CICI-TV (CTV Northern Ontario) re CTV News reports (Furnace Fiasco)

Ontario regional Panel
H. Hassan (Chair), M. Harris, C. McDade (ad hoc), J. Pungente, R. Waksman (ad hoc), A. Wylie

The Facts

CICI-TV is the CTV station for Northern Ontario, based in Sudbury.  On November 28, 2012, at 6:04 pm, during the broadcast of CTV News at Six, and again at 11:35 pm, during the broadcast of CTV News at 11:30, the station broadcast a report about a woman who had experienced trouble with the furnace in her house.

The news anchor of the 6:00 pm newscast introduced the report with the following statement:  “A Sudbury grandmother is demanding answers tonight after living through a furnace fiasco.  The 87-year-old said she’s been getting the run-around from a company that serviced her furnace just weeks before it went haywire, emitted thick smoke and dangerous levels of carbon monoxide.”  The anchor of the 11:30 pm newscast provided a similar introduction and the report broadcast during both newscasts was identical.

The report explained that a Sudbury homeowner had had her oil furnace serviced by a particular local heating company.  A month later, the furnace started emitting black smoke so she called the fire department which determined that the furnace was leaking dangerous levels of carbon monoxide.  The report included interviews with the homeowner and her adult daughter describing the situation.  The homeowner mentioned that the firefighters had asked her if she needed an ambulance, but she had refused.  When she telephoned the heating company to request a second visit, she was informed that the technician who had serviced her furnace no longer worked there and that she should telephone another company.  That second company charged her for repairing the furnace, so the homeowner tried to get a refund from the first company for one of the service calls.  The woman and her daughter attempted to contact the owner of the first heating company, to no avail.

The reporter then informed viewers that he had dropped by the heating company office and “we found the owner, but he declined to do an interview.  Off-camera he told us oil furnaces can be temperamental and his cleanings come with no guarantees.”  That comment was accompanied by video footage, apparently taken through the window of the office door, of the reporter speaking with the company owner.  The reporter also explained that the owner denied that his staff had recommended calling the second company, so “he takes no responsibility for that work or the additional charges”.  (The full transcript and description of the report can be found in Appendix A.)

On December 4, the CBSC received a detailed complaint from the owner of the heating company explaining his numerous concerns with the report.  He accused CICI-TV of broadcasting inaccurate, unfair and biased information about his company, such as claiming that he had refused an interview, when in fact he had granted an interview, but just did not want to appear on-camera since he was inexperienced with television interviews.  He explained that during his conversation with the reporter, he had explained how oil furnaces work and that the malfunction was likely unrelated to the cleaning his company had performed, yet none of that information made it into the broadcast.  He also complained that the station had not contacted the second heating company for their assessment of the furnace’s malfunction.

He also criticized the station for sensationalizing the story by using words such as “fiasco” and “shrieking alarm”, mentioning the question about the ambulance, and highlighting the fact that the homeowner was an “87-year-old grandmother” to make it look like his company mistreats the elderly when, in reality, her age had nothing to do with the situation.

In addition, the heating company owner complained that the broadcast had included video footage of his conversation with the reporter, taken without his knowledge after he had specifically requested that his interview not be filmed.

CICI-TV responded to the complainant on January 4, 2013.  It disagreed with the complainant’s characterization of the report as biased and sensationalized.  It argued that it presented the story in a factual manner and only mentioned that the homeowner was a grandmother in order to provide “a quick sketch of the central character in the story”.  It also suggested that the use of the word “fiasco” was reasonable given the situation from the homeowner’s viewpoint.  CICI-TV acknowledged that the company owner had spoken with its reporter for approximately 30 minutes and noted that it had presented both sides of the story because it had included the company owner’s comments in the broadcast.  The complainant filed his Ruling Request on January 16, reiterating his concerns and providing detailed counterpoints to all of CTV’s arguments.  (The full text of all correspondence can be found in Appendix B.)

 

The Decision

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

CAB Code of Ethics, Clause 5 – News

CAB Code of Ethics, Clause 6 – Full, Fair & 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.

RTDNA Code of Ethics, Article 1 – Accuracy

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

RTDNA Code of Ethics, Article 2 – Equality

Electronic journalists will report factors such as race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sexual orientation, marital status or physical or mental disability only when they are relevant.

RTDNA Code of Ethics, Article 4 – Privacy

Electronic journalists will respect the dignity, privacy and well-being of everyone with whom they deal, and will make every effort to ensure that newsgathering and reporting does not unreasonably infringe privacy except when necessary in the public interest.  Clandestine newsgathering techniques should only be used when necessary to the credibility or accuracy of a story in the public interest.

The Panel Adjudicators read all of the correspondence and viewed the challenged reports.  The Panel concludes that CICI-TV aired unfair and incomplete information contrary to Clauses 5 and 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics and Article 1 of the RTDNA Code of Ethics and also violated Article 4 of the RTDNA Code of Ethics for including video footage of the company owner when he asked not to appear on air.

The Panel Adjudicators reviewed the very lengthy arguments of the complainant and conclude that many of the issues he raised related to events or conversations that occurred off-air, as well as technical aspects concerning the operation of furnaces.  The CBSC does not have jurisdiction to adjudicate on these facts or events. 1

The Panel notes, however, that the broadcaster acknowledged having discussed the situation with the complainant for over 30 minutes, off-air.  The report itself claimed that the furnace company owner “declined to do an interview”, (despite mentioning in the very next statement that “off-camera, he told us oil furnaces can be temperamental”).  The report also failed to adequately explain the relationship between the first and second furnace companies, as well as provide a fuller picture of what went wrong with the furnace.  These elements, in combination with images of the owner filmed through a window without his knowledge, were pieced together in such a way as to construct a report that was unfair and imbalanced contrary to the provisions of Clauses 5(1) and 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics and Article 1 of the RTDNA Code of Ethics. 2

On the other hand, the Panel members find that the use of the phrase “furnace fiasco” as the title of the report or the fact that the anchor mentioned the incident involved an “87-year-old grandmother” did not constitute sensationalization or any other form of unfair treatment under Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics.  The “furnace fiasco” description accurately reflected the situation from the homeowner’s perspective and a description of the homeowner was relevant to the report. 3

In addition, the Panel finds that the broadcaster violated Article 4 of the RTDNA Code of Ethics by airing footage captured without the complainant’s knowledge when he had specifically asked not to appear on camera.  This constitutes a breach of privacy particularly since the footage in question added to the unfair impression that the complainant had been uncooperative with CTV when in fact he had spoken at length with the reporter. 4

 

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, CICI-TV provided a reply to the complainant addressing most of the complainant’s many concerns.  Although the broadcaster and complainant differed widely on their view and interpretation of the broadcast report, the broadcaster nevertheless fulfilled its obligations of responsiveness.  Subject to the announcement of this decision, nothing further is required in this regard in this instance.

 

Announcement Of The Decision

CICI-TV (CTV Northern Ontario) 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 reports were broadcast (i.e. once during the 6:00 pm newscast and once during the 11:30 pm newscast), 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 CICI-TV.

The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has found that CTV Northern Ontario breached the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ and Radio Television Digital News Association’s Codes of Ethics on November 28, 2012 in its broadcasts of a news report about a malfunctioning furnace.  The reports contained unfair and incomplete information contrary to Clauses 5 and 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics and Article 1 of the RTDNA Code of Ethics.  CTV also violated Article 4 of the RTDNA Code by airing hidden camera footage of a person who had specifically asked not to be shown on camera.

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

1 See the following decisions in which the CBSC has explained that it has neither the resources nor the mandate to investigate claims about off-air occurences or specialized knowledge about a topic:  CFTO-TV re World Beat News (Pollution Story) (CBSC Decision 92/93-0178, May 17, 1993); CFRN-TV re Eyewitness News (CBSC Decision 96/97-0149, December 16, 1997); CKVR-TV re News Item (Car Troubles) (CBSC Decision 97/98-0235, July 28, 1998); CIII-TV (Global Ontario) re Global News reports (“Bluffs Danger”) (CBSC Decision 05/06-0500, May 18, 2006); and CHCH-TV re a report on CHCH News (vehicle accident) (CBSC Decision 09/10-1457, November 12, 2010).

 

2 See the following previous CBSC decisions for other cases involving unfairness and lack of comprehensiveness:  CTV re W5 (“Lawn Wars”) (CBSC Decision 95/96-0187, October 21, 1996); CIII-TV (Global Ontario) re Global News reports (“Bluffs Danger”) (CBSC Decision 05/06-0500, May 18, 2006); CFTO-TV (CTV Toronto) re a CTV News at Six report (Driveway) (CBSC Decision 06/07-1301, April 14, 2008).

 

3 See the following previous CBSC decisions dealing with sensationalism:  CFRN-TV re Eyewitness News (CBSC Decision 96/97-0149, December 16, 1997); CKCO-TV re a News Item (Disappearance) (CBSC Decision 00/01-0739, June 28, 2001); CIII-TV (Global Toronto) & CHCH-TV re broadcasts of a police radio transmission (CBSC Decision 10/11-2040 & -2187, March 7, 2012); CITY-TV & CFTO-TV (CTV Toronto) re broadcasts of a police radio transmission (CBSC Decision 10/11-2185 & -2186, March 7, 2012).

 

4 See the following previous CBSC decisions regarding clandestine recording:  TVA re a report broadcast on J.E. (CBSC Decision 00/01-0838, April 5, 2002); and CHEK-TV re News Report (Landlord-Tenant Dispute) (CBSC Decision 03/04-0712, October 14, 2004).