CFTM-TV (TVA) re Tôt ou tard

QUEBEC REGIONAL PANEL
(CBSC Decision 00/01-1080)
S. Gouin (Vice-Chair), S. Chamberland, R. Cohen (ad hoc),B. Guérin, T. Rajan (ad hoc)

THE FACTS

On July 30, 2001 at 6:30 pm, as a part of its Tôt ou tard series, CFTM-TV broadcast a segment filmed on June 6 at the Ciné-Parc Laval in which the complainants appeared as a part of a comedic sketch. They were seated in their automobile when they were approached by Éric Salvail brandishing a tray of hot dogs and acting as a reporter inquiring into the plight of drive-in cinemas. As a part of the overall sketch, Salvail was interviewing others as well and offering a variety of services and such humorous objects (in the drive-in movie context) as car deodorizers, seat covers and mouthwash. The complainants reappeared to the sketch at a moment at which the “intrepid reporter” returned to their car to “criticize” the sound quality, suggesting that his cohort Yves Corbeil could “translate” the film for them. The complainants, smiling throughout, shook hands with M. Corbeil who was, later in the sketch, seen seated in their car.

The trouble began when the complainants apparently had a change of heart concerning their role in the sketch. For reasons that are undisclosed, perhaps related to the fact that they were not asked their permission for the broadcast of the sequences in which they were involved (their letter indicates that they were offended not to be asked to sign a waiver or even be thanked for their participation), but possibly based on other considerations, they approached Salvail before he left the drive-in to advise him that they did not wish to appear in the broadcast version of the sketch. They called the network, TVA, the next day to the same effect and, according to the text of their letter, took several additional steps to ensure that their images would not be broadcast. As noted above, despite their efforts, the broadcast of their part of the segment occurred. On August 20, they sent their complaint to the CRTC, which, in due course, remitted it to the CBSC. The full text of that letter, together with its appendices, is reproduced in the Appendix to this decision; those parts of it which provide the details of the chronology and related matters are cited here:

Nous avons décidé par la suite qu'il était hors de question que les images où nous apparaissions soient diffusées. L'un de nous [le plaignant] est allé demander à Éric Salvail de ne pas diffuser ce qui nous concernait. M. Salvail a répondu que c'est lui qui fait le montage et que nous n'avions pas à nous inquiéter. Puis il s'est tourné pour ignorer son interlocuteur.

Le lendemain, soit le 7 juin 2001, j'ai [le plaignant] téléphoné chez TVA pour demander une seconde fois que nos images ne soient pas diffusées. Une dame de l'émission Tôt ou Tard a pris l'appel et m'a pratiquement coupé la parole pour ajouter :

« …Bon…un autre qui va se plaindre au CRTC…de toute façon, ça ne sera pas diffusé, l'équipe a eu des problèmes d'éclairage. »

Elle a ensuite dirigé l'appel vers M. [B], le producteur de l'émission Tôt ou Tard. [Le producteur] a affirmé que les images ne seraient pas diffusées, puis il a refusé de nous transmettre une confirmation par télécopieur de ce qu'il avançait. Il a ajouté :

« …ça ne sera pas diffusé. Mais si s'est diffusé, tu poursuivra… »

après quoi il a rompu la conversation promptement en fermant la ligne.

En constatant que notre demande légitime de non-diffusion des images filmées à notre sujet n'était pas prise au sérieux, nous avons tenté de contacter [le] vice-président principal chez TVA. [Le vice-président] était absent à ce moment, et son adjointe a fait retourner notre appel par [le] directeur général de JPL Production, membre du Groupe TVA. [Le directeur général] a affirmé que nous n'avions pas à nous inquiéter et que les images en question ne seraient pas diffusées. Il a demandé que l'on lui envoie notre description et celle du véhicule. Ce qui a été fait. Voir annexes. Nous y avons même joint un avis interdisant la diffusion des images qui nous concernaient. Deux copies ont été envoyées également, soit une [au vice-président] et l'autre [aux producteur] et Éric Salvail.

Nous considérons que les façons de faire chez TVA et au sein de l'équipe de Tôt ou Tard contreviennent au respect de la vie privée et que nous avons été trahis et manipulés dans les faits ci-haut mentionnés. Un réseau de télédiffusion national et soit [sic] disant sérieux devrait respecter la vie privée des gens et agir avec éthique. Nous sommes d'avis que d'avoir diffusées nos images malgré

  • l'omission de nous faire signer autorisation écrite ;
  • notre demande verbale de non-diffusion auprès de M. Éric Salvail;
  • notre demande verbale de non-diffusion auprès [du producteur] ;
  • notre demande verbale de non-diffusion auprès [du directeur général];
  • notre avis écrit interdisant la diffusion des images en question, transmis [aux vice-président, directeur général, producteur] et Éric Salvail,

mérite de sérieuses sanctions.

The broadcaster's Vice-President, Programming, replied on September 20. As the parts of the letter cited here indicate (the full letter can be found in the Appendix), the broadcaster's position is that the broadcast was inadvertent. He was, on behalf of TVA, apologetic regarding the unfortunate occurrence but he underscored that “the images broadcast are not in any way, in our opinion degrading with respect to you.” He also agreed, without any admission of wrongdoing on the part of the network, that those images would not be rebroadcast:

Groupe TVA inc. tient à vous réitérer ce qui vous a déjà été exprimé à plusieurs reprises tant par [le producteur] que par [le directeur général], à savoir que les images qui ont été diffusées l'ont été par inadvertance et en l'absence de mauvaise foi ou de malice de la part de Groupe TVA inc. Il s'est écoulé plusieurs semaines entre le tournage et la diffusion des images où vous apparaissez et c'est par un malheureux concours de circonstances, dû essentiellement aux vacances estivales et la présence d'équipe de remplacement pour le montage des émissions, que la séquence a été utilisée pour l'émission du 30 juillet dernier.

Dès que l'occasion s'est présentée, après la diffusion, [le producteur] et [le directeur général] se sont d'ailleurs excusés à votre endroit et nous tenons à nouveau à vous présenter toutes nos excuses pour ce malencontreux événement.

Par ailleurs, nous tenons à souligner que les images qui ont été diffusées ne sont, à notre avis, nullement dégradantes à votre endroit. Au contraire, elles démontrent bien le climat détendu et plutôt bon enfant qui régnait au moment de l'enregistrement. Le sujet de la baisse de l'achalandage dans les ciné-parcs a donné l'occasion à l'équipe de « Tôt ou Tard» de faire reportage proposant des solutions inventives et humoristiques pour augmenter la fréquentation des ciné-parcs, tel le nettoyage des pare-brise [sic] et même la présence d'un comédien en la personne de M. Yves Corbeil (reconnu pour prêter sa voix au doublage d'émissions et de films) et dont la narration énergique des images du film visionné en votre présence à partir de votre voiture, avait pour but de rendre le film plus intéressant et plus vivant. Ces images montrent également que vous apportez votre entière collaboration dans la bonne humeur et les rires, avec une pointe d'humour qui convient bien à ce type d'émissions estivales.

Enfin, sans admission de notre part, Groupe TVA inc. s'engage à ne pas diffuser les images de l'émission « Tôt ou Tard » où vous apparaissez, advenant rediffusion de l'émission.

THE DECISION

The Quebec Regional Panel considered the program under the following provisions of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB) Code of Ethics and the Radio-Television News Directors Association of Canada (RTNDA) Code of (Journalistic) Ethics:

CAB Code of Ethics, Clause 6, paragraph 3:

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 4:

Broadcast journalists will respect the dignity, privacy and well-being of everyone with whom they deal, and will make every effort to ensure that news gathering and reporting does not unreasonably infringe privacy except when necessary in the public interest.

The Quebec Regional Panel Adjudicators watched a tape of the challenged episode of Tôt ou tard and reviewed all of the correspondence. The Panel concludes that the broadcaster has breached the rights of privacy of the complainants.

The Special Wording Problem of Clause 6, Paragraph 3, of the CAB Code of Ethics

Whenever the Quebec Panel applies the wording of Clause 6, paragraph 3, of the CAB Code of Ethics, it is necessary to explain the discrepancy between the French and English versions in order to explain why the English wording is used in all such circumstances. In TVA re Mongrain (CBSC Decisions 93/94-0100, 93/94-0101, and 93/94-0102, December 6, 1995), this Panel explained:

The Quebec Regional Council notes that the French-language translation of Clause 6(3) differs somewhat from the English-language version in emphasis. The French-language text reads, “C'est un fait reconnu que la tâche première et fondamentale du radiodiffuseur est de présenter des nouvelles, des points de vue, des commentaires ou des textes éditoriaux avec exactitude, d'une manière objective, complète et impartiale. [Emphasis added.]” In particular, the Quebec Council members recognize that the words “full, fair and proper”, in the English version, do not correspond exactly to “d'une manière objective, complète et impartiale” in the French translation. While the English text provides no conflict between the necessarily subjective presentation of “opinion, editorial and comment” and “full, fair and proper”, the French text presents an impossible task to a French-language broadcaster attempting to adhere to the French-language requirements of the Clause. To provide “des points de vue, des commentaires ou des textes éditoriaux” in a “manière objective … et impartiale” is essentially a contradiction in terms. In the opinion of the Council, it is unreasonable to expect that “points de vue” and “textes éditoriaux” be presented in an “impartial” manner, and that, by their very nature, editorial and opinion (“points de vue” and “textes “éditoriaux”) are partial, that is, they contain some element of preference or bias. It would thus be utterly unreasonable to impose such a standard on a French-language broadcaster.

Council members attribute this difference in emphasis to the particular translator(s)'s choices in the adaptation of the English text to French. This is, after all, a case in which the English text was the original text and the French version a translation of that document. In the circumstances, while the Council believes that there may be aspects of the Clause which apply similarly to the French and English broadcasters, such as the “juste” presentation “des nouvelles, des points de vue, des commentaires ou des textes éditoriaux”, those aspects which cannot be so applied must be considered in the sense in which other Regional Councils have interpreted the English-language version of the Clause. It goes without saying that Canadian broadcasters cannot be held to different levels of responsibility as a function of the language in which they broadcast.

It need not add anything to this explanation on this occasion. A Brief Overview of Previous CBSC Decisions regarding Matters of Privacy

The B.C. Regional Panel has dealt with this issue on a number of occasions. In the earliest of these, CHBC-TV re Newscast (CBSC Decision 93/94-0292, December 18, 1996), a news team had attempted to interview the defendant in a civil legal proceeding. As the Panel observed, “the complainant/defendant was a willing, if not blasé, participant” who, as it appeared, was willing to be interviewed on the following day. The story run was a follow-up to an earlier story (the day before) on the same matter but, on this occasion, the broadcaster also used a video clip of the defendant shot through his living room window. While the basic story, relating as it did to a judicial proceeding (which is, in the absence of a Court order to the contrary, a public proceeding), was incontrovertibly not an invasion of privacy, the Panel ruled that this was also the case for the video clip:

In fact, the complainant did not appear the least bit angered or concerned by the presence of the film crew on his property. He did not indicate any problem with this issue in his letter of July 15. Nor would the Regional Council be overly sympathetic with such a concern. In their view, if news organizations were required to make an appointment every time they wanted to get a story, they would be effectively handicapped, if not muzzled. It should also be noted that, in this particular case, the broadcaster was seeking the other side of a story for which it had, until then, only obtained the plaintiff's point of view. If anything, the defendant was being given the chance to present his own perspective on the issue.

In CHAN-TV re Newscast (Recycling Society) (CBSC Decision 96/97-0004, March 10, 1997), the broadcaster had filmed mentally challenged employees working outdoors. The Panel concluded that there was no invasion of privacy as “there was no identification of the individuals whose images were briefly on camera and, second, that there was a justifiable interest is using those unidentified images to illustrate the story which the public had an interest in knowing.”

In CHBC-TV re News Item (Double Homicide) (CBSC Decision 97/98-0008, May 20, 1998), the news report included an interview with a 16-year-old neighbour of the persons in whose house the criminal activities had occurred; the interview sparked a complaint from her parents. In general, the Panel observed:

In the case at hand, the B.C. Regional Council readily recognizes the interest of the broadcaster in visiting the area of the murders and in trying to provide for its viewers as much information as possible from persons with knowledge of the crime or the individual victims or perpetrators. In principle, therefore, the broadcaster was entitled to do what it did, including the seeking of interviews with people likely to have information on the events.

Moreover, in dealing with the individual interviewee, who, although 16, did not appear to be a child, the Panel said, with respect to the consent issue:

On the factual level, the Council considers that the daughter was always in a position to give or withhold her consent. She knew that she was being recorded. She was always inside the door of her house while the interviewer was outside. She could have ended the interview at any time by closing the door. There is no indication whatsoever in the video footage used in the news report that she was coerced. The Council readily concedes that she was probably inexperienced but this does not, in the Council's view, render her any different than most non-public figures of any age who are interviewed by the press. While some of the questioning was leading, that issue was not age-related. Nor, in the view of the Council, was the interviewee in any way compromised thereby.

The Panel then added the following points regarding the obtaining of consent in circumstances such as those that were pertinent to the reporting of the double homicide:

The Council finds that the complainant's contention that a formal consent from an interviewee must be obtained is, in such circumstances as are present in this case, too impractical and legalistic to be in the public interest as it would unduly impede the gathering and dissemination of news of which the public has an interest in being informed.

The Question of Privacy in the Case at Hand

The foregoing decisions of the CBSC's British Columbia Regional Panel lay down a series of principles which might appear to be useful to the broadcaster in the present instance. They all, however, involve journalistic matters which, by their very nature, are related to the public interest and, in general, dependent upon speed, if not instantaneity, with respect to their delivery to the public. It is clear from those decisions that the Panel has assumed the existence of a public interest in the stories being told in each case. As it was pointed out in the first CHBC-TV decision, if journalists needed to make an appointment before dealing with matters in the public interest, they “would be effectively handicapped, if not muzzled” in the execution of their mandate. It is as clear that news is new and thus depends on rapid public accessibility. While this does not equate to carelessness or recklessness with the rules, it does mean that greater flexibility may occasionally be required when issues of consent are considered.

In the case at hand, none of the foregoing elements is present, as is evident on the basis of, among other things, the significant delay between the shooting of the segment on June 6 and its broadcast on July 30. This was not, admittedly, a news report. Nor did it even concern a serious public affairs issue. It was simply a humorous sketch with entertainment value, to be sure, but not of societal impact. There was not, in other words, either a public interest component or an issue of journalistic time pressure involved behind whose shield the broadcaster could protect itself and which would have required the on-screen presentation of the complainants. (The Panel nonetheless considers that the principle of respect for the rights of privacy of individuals should be understood as extending to individuals even though the form of coverage does not, strictly speaking, fall into a journalistic category.) In such circumstances, there was more than ample time, more than seven weeks, in fact, for the broadcaster to sort out its permissions and waivers. Moreover, the affected persons were extremely diligent. They took steps from the very beginning to ensure that their interview, even if consensually granted at the time of filming, would not be shown. They spoke to the “reporter” at the time. They called the broadcaster the next day. They wrote swiftly to TVA. They could not have done more. They were entitled to expect that their request would be honoured, as all in authority agreed it would be. The Panel finds the broadcaster's excuse flimsy. Its failure to respect the complainants' privacy constitutes a breach of the privacy principle exemplified in the RTNDA Code of (Journalistic) Ethics and constitutes an unfair and improper comment under the CAB Code of Ethics.

Broadcaster Responsiveness

The Panel always takes the time to consider the broadcaster's responsiveness to the complainant's concerns, which is a part of each broadcaster's CBSC membership requirements. In the present matter, the broadcaster's representative has sent a long and careful reply, acknowledging the concerns of the complainants and even undertaking not to broadcast their images again in future. It was an exemplary response.

ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE DECISION

CFTM-TV is required to: 1) announce this decision, in the following terms, once during prime time within three days following the release of this decision and once more within seven days following the release of this decision in the time period in which Tôt ou tard is broadcast; 2) within fourteen days following the broadcast of the announcements, to provide written confirmation of the airing of the announcements to the complainants who filed the Ruling Request; and 3) at that time, to provide the CBSC with that written confirmation and with air check copies of the broadcasts of the two announcements which must be made by CFTM-TV.

The Quebec Regional Panel of the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has found that, by broadcasting the images of two members of the public on the July 30, 2001 episode of Tôt ou tard without their permission, CFTM-TV has breached provisions relating to privacy exemplified in both the CAB and RTNDA Codes of Ethics. The broadcaster of the television show had ample opportunity over a period of more than seven weeks to take out the offending segment between the filming of the offending segment and the date of broadcast, which they failed to do despite reasonable and timely requests on the part of the complainants.

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