CIHF-TV re News Item (Random Neighbourhood Shooting)

ATLANTIC REGIONAL COUNCIL
(CBSC Decision 97/98-0622)
C. McDade (Chair), Z. Rideout (Vice-Chair), R. Cohen,K. MacAulay and H. Montbourquette

THE FACTS

On March 5, 1998, CIHF-TV (Global) (Dartmouth, Nova Scotia) broadcast a
short news report on a pellet gun shooting incident. The report, which included visuals of
the home from where the shooting allegedly originated, went as follows:

First Co-Anchor: Random neighbourhood shootings are a crime often associated with big cities.

Second Co-Anchor: Many Maritime communities are now experiencing that kind of big city violence. Tonight, a Moncton woman bears the bruises of such a crime. Global’s Cortney Pasternak joins us live to tell us what happened. Cortney?

Cortney Pasternak (Reporter): … Natalie Hopper never thought she’d be the victim of random gun firing in a rural neighbourhood. Now, she wants an apology. Natalie Hopper was on her way to work Tuesday morning when she got a nasty surprise.

Natalie Hopper (Victim): I just came out. I came to my car door and I pulled on the handle to get in the car and it was locked and when I just, my arm was just, like, when I was pulling it back I got hit right there (showing her forearm).

Cortney Pasternak: She says the shot came from this window across the street. Police later confiscated an air gun from the house. Hopper’s sweater and jacket padded the hit, but it still left a welt and a bruise behind. An injury, police say, could have been more serious had the pellet hit bare skin.

Cst. Mark Gallagher: You could lose an eye even to the point where, if it was embedded into the facial area, I mean, it could have gone inside, you know, around the brain. I mean, who knows how powerful this little weapon was.

Cortney Pasternak: The suspects are young offenders. Police have yet to lay any charges, but Natalie says, if they’re guilty, they should not be let off the hook. In the meantime, she says, an apology would be nice.

Natalie Hopper: I’m waiting for one. The police said that they were going to apologize but I haven’t seen anybody yet, so … And this was on Tuesday morning that it happened.

Cortney Pasternak: A parent in the house in question refused to comment. Cortney Pasternak, Global News, Moncton.

The Letter of Complaint

On March 15, 1998, the owner of the house shown in the report wrote a
letter to the CBSC complaining about the invasion of privacy created by this report. The
complainant’s letter stated:

On Thursday March 5 of this year, during the 6 PM and 11PM newscasts, the Global station in our area featured a story about a random neighbourhoodshooting. This story, I believe, sensationalized the facts, misrepresented my comments andcaused harm to my teenage son.

The story begins with an interview with the victim, Natalie Hopper,explaining why she is owed an apology. Later, we are told a parent living in the homewhere the incident originated had no comment. It is true that I offered no commentoriginally when the unidentified and unannounced reporter arrived at my door with a malecompanion. When she asked me if an apology would be offered, I once again told her I hadno comment. She than [sic] stated that she would interprate [sic] my refusalto comment as a refusal to offer an apology.

Feeling trapped, I explained that the alleged perpetrator was a youngoffender and not necessarily a member of our household. I further told her that I hadasked the investigating officer, not the one shown in the news clip, who the victim wasand was told that I would have to wait for the legal process to run its course, usually 3to 4 weeks before I could obtain this information. Incidently, an alleged offender hadbeen visiting our home from out of town and had returned by the time I was made aware ofthe incident so I had no way of knowing who the victim was.

I further explained that I had not yet contacted a lawyer and becauseyoung people were involved, I did not know what I could tell her.

The news story shows my home. Because my house is quite distinctivefrom the others in the neighbourhood, friends and neighbours recognized it and assumed myson was the perpetrator. He feels humiliated and was singled out at school. The clips ofmy home were also used to promote their newscast.

I feel my family was treated unethically in this news cast. I’veincluded a copy of our local newspaper’s account of the same story. It was publishedSaturday March 7 in the ‘Times Transcript’. I have no problem with theirversion.

I await the result of your investigation with the broadcaster.

The Broadcaster’s Response

On April 15, 1998, the Program/Promotion Manager for CIHF-TV responded
to the complainant in the following terms:

We have received a copy of your letter which was sent tothe Canadian Broadcast Standards Council on March 15, 1998 with respect to the above-notednews story. The original letter was misdirected to our Global Ontario station whichaccounts for the delay in my response. We apologize for any inconvenience this may havecaused.

Along with myself, the news directors in Nova Scotia and New Brunswickhave reviewed our coverage of this news story. The Radio Television News DirectorsAssociation of Canada (RTNDA) have established a Code of Ethics by which we govern ournews gathering. Article One of the Code states that; The main purpose of broadcastjournalism is to inform the public in an accurate, comprehensive and balanced manner aboutevents of importance. Furthermore, the CAB Code states that; it is theresponsibility of member stations to ensure that news shall be represented with accuracyand without bias. It is our belief that the journalist involved presented a factual,unbiased report of the events in question.

You stated in your letter that the story “sensationalized thefacts, misrepresented my comments and caused harm to my teen-age son.” Youacknowledge that you had made “no comment”, however, your concern arose from thereporter saying that she would interpret your refusal to comment as a refusal to offer anapology. The content of that conversation was neither stated nor implied in our newsreport. We simply said “a parent in the house in question refused to comment.”

You are also concerned about the fact your home was shown in thereport. As the shots were allegedly fired from your home, which was right across thestreet from the victim, it was appropriate for us to have video of the location includedin our story. Again the RTNDA Code (Article Four) states; broadcast journalists willalways display respect for the dignity, privacy and well-being of everyone with whom theydeal and make every effort to ensure that the privacy of public persons is infringed onlyto the extent necessary to satisfy the public interest and accurately report the news.While it is unfortunate your son was “singled-out”, our report in no way laidany blame on any particular individual.

You close your letter by stating that you believed your family wastreated unethically, particularly in comparison to a newspaper report. In fairness, thenewspaper report was not a story on the actual event, but rather a feature report on theissue of pellet guns. As well, it is difficult to compare the presentation of television;which is a visual medium, to newspaper; which is not.

As stated in the CAB Code, the fundamental purpose of newsdissemination in a democracy is to enable people to know what is happening, and tounderstand events so that they may form their own conclusions.

At Global Television, we believe that based on the facts we were givenby the police detachment, the interview with the victim and our attempt to present the”other” side of the story by contacting you, we performed our job as a newsbroadcaster in a most responsible manner.

The complainant was unsatisfied with the broadcaster’s response
and requested, on April 30, 1998, that the CBSC refer the matter to the appropriate
Regional Council for adjudication.

The Decision

The CBSC’s Atlantic Regional Council considered the complaint
under Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics as well as Articles 1, 3 and 4 of the Code
of (Journalistic) Ethics
of the Radio Television News Directors Association (RTNDA).
The texts of these clauses read as follows:

CAB Code of Ethics, Clause 6(News)

It shall be the responsibility of member stations toensure that news shall be represented with accuracy and without bias. The member stationshall satisfy itself that the arrangements made for obtaining news ensure this result. Itshall also ensure that news broadcasts are not editorial. News shall not be selected forthe purpose of furthering or hindering either side of any controversial public issue, norshall it be designed by the beliefs or opinions or desires of the station management, theeditor or others engaged in its preparation or delivery. The fundamental purpose of newsdissemination in a democracy is to enable people to know what is happening, and tounderstand events so that they may form their own conclusions.

Therefore, nothing in the foregoing shall be understood as preventingnews broadcasters from analyzing and elucidating news so long as such analysis or commentis clearly labelled as such and kept distinct from regular news presentations. Memberstations will, insofar as practical, endeavour to provide editorial opinion which shall beclearly labelled as such and kept entirely distinct from regular broadcasts of news oranalysis and opinion.

It is recognized that the full, fair and proper presentation of news,opinion, comment and editorial is the prime and fundamental responsibility of thebroadcast publisher.

RTNDA Code of (Journalistic) Ethics, Article 1

The main purpose of broadcast journalism is to informthe public in an accurate, comprehensive and balanced manner about events of importance.

RTNDA Code of (Journalistic) Ethics, Article 3

Broadcast journalists will not sensationalize news itemsand will resist pressures, whether from inside or outside the broadcasting industry, to doso. They will in no way distort the news. Broadcast journalists will not edit tapedinterviews to distort the meaning, intent, or actual words of the interviewee.

RTNDA Code of (Journalistic) Ethics, Article 4

Broadcast journalists will always display respect forthe dignity, privacy and well-being of everyone with whom they deal, and make every effortto ensure that the privacy of public persons is infringed only to the extent necessary tosatisfy the public interest and accurately report the news.

The Regional Council members viewed a tape of the news item in question
and reviewed all of the correspondence. The Council considers that the program in question
does not violate either of the Codes mentioned above.

The Content of the Report

On its most basic level, the news report did not, in the view of the
Atlantic Regional Council, distort or sensationalize any aspect of the story. The event
was, after all, a “random gun firing in a rural neighbourhood.” The house from
which the shot apparently came was depicted on screen although it was not actually
identified. Moreover, an air gun was “later confiscated [by police] from the
house.” The story then focussed on the nature of the injuries suffered by the victim
and described what might have happened, had the shot struck another part of the
victim’s body or had she not been as well protected by the clothing she was wearing.
The story identified no individual and was quite clear about the fact that no
charges had yet been laid. In fact, a good deal of the background orientation of the story
centers around the fact that the victim was looking for an apology. All in all, in the
view of the Atlantic Regional Council, the story was the opposite of sensationalized; it
was, if anything, understated. There was not a scrap of video footage or audio
dialogue that was remotely overstated or even exciting beyond the obvious and accurate
report that a shooting of some kind had taken place in a neighbourhood utterly
unaccustomed to such an event.

As to the question of misrepresentation complained of, the Council
finds no justification. While the complainant alleges that the reporter stated that she
would interpret his “refusal to comment as a refusal to offer an apology”, she
did not actually do so on air. All she said was: “A parent in the house in question
refused to comment.” And that, even according to the letter written by the
complainant, was absolutely true. He said “It is true that I offered no comment
originally” when the reporter presented herself. He explains that he went on to
refuse to comment when asked about an apology. It is, therefore, entirely justified for
the reporter to conclude that “A parent in the house in question refused to
comment” and difficult for the Council to understand why the complainant has not
accepted that statement of the reporter’s as black-and-white true.

Insofar as the complainant has expressed a concern regarding harm
caused to his son, there was no specific allegation made. The reporter scrupulously
avoided using any name which could have led to a conclusion that she had breached the Young
Offenders Act
. Neither of the young persons was identified, directly or indirectly. At
worst, one might wonder about the reporter’s choice of the sentence “The
suspects [plural] are young offenders [a defined term in the criminal law]”; however,
no individual or individuals is, or are, named. And, since the term “young
offender” again appears to have been proffered by the complainant himself in an
initial telephone conversation with the reporter, it was not used irresponsibly. 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. As the Ontario Regional
Council said in CITY-TV re Speakers Corner (CBSC Decision 97/98-0572, July 28,
1998),

As to the question of identification of the complainant,the Council considers that, had the segment permitted an identified individual to beharshly criticized by an apparent member of her family, this might have offended certainprivacy principles which underlie the principle of “full, fair and properpresentation of … opinion [and] comment” provided in the third paragraph of Clause6 of the CAB Code of Ethics. The Council does not consider it necessary, however, to dealwith this particular issue here as the segment complained of was purged of all identifyingelements by the broadcaster prior to airing. To the extent that the complainant consideredherself “identified” or targeted by her nephew’s comments, it would only,in effect, have occurred within the context or her family and friends and not in the broadcontext of the broadcaster’s audience.

In the view of the Council, the report was in total conformity with
each of the above-noted Code provisions. It was accurate, neither distorted nor
sensationalized, not unjustifiably intrusive and “full, fair and proper” as
required by Clause 6, paragraph 3 of the CAB Code of Ethics.

Broadcaster Responsiveness

In addition to assessing the relevance of the Codes to the complaint,
the CBSC always assesses the responsiveness of the broadcaster to the substance of
the complaint. In this case, the Council considers that the broadcaster’s response
addressed fully and fairly all the issues raised by the complainant. Nothing more is
required. Consequently, the broadcaster has not breached the Council’s standard of
responsiveness.

This decision is a public document upon its release by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council. It may be reported, announced or read by the station against which the complaint had originally been made; however, in the case of a favourable decision, the station is under no obligation to announce the result.