CIII-DT (Global Ontario) re News Hour Final (shomi report) & CTV News Channel re Bell Gigabit Fibe report

ENGLISH-LANGUAGE PANEL
CBSC Decision 14/15-1311 & -1393
2016 CBSC 2
A. Noël (Chair), D. Braun, C. Cowie, S. Crawford, J. Doobay, P.C. Fleming

The Facts

On May 27, 2015, Global Ontario (CIII-DT) included in its 11:00 pm News Hour Final broadcast a report about the online video streaming service called shomi.  Shomi is jointly owned by television distribution companies Rogers and Shaw.  The report informed viewers that shomi would soon be available to anyone who wanted to subscribe to it, rather than only to customers of Rogers and Shaw, which had been the case when the service first launched.  The report pointed out that shomi is a competitor to similar services Netflix and Crave.  It included interviews with a shomi vice-president who stated that the service has 15,000 assets and exclusive content; he quoted the price for the service.  It also featured an interview with a technology analyst who suggested that shomi’s decision to open its subscriber-base to everyone would lead to intense competition between over-the-top media providers.  The report acknowledged that Shaw is also the parent company of Global Television.  (A full transcript of the whole report can be found in Appendix A.)

On June 25, 2015 at 4:30 pm, CTV News Channel aired a report about Bell’s Gigabit Fibe internet service. The caption at the bottom of the screen was “Toronto residents will get the fastest internet”.  The news anchor informed viewers that Bell customers in Toronto would soon have access to internet speeds of 1000 megabits per second due to a $20 billion infrastructure investment by Bell.  The report featured video clips from a press conference announcing the initiative where both Bell president George Cope and Toronto mayor John Tory commented on the positive impact this investment would have on Toronto’s jobs and economy.  The anchor also stated that Bell would donate Gigabit Fibe to United Way community hubs.  She concluded the report by noting that Bell is the parent company of CTV News Channel.  (A full transcript of the whole report can be found in Appendix A.)

A viewer complained that both of these reports were effectively “free advertising” for other services owned by the same parent companies as the television stations. He suggested that broadcasters should not be allowed to air reports that could potentially lead to financial benefits for the parent company.  He acknowledged that both reports declared that the station was owned by the same parent company, but he argued that it did not alleviate the conflict of interest, it only made viewers aware of the conflict.

Global Ontario and CTV News Channel each responded to the complainant. Both broadcasters argued that the reports’ respective topics (shomi’s wider availability and Bell’s faster internet service) were legitimate stories to cover because they were of relevance and interest to the public.  The broadcasters also stated that the decisions to cover the stories had been made by the stations’ news staff, without any involvement or interference by management of the larger corporations.  The complainant was not satisfied with these explanations and filed his Ruling Requests for both complaints.  (The full text of all correspondence can be found in Appendix B.)

The Decision

The English-Language Panel examined the complaints under the following provisions of the Radio Television Digital News Directors Association of Canada’s (RTDNA) Code of Ethics and the Canadian Association of Broadcaster’s (CAB) Code of Ethics:

RTDNA Code of Ethics, Article 5 – Independence

Independence is a fundamental value and we will resist any attempts at censorship that would erode it. Electronic journalists will resist pressures to change or alter the news.  Intrusion into content, real or apparent, should be resisted.

RTDNA Code of Ethics, Article 6 – Conflict of Interest

Electronic journalists will govern themselves on and off the job in such a way as to avoid conflict of interest, real or apparent.

CAB Code of Ethics, Clause 5 – News

(2)           News shall not be selected for the purpose of furthering or hindering either side of any controversial public issue, nor shall it be formulated on the basis of the beliefs, opinions or desires of management, the editor or others engaged in its preparation or delivery.  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.

The Panel Adjudicators read all of the correspondence and viewed the reports. The Panel concludes that neither broadcast violated any of the aforementioned Code provisions.

 

Independence

The Panel finds that the notion of “independence” provided for in Article 5 of the RTDNA Code of Ethics does not mean, for a newscast or a newsroom, ignoring a news story because it is in some way related to the station’s owners.  On the contrary, the Panel considers that broadcasters would be remiss in their duty to inform the public of matters of importance by failing to report on a newsworthy item because of such a relationship.  The Panel also found that the news reports in question were presented in a balanced way to inform, and not as vehicles to attract new customers for the respective services.  Moreover, the Panel finds that there was no censorship, no pressures to alter the news and no intrusion in the content when comparing the content to what was reported in other media.

Conflict of Interest

The Panel finds that, for each of the two broadcasts, the on-air disclosure of the relationship between the news organizations and the organizations which were the subjects of the reports is sufficient notice of the relationship between the organizations. The Panel is of the view that, in such situations, news organizations have to be careful and disclose their relationship.  Moreover the Panel finds that this kind of disclaimer is good practice and should be followed in similar cases.

Bias

Finally, the Panel finds that nothing in those two news reports indicated that they were “selected for the purpose of furthering or hindering either side of any controversial public issue”, nor that they were “formulated on the basis of the beliefs, opinions or desires of management, the editor or others engaged in” their preparation or delivery. The Panel notes that the two stories were reported by a number of other outlets, which had no relationship to either Shaw, Rogers, or Bell.  The Panel finds that the two news reports were informative and meant “to enable people to know what is happening, and to understand events so that they may form their own conclusions.”

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, both Global Ontario and CTV News Channel provided replies to the complainant, offering information about their internal journalistic policies, the reasons they chose to cover those stories and how the reports were prepared.  The broadcasters fulfilled their obligations of responsiveness and nothing further is required in this regard in this instance.

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

Appendix A

Global Ontario (CIII-DT) aired the report about shomi during its May 27, 2015 11:00 pm News Hour Final broadcast. The report aired from 11:29:32 to 11:31:34.

anchor Alan Carter:          Heads up, Netflix, your competition just kicked it up a notch.  The video streaming service shomi is now available to everyone who wants it and it’s offering features that others don’t have.  Sean O’Shea shows us how it will change the way people watch their favourite shows.

O’Shea: It launched last fall as a way for television viewers to binge-watch their favourite shows.

[footage of launch; people using tablets]

interview with David Asch, Senior VP, shomi:         There’s great content.  We have about fifteen thousand assets:  TV series and movies.  And we have exclusive content.

O’Shea: But initially, subscribers had to be customers of Rogers or Shaw, the parent company of Global Television.  Starting this summer, that all changes.

[close-up of tablet with tv show icons on screen]

Asch:      Anyone will be able to subscribe.  It’s $8.99, but there’s a 30-day free trial.

O’Shea: shomi is competing with Canadian services like Crave and US-based Netflix, which offers TV shows, movies and other content for a similar price.  While Crave is sticking with its model of being an add-on service for Bell subscribers, analyst Carmi Levy says shomi is now taking on Netflix on its own turf.

[footage of TV set; pans to person holding smartphone; close-up of Netflix choices screen; close-up of shomi choices screen]

interview with Carmi Levy, technology analyst, Voices.com:            This is a huge deal.  It means that shomi is finally emerging from the shadows and is going for the jugular of over-the-top services like Netflix.  It means that the competition for the next generation of the Canadian consumer television dollar, uh, has just reached an entirely new level.  This means war.

O’Shea: Six people can share a single shomi membership.  Two consumers can stream video at the same time.  The company says it offers exclusive content not available on Netflix.  Research shows about seventy percent of consumers who subscribe to services like Netflix and shomi keep some kind of pay television package.

[scrolling shomi screen; close-up of tv remote control; woman sitting on couch watching big screen TV]

Asch:      The early results have shown that people will have more than one service.

Levy:      This is going to be essentially a very intense furball of activity over the next few months and years as they all compete with each other trying to convince us that we should put our dollars with them and not the other guy.

O’Shea: shomi’s targeting consumers who want to watch programs on phones and tablets as well as television screens.  Starting sometime this summer, they’ll be able to try it out anywhere they have an internet connection.  Sean O’Shea, Global News, Toronto.

[scroll of shomi choices screen; person scrolling on tablet; big screen TV set; man looking at a tablet]

CTV News Channel aired a report about Bell Gigabit Fibe on June 25, 2015 at 4:30 pm. The title of the report, “Bell Gigabit Fibe” appears at the bottom of the screen, along with the caption “Toronto residents will get the fastest internet”.

anchor Merella Fernandez:           Now Bell customers in Toronto are going to have access to lightning fast internet through a 20 billion dollar infrastructure investment being made by the telecommunications company.

footage of George Cope, Bell Canada President & CEO, making announcement:     … important for our economy, twenty-four hundred direct jobs will be created right here in Toronto.

at same announcement event, John Tory, Toronto Mayor:              It is more than just another investment, it’s more than just another business decision.  It is something that is going to make a big difference to people and to attracting investment and jobs and keeping investment and jobs.

Fernandez:          The new Gigabit Fibe service provides download speeds of one thousand megabits per second, so to give you some perspective, a full-length HD movie will download in seven seconds.  The service rolls out in Toronto in the summer and Bell will donate Gigabit Fibe to United Way community hubs in the city.  Bell, by the way, the parent company of Bell Media, which does own CTV and this channel.

Appendix B

The Complaints

File 14/15-1311

The following complaint was sent to the CRTC on May 27, 2015 and forwarded to the CBSC in due course:

On Wed, May 27, 2015 11:30 pm Global News Toronto (channel 3 in Ottawa with Rogers cable) aired a report re Shomi service which is offered by Shaw/Rogers corporations. The report informs viewers that Shomi will be no longer be available to Shaw/Rogers customers but to everyone.  This ‘news story’ is nothing more than a free ad for Shaw which owns Global News.  If it isn’t a violation of regulations then I think it ought to be.  The press can never be used by the company that owns it to serve their financial interests.  If Shaw wants to advertise a service, they can pay for ad space like any other business.

File 14/15-1393

The following complaint was submitted via the CBSC webform on June 25, 2015:

Television or Radio Station:          CTV News Channel

Name of the program or the on-air person:           CTV News today

Date of Program:              June 25/15

Time of Program:              4:30 pm

Comments:

A news report about faster Bell fibe for Toronto residents that the newscaster acknowledges owns CTV News Channel. This is too common a practice of news organizations being used by their parent company to give free advertising of their products dressed up as ‘the news’.  This undermines the public’s confidence in the integrity of the press which has a democratic function that is in conflict with the self interest of business.  How do we trust what is being passed off as news in the public’s interest is not corporate propaganda?

Broadcaster Responses

File 14/15-1311 Global Ontario & shomi

Global responded on June 26:

Your correspondence to the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) about a segment that aired on Global Toronto’s News Hour Final at 11:30 pm on May 27, 2015 has been forwarded to me for reply. Your email expressed concern about a Global News follow-up report on the launch of the shomi video streaming service. Global News is a division of Shaw Media. shomi is a partnership between Shaw Media and Rogers Communications. Both companies sell subscriptions and conduct joint marketing. You expressed the opinion that Global News was knowingly “being used” to provide free advertising to serve the financial interests of Shaw Media.

The issues raised in your email include journalistic independence and transparency, both fundamental to the integrity, credibility and reputation of Global News. I can assure you that Global News is dedicated to the reporting of accurate, balanced, timely and comprehensive news and information in the public interest.  Our team strives to uphold the highest level of journalistic integrity and ethics at all times.  Our journalists are educated to make sound editorial decisions thoughtfully and with sensitivity, and to produce news content in accordance with community standards, the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics, and the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) Canada Code of Ethics.  Our own stringent Global News Journalistic Principles and Practices state:

“We will not formulate news content based on our own personal cultural beliefs, opinions, corporate influences or those of anyone else engaged in its preparation or delivery.”

The assignment, production and vetting of all Global News content is conducted without influence from Shaw Media or any other division of our parent company, Shaw Communications. The final say on editorial matters belongs to the Senior Vice-President of News and Station Operations. I have spoken with the Managing Editor of network news content in order to provide you with some background and insight into the editorial decision making that went into our report on shomi. The Managing Editor confirmed that there was no request, direct or indirect, for coverage of shomi from anyone outside Global News. None of our affiliates or platforms were told they had to air the story. The reporter’s broadcast script was vetted by the Managing Editor, and was not subject to approval or scrutiny from anyone outside Global News. After the story aired, there was no request from shomi or Shaw Media for a copy of the video or script.

The Managing Editor stands by his decision to assign the story because of its editorial value as a relevant consumer/business story. Video streaming services like Netflix, Crave and shomi are big news these days, offering consumers new and exclusive programming choices and on-demand viewing on their terms. Netflix now has some 60 million subscribers worldwide, disrupting the multi-billion dollar conventional and specialty cable television industry with its business model. Both shomi and Crave were initially criticized when they launched, because customers were also required to have a subscription to Bell, Rogers or Shaw cable or internet services. shomi made news by dropping those requirements in order to compete head-to-head with Netflix. shomi also announced it was making more of its content available on mobile devices – the fastest growing segment among consumers.

Global News encourages its journalists to provide analysis of news events by seeking comment from experts in their field. Our consumer report about shomi included a key interview with independent industry analyst Carmi Levy, who called the decision to drop subscription requirements as “a huge deal”. He also stated that “the competition for the next generation of the Canadian consumer television dollar has just reached an entirely new level.” Levy is widely regarded as a leading technology and telecommunications commentator and analyst. He is interviewed regularly on network TV, cable news channels, online news websites and in major newspapers.

In the internet age, the transparency of news organizations has never been more important. Our report on shomi clearly disclosed that Shaw Media is the parent company of Global News.

My review found no evidence to support your contention that our reporting violated CAB or RTDNA codes concerning conflict of interest and journalistic independence. I stand behind the Managing Editor’s editorial decision-making, carried out in accordance with our own stringent journalistic principles and best practices.

Thank you for taking the time to provide your thoughtful feedback. It is our intention to share your comments with senior news managers in an effort to improve our service to communities across Canada.  If you have any future questions about our news reporting, I invite you to contact me directly at 416-[###-####].

File 14/15-1393 CTV News Channel & Bell Gigabit Fibe

CTV News Channel responded on July 21:

I am responding to your correspondence of June 25, 2015 which was forwarded to CTV News Channel by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC), in which you express concern regarding perceived corporate influence over the editorial decisions and coverage by CTV News Channel of the launch of a new broadband service by Bell, Bell Media’s parent company.

Before addressing your specific concern, it should be noted that all CTV News properties, of which CTV News Channel is a division, including all news directors, producers, editors, and journalists follow the CTV News Policy Handbook.

CTV News Policy specifies strict adherence to the Association of Electronic Journalists RTDNA Code of Ethics and the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics, which mutually govern editorial independence and impartiality in our newsgathering process.  (If you would like to view the CAB Codes, you may do so at www.cbsc.ca).

In addition, CTV News properties are also bound by Bell’s Journalistic Independence Policy, which clearly defines the principles and parameters surrounding interactions between CTV News properties and their parent company, BCE. Launched on June 18, 2015, the Policy establishes that CTV News is solely responsible for all news reporting decisions and for ensuring the integrity of its news operations, reinforcing Bell Media’s and BCE’s commitment to the principles of journalistic independence and integrity.

In your email you voice concerns about this story about Bell offering a faster Bell Fibe service to Toronto residents, saying this is “too common a practice of news organizations being used by their parent company to give free advertising of their products dressed up as ‘the news’.” You further question how viewers can trust what you perceive as “corporate propaganda” being passed off as news in the public’s interest.

In our opinion, CTV News Channel strictly adhered to accepted journalistic practices in accordance with all applicable policies, in reporting on a very important news story of significant public interest to our viewers. We respectfully disagree with your suggestion that the report in question was “corporate propaganda” and influenced by corporate interests or constituted “free advertising…dressed up as the news.”

Our policies require that news reports on our parent companies, Bell and BCE, include an acknowledgement of corporate ownership. As you confirm, CTV News Channel clearly did so in its reporting, offering full transparency as required.  As well, we believe our coverage was proportional to the event’s newsworthiness.  CTV News Channel’s report was in no way the result of corporate sponsorship or partnership, and coverage was delivered in a manner befitting the nature of the Bell Gigabit Fibe Internet product launch and its inherent investment in Canadian infrastructure, jobs, and innovation.

According to our independence Policy, in cases where Bell Media news properties deliver coverage of news stories directly or indirectly concerning BCE or of commercial interest to BCE, the appropriate editorial team is solely responsible for determining how to cover any such story, with full discretion and control, and without interference. In addition, only the broadcaster decides whether to proceed with a story, how it will be covered, and the extent of any coverage, with full and absolute discretion and control.  CTV News Channel’s coverage resulted from an editorial decision to cover this news story based on its significant newsworthiness. We decided to carry the news conference live, because in these tough economic times, we believed the addition of approximately 2,400 direct jobs to the GTA and the large infrastructure expansion project with more than a $1 Billion network investment was an important announcement worthy of national attention.  Dozens of other media outlets unrelated to Bell, obviously agreed, and also covered this important business news story.

We believe CTV News Channel’s coverage was delivered objectively and without distortion or prejudice, based on the same background materials provided to all other news outlets, and afforded no benefits or advantages to its parent company Bell in comparison to its competitor news outlets. A link to the media release announcing the launch of Bell’s Gigabit Fibe Internet product is available here.

For your information, below are links to the Financial Post and the Toronto Star coverage of this newsworthy business story involving Bell.

http://business.financialpost.com/fp-tech-desk/bell-goes-where-puck-is-going-with-fibre-optic-build-out

http://www.thestar.com/news/city_hall/2015/06/25/bell-canada-to-give-toronto-worlds-fastest-internet.html

This report was also in accordance with the RTDNA Code of Ethics which requires accuracy, authenticity, independence, and integrity in the course of gathering and reporting news.  Free speech and an informed public are vital in this pursuit.  As a member of RTDNA Canada, we recognize our responsibility to promote and protect the freedom to report independently about matters of public interest and to present a wide range of expressions, opinions and ideas.

Independence is a fundamental value and we vigorously resist any attempts at censorship. Our service is responsible for reporting on significant news stories as they arise and this was the only driving force in covering the launch of the new Bell Internet service.  We are committed above all to Integrity and it is our mandate to uphold journalistic integrity and independence under all circumstances and at all times, without exception.

We appreciate you taking the time to draw attention to this matter. Our fundamental purpose as a reputable news organization is to enable viewers to know what is happening, and to clarify events so viewers may form their own conclusions.  CTV News Channel is a member in good standing of the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council and adheres to the Council’s guidelines.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact us and I hope this response has been helpful.

Additional Correspondence

File 14/15-1311 Global Ontario & shomi

The complainant submitted his Ruling Request on July 2:

The broadcaster stated in their response that no phone call was made to prompt the story. Surely the press should know that compromise of press integrity won’t typically be carried out so blatantly.  Like the judicial maxim – the press must not only demonstrate the absence of impropriety, but the absence of even the appearance of impropriety.  To my knowledge, no other station broadcast this story that clearly benefits the parent company.  Can we believe this is coincidence?  I have another complaint against another station, CTV, who carried a story for their parent company which also was not carried by any other news organization.  What are Canadians supposed to believe seeing this occur on a regular basis?  Indeed, press should not be carrying stories like this in the first place.  There is no way to overcome conflict of interest – that’s the nature of conflict of interest.  Announcing at the end of the story that the company that is promoting this new service is the owner of the news station does not alleviate the conflict anymore than announcing any bias or prejudice or favour prevents harm – it merely makes viewers aware of the conflict of interest.  What harm would there be to viewers if the press didn’t carry these types of stories?  If Shaw and Bell want their customers to know about a new product or service, they can advertise during commercials like any other company has to.

File 14/15-1393 CTV News Channel & Bell Gigabit Fibe

The complainant submitted his Ruling Request on July 22:

Predictably CTV/Bell denies everything and quotes their policies. They also mention some live broadcast I didn’t mention in my complaint.

I reject the response because it’s simply a denial and not a detailed explanation of the decision making process – who by name and job title decided to do this and why? The criteria, not philosophy or goals or promises – precisely what constitutes conflict of interest and what does not; what does compromise of the press look like?  Also, why do they believe that telling viewers that the story involves their parent company that this should satisfy anyone about anything?  They’re only communicating the conflict of interest – not eliminating it.

Furthermore, I again reiterate my objection to these stories being done at all. No stories should be done that could in any way potentially benefit the owners.  The mere fact that the press believes that it is possible to handle this conflict of interest is proof in itself that they are already compromised and incapable of recognizing a conflict of interest that by definition cannot be overcome by any means at all ever.  Will these news organizations tell Canadians whether they would ever accept a politician doing the equivalent?