CICT-DT (Global Calgary) & CITV-DT (Global Edmonton) re news reports (Red Deer neighbour)

ENGLISH-LANGUAGE PANEL
CBSC Decision 15/16-1380
2017 CBSC 1
January 11, 2017
A. Noël (Chair), P. Gratton, R. Hutson, H. Mack, C. Scott, G. Spenrath

THE FACTS

In April 2016, both Global Calgary (CICT-DT) and Global Edmonton (CITV-DT) aired reports about a man in Red Deer who had been fined under an anti-bullying bylaw.

The Calgary station aired the report during its Global News Hour at 6 on April 15.  The anchor introduced the segment with the statement “Have you ever had a neighbour from hell? Some Red Deer home owners had one so bad he ended up in court, convicted of bullying.  The story is hard to believe, so we sent reporter Kent Morrison to check it out.”

The report then began with scenes of a residential street with sound effects of cheerful music and birds chirping. Reporter Kent Morrison said “Welcome to Scott Street.  By most accounts, a sleepy little stretch of Red Deer.  Just ask Lynx the cat.  He sees it all.  He’s free to visit every home on the block.  Except this house.”  The camera then focussed on one particular house and the scene turned to black and white colour with a crow cawing sound effect.  Morrison said “He’s not welcome here.  This house belongs to a man neighbours call ‘Bitter Bob’.”  The report then included interviews with a number of Bob’s neighbours who described the negative interactions they had had with him over the years.  One neighbour described Bob as “an angry, mean, mean-spirited, uncooperative, stubborn, malicious, cowardly man” and “a neighbour from hell”.  The stories included Bob scaring children, swiping with his cane at a man driving by on a motorcycle, screaming over the fence at his neighbours, repeatedly calling bylaw officers on his neighbours, and staring into his neighbours’ backyard so they had to put tarps up to prevent him from seeing.  Morrison stated that all of the bylaw tickets against Bob’s neighbours had been “thrown out” of court.

While interviewing a neighbour on the street, the camera caught a scene of Bob arriving home in his car in the background. The footage of the car pulling into the driveway was replayed, with a zoom-in on the vehicle and the colour modified to highlight the car.  At this point, Morrison said “Right there.  In the car, that’s Bob.  Bob was recently convicted of bullying”.  Morrison went on to explain that Red Deer has a “community standards bylaw” that “covers everything from physical abuse to taunting and name-calling.”  Some neighbours had testified against Bob in court.

The report then showed Morrison talking to Bob at Bob’s door, with Bob’s back to the camera, filmed from a distance. His full name appeared at the bottom of the screen.  Bob was heard saying “There’s some nice people in here, but in the last few years there’s been a bunch of goons coming onto the street. And they’re just out to get me.  Just out to aggravate me.”  Morrison replied “It’s kind of your word against theirs basically.”  Bob added, “I told my case in court.  But the judge, the judge wouldn’t listen to me.  He never gave me a chance to speak.  And the bylaws officer made erroneous statements that are not true.”

Morrison noted that Bob had paid a $500 fine “but he’s 78 years old and he doesn’t plan to change.” Bob was then heard saying “Because these people, they’re just dead against me ʼcause they’re idiots.”

The report concluded with Morrison saying “So what about Bob? His neighbours say they’ll sleep easy on Scott Street.  At least for now.”  The visual effects were repeated of the bright scene and cheerful music when showing the whole street and the black and white footage when zooming in on Bob’s house.

Global Edmonton aired the report on April 16 during Global News Morning at 7:00 am when Morrison himself served as the anchor and introduced the piece with “Have you ever had a bad neighbour?  One that causes all kinds of trouble?  Well, this one in Red Deer might be worse.  He was recently convicted of bullying.”  The report on the Edmonton station was identical to that described above.  Morrison, as news anchor, concluded the segment with the information that “the bully section of the bylaw has existed since 2007, but this is the first time anyone has taken a ticket to trial.  The judge said that accusations of yelling at children on bikes is what led to the five hundred dollar fine.”  This latter detail was also provided by the Calgary news anchor the previous day.  (A full description and transcription of both broadcasts is available in Appendix A.)

The CBSC received a complaint dated April 30 from an individual who identified a number of concerns with the broadcasts. She accused the report of being biased against Bob, as it labeled him a “neighbour from hell” and “Bitter Bob”, focused on his neighbours’ negative view of him, and included special effects that painted him in a negative light.  She alleged that the report contained inaccuracies:  not all bylaw tickets against Bob’s neighbours had been thrown out and the one woman’s tarp story was questionable because, due to the arrangements of their properties, there is no way for Bob to see into her backyard.  She also stated that the report had infringed Bob’s privacy because he had agreed to provide comment, but not to appear on camera.  The complainant claimed that Bob had been subject to harassment since the airing of the reports.

The complainant had corresponded with the stations prior to filing her complaint with the CBSC. Global had acknowledged that one piece of information was not wholly accurate:  the City of Red Deer would neither confirm nor deny whether all bylaw tickets against Bob’s neighbours had been thrown out.  Global had modified its online version of the story to reflect this fact.  Global also agreed that the addition of special effects was inappropriate and even violated their own Journalistic Principles and Practices, so it eliminated the effects from the online clip.  With respect to the complainant’s other points, Global responded that it felt the story was in the public interest and it was worth informing viewers about the unusual bylaw.  The station also argued that Bob’s neighbours may have demonstrated bias against him, but the report itself did not.  It noted that Bob had accepted the reporter’s invitation to comment on the charges and the reporter had pointed out the camera.  Global stated that it relied on the neighbours’ account of certain events such as the tarp, and that it could not be held responsible for any harassment that Bob might have experienced following the broadcasts.  The complainant filed her Ruling Request on June 3, reiterating her concerns.  (The full text of all correspondence is available in Appendix B.)

THE DECISION

The English-Language 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

1)         It shall be the responsibility of broadcasters to ensure that news shall be represented with accuracy and without bias.  Broadcasters shall satisfy themselves that the arrangements made for obtaining news ensure this result.  They shall also ensure that news broadcasts are not editorial.

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.

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 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.

RTDNA Code of Ethics, Article 7 – Corrections

Errors will be quickly acknowledged and publicly corrected on all platforms.

The Panel Adjudicators read all of the correspondence and viewed the two news reports in question. The Panel concludes that the special effects added to the reports breached Clause 5 of the CAB Code of Ethics for demonstrating bias, Clause 6 of that code for being improper and Article 1 of the RTNDA Code of Ethics for unfairness.  The stations did not breach any of those provisions or other code provisions for the other issues raised by the complainant.

Accuracy

On the subject of accuracy, the Panel Adjudicators were of the view that the two impugned news reports were not substantively inaccurate.

The reporter mentioned that neighbours had received bylaw tickets that were all “thrown out” according to those same neighbours after Bob had complained to the City about them. The complainant wrote that not all the tickets were thrown out.  In an effort to confirm or deny this assertion, the broadcaster contacted the City of Red Deer who would neither confirm nor deny the information.  In the past, the CBSC has concluded that there was no breach of Clause 5 of the CAB Code of Ethics or of Article 1 of the RTDNA Code of Ethics when errors were insignificant or immaterial.[1]  The Panel Adjudicators conclude that, for the purposes of the story being told, the difference between “most” tickets or “all” tickets does not amount to a significant error.  Since the Panel concludes there is no breach for inaccuracy, there is no requirement for Global to clarify the bylaw ticket matter on air as it did online.

With regard to the part of the reports concerning the use of a tarp by one of Bob’s neighbours to protect her privacy, the complainant argued that there are no lines of sight from Bob’s property into the neighbour’s backyard and that the neighbour’s assertion is a “falsehood” that the reporter should have noticed himself when he stood on Bob’s front porch. Again, the Panel is of the view that, even if the complainant’s assertion is correct, this particular point is not material to the newscast which was focussed on the fact that Bob had been fined for bullying his neighbours.

Bias, Unfairness & Sensationalism

The Panel Adjudicators also reviewed the two newscasts from the perspective of bias, unfairness and sensationalism. They concluded that the use of music and special effects such as the use of black and white accompanied by the sounds of a crow have no place in a news report and that the two reports in question were in clear breach of Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics concerning full, fair and proper presentation of news, as well as Clause 5 of the CAB Code of Ethics regarding bias and Article 1 of the RTDNA Code of Ethics regarding fairness.

Privacy

On the issue of privacy, the complainant claims that, although Bob had agreed to give a statement, he had indicated he did not want to be shown on camera. The station stated that the reporter had clearly identified himself as such and had pointed out the camera.  Given that it is clear from the footage that Bob consented to speak with the reporter, the Panel finds no breach of Article 4 of the RTDNA Code of Ethics regarding privacy.  Moreover, in matters of court proceedings, the CBSC has found that coverage is in the public interest, even if the people involved dislike the publicity.[2]

Two Panel Adjudicators, however, felt there was not enough information to determine whether or not Bob had requested not to appear on camera, but want to encourage broadcasters to take privacy concerns into account when preparing stories for broadcast.

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 Global managing editor responded to the complainant, writing on behalf of both stations, given that the complaint was about a single report.  The managing editor provided a reasonably thorough reply before the CBSC’s involvement and agreed to modify the online version of the story with respect to the bylaw tickets.  She sent an even more detailed reply once the complainant filed her concerns with the CBSC and at that time agreed that the special effects had been inappropriate.  Although the complainant remained concerned about other aspects of the report and wanted it entirely removed from online platforms, the CBSC considers that the broadcaster fulfilled its obligations of responsiveness and, subject to the announcement of this decision, nothing further is required in this regard in this instance.

Announcement of the Decision

Global Calgary 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 Global News Hour at 6 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 Global Calgary.

The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has found that Global Calgary breached the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ and Radio Television Digital News Association’s Codes of Ethics in its broadcast of a news report on April 15, 2016.  The report included special effects that made the story improper, biased and unfair contrary to those two codes.

Global Edmonton 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 Global News Morning 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 Global Edmonton.

The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has found that Global Edmonton breached the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ and Radio Television Digital News Association’s Codes of Ethics in its broadcast of a news report on April 16, 2016.  The report included special effects that made the story improper, biased and unfair contrary to those two codes.

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

[1] CITY-TV re CityPulse (Neighbourhood Drug Bust) (CBSC Decision 96/97-0216, February 20, 1998); CTV Newsnet re two reports entitled “Anti-Terror Measures Voted Down” (CBSC Decision 06/07-0745, November 29, 2007); CIVT-TV (CTV British Columbia) re reports on CTV News at 11:30 (“Seal Fur Uniforms” & “Oil Spill”) (CBSC Decision 08/09-1660, September 24, 2009)

[2] CHBC-TV re Newscast (CBSC Decision 93/94-0292, December 18, 1996); CKCO-TV re a News Item (Disappearance) (CBSC Decision 00/01-0739, June 28, 2001)

APPENDIX A

The report in question was broadcast by both Global Calgary (CICT-DT) and Global Edmonton (CITV-DT).

Global Calgary (CICT-DT)

April 15, 2016

Global News Hour at 6

6:00 pm

18:38:46 to 18:41:53

anchor Linda Olsen:          Have you ever had a neighbour from hell?  Some Red Deer home owners had one so bad he ended up in court, convicted of bullying.  The story is hard to believe, so we sent reporter Kent Morrison to check it out.

[scenes of residential street; cheerful music & birds chirping sound effects, light fuzzed vignette around image]

voice-over narration by reporter Kent Morrison:      Welcome to Scott Street.  By most accounts, a sleepy little stretch of Red Deer.  [scene of cat sauntering & then sits down] Just ask Lynx the cat.  He sees it all.  He’s free to visit every home on the block.  Except this house.  [camera stops on a blue bungalow; colour goes black & white and there is crow cawing sound effect]  He’s not welcome here.  [camera slowly zooms in on house]  This house belongs to a man neighbours call “Bitter Bob”.

[colour resumes]

interview with Keith Carriere, Neighbour – 12 Years:           He’s just an angry, mean, mean-spirited, uncooperative, stubborn, malicious, cowardly man.

[another medium-shot of Bob’s house]

Morrison (in voice-over):  That’s a lot of adjectives.  But they say he’s earned them all.  [scene of four neighbours standing on sidewalk across street, looking at Bob’s house]

interview with Reinhard Timmermann, Neighbour – 20 Years:      We’ve had so many negative interactions, I can’t even describe how many.

Carriere:        He’s just a neighbour from hell.

[Timmermanns standing outside]

Morrison (in voice-over):  The Timmermanns say he scared their kids.

[shot of Bob’s house from different angle, in black & white with music playing]

Timmermann:         They just grew to fear him.

Morrison (in voice-over):  Keith Carriere says Bob swung at him with his cane.

[shot of Bob’s house, in black & white with music playing]

Carriere:        Yeah, he stepped out and took a swipe at me.  I had to take evasive action on my motorcycle.

Morrison (in voice-over):  Amanda Walsh has had problems ever since she moved in next door.

[far shot of house, in black & white]

interview with Amanda Walsh, Neighbour – 1.5 Years:        He would scream profanities at the dog and us over the fence.  To the point where we couldn’t even sit in our backyard in our new house, our first house, and one night we had to put tarps up because he stood on his step and stared at us over the fence.

[Timmermann, holding tablet computer, talking to Morrison; colour scene of Bob’s house]

Morrison (in voice-over):  But what bothers them the most is Bob calls bylaw officers all the time.  [Timmermanns, Carriere, Walsh standing outside with Morrison]  They’ve all got tickets and eventually had them all thrown out.

Carriere:        It’s hard to believe, but, you know –

[Carriere turns his head as car pulls into Bob’s driveway; video rewinds with rewind sound effect to replay car pulling in; colour brightens around car in replay and surrounding image darkens to highlight car]

Morrison (in voice-over):  Right there.  [footage zooms in on car]  In the car, that’s Bob.  Bob was recently convicted of bullying.  [exterior scene of Red Deer Courthouse]  It’s a unique part of the City’s community standards bylaw.  It covers everything from physical abuse to taunting and name-calling.  [Four neighbours standing outside on Scott St]  Some neighbours testified against Bob in court.  [Morrison walking up to Bob’s front door & knocking]  Others were just there to watch.  [Timmermanns watching from across the street]  Like they are right now … when we ask Bob about those accusations.

[Morrison talking to Bob at Bob’s door, filmed from a distance. Bob has his back to the camera, his body half inside his house but one hand on the handle of his screen door, super at bottom of screen gives Bob’s full name.]

Bob:    There’s some nice people in here, but in the last few years there’s been a bunch of goons coming onto the street.  And they’re just out to get me.  Just out to aggravate me.

Morrison:      It’s kind of your word against theirs basically.

Bob:    Oh, I told my case in court.  But the judge, the judge wouldn’t listen to me.

Morrison:      Okay.

Bob:    He never gave me a chance to speak.  And the bylaws officer made erroneous statements that are not true.

[scenes of fence between Bob’s & neighbour’s properties]

Morrison (in voice-over):  Bob paid his five hundred dollar fine.  But he’s 78 years old and he doesn’t plan to change.

[Morrison talking to Bob at his door]

Bob:    Because these people, they’re just dead against me ʼcause they’re idiots.

[scenes of street with cheerful music & light, fuzzed vignette around image]

Morrison (in voice-over):  So what about Bob?  His neighbours say they’ll sleep easy on Scott Street.  [black & white image of Bob’s house; sound effect of crow cawing]  At least for now.  Kent Morrison, Global News.

Olsen:            Now, again, [Bob] was charged under the bullying section of Red Deer’s Community Standards bylaw.  In court, the judge said that accusations of [Bob] yelling at children on bikes is what led to the five hundred dollar fine.

Global Edmonton (CITV-DT)

April 16, 2016

Global News Morning

7:00 am

7:24:11-7:27:15

anchor Kent Morrison:     Have you ever had a bad neighbour?  One that causes all kinds of trouble?  Well, this one in Red Deer might be worse.  He was recently convicted of bullying.

[same report as described above]

Morrison (as anchor):       Now the bully section of the bylaw has existed since 2007, but this is the first time anyone has taken a ticket to trial.  The judge said that accusations of yelling at children on bikes is what led to the five hundred dollar fine.