised by it were
discussed by the hosts of J.E. en direct with a variety of guests, including the
head of a Quebec association of homeopaths, an official with Canadian Medical Association
and the President of La Corporation des praticiens en médecines douces du Québec
(an association of persons offering complementary and alternative medicine), Mr. Peter
Veniez (apparently his correct name although he was referred to as Mr. Vanier
throughout the interview and he did not correct the appellation). Calls were also taken
from viewers who were invited to respond to the question “[Translation] Have you ever
been disappointed by alternative medicine?”.

The discussion between Mr. Veniez, Jocelyne Cazin and Gaëtan Girouard,
is at the crux of the complaint and this decision and, for this reason, it is quoted at
length here, although a complete transcript of the discussion is provided in Appendix A.

J. Cazin:Avec nous, M. PeterVanier, qui est le Président de la Corporation des praticiens en médecine douce. M.Vanier, c’ est un de vos membres, monsieur G., vous nous le confirmez ?

P. Veniez : Oui, c’est exact.

J. Cazin : Est-ce que vous étiez au courant des pratiques demonsieur G. ?

P. Veniez : Disons, c’est la première fois que je visionneou que je vois qu’est-ce que vous y reprochez. Disons que ça fait peut-être deuxminutes, le même temps que tous les spectateurs.

J. Cazin : Est-ce que c’est de cette façon-là quel’on pratique la naturopathie ?

P. Veniez : Sans doute, je vois absolument du manque deprofessionnalisme, mais d’après moi c’est de la part de TVA. À venir à ce quevous avez monté, tout ce coup avec le Collège des médecins contre un thérapeute.

J. Cazin : Attendez-là, M. Vanier. Vous dites que le manque deprofessionnalisme ne provient pas de monsieur G., mais de TVA ?

P. Veniez : C’est exact. Comment pouvez-vous faire unesynthèse d’une carrière de 20 ans avec 10 ans d’ études sous 1 minute et 40secondes. Et puis, ils ont démontré qu’est-ce qu’ils voulaient démontrer.Alors, s’il aurait pu y avoir des petites soucoupes volantes en arrière…

J. Cazin : Êtes-vous en train de me dire que vous cautionnez ceque vous avez vu tout à l’heure ?

P. Veniez : Non, madame, je vous trouve extrêmement un manquede professionnalisme dans votre propagande contre les médecines douces.

G. Girouard : M. Vanier, M. Vanier, là. Vous allez débarquerde votre cheval blanc, puis là on va se parler franchement vous puis moi. Quelqu’unqui passe ses mains puis qui dit :

« Je vois que vous avez un disque brisé grâce aux ondes », vouscautionnez ça vous ?

P. Veniez : Regarde, c’est comme j’ai dit tantôt…

G. Girouard : Non, non, vous avez rien dit tantôt. Répondez àla question.

P. Veniez : TVA, qu’est-ce que vous avez fait, vousl’avez piégé, c’est évident, les Québécois, c’est pas des fous.

G. Girouard : Aye aye, est-ce qu’on l’a forcé àfaire ça ?

J. Cazin : Est-ce qu’il n’a pas piégé sa cliente ?Est-ce qu’il n’a pas piégé sa cliente ?

P. Veniez : Les Québécois ne sont pas des fous. LesQuébécois sont intelligents et ce sont des consommateurs de la médecine douce, malgrétoute ces propagandes. Il y a du bon. Il y a quelques années, l’acuponcture étaitconsidérée comme du charlatanisme.

J. Cazin : Là maintenant, vous êtes en train de tout mettredans le même panier, les naturopathes, et je sais, et je sais, j ’en connais. Non,non, écoutez-moi. Je connais des naturopathes qui sont des professionnels et quin’agiraient jamais de cette façon-là. Vous là, ce que vous êtes en train de nousdire, c’est que vous les mettez tous dans le même panier.

P. Veniez : Qu’est-ce qui est arrivé dans le bureau avantque vous avez découpé ? Qu’est-ce qui est arrivé dans nos bureaux avant que vousavez découpé? Alors c’est sûr qu’il a eu un bilan santé passé 45 minutes,pas 1 minute et 40 secondes là, comme vous avez démontré. Vous avez démontré unaspect le plus douteux, si vous voulez bien, dans l’énergétique…

J. Cazin : Ça, c’est pas grave ? Ce que l’on a vu,c’est pas grave ça ?

P. Veniez : Ça existe ça, l’énergétique. C’est pasdepuis hier. Dans l’acuponcture, dans l’homéopathie, dans l’énergétique,il y a plusieurs formes de traitements qui sert de la kinésiologie. La kinésiologie, quevous pouvez penser que c’est douteux ou non, ça fonctionne. […] C’estpeut-être pas quelque chose qui est très simple à comprendre mais ça se comprendabsolument pas de la façon que vous l’avez démontré là.

J. Cazin : Est-ce que vous soignez l’ostéoporose ennaturopathie ?

P. Veniez : Madame, tout se traite.

J. Cazin : En 6 mois ?

P. Veniez : Les médecins ne peuvent pas traiter quand il y a undiagnostique… Si M. G. serait ici à se défendre, sû rement il vous aurait amené desdossier à prouver même avec appui médical… Comme j’ai dit a Madame larecherchiste : « Vous avez pas choisi le bon thérapeute ce coup-ci, car il estextrêmement compétent. » Ça fait plusieurs années qu’il est membre chez-nous. Ila été enquêté, il a été assermenté à suivre un code en déontologie. Il est trèsqualifié, très compétent, sans aucune plainte. Alors si tout ça avait été de bonnefoi, vous seriez venu, ou cette personne, cet individu aurait contacté la Corporation,étant donné que vous le saviez bien qu’il était membre et là, par la suite, onl’aurait enquêté par l’entremise et avec le bureau d’éthique, on a toutun comité qui pourrait le juger. Alors, c’est-à- dire que ses confrères peuvent lejuger par les traitements…

G. Girouard : Je suis convaincu avec votre réaction-là, M.Vanier…

P. Veniez : C’est du sensationalisme que vous recherchez etc’est pas ça.

G. Girouard : M. Vanier, Jocelyne, un instant, je veux poser unecouple de questions à M. Vanier.

P. Veniez : Ah, vous voulez me couper, là? Est-ce que vous mecoupez, là?

G. Girouard : Non, M. Vanier. Attendez, je veux vous poser unequestion. On se calme. Premièrement, pour se soigner, il faut être calme. Calmez-vous,okay ? Donc, vous me dites, M. Vanier, que votre collègue-là, en passant sa main-là, etquand il a dit à la jeune femme qui était en parfaite santé, qui effectivement lui adonné un faux diagnostic, « Je vois par les ondes que vous avez la 4ième et la 5ièmevertèbre déplacée puis que la chaise roulante vous guette dans 10 ans », c’estcrédible et vous défendez ça ?

P. Veniez : Regardez, monsieur, si vous allez voir unmédecin… On va parler de médecins, là. Vous semblez connaî tre ça à TVA !

G. Girouard : Non, non, écoutez là. Aye, on est pas à Nagano,là ! Enlevez vos patins, là, puis répondez à mes questions.

P. Veniez : Je réponds à ta question ; tu ne veux pasl’entendre. Alors…

G. Girouard : Est-ce que l’on se connaît pour se tutoyercomme ça ?

P. Veniez : Si on va voir un médecin, on va dire au médecinoù on a mal. Si vous êtes en arrière du bureau du médecin, et vous dites : «J’ai mal », il pourra jamais savoir que vous avez mal en-dessous de la petiteorteil, cher Monsieur. C’est comme dans n’importe quoi, vous devez guider leprofessionnel de la santé. Monsieur G., c’en est un professionnel de la santé.

The Letter of Complaint

On February 10, two days before the airing of the alternative
medicine segment on J.E. en direct, the President of the Corporation des
praticiens en médecines douces du Québec
wrote a letter of complaint, on behalf of
his Corporation, to the CRTC. This letter, which was accompanied by nearly 250 form
letters supporting the complaint, read as follows (the letter is included in full in its
original French in Appendix B):

[Translation] The Corporation des
praticiens en médecines douces du Québec
hereby lodges a formal complaint against
the TVA network for the prejudicial broadcast of misleading information and
anti-alternative medicine propaganda in Quebec. For several years this broadcast network,
via the show J.E. en direct, has aired false reports thereby misleading the public.

Throughout the rest of Canada, however, naturopathy, hypnotherapy,
psychotherapy, homeotherapy, massage-therapy, osteotherapy are legally recognized
professions. Why is it that here in Quebec, the C.R.T.C. allows one of its broadcasters to
broadcast anti- alternative and complementary medicine propaganda?

This letter was accompanied by an affidavit signed by the alternative
medical practitioner targeted by the report. In his affidavit, the homeopath swore (and
the affidavit is included in full in its original French in Appendix B) that he had never
given permission to TVA or its employees to broadcast a report about him. He affirmed his
accreditation and established reputation in the practice of alternative medicine and noted
that he does not recognize the reporters’ right to investigate and judge him as they
lack the knowledge and expertise to render such a judgment which would be extremely
prejudicial to his good reputation.

On February 12, the complainant wrote another letter to the CRTC (also
included in Appendix B) stating, in part, that:


[Translation] Further to the
harassment and threats to the reputation of the Corporation des praticiens en
médecines douces du Québec
, my presence was required for the J.E. en direct

broadcast of February 12, 1998 at 12:30 p.m.

… The dishonest intentions and motives of your licenced broadcaster
are clear.


The Broadcaster’s Response

On March 10, the Editor in Chief for the program J.E. en direct
responded to the complainant with the following, in part (the full letter is included in
Appendix B in its original French):

[Translation] On February 12, 1998, the
show J.E. en direct, broadcast daily between 11:45 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., dealt with,
among other topics, the plight of Mrs. [name of woman interviewed in the report], age 60,
and her troubles with Mr. G., a practitioner of alternative medicine. Mrs. … claims to
have been guaranteed by Mr. G. that a homeopathic treatment would relieve her of her
osteoporosis within six months, all for about $500 worth of homeopathic products.

The show did not purport to put alternative medicine “on
trial”. The focus was always on Mr G.’s practice. The guests had time to debate
the issue. And the calls taken from the public were balanced.

In your complaint to the CBSC, you claim that TVA has caused harm and
that they broadcast false information and anti-alternative medicine propaganda. We firmly
deny these allegations as they relate to the case at hand. JE en direct dealt with
a particular instance by calling on professionals to debate the issue.

J.E. also deals with traditional medicine, always in relation to
a specific case. Cases of medical error, erroneous diagnosis, unreasonable waiting lists,
etc.

On another note, I recognize that there was some confusion surrounding
your name. We identified you as Mr. Vanier and not as Mr. Veniez. At no time during the
course of the program, however, did you correct this mix-up, which only served to prolong
the confusion.

The complainant was unsatisfied with the broadcaster’s response
and requested, on March 16, that the CBSC refer the matter to the appropriate Regional
Council for adjudication. Along with his signed request, the complainant added another
letter which is included in full in its original French in Appendix B . On March 25, the
complainant wrote once more to the CRTC informing them that he was forwarding another 93
form letters petitioning against J.E.’s coverage of homeopathy. The full text
of that letter can also be found in Appendix B.

THE DECISION

The CBSC’s Quebec 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:

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.

RTNDA Code of (Journalistic) Ethics, Article One


The main purpose of broadcast journalism
is to inform the public in an accurate, comprehensive and balanced manner about events of
importance.

RTNDA Code of (Journalistic) Ethics, Article Two


News and public affairs broadcasts will
put events into perspective by presenting relevant background information. Factors such as
race, creed, nationality or religion will be reported only when relevant. Comment and
editorial opinion will be identified as such. Errors will be quickly acknowledged and
publicly corrected.


RTNDA Code of (Journalistic) Ethics, Article Three

Broadcast journalists will not
sensationalise 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.

RTNDA Code of (Journalistic) Ethics, Article Four

Broadcast journalists will always
display respect for the dignity, privacy and well-being of everyone with whom they deal,
and make every effort to ensure that the privacy of public persons is infringed only to
the extent necessary to satisfy the public interest and accurately report the news.

The Quebec Regional Council members viewed tapes of the broadcasts in
question and reviewed all of the correspondence. While the Council takes no issue with the
general framework for the report, nor with the use of hidden cameras, it does find that
the hosts demonstrated an unacceptable lack of respect for a guest on the show thereby

violating Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics and Article 2 of the RTNDA Code of
(Journalistic) Ethics
.

The Content of the Report

The Quebec Regional Council wishes to make abundantly clear the
distinction which it draws in arriving at its conclusions regarding the investigative
report in question between the substance of the report, on the one hand, and the
interview with Mr. Veniez, on the other. The focus of the report, the balance of the
question put to the audience to broach the subject, the research which went into the
investigation, the interview with one of the self-proclaimed “victims” of
homeopathic treatment, the use of the hidden camera as an investigative tool and so on
were effective and reasonable. The Council realizes that the complainants believed that
the techniques were “negative propaganda”, unfair and unreasonable, harassing
and threatening, but the Council does not share that view. Investigative reporting is
rarely an enjoyment for the targeted person or organization. Where accomplished fairly and
in accordance with broadcast journalism standards, the target must generally bear the
investigative blows. This is the result of the democratic principle enshrined in Article
One of the RTNDA Code of Ethics, namely, that broadcast journalism “inform the
public in an accurate, comprehensive and balanced manner about events of importance.”

As to what is an “event of importance”, a matter entitled to
be treated by a broadcaster, the orientation of the broadcaster’s approach to the subject
and so on, the CBSC has been very supportive of broadcaster choices, as it should be.
Barring some dramatically incorrect choices, the CBSC expects that broadcasters, having
their feet on the journalistic ground, will make the appropriate determinations regarding
the stories to tell. In furtherance of this expectation, previous CBSC decisions have
upheld the general principle that the choice to tell a story and the manner in which it is
told remains entirely within the discretion of the broadcaster. In CITY-TV re Hard Copy
(CBSC Decision 96/97-0055), the Ontario Regional Council put the principle thus:

The CBSC has frequently decided that it
is up to the broadcaster to choose the story it will tell ot the “angle” from
which it will present a story. Once that choice is made, however, the broadcaster must
fall within the parameters of the RTNDA Code of (Journalistic) Ethics and the CAB
Code of Ethics
in the way it presents the story…

The situation the Ontario Regional Council had to deal with in CKVR-TV
re News Item (Car Troubles)
(CBSC Decision 97/98-0235) is very similar to the case at
hand. In that case, a consumer report told the story of a woman who had been dissatisfied
with her purchase of a used vehicle. The proprietor of the dealership complained that the
report was unfair and very destructive to his business. The Council did not find that the
broadcaster had violated any Code provision by airing the report. It stated:


With respect to the substance of the
complaint, the Council understands that businesses may be particularly sensitive about
being targeted by “consumer report” news segments. Where the report is anything
less than positive, the business involved may feel wronged by the broadcaster and complain
that the report was unfair or sensationalized. In CFRN-TV re Eyewitness News (CBSC
Decision 96/97-0149, December 16, 1997), the CBSC noted that a delicate balance must be
struck in dealing with “involved” complainants. In that case, the Prairie
Regional Council dealt with a complaint from an executive at McDonald’s Restaurants
who claimed that a news feature on the subject of indoor playgrounds at specific fast food
restaurants in the Edmonton area was “alarmist” and sensationalized. In a
preface to its decision in that case, the Council stated:


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 this case, as in the CFRN Eyewitness
News
case, the Council considers that the complaint clearly reflects the
complainant’s sensitivity regarding his business more than it does unfairness on the
part of the broadcaster. Setting aside for a moment the question of choice of the subject
of the report, the Council considers that the report was fair and balanced and not
particularly dramatic, much less sensationalized. The report clearly indicated that the
dealer had done “everything by the book” and that the consumer had bought the
vehicle “as is”, without certification or warranty. It also presented the
dealer’s explanation and denial of the allegations made by the consumer that she saw
a mechanic sleeping in her van and her licence plates put on another vehicle.

In CFCN-TV re “Consumer Watch” (Travel Agency) (CBSC
Decision 95/96-0240, December 16, 1997), the president of a discount travel agency
complained that reports about his business did not give “the other side of the
issues.” In finding no breach of the Code, the Council made the following comments on
the fairness and balance requirement of the RTNDA and CAB Codes of Ethics:

It appears to the Council that the
complainant, in alleging that the story should have included “the other side of the
issues”, considers that the fairness and balance requirement for news reports means
that negative comments about a company must be balanced by positive comments. The Council
disagrees. Were the complainant’s view correct, there could never be a negative or
critical news report. At the end of the day, it is the reporting of the newsworthy
event
which must be evaluated for its objectivity and fairness and not the overall
effect of the news report on the person or company who is its subject…

To the extent that the complaint goes to
the broadcaster’s choice in doing a report involving the complainant’s business,
the Council notes that, under the Broadcasting Act, broadcasters enjoy
“journalistic, creative and programming independence”. The Council is of the
view that this independence is also a cornerstone of the interpretation which should be
given to the industry Codes which members of the CBSC have agreed to abide by.
Accordingly, the Council does not question the broadcaster’s determination of the
newsworthiness of this consumer report.

Such is the case here. The Council notes that the complainant points to
the question put to the viewing audience, i.e. “[translation] Have you ever been
disappointed by alternative medicine?” to support his allegation that the program,
indeed the entire TVA network, is biased against alternative medicine. While it is true
that the question was slightly negatively oriented, and could have been “Have you had
good experiences with alternative medicine?” (a slightly positive orientation to the
issue) or “Please tell us what experiences, if any, you have had with alternative
medicine” (a neutral orientation to the issue), the Council sees no reason to
intervene in the phrasing of such a question. The broadcaster conducting its inquiry and
producing a public affairs show has the right, in putting such a question to its audience,
to reflect the results of its initial research and even to be reasonably provocative,
although not unfairly imbalanced, in its approach. In this case, even allowing the slight
negative orientation of the question, the Council notes that other balancing statements
were made by the hosts of the show to the effect that alternative medicine is a popular
method of treatment and that it has “[translation] certainly helped many
people.”

All in all, insofar as the substance of the report is concerned, the
Council does not find that there is any problem which could be understood as resulting in
the breach of any of the Code provisions noted above. As to the subject matter itself,
there can be no doubt that alternative medecine, as much as traditional medecine or other
public health issues, would be a valid field of inquiry. Moreover, on the basis of the
report broadcast, the Quebec Regional Council has no hesitation in concluding that
sufficient questions were raised about the practice of one individual at least to bring
the matter to the attention of the public. Finally, in terms of the substance of the
report, there can be no doubt that the President of the Corporation most affected by the
investigative report was given ample opportunity to appear and to express his and the
Corporation’s point of view.

The Use of Hidden Cameras

In addition to the substance of the report, valid questions were raised
regarding the means of gathering at least some of the information used in the report
itself. It is not denied that a hidden camera and other forms of deception were used as
part of Carolyne Belley’s investigative report on the practice of Mr. G. In that
report, a journalist posed as a patient seeking help from the alternative medicine
practioner in question for alleged back problems and she taped the consultation session
with a hidden camera. There is no doubt that the results were directly damning to Mr. G
and possibly indirectly to some other practitioners of alternative medecine.

This is not the first time the Council has been called upon the issue
of the use of hidden cameras. In CFTM-TV re J.E. (Report on HMS 90) (CBSC Decision
97/98-0472, August 14, 1998), the CBSC’s first ruling on the use of use of hidden
cameras as an information-gathering technique, this Council stated the following:

While there are no specific provisions
dealing with these issues in the Codes administered by the CBSC, Article 4 of the RTNDA
Code of Journalistic Ethics
states, in part, that “Broadcast Journalists will
always display respect for the… privacy… of everyone with whom they deal.” In the
view of the Council, “respect for the… privacy” does not mean that no invasion
of an individual’s privacy will be countenanced. Rather, it is respect for such
privacy in those circumstances in which the public interest is not at issue. Where
broadcast journalists encounter issues which have a material public interest component,
they will be justified in bringing these matters before the public. After all, their basic
duty, stated in Article 1 of the RTNDA Code, “is to inform the public in an accurate,
comprehensive and balanced manner about events of importance.”

Pursuant to Article Four of the RTNDA Code of (Journalistic) Ethics,
the Council established a two-pronged test for the use of hidden cameras which may also be
applied more broadly to the use of deception as an information-gathering technique.

[T]he Council considers that the
resolution of such an issue depends on the interpretation of two issues. The first is the
public interest in the matter with respect to which such devices are employed; and the
second relates to the appropriateness of this device to the making of that report.

It applied the test to the circumstances of that case as follows:

As to the first issue, in this case, the
Council has no hesitation in concluding that the inquiry into the selling tactics
associated with HMS 90 was a legitimate avenue of pursuit. The public has an interest in
knowing about products which are offered as having curative values, products which may
walk the fine line between food and drugs, products which may find themselves on the
border between regulation and non-regulation, particularly where the public’s health
may be at play. Moreover, to the extent that claims are made regarding the properties of a
product, such as HMS 90, to cure, in whole or in part, such ailments as cancer, arthritis,
AIDS, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, cardiac difficulties and so on, and where such
claims are contested, it is difficult to imagine that fair-minded people would argue that
a report on such a product would not be central to the public interest. …

As to the second issue, the Council considers that hidden recording
devices should not, in normal circumstances, be the method of choice to gather reportorial
evidence. In the absence of compelling or unavoidable circumstance, it is the
old-fashioned interview which should be the reporter’s preferred tool. There may,
however, be circumstances in which there is no reasonable expectation that the information
necessary to fairly, accurately, comprehensively and credibly tell a story in the public
interest will be obtainable other than by subterfuge. Where, for example, the revelation
of fraudulent activities is unlikely to be admitted by the perpetrator, it may only be
possible to tell the story by placing the crook in the circumstances in which he or she
will actually commit the fraud on camera. To deal with providers of phoney or incompetent
home or automobile repair services, it may be necessary to lure the providers of those
services into an environment where they are asked to quote on “needed repairs”
to a perfectly functioning piece of equipment. It would be naïve to expect that such
operators could otherwise be forced into the open. In a general sense, the legitimacy of
such devices may be supported where the harm to the public prevented by the revelation of
information so gathered outweighs the harm to the individual caused by the deceptive
gathering of the information.

This case is similar. To render the report effective, it was extremely
important, if not absolutely essential, to draw the doctor into the rendering of the
dubious services “on camera”. If a picture is, as the maxim goes, worth a
thousand words, the moving picture of Mr. G. with his hands floating in the air in medical
benediction pronouncing on the life of the healthy reporter was worth a multiple of
that. And, as noted above, the Council is of the view that an investigation into the
practice of alternative medicine by one practioner is a matter of significant public
interest, especially given the fact that such services are unregulated in Quebec. With
respect to the second test, the Council considers that the information would not likely
have been unearthed, certainly not comprehensively and credibly, without the use of
journalistic deception, including hidden recording devices.

The Separation of Comment and Editorial Opinion

Despite everything which the Quebec Regional Council has said in
support of the actual report, it must depart from its favourable position in terms of the
attitude of the program hosts. In reviewing the tapes which were provided to the Council
for the purpose of its consideration of this complaint, the Council noted aggressive and
mocking behaviour of a like not often seen in serious public affairs programming. While
the aggressive approach, the Council notes, came as much from the complainant who was a
guest on the show as from the hosts, specifically Mr. Girouard, the guest owes no duty to
the audience, while the hosts do. The guest, by behaving badly, reflects only on himself.
The hosts simply have no right to behave badly.

Speaking of these hosts, the Council believes that they are esteemed
and credible journalists who, moreover, have the power of their medium and their popular
show at their beck and call. Even if provoked, they need to be able to stand back
from the fray. They can test, they can challenge, they can contradict, but they ought not
to mud-wrestle. The Council is of the view that remarks such as “[translation] Come
down off your high horse and let’s talk frankly, you and I”, “[translation]
No, no, you said nothing before – answer the question” and “[translation] This
isn’t Nagano, take off your skates and answer my questions”, etc., were neither
proper nor fair coming from a veteran and well-respected broadcast journalist. By
attacking and mocking their guest thus, Mr. Girouard and Ms. Cazin “showed their
colours”, so to speak, in a way which violated Article 2 of the RTNDA Code
of (Journalistic) Ethics
which requires the separation of comment and editorial
opinion, which “will be identified as such” and Clause 6 of the CAB Code of
Ethics
which states that “It shall be the responsibility of member stations to
ensure that news shall be represented with accuracy and without bias”, that “It
shall also ensure that news broadcasts are not editorial” and that “[i]t 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 Council is of the view that, in this case, a guest on the show, Mr. Veniez, was
treated in a hostile manner inconsistent with broadcast journalistic standards. Even when
provoked, broadcast journalists must rise above petty mocking and name-calling, retaining
their unbiased focus on the objective news and public affairs issues which they are
reporting.

Broadcaster Responsiveness

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 Council considers that the broadcaster’s response
addressed fully and fairly all the issues raised by the complainant. Consequently, the
broadcaster has not breached the Council ’s standard of responsiveness. Nothing more
is required in this regard.

CONTENT OF THE ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE DECISION

The station is required to announce this decision forthwith, in the
following terms, during prime time and, within the next thirty days, to provide
confirmation of the airing of the statement to the CBSC and to the complainant who filed a
Ruling Request.

The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has found that TVA breached
provisions of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ and Radio and Television News
Directors Association’s Codes of Ethics in its February 12, 1998 broadcast of J.E.
en direct
. While the substance of the report on alternative medicine was beyond
reproach, the Council finds that the hosts of the show adopted an aggressive and mocking
behaviour towards one of their guests, treating him in a hostile manner inconsistent with
broadcast journalistic standards. In the Council’s view, by engaging in such
behaviour, the hosts failed to retain an unbiased focus on the objective news and public
affairs issues which they were reporting, in violation of Clause Six of the CAB Code of
Ethics
and Articles One and Two of the RTNDA Code of (Journalistic) Ethics .

This decision is a public document upon its release by the Canadian Broadcast Standards
Council.