CHOI-FM re Arthur le midi

FRENCH-LANGUAGE PANEL
CBSC Decision 15/16-0869
2016 CBSC 8
November 2, 2016
A. Noël (Chair), C. Crépin, M. Ille, M. Lorrain, D. Meloul, A. Wylie

THE FACTS

At the time of the broadcast, Arthur le midi was a talk show hosted by André Arthur broadcast on CHOI-FM (Radio X, Quebec City) at noon.  The program has since been removed from the station’s schedule.  On February 19, 2016 Arthur and his colleague Alexandre Leblond discussed a situation involving the Anglican Church of Québec which appeared, to him, troublesome.  Apparently, the church housed a donkey and a goat and the two men questioned the treatment of these animals.

According to Arthur, the animals appeared to be mistreated. He had sent Leblond on location to investigate what was happening.  According to Leblond’s on-air report, the animals stayed outside all year round, even in extremely cold winter temperatures.  He also noted that the animals had only a small, unheated enclosure, constructed from [translation] “nothing more than a couple of two-by-fours and studs”.  He added that passersby give the animals various things to eat, such as cookies or popcorn.

In addition, he mentioned that a second donkey had died at the church in March 2015.

Arthur questioned why the Société protectrice des animaux (SPA – Humane Society) had not visited the location, since the SPA is well-known for its dramatic “raids”. Leblond explained that he had spoken to one of the animals’ owners and she had assured him that the Anglican Church had never encountered any problems with the authorities regarding the animals.  He added that the owner claimed that the donkey did not suffer in the cold due to his winter fur.

According to Leblond, the Church uses the animals, especially the donkey, to bolster their fundraising campaigns, by selling calendars featuring the donkey.

Arthur expressed his disbelief at the mistreatment inflicted on these animals and encouraged the SPA to investigate.

Arthur returned to this subject on his February 23 broadcast, when he discussed it with co-host Roby Moreault. Arthur again accused the Anglican Church of Québec of keeping the donkey and goat [translation] “outside in an unheated shelter all year for reasons that nobody understands.”  Arthur stated that he had received a message from the SPA following his previous program, [translation] “which is both an admission of ineffectiveness and an admission of insensitivity”.  Arthur read the press release in which the SPA explained that it has no jurisdiction over these animals; rather they fall under the jurisdiction of the ministère de l’Agriculture, des Pêcheries et de l’Alimentation du Québec (MAPAQ – Quebec Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food).  Arthur characterized the SPA as [translations] “powerless” in the face of the “cruelty” exhibited by the Anglican Church towards these animals, who were subjected to eating “Styrofoam cups” and to staying outside even when the temperature is -27°C.  Arthur continued to criticize the SPA, accusing it of acting only when it needed donations.  (Full transcriptions of the two segments are in Appendix A.)

On February 25, the CBSC received a complaint from a representative of the Anglican Church of Québec. The complainant explained, among other things, that, contrary to what Arthur claimed, the animals received nutritious food appropriate to their breed and always had access, in all weather, to a heated trough and appropriate stable.

According to the complainant, Leblond did not present himself as a journalist when he had come to the Anglican Church’s presbytery; rather he claimed to be a CÉGEP student curious to know more about the animals. The complainant indicated that the person at the presbytery nevertheless took the time to explain to Leblond how the animals are cared for.  Moreover, if the person present that day had known Leblond was a journalist, she would have given him more details about their care of the animals and invited him to see the stable.

The complainant added that an Anglican Church representative had gone to CHOI-FM’s offices immediately following the first broadcast on February 19. The representative had met with the Assistant Program Director and given him copies of the MAPAQ reports from 2014 and 2016, which confirm that the donkey and goat were well treated, along with photographs.  He also gave the station verbal explanations regarding the excellent care received by the animals.

The Anglican Church was thus all the more upset by the February 23 broadcast since it had already given CHOI-FM explanations regarding the excellent care received by the animals and the MAPAQ inspection reports from 2014 and 2016, which confirmed that the donkey and goat were well treated, all on February 19.

CHOI-FM gave the Anglican Church representative the opportunity to appear on André Arthur’s program to discuss the situation, but the Church representative instead demanded an on-air and written apology given that the Anglican Church had no interest in defending itself against deliberately untruthful accusations.

The Church considered that the false information broadcast by CHOI-FM tarnished its reputation, especially since the donkey and goat are used in its community activities, such as zootherapy for people with special needs.

CHOI-FM responded to the complainant on March 31. In its response, the station argued that Arthur had the right to voice his opinion regarding cruelty towards animals and the action (or inaction) of the SPA in this respect, and that his opinions were based on the facts verified by the journalist Leblond.  CHOI-FM did not deny the fact that Leblond had presented himself at the presbytery under a fake name, pretending to be a CÉGEP student.

The broadcaster reiterated its offer of a right of reply on air and emphasized freedom of expression in editorial programs.

The complainant indicated that he was not satisfied by the broadcaster’s response and provided additional information in letters of March 31, April 1 and April 21. He repeated his concern about the “false observations” about the animals’ food and shelter.  He sent photographs of the stable, as well as copies of the MAPAQ inspection reports, in which it was indicated that the living conditions and health of the donkey and goat met provincial requirements.

The complainant also explained that Leblond was mistaken when he talked about the second donkey that, according to him, had died. In fact, the Anglican Church had never had a second donkey. Leblond had confused this with the fact that the Recollects religious order had brought with them two donkeys to New France in 1632, a fact which had been related to Leblond by the person he spoke to on February 17 when he had visited the church.  (All correspondence can be found in Appendix B.  Note that the complainant wrote in English and the broadcaster in French.)

THE DECISION

The French-Language Panel examined the complaint under the following provisions of the Radio Television Digital News Association of Canada’s (RTDNA) Code of Ethics and the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics:

RTDNA Code of Ethics, Article 4 – Privacy

Electronic journalists will respect the dignity, privacy and well being of everyone with whom they deal […]. Clandestine newsgathering techniques should only be used when necessary to the credibility or accuracy of a story in the public interest.

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.

The Panel Adjudicators read all of the correspondence and listened to the broadcasts in question. The Panel concludes that CHOI-FM breached the two aforementioned articles.

Clandestine Newsgathering

The Panel Adjudicators began by examining the fact that, according to the complaint, the journalist Leblond presented himself at the Anglican Church presbytery under a false name and claimed to be a CÉGEP student interested in the animals, rather than revealing that he was a journalist.

The Panel Adjudicators remind broadcasters that clandestine newsgathering is a means of last resort that should only be used when there is no other way to obtain the information or to verify its accuracy, and it must be in the public interest to broadcast it.[1]

In the present matter, the Panel Adjudicators are of the view that journalist Leblond did not need to conceal either his identity or his profession and that he probably would have received more complete information if he had given his real name and journalist qualifications rather than use a fake name and pass himself off as a student.

The Panel Adjudicators remind the broadcaster that the animals in question were accessible to the public; they were not hidden. In the Panel’s view, this was shoddy work that did not respect the standards of professionalism required by the RTDNA Code of Ethics.

The Panel therefore concludes that the broadcaster violated Article 4 in using unjustified clandestine newsgathering techniques.

Accuracy

The Panel Adjudicators then examined the accuracy of the remarks made on air by journalist Leblond and André Arthur during the first broadcast on February 19. They emphasize in particular certain comments by journalist Leblond that asserted that [translation] “there was another donkey before, so they had two donkeys, before the goat who just got there, but they tell me the donkey lost its life in March 2015 due to natural causes, old age”.  In fact, the MAPAQ inspection report of November 2014 makes mention of only one donkey and one goat.  It seems that journalist Leblond confused the donkeys brought by the Recollect Order in 1632, which had been mentioned by the person with whom he spoke, with the situation at the time of his visit.

That was not the only inaccuracy made by Leblond. He claimed, among other things, that the donkey and the goat are outside in all weather and that they only have access to an enclosure in the evening [translation] “which is nothing more than a couple of two-by-fours and studs”.  If Leblond had made them aware that he was a journalist, the church representative would have shown him the stable to which the animals have access all the time and which they can enter by way of a Tempo-type covering that protects the door from snow and ice, but which Leblond erroneously described as their only shelter.

André Arthur relied on all of these assertions to chastise the Anglican Church and to attack the SPA.

The Panel Adjudicators can only conclude that the information provided by journalist Leblond were, at best, incomplete if not clearly inaccurate. They thus violated Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics.

With respect to how André Arthur then used Leblond’s statements, the Panel Adjudicators find his comments completely lacking in nuance. Rather than correct the barrage during the February 23 program, since the station had met with an Anglican Church representative on February 19 and CHOI-FM had in its possession documents attesting to the good faith and appropriate care given accorded the animals, he added to it, launching a full-scale attack on the SPA.  He neglected to correct the facts regarding the care given to the donkey and the goat by the Anglican Church.

Arthur has a right to his opinions, but they must be based on accurate facts.[2]  Moreover, on February 23 the broadcaster was already in possession of documents attesting to the Anglican Church’s good conduct in the manner that it treats the animals and absolving the SPA from any responsibility in the file.  Nevertheless, Arthur launched a tirade against the Anglican Church and the SPA, without acknowledging either the explanations provided by the church representative or the documents given to CHOI-FM four days earlier to support those explanations.

With respect to the broadcaster, in an email of February 23, it offered the Anglican Church representative the opportunity to appear on André Arthur’s program to correct the facts. The Anglican Church refused the offer because its representatives did not want to visit the station again; they sought a formal apology, to be made in writing and on air.  The Panel Adjudicators wish to point out that it is up to the broadcaster to ensure that it broadcasts accurate information.  Given the power of the microphone held by Arthur in Quebec City and his nature as a host, it seems to the Panel that the Anglican Church representative would have been considerably disadvantaged in any verbal joust with him.

The Panel Adjudicators therefore conclude that CHOI-FM violated Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics in both of the broadcasts which are the subject of this complaint, namely of February 19 and 23, 2016.

Broadcaster Responsiveness

In all CBSC decisions, the Panels assess the broadcaster’s response to the complainant. The broadcaster need not agree with the complainant’s position, but it must respond in a courteous, thoughtful and thorough manner.  In this case, a representative of the complainant organization went to CHOI-FM’s offices to meet with the assistant program director in an effort to correct the facts, accompanied by supporting documents, on the same day as the first broadcast.  The broadcaster should have ensured the rapid correction of the errors.[3]  However, subsequent to the receipt of this complaint, the broadcaster not only fulfilled its required duty of responsiveness, it also pulled the program from its schedule and ended its association with the host.  Subject to the announcement of this decision, nothing further is required in this regard in this instance.

Announcement of the Decision

CHOI-FM is required to: 1) announce the decision, in the following terms, once during peak listening hours 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 Arthur le midi was broadcast, but not on the same day as the first mandated announcement; 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 CHOI-FM.

The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has found that CHOI-FM breached the Codes of Ethics of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters and Radio Television Digital News Association.  In broadcasts of Arthur le midi on February 19 and 23, 2016, CHOI-FM wrongfully accused the Anglican Church of Québec of mistreating animals (a donkey and a goat) based on incomplete information and information obtained clandestinely.  Rather than correct these errors and inaccuracies broadcast on February 19, it broadcast the same allegations again on February 23.

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

[1] For example, see the following decisions: TVA re J.E. (Report on HMS 90) (CBSC Decision 97/98-0472, August 14, 1998); TVA re J.E. en direct (Alternative Medicine) (CBSC Decision 97/98-0580, September 24, 1998); TVA re a report broadcast on J.E. (CBSC Decision 00/01-0838, April 5, 2002); CHEK-TV re News Report (Landlord-Tenant Dispute) (CBSC Decision 03/04-0712, October 14, 2004); CICI-TV (CTV Northern Ontario) re CTV News reports (Furnace Fiasco) (CBSC Decision 12/13-0558, August 22, 2013).

[2] For example, see the following decisions:  CKTB-AM re John Michael Show (CBSC Decision 92/93-0170, February 15, 1994); CILQ-FM re John Derringer’s “Tool of the Day” (CBSC Decision 02/03-1465, February 10, 2004); CFRA-AM re an episode of the Lowell Green Show (the Qur’an) (CBSC Decision 05/06-1380, May 18, 2006); CHOI-FM re Dupont le midi (community organizations) (CBSC Decision 08/09-1506, September 23, 2010); CHOI-FM re Maurais Live (government agency training) (CBSC Decision 09/10-1564, January 25, 2011); Sun News Network re The Source (Edmonton Artists’ Housing) (CBSC Decision 10/11-2102 & -2124, March 28, 2012) ; CHMP-FM re comments made on Dutrizac (CBSC Decision 11/12-0630, August 15, 2012).

[3] RTNDA Code of Ethics, Article 7 (Corrections): Errors will be quickly acknowledged and publicly corrected on all platforms.