CFTO-TV (CTV Toronto) re a CTV News at Six report (Driveway)

ontario regional panel
R. Stanbury (Chair), M. Ziniak (Vice-Chair), D. Braun (ad hoc), R. Cohen (ad hoc),

THE FACTS

During the news program CTV News at Six on April 27, 2007, CFTO-TV (CTV Toronto) broadcast a news report about a woman who, having extended her driveway, was now being told by the City of Toronto that she should not have been granted permission to do so.  The two CTV Toronto news anchors introduced the story as follows:

Ken Shaw:        It’s anything but fun and games at one North Toronto neighbourhood residence.  There is bickering after one homeowner put an addition on her driveway.

Christine Bentley:          She thought she did everything right, but now, five years later, the home owner has been told the project never should’ve been given the green light.  Here’s CTV’s Desmond Brown.

The report then began with a scene of a silver car pulling into a driveway, followed by a shot of the house and a close-up of the interlocking brick on the driveway.  The caption read “Russell Hill Road, Today”.  Reporter Desmond Brown commented in voice-over:

Denise Alexander parks in her driveway, but she’s only allowed to put her car on one side, even though she paid eight thousand dollars to widen it and was granted a permit from the City to park there.

The report then showed a clip of an interview with Ms. Alexander standing in her driveway:

And, again, I went through the City, did everything they told me to do.  They even had me, of course, do extra landscaping and – which is fine; I love gardening.  Did all that, spent the money, and five years later, they come back at me with something in the mail saying I should come to community council.

The visual accompaniment to Brown’s next comments consisted of close-ups of the driveway and the landscaping.

Brown’s voice-over:         At the community council meeting she was told that the city had made a mistake, that she would have to rip up the widened portion and restore it to a single car driveway at her own expense.

Alexander:         The implication was that I did something in the middle of the night.

The camera followed Alexander as she walked towards the end of the driveway and pointed out the edge.

Brown:  Seems that some of the neighbours complained to City Hall.  They said Alexander’s widened driveway took away a parking spot on the street.  One letter said the new driveway had a negative impact on the safe and reasonable use of a neighbouring driveway.

An archival clip of a previous interview with City Councillor Michael Walker was shown, along with the following voice-over by Brown:

The local councillor here is Michael Walker and he supports the neighbours’ complaints.

Reporter Brown was then shown in front of Alexander’s house with documents in hand:

These City of Toronto documents show that the neighbours on both sides of Alexander are opposed to the widened driveway.  I also found this financial statement which shows that the neighbour to the south [points to neighbouring house], [R.B.], donated three hundred dollars to Michael Walker’s campaign in last November’s election.

The visual images were of Brown knocking on the door of a neighbouring house, presumably that of Mr. [B].  The house number was fully visible.

Brown’s voice-over:         [B.] was not home when we knocked on his door and Michael Walker was out of town today [shot of Walker’s empty office] and did not return our phone calls.

Alexander:         I think it’s a personal vendetta of a neighbour.  Um, I couldn’t understand why Michael Walker wouldn’t call me back four times.  You know, he didn’t know me from anything and yet he won’t even give me the courtesy of an answer of a phone call.  And I am a constituent of his.

That remark was followed by a scene of Ms. Alexander showing a document to Brown.

Brown’s voice-over:         Meanwhile the City of Toronto has sent Alexander permit renewal forms for her widened driveway [close-up of the form].  Go figure.

Brown’s report concluded with a scene of him standing outside Toronto City Hall:

And Alexander has hired a lawyer to help her fight the City’s decision.  She also says she’s going to file a complaint with the City’s Ethics Commissioner against Councillor Michael Walker.  Live from City Hall, I’m Desmond Brown.  Ken.

The CBSC received a complaint about the report on July 4 from the neighbour named in the report.  He had already had correspondence with CTV Toronto and included copies of those e-mails.  He outlined his concerns, in part, as follows (the full text of all correspondence can be found in the Appendix):

On April 27th in its 6:00 pm news broadcast, CTV ran a segment regarding my neighbour, Ms. Alexander, and her front yard parking space.  During the segment the following information was aired:

– My name

– My full address (the street name was provided in a caption and the street address in a close-up of the front door of my house)

– A visual of my house

– A demonstration by the CTV reporter that no one is home at that house during the day

None of this personal information was essential to the story.  The points made in the segment could easily have been made without including the information.  I submit that the inclusion of this information in the broadcast constituted an unreasonable and unnecessary violation of my privacy and thus violated Section Four of the RTNDA Code of Ethics.

In addition, after naming me, the reporter disclosed details about an election campaign contribution that I had made.  This information was not relevant to the story (see details below) and so also constituted a violation of Section Four.

Clause Six of the CAB Code of Ethics calls for “full, fair and proper presentation of news”.

[…]

Complaint Details:

1.         The CTV announcer’s lead-in to the April 27th segment described the situation as a fight between neighbours, however little or no attempt was made by CTV to investigate and present both sides of the issue.

The investigative approach that the CTV reporter took – knocking on the door of my home in the middle of a work day (I was at work) and calling the local Councillor’s office the same day that the piece was to air (he was away) – was not a level of investigative effort adequate to obtain the information necessary for an accurate, fair and balanced report.

[…]

Including me, the residents of five of the houses on the street made submissions to Community Council asking that the space be removed.  These neighbours tell me that CTV made no effort to contact them prior to the piece being aired.

CTV, in describing the situation as a dispute, but by failing to investigate and present both sides of the issue, did not provide a full, fair and proper presentation of news.

2.         The most important and glaring omission in the April 27th segment was the fact that Ms. Alexander obtained the City’s permission to install the parking pad by falsely claiming that a disabled person was a permanent resident at that address.  The Municipal Code requires the removal of a space obtained based on false, misleading, or incorrect information.

Ms. Alexander has also signed a legally-binding contract with the City agreeing to relinquish the space.  She has not honoured that contract.

This information was crucial to a full understanding of the story, and to an understanding of why the residents of five of the houses on the street asked the City to revoke Ms. Alexander’s permit and remove the space.

This information was part of the public record and could easily have been obtained by CTV, either from public records, or by simply talking to the neighbours.  By failing to obtain it and include it, CTV did not provide a full, fair and proper presentation of news.

3.         In the April 27th segment the CTV reporter states on camera “The local councillor here is Michael Walker, and he supports the neighbours’ complaints.”  He then goes on to say “I also found this financial statement which shows that the neighbour to the south, [R.B.], donated $300 to Michael Walker’s campaign…”  The reporter is clearly inferring that there is a connection between these two facts.

By doing this research himself and presenting it on camera, the reporter assumed on behalf of CTV full responsibility for ensuring that the statement he made was both accurate and relevant to the story.  It was not relevant.  The donation was made more than a month after City Council voted to remove the parking space.  The reporter’s failure to discover this, and his resulting unsupported inference of a connection that clearly did not exist was not a full, fair and proper presentation of news and, since the information was not relevant to the story, airing it was also a violation of my privacy.

I filed a formal complaint with CTV on April 30th.  CTV indicated that they would do a follow-up story (see attached e-mails) to address the complaint.  On May 16th I spent an hour in person with their reporter to brief him.  I provided him with written and video proof of points 1, 2 and 3.

I believe that I have given CTV both sufficient information and ample time to prepare and broadcast a follow-up story to address my complaint and correct the record.  However, after more than two months, CTV has not done this.

Once the official complaint was lodged with the CBSC, the broadcaster sent the following reply on July 31:

You have complained that the CTV News story about your dispute with your neighbour, Denise Alexander, was incomplete and unfair.  You also believe information in the report violated your privacy, and that CTV implied a connection between a political campaign contribution, and Councillor Walker’s decision in the dispute.

Shortly after the news item aired, you contacted [the News Director] and raised your concerns.  He agreed that a follow-up story would be appropriate.  The intention was to advance the story by including documentation in your possession, which you indicated supports your case against Ms. Alexander, and to give you and your neighbours an opportunity to rebut the comments she made in the original story.  It was also an opportunity for you to address your concerns about the initial story’s reference to the contribution you made to Councillor Walker’s campaign.

[The News Director] assigned Mr. Brown to this follow-up story.  Mr. Brown spoke with you numerous times on the telephone, and met with you on May 16.  At this time, you offered documentation which you claim shows that your neighbour fraudulently obtained a permit, as this material was inconsistent with the information CTV News obtained from City Hall, it was necessary for you to speak to this matter on camera.  Unfortunately, you declined to appear on camera to back up your claims.

[…]

[…] [W]e are proud of our reputation at CTV News for fairness and balance.  In some cases, achieving that goal requires a follow-up story.  But our objective is always to get information “on the record”.

We believe our viewers deserve to know where we get our information, and who our sources are.  CTV News Toronto has given you and your neighbours an opportunity to tell your side of the story, and you have all declined.  I am satisfied that Mr. Brown and our newsroom made every effort to respond to your written complaint and to provide a fair and accurate report.

As to your privacy concerns, the information regarding your name and address was integral to the story and is on the public record on City Hall documents concerning this dispute.

[…]

CTV News is a member in good standing of the CBSC and adheres to its guidelines.

The complainant filed his Ruling Request on August 7 along with documentation to support his claims.

I have received CTV’s response to the above complaint.  I am writing to advise you that I find the response deficient in several material respects.  As a result I am requesting the CBSC to adjudicate the matter.

Reasons for this request:  In its response, CTV has not disputed the validity of the key points in my complaint.  However, CTV has failed to broadcast a correction and its justification for not doing so is inadequate.

1.         CTV has not disputed the fact that the April 27th segment was not a “full, fair and proper presentation of news”.  However CTV has taken the position that the only way to rectify this situation is for me, or someone else, to agree to appear on-camera.  By taking this position CTV is suggesting that its only obligation is to broadcast a “he said/she said” follow-up piece.  This is disingenuous.  Article One of the RTNDA Code states that “Broadcast journalists will inform the public in an accurate, comprehensive and fair manner.”  The requirement for accuracy and comprehensiveness clearly implies an obligation on the part of the journalist to obtain, assess, and verify the facts.  CTV failed in this regard in the April 27th piece, and in its response to my complaint it is failing again.

CTV has been given the documentary evidence […] which proves that the parking permit was improperly obtained.  CTV has been able to corroborate this information with third parties […].  This information is a matter of fact, not opinion, and its broadcast would give CTV viewers a full understanding of the facts.  CTV should honour its obligations under Article One of the RTNDA Code and use its resources to confirm that this information is factual, and then to present an accurate report on the situation.  My on-camera participation is not necessary for CTV to do this.

CTV is responsible for the omissions and errors in the April 27th report.  I submit that CTV has an obligation to correct them, and that CTV has the information, the means, and the ability to do so.

2.         CTV has not disputed that the details regarding my campaign contribution were not relevant to the story since the contribution was made well after this matter was settled, and that disclosing them was an invasion of my privacy.  However the remedy that CTV has proposed is that I appear on-camera to correct the record.  Clearly this is not an appropriate remedy as this would be a further invasion of my privacy.  The appropriate remedy is for CTV to publicly acknowledge and correct the error themselves.

[…]

3.         The CTV July 31, 2007 response to my complaint contains a number of significant errors and omissions.  […].

Summary:

This unfortunate situation arose because my neighbour was seeking publicity.  CTV gave it to her without making any meaningful attempt to verify the facts.  As a result, CTV presented a biased and incomplete report, and in the process unnecessarily violated my privacy and impugned both Councillor Walker’s and my reputations.

CTV’s written response to my complaint makes it clear that CTV has not made any serious effort to verify the evidence that I have given to them […].  Instead, CTV’s proposed solution to correct the deficiency in their reporting is for me to appear on-camera – a further violation of my privacy.

CTV has been given significant documentary material from the City files to support the facts that I have provided to CTV.  These facts have been independently verified by two other neighbours.  CTV has what it needs to correct the record without me.

CTV made the errors and omissions in the April 27th piece on its own, and I submit it has an obligation to correct the record on its own, without my active on-air participation.

I recognize that this appropriate remedy might not make for arresting television.  However that is not my problem.  Nor should it be a concern of the CBSC in adjudicating this complaint.

The complainant sent additional information to CTV and the CBSC regarding the driveway permit matter.  CTV Toronto responded to him again in September:

Thank you for taking the time to speak with [a CTV reporter] last week.  He enjoyed meeting you, and we appreciate the additional information and documentation you provided concerning our story about the driveway permit.

I now understand from [him] that you do not wish to have us pursue a follow-up television story.  As you are aware, we have been trying to advance the story and give you and your neighbours the opportunity to respond to the original report.  As I outlined in my letter to the CBSC, the original story on April 27 contained the information that was available at the time, and it was always our newsroom’s intention to follow the story to its conclusion, ensuring that it was complete, balanced and fair for all parties.

Since you have requested that we do not do an additional story, and have repeatedly declined our offers to appear in a follow-up story, I believe the only option is to let the matter rest.  I trust you will find this satisfactory.

The complainant responded on September 10 to the Senior Vice President of CTV News Toronto and sent a copy to the CBSC with the following note:

You have recently been copied on an undated letter from [the Senior Vice President] of CTV addressed to me which indicates that the above matter has been settled.  This is not the case.  I am enclosing a copy of my response to [the Senior Vice President] for your file which addresses the points in his letter, and contains my request that the CBSC proceed to adjudicate the matter.

The letter dated September 10 read:

Thank you for your recent undated letter regarding the above matter.  Unfortunately, it does not fully reflect my discussion with your reporter.  During our discussion, [the reporter] suggested that in view of the amount of time that had passed since the April 27th piece aired, it might not make sense to do a follow-up on the story.

I responded by telling [the reporter] that I was prepared to drop the matter as long as I received a simple acknowledgement from CTV that the April 27th story was not a “full, fair and proper presentation” of the facts.  I told [the reporter] that I would be satisfied with a private verbal apology.  This has not been forthcoming.

With regard to other points in your letter, I must take serious issue with the statement that “the original story on April 27 contained the information that was available at the time.”  While your reporter portrayed the story as a dispute between neighbours, he made no meaningful attempt to speak with anyone other than Ms. Alexander.  Had Mr. Brown made any such effort, there was certainly significant additional information readily available.  I have outlined this in previous correspondence, and you have acknowledged in your letter that [the other CTV Toronto reporter] has confirmed this to you.

You argue that it was CTV’s intention to provide a complete, balanced and fair report sometime in the future.  I would point out that the wording of Clause Six of the CAB Code of Ethics makes it clear that a broadcaster’s fundamental obligation to provide a “full, fair and proper presentation” is not satisfied simply by future good intentions.  I would also point out that, despite your stated intentions, after four months no such full and fair follow-up report has been forthcoming from CTV.

With regard to my refusal to be interviewed on camera, I would have been happy to be interviewed for the original April 27th piece.  No such opportunity was offered to me.

Once the biased April 27th piece aired, it has been my contention that since CTV made the errors and omissions in the piece on its own, CTV had the obligation to correct them on its own, and that I had provided CTV with the strong documentary proof necessary to enable CTV to do so without my on-air participation.  A broadcaster does have the ability to communicate information by means other than an interview.

Given the amount of time that has now passed, I must agree with [the reporter]’s suggestion that raising the issue again now would serve no useful purpose, as I believe that after so long a time it would not be possible to correct the erroneous impressions left by the serious deficiencies in Mr. Brown’s original report, and his inappropriate innuendo regarding my campaign contribution.

[…]

I ask that CTV honour my request for a simple, private acknowledgement that the April 27th piece was not a “full, fair and proper presentation of news.”  If CTV is not prepared to do this, then I ask that the CBSC proceed to adjudicate my complaint and Section Four of the RTNDA Code of Ethics.

THE DECISION

The Ontario Regional Panel examined the complaint under the following provisions of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) and Radio Television News Directors Association of Canada’s (RTNDA – The Association of Electronic Journalists) Codes of Ethics:

CAB Code of Ethics, Clause 5 – News

CAB Code of Ethics, Clause 6 – Full, Fair and Proper Presentation

It is recognized that the full, fair and proper presentation of news, opinion, comment and editorial is the prime and fundamental responsibility of each broadcaster.  This principle shall apply to all radio and television programming, whether it relates to news, public affairs, magazine, talk, call-in, interview or other broadcasting formats in which news, opinion, comment or editorial may be expressed by broadcaster employees, their invited guests or callers.

RTNDA Code of (Journalistic) Ethics, Article 1 – Accuracy

Broadcast journalists will inform the public in an accurate, comprehensive and fair manner about events and issues of importance.

RTNDA Code of (Journalistic) Ethics, Article 4 – Privacy

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.  Hidden audio and video recording devices should only be used when it is necessary to the credibility or accuracy of a story in the public interest.

RTNDA Code of (Journalistic) Ethics, Article 7 – Corrections

Errors will be quickly acknowledged and publicly corrected.

The Panel Adjudicators read all of the correspondence and viewed a recording of the challenged news report.  The Panel concludes that the report violated all of the aforementioned Code provisions.

Accurate, Comprehensive And Fair

There is no dispute about the obligation of every broadcaster to report the news accurately, comprehensively and fairly.  That is, after all, the express or combined effect of Article 1 of the RTNDA Code of (Journalistic) Ethics and Clauses 5 and 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics.  The issue for the Ontario Regional Panel is, therefore, whether the challenged CTV Toronto newscast measured up to those criteria.

In the matter at hand, the broadcaster appears to be relying on its position that “the original story on April 27 contained the information that was available at that time [emphasis added].”  It appears to the Panel, however, on the basis of the uncontested information contained in the extensive correspondence, that other highly relevant background matter was publicly available at the time the story was broadcast.  More important, it seems to the Panel that the news item would have been very differently reported had the CFTO investigation taken the available facts into account.  Finally in this regard, it does not appear to the Panel that the broadcaster would have had to drill very deep to access that information.

In the view of the Panel, the problems began with the introduction of the co-anchors.  Although Christine Bentley provided the first clue (perhaps “opportunity” would be a more appropriate word) in her statement that “the home owner has been told that the project never should’ve been given the green light,” the Panel sees no evidence in the news segment that the reporter ever asked why Denise Alexander was told that.  At least, no information was aired explaining who told the home owner that the permit should not have been granted in the first place or what the reason was for such an assumption.  The report did attach importance to the fact that Ms. Alexander: paid $8,000 to widen the driveway; was granted a permit to park there; and did the extra landscaping requested.  In other words, the news segment stated only that Alexander “was told that the city had made a mistake,” without advising the audience, or possibly even investigating, what that mistake was.  It appears to have relied on anonymous, or at least unattributed, assertions that the “widened driveway took away a parking spot on the street” and that the “new driveway had a negative impact on the safe and reasonable use of a neighbouring driveway.”  Nothing more substantial or specific than that.

Surely, on the very face of things, information about the nature of the city’s “mistake” would have had to be available from any or all of the neighbours’ complaints, the minutes of the Council meeting, or other public documentation considered at that meeting.  It was, after all, also provided by the complainant to CTV Toronto but nothing was done with the information to provide the viewers with a full and accurate story, on the basis of which the audience would have been able to form its own opinion as to the rights and wrongs of Ms. Alexander’s, the city’s and the neighbours’ positions.

The complainant himself has provided information about the reason for the City’s retraction of the parking space entitlement.  And the complainant has advised that the information was on the public record and was equally accessible via the neighbours themselves, who were, it appears, following the issue very closely.

Worse than all of the foregoing, the report aired information that was irrelevant to the story on which the reporter had focussed and that was, in consequence, actually misleading to the viewers.  First, the broadcast included a video clip of Brown knocking on a door and reporting that the complainant “was not at home when we knocked on his door.”  The Panel is at a loss to understand why that would have been of any relevance to the story.  It was fair enough to report that the local City Councillor “was out of town today and did not return our [CFTO’s] calls.”  That is, after all, directly related to the Council, the permit debate and so on.  But the fact that, during the day, when most people go to work, the complainant neighbour was not there left, if anything, an implication of avoidance on his part, particularly when reported in the same sentence as the absence of the local Councillor.  Indeed, it reflects badly on the broadcast itself, there being no suggestion that the reporter had done his own due diligence in making an effort, beyond a single daytime door-knocking, to reach one or more of the several materially concerned and knowledgeable neighbours.

Second, Brown reported that he had “found this financial statement which shows that the neighbour to the south [the complainant] donated three hundred dollars to [local Councillor] Michael Walker’s campaign in last November’s election.”  The clear implication to any reasonable viewer was that there was, at the very least, a link, likely a questionable link, if not outright collusion, between the complainant’s donation and the Councillor’s position on the issue that was central to the story.  The Panel is concerned, not only about the privacy issue (of which more below), but also about the irrelevancy of reporting a small, on the record donation, one made after the meeting of the Council at which the vote to revoke the parking space permit was taken.

All in all, the Panel considers that the broadcaster failed the audience.  It did not provide them, in an accurate, comprehensive and fair manner, with information that would have enabled them to meet the test provided in Clause 5(2) of the CAB Code of Ethics: “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.”  In fact, it appears to the Panel that the reporter picked and chose the information he wished to disseminate, in order to make his point, in order to present the story the way he believed it should conclude, regardless of the information actually available to him.  Accuracy, thoroughness and fairness were casualties of his approach.  For these reasons, the Panel concludes that the broadcast of the April 27, 2007 story breaches Clauses 5 and 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics and Article 1 of the RTNDA Code of (Journalistic) Ethics.

Steps To Put The Matter Right

The Panel shares the complainant’s view of the broadcaster’s non-exercise of remedial actions.  It appears that, according to the broadcaster’s letter, “shortly after the news item aired,” the complainant contacted the News Director about his concerns.  The News Director acknowledged “that a follow-up story would be appropriate.”  He also offered, generously, the opportunity to the complainant and to other neighbours, to “address [their] concerns” and to “rebut the comments [Ms. Alexander] made in the original story.”  The question, though, is what obligation a broadcaster has to its audience above and beyond its duty to a specific complainant.  The generosity of an offer of airtime to one individual does not obviate the obligation of a broadcaster to the entire audience to get a news story right.  The complaint may be the trigger but the broadcaster’s public commitment does not end there.  As Article 7 of the RTNDA Code of (Journalistic) Ethics provides, “Errors will be quickly acknowledged and publicly corrected.”

It is clear from the broadcaster’s September letter that the CTV Toronto News Director spoke to the complainant “numerous times” soon after the story appeared and actually met with the complainant 19 days after the story ran.  That letter acknowledges the existence of documentary information that would have disclosed the allegedly fraudulent nature of the original permit application and that was “inconsistent with the information CTV News obtained from City Hall.”  It is at this point that the Panel parts company with CTV Toronto, for the letter concluded that “it was necessary for you [the complainant] to speak to this matter on camera.  Unfortunately, you declined to appear on camera to back up your claims.”  While the Panel understands the desire of CTV Toronto to have individuals on tape, since that would make for better television, it considers that the station’s greater obligation is to the audience to present the story correctly.  It had the opportunity to dig up and present corrected information on a timely basis, soon after the original broadcast, but it chose not to do so, contrary to the requirements of Article 7 of the RTNDA Code.

Privacy

As a general rule and as stated in Article 4 of the RTNDA Code, broadcasters are only entitled to infringe the privacy of individuals when it is necessary in the public interest.  Thus, for example, CBSC Panels have held that persons involved in court proceedings cannot, in the absence of a court order to the contrary, expect that those court proceedings will not be public.  Thus, in CHBC-TV re Newscast (CBSC Decision 93/94-0292, December 18, 1996), the B.C. Regional Panel held that where “there was no suggestion by the complainant that the coverage was slanted or unfair [but] his complaint was that there was coverage of the incident at all,” his complaint should not be upheld.  In another decision, namely, CKCO-TV re a News Item (Disappearance) (CBSC Decision 00/01-0739, June 28, 2001), where the owner of a well-known tavern in a city, who had been charged with possession and distribution of child pornography disappeared, it was held fair to identify the tavern and to show video images of it, despite the fact that people who worked there would likely suffer on that account.  This Panel concluded that

it can be safely assumed that, most of the time, the parties to civil proceedings and, probably almost all the time, those charged in penal and criminal matters, do not feel comfortable having their business conducted in the public eye.  This is probably also true of their close friends and relatives, who may sense discomfort in the reflected glare.  It is, however, a personal cost necessarily incurred for the benefit of the public.  It follows that CKCO’s identification of the accused by name, address and business association was entirely justified as being in the public interest, despite any pain which may have resulted to the brother-in-law and the members of his family.

In CITY-TV re CityPulse at Six News Report (CBSC Decision 04/05-0933, April 19, 2005), this Panel stated its position on the inevitable collision between the identification of individuals who not wish to be in the glare of the public and the interest of the public in having them there.

Frequently, those who are in the news wish to be there.  Needless to say, this is not always the case.  The difficult question for the CBSC to answer is how to measure the relative entitlements; namely, the desire of those who do not wish to be there, on the one hand, and the wish of those who report the news to place them in the public eye, on the other.  In fact, it is not those interests which are at the root of the evaluation.  It is the public interest.  The fundamental applicable principle is that privacy is to be respected “except when necessary in the public interest.”

In yet another case, namely, CIHF-TV re News Item (Random Neighbourhood Shooting) (CBSC Decision 97/98-0622, November 25, 1998), the Atlantic Regional Panel dealt with a complaint from the owner of a house which was shown in a news report on a pellet gun shooting incident.  In that case, no individuals were named and, although the house where the shooting occurred was shown, the Panel found no fault with the broadcast.  It concluded:

While it may be true that the house may be distinctive in its neighbourhood, and indeed that some friends, neighbours or relatives may have been able to identify the owner of the house on this basis, there is insufficient information in the report to make it clear to others who the possible perpetrators of the alleged offence might be.

In the matter at hand, the contention of the complainant is that his privacy was invaded by the disclosure of his name, his address, the video clip of his home, and the disclosure of the fact that he was not customarily at home during the day.  The Panel finds that there was nothing substantive that flowed from the revelation of that information in the news item.  It was not as though the complainant was seen on screen or that any relevant allegation about the story involved him.  He was one of five neighbours who were concerned enough about the issue to take it to Council.  None of the others was identified.  None of them was interviewed.  The actual disclosure of the fact that he was not at home on a normal working day could actually have posed security concerns.  The only possible link was the revelation of the complainant’s financial donation to the City Councillor but that could only have been justified had it been relevant.  In the end, because, for the reasons given above, it was irrelevant and valueless in terms of the public interest, it too constituted an unmerited violation of the complainant’s privacy.

Nor, it has been made clear, is there any defence to the broadcast of information on the basis that it is publicly available.  In CKYK-FM re broadcast of a civic address (CBSC Decision 05/06-0710, June 30, 2006), for example, the Quebec Regional Panel stated:

[I]t should be noted that not all publicly accessible information is public for broadcast purposes.  A prime example is, of course, the telephone and address co-ordinates of private individuals.  Although these are among the most publicly accessible pieces of information, they cannot be broadcast on the basis of that rationale alone.

And in CFTO-TV (CTV Toronto) re CTV News report (terrorist suspects) (CBSC Decision 05/06-1641, January 9, 2007), this Panel made a related observation on the issue of the publication of publicly accessible information.

Nor is there any justification for the revelation of civic addresses or telephone numbers of private individuals on the grounds that someone can locate such information in phone directories, on the Internet, or elsewhere.  Article 4 refers only to the unreasonable infringement of privacy.  The issue is related to the entitlement of the individual not to be the subject of public enquiry and not to the existence of information about him or her that may be located by a diligent search in a public or quasi-public database.

It is clear that the story in the matter at hand could have been told without a single specific reference to the complainant since there was not the slightest substantive addition to the newscast by the revelations of the name, address, afternoon whereabouts or political donation.  The Panel concludes that those revelations constituted a breach of Article 4 of the RTNDA Code.

Broadcaster Responsiveness

In all CBSC decisions, the Council’s Panels assess the broadcaster’s responsiveness to the complainant.  In the present instance, the Panel finds that the correspondence from the Senior Vice President, News, of CTV Toronto was lengthy and detailed.  The letters, both before and following the CBSC’s involvement in the file, reflected the issues raised by the complainant.  While that correspondence did not constitute a satisfactory reply from the complainant’s perspective, the Panel must underscore that the broadcaster is never under any obligation to agree with the complainant.  It is the commitment to dialogue with a complainant who has made the effort to register a concern that is the issue.  Not only is there no fault in the difference of perspectives, it is the case that every matter that goes to a Panel for adjudication begins with just such a disagreement between the complainant and the broadcaster.  The Panel considers that CTV Toronto has fully met its CBSC membership responsiveness responsibilities in this instance.

Announcement Of The Decision

CFTO-TV (CTV Toronto) is required to: 1) announce the 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 during the time period in which the CTV News at Six report was broadcast; 2) within the fourteen days following the broadcasts of the announcements, to provide written confirmation of the airing of the statement to the complainant who filed the Ruling Request; and 3) at that time, to provide the CBSC with a copy of that written confirmation and with air check copies of the broadcasts of the two announcements which must be made by CFTO-TV.

The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has found that CTV Toronto violated the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ Code of Ethics and the Radio Television News Directors Association’s Code of Ethics in a report broadcast on CTV News at Six on April 27, 2007.  By neglecting to investigate publicly available material that would have contradicted the news story broadcast and by reporting an irrelevant allegation that implied inappropriate influence by an identified individual on a City Councillor, CTV Toronto breached Article 1 of the RTNDA Code and Clauses 5 and 6 of the CAB Code, which require accurate, comprehensive and fair reporting.  By not correcting its news story when it had the information in hand, CTV Toronto breached Article 7 of the RTNDA Code, which requires prompt acknowledgement and correction.  By providing the name and address of the identified individual and other personal information, CTV Toronto infringed his privacy, contrary to Article 4 of the RTNDA Code.

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