CITV-TV re News Item (Arts Funding)

PRAIRIE REGIONAL COUNCIL
(CBSC Decision 95/96-0091)
S. Hall (Chair), D. Braun (Vice-Chair), K. Christensen, D. Dobbie, V. Dubois and D. Ish

The Facts

In November 1995, the CITV-TV (ITV, Edmonton) 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. newscasts carried
a number of segments entitled “You Paid For It!”. In the November 15 segments, one of
the stories featured was about public funding for controversial theatrical plays.

The report was presented by way of a montage of individual interview clips. In order to
present different versions of the same report for the 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. newscasts, the
reporter edited the same interview footage slightly differently. The shorter version was
broadcast during the 6 p.m. newscast. It was introduced by the news anchor with the
following statement and questions:

Well, maybe you were surprised to find out that you paid for that. What about controversial
plays? Did you know that, in many cases, you're paying for the production whether you're
in the audience or not? Boni Fox explains in her exclusive series You Paid For It!

The report then went as follows:

Boni Fox (reporter): It's rehearsal time for the third annual Loud 'N Queer Festival, the
Catalyst Theatre's celebration of gay and lesbian playwrights. Tyler Irvine's piece is titled
Drooling Boyfriends. No-one argues against the right to creative expression but there are
some objections when you consider taxpayers help foot the bill. Last year, the Theatre's
operating budget was about $350,000. Government grants have been dwindling steadily
to the point where federal, provincial and municipal governments make up less than
$90,000 of that.

Ruth Smillie (Art Director of Catalyst Theatre): I'm not sure that most people are aware
because the government does not articulate it in this way that there is not a nickel of that
goes into arts funding now. It's all lottery money, all of it.

Jason Kenney (Representative from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation): That's what
they always say but, the bottom line is that, when an institution or organization is subsidized
by the government, everything it does indirectly is subsidized by taxpayers.

Boni Fox: Jason Kenney believes no-one has a right to a government grant. And he's also
convinced it's high time for artists to operate on the market principle. If the play is good,
people will pay to see it.

Jason Kenney: Those that stink don't sell any tickets. It's called the market. It works in
other areas of life. Why shouldn't it work in art?

Boni Fox: With government arts grants consistently diminishing and budget restraint in full
swing across the country, taxpayers may soon be off the hook and playwrights such as
Taylor Irvine may have to find other outlets for their creative drive. Boni Fox, ITV News at
six.

The news anchor concluded the 6 p.m. report with “Loud 'N Queer opens this week-end
at the Catalyst Theatre.”

During the 10 p.m. news, the slightly longer feature report was presented as follows:

Boni Fox: Tyler Irvine puts in long hours writing a play. He has already put in a full shift
on his real job. Where others might suffer exhaustion, Irvine enjoys a burst of creative
energy.

Tyler Irvine: I love writing. Writing is an excellent way of expressing oneself.

Boni Fox: Irvine's work is off the beaten track. The one-act skit is easily described by the
title: Drooling Boyfriends. Drooling Boyfriends joins several other plays written by gay and
lesbian thespians in the Catalyst Theatre's annual Loud 'N Queer Festival.

Tyler Irvine: As a gay writer, as a gay playwright, it offers that opportunity to put your work
out for the public to see.

Boni Fox: Ruth Smillie is quitting as Art Director for the Catalyst Theatre. Her creative
fuse has blown. Budget pressures mean she's taken unpaid leave and laid off staff.

Ruth Smillie: The human cost of that is nearly too great.

Boni Fox: Last year the Theatre's operating budget was about $350,000. Government
grants have been dwindling steadily to the point where federal, provincial and municipal
grants make up less than $90,000 of that. Smillie says long gone are the days when
Canadians could enjoy universal access to culture.

Ruth Smillie: Here we are today and we're talking possibly about, if you want to see
something, you should pay full price for it. I think my grandfather'd be rolling over in his
grave.

Jason Kenney: Nobody has a right to a government grant. We do have a right not to be
discriminated against on certain bases enumerated in the Charter but that doesn't include
a right to throw 30,000 tax dollars away on a ridiculous excuse for theatre.

Ruth Smillie: I'm not sure that Loud 'N Queer is particularly controversial unless you're
homophobic.

Boni Fox: Smillie has anticipated this kind of backlash. A separate set of books can prove
that fundraising and ticket sales for Loud 'N Queer cover the cost of production.

Jason Kenney: That's what they always say but, the bottom line is that, when an institution
or organization is subsidized by the government, everything it does indirectly is subsidized
by taxpayers.

Boni Fox: With budget restraint in full swing at all levels of government taxpayers may not
be subsidizing theatre like this for much longer and writers like Tyler may be looking for a
new venue in which to perform. Boni Fox, ITV News at Ten.

The Letters of Complaint

It often happens that the CBSC receives a number of complaints about a program, some,
many or all of which are resolved by the broadcaster's reply to the complainants. While
this issue is not generally raised in the course of a CBSC decision, it is necessary to do
here because of the broadcaster's method of dealing with the complaints (which, for
reasons discussed below, was considered entirely satisfactory). Instead of directly
addressing the text of the letter cited below to the complainant in this case, he included a
copy of his letter to another complainant as an annex to his letter to this complainant.
Thus, in order to complete the background explanation for the inclusion of certain
references to “outside” matters in this decision, the Prairie Regional Council must include
the text of the letter from the other complainant in order for readers to fully understand the
broadcaster's response, which is given below. It should also be recognized that the issues
of the other complainants who did not send in Ruling Requests were, in fact, resolved by
the broadcaster's communication with them.

In the event, the CBSC received four complaints regarding this news item; however, three
of the complainants were satisfied with the broadcster's reply, leaving only only one who
returned the signed CBSC form indicating that she was unsatisfied and was requesting
adjudication of the matter by the appropriate Regional Council. Accordingly, the Prairie
Regional Council only considered the following complaint (of November 24). In her letter,
the complainant claimed that this news item “disparaged arts funding and the gay and
lesbian community.” Her letter further stated that

The interviews for this news item, “You Paid for it”, were granted under false pretences.
The interview material was later presented out of context.

This complainant also wrote to the Vice President of ITV, copying the letter to the CBSC
and the CRTC. This letter read in part as follows:

I can no longer trust the news reports of ITV. This is because last week your reporters
misrepresented themselves to the artists involved in “Loud 'N Queer” , and presented their
interviews and clips from the production out of context.

The other letter of complaint to which reference was made above reads in part as follows:

In September of 1995, Boni Fox contacted Catalyst Theatre regarding our annual writers'
cabaret, Loud 'N Queer. Ms. Fox said that she wanted to do a profile on Catalyst Theatre
and a preview on the Loud 'N Queer Festival. On these terms, I agreed to do an interview
with Boni Fox and, at her request, put her in touch with James Tyler Irvine, one of the
writers submitting a script for the festival. Ms. Fox interviewed James in his home and shot
footage of him delivering his script to the theatre. Last Tuesday, an ITV cameraman came
into the first rehearsal of James's script and shot footage of the actors rehearsing.

On Wednesday, November 15, 1995, ITV used footage of the interview with me, the
playwright, and the actors in rehearsal on the 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. newscast as the focus of
the ITV series, “You Paid For It!” The broadcast opened with the anchorwoman saying,

Maybe you're surprised to find out you paid for that. What about
controversial plays? Did you know that in many cases you're paying for the
production, whether you're in the audience or not?

At no time during any of my telephone conversations with Boni, during her interview with
me at Catalyst, or during her interview with James Tyler Irvine, did Boni Fox indicate that
we were to be the subject and focus of “You Paid For It!”. We were not told that the
interviews and rehearsal footage would be used as fodder for an attack by Jason Kenney
of the Canadian Taxpayer's Association as part of the ITV programme.

When I spoke to Tim Spelliscy, the Executive Producer of ITV's News and Public Affairs
Department last Friday, he said that it had always been ITV's intention to use Catalyst
Theatre and Loud 'N Queer as the focus of “You Paid For It!”. Withholding this information
from us was not then an oversight, but rather a willful misrepresentation of ITV's intentions
and a stunning example of unethical, homophobic journalism.

Furthermore, when I spoke to Boni Fox regarding Loud 'N Queer, I made it clear to her that
anyone can submit material for the cabaret regardless of their sexual orientation. Some of
the writers featured in the cabaret are gay, some are heterosexuals, some are lesbians,
some are bisexuals. I also explained that the sexual orientation of the actors is not an issue
when casting the event. They are hired on the basis of their professional merits, not sexual
orientation.

In ITV's newscast on November 15th, the commentator said that James Tyler Irvine's script
“joins several other plays written by gay and lesbian thespians in the Catalyst Theatre's
Loud 'N Queer Festival
.” As I have already mentioned, being gay or lesbian is not a
prerequisite for having work produced at Loud 'N Queer. Furthermore, the word 'thespian'
is a noun meaning actor or actress. By using this reference while showing footage of actors
in rehearsals, ITV effectively “outted” more than 30 writers and the cast members.

Boni Fox and the members of ITV's News and Public Affairs staff wanted to create an
inflammatory piece on arts funding. Through misrepresentation, lying, distorting the facts,
and fuelling public prejudice against the gay and lesbian community, they got it. However,
by inventing the news rather than reporting the news, ITV has violated one of the most
fundamental principles of journalism.

The Broadcaster's Response

The Executive Vice-President and General Manager of ITV responded to the complaint
which is the subject matter of this decision in a letter dated December 1. As noted above,
this letter attached the station's response to one of the other complainants mentioned
above and stated that “As indicated in that letter, we have taken immediate steps to rectify
this situation at the station and certainly regret any offense we may have caused certain
members of the public including yourself.” The attached broadcaster's response, which
is reproduced in part below, does deal with specific points raised in the second letter of
complaint which is reproduced above.

Our entire Broadcast Standards Committee has now met and had a thorough discussion
about the ITV News story on Catalyst and your letter of November 20, 1995.

We would like to preface our remarks by saying that this incident has been the subject of
much consternation at the station and particularly in the news department. We extend to
Catalyst our assurances that a result of this unfortunate incident will be a redoubling of
efforts to scrutinize news stories before they go to air. The reality is that we produce four
newscasts everyday 365 days of the year. Our reporters and newsroom staff are human
and it sometimes happens that mistakes in judgement are made. What our station and
editorial staff are not however, is homophobic and at the outset we would like to counter that
very disturbing accusation.

We are also in the business of creating works for television and film and forging alliances
with producers, writers and actors. Through public service announcements and news and
promotional features, we have consistently supported many theatre groups and their
creative endeavours – regardless of the sexual orientation of the actors or writers and
whether the works include gay themes or not, without hesitation. We will continue to do so.
Freedom of creative expression is equally important to us as is our relationship with the
creative community.

We sincerely regret the impression that was evidently left with certain members of the
theatre community and the public that ITV is homophobic. However, it is simply not true
and moreover, it is an accusation that is inconsistent with the support we have shown to the
artistic and theatre community in the past. Indeed, one of the things we specifically try to
avoid in the newsroom is taking editorial positions on issues. What we try to do is present
both sides of a story without imposing our own editorial judgment.

This brings us to the news item in question. The story did include both your views about the
funding of controversial plays as well as the views of the Canadian Taxpayers Association.
It was not our intention to endorse one argument over the other but merely to present two
different opinions on what is admittedly a very controversial subject. We cannot simply
avoid sensitive issues altogether for fear of offending people who hold particular views.
Doesn't freedom of expression also mean that Jason Kenny of the Taxpayers Association
ought to be allowed to voice his opinions although there may be those among us who
disagree strongly with those views? It is our position that freedom of expression has to
prevail in such circumstances.

We did however, fall down in two important respects which we very much regret and for
which we must apologize. First, the title of the series (“You Paid For It”) of which the
Catalyst story was a part was, in hindsight, inappropriately harsh and may have given the
story a bias which we did not intend for it to have. We discussed this issue at the
Committee meeting at some length in an effort to determine how the story itself and the title
got “out of synch”. What seems to have happened is that there was a breakdown in
communication between the promotions department which was responsible for promoting
the series and its title and the news department which was actually putting the stories for the
series together. In short, promotions was not aware of the actual content of the story and
the newsroom apparently misjudged the impact that the promotion and title of the series
could have on how the story was perceived. Had there been better communication between
the two departments the story would have been placed in a more appropriate context. We
have taken immediate steps internally to prevent such a problem from recurring.

Second, you have asserted that our reporter, Boni Fox, misrepresented herself and the
nature of the report to you. Such conduct violates our Company Code of Journalistic Ethics
and Guidelines and is indeed a very serious matter. Our Vice President, News and Public
Affairs has spoken with Ms. Fox and we can assure you that appropriate disciplinary action
is being taken. Moreover, a meeting of all news staff has been convened to reiterate the
importance and content of the Code to ensure that an incident of this nature does not repeat
itself. You can also expect to receive a separate letter of apology from Ms. Fox.

Finally, you expressed a concern about our reference to the Loud 'N Queer Festival as
including “plays written by gay and lesbian thespians”. Apart from the grammatically
incorrect use of the word “thespians”, as far as we know, that statement is accurate. It is our
understanding that Loud 'N Queer is indeed a celebration of art with gay themes. Nobody
involved in the story was singled out as actually being gay or otherwise except for Tyler
Irvine who referred to himself in his own words as a “gay writer”. Nor did we say that being
gay or lesbian was a prerequisite to participating in the Festival.

In summary, we reiterate that ITV is not homophobic nor was there any intent to fuel public
prejudice against the gay and lesbian community. Whether we like it or not, the Canadian
Taxpayers Association speaks for a segment of the population on the issue of funding for
the arts. The story was as much a platform for your Theatre and your views as it was for
the Canadian Taxpayers Association. We do however, take responsibility for the conduct
of our reporters and deeply regret the offense we have caused you and other members of
the public and theatre community. This entire incident has weighed very heavily on Ms. Fox
and the News Department at the station.

We do appreciate your making your views known to us. It helps us to take stock of what
kind of job we're doing and our internal checks and balances. You have made it clear that
there is room for improvement and we have taken swift action to ensure that improvements
are made.

The CBSCs Prairie Regional Council considered the complaint under Clauses 2 and 6 of
the CAB Code of Ethics and Clauses 1 and 3 of the RTNDA Code of Ethics, which read
as follows:

CAB Code of Ethics, Clause 2 (Human Rights)

Recognizing that every person has a right to full and equal recognition and to enjoy certain
fundamental rights and freedoms, broadcasters shall endeavour to ensure, to the best of
their ability, that their programming contains no abusive or discriminatory material or
comment which is based on matters of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age,
sex, marital status or physical or mental handicap.

CAB Code of Ethics, Clause 6 (News)

It shall be the responsibility of member stations to ensure that news shall be represented
with accuracy and without bias. The member station shall satisfy itself that the
arrangements made for obtaining news ensure this result. It shall also ensure that news
broadcasts are not editorial. News shall not be selected for the purpose of furthering or
hindering either side of any controversial public issue, nor shall it be designed by the beliefs
or opinions or desires of the station 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.

Therefore, nothing in the foregoing shall be understood as preventing news broadcasters
from analysing and elucidating news so long as such analysis or comment is clearly labelled
as such and kept distinct from regular news presentations. Member stations will, insofar as
practical, endeavour to provide editorial opinion which shall be clearly labelled as such and
kept entirely distinct from regular broadcasts of news or analysis 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 the broadcast publisher.

RTNDA Code of (Journalistic) Ethics, Article One:

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

RTNDA Code of (Journalistic) Ethics, Article Three:

Broadcast journalists will not sensationalize news items and will resist pressures, whether
from inside or outside the broadcasting industry, to do so. They will in no way distort the
news. Broadcast journalists will not edit taped interviews to distort the meaning, intent, or
actual words of the interviewee.

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

Was the Report Homophobic?

Clause 2 of the Code of Ethics, the human rights provision, prohibits abusive or
discriminatory material or comments based on certain protected grounds. While sexual
orientation is not explicitly found in the wording of that provision, as explained in CHCH-TV
re Life Today with James Robison
(CBSC Decision 95/96-0128, April 30, 1996), the CBSC
considers sexual orientation to be an “analogous” protected ground under this provision.

It is important to note that the human rights provision does not prohibit mere references,
where pertinent, to matters of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex,
marital status, physical or mental handicap or sexual orientation. The requirement that an
abusive or hateful element be present in order to find a breach of Clause 2 of the Code of
Ethics
was recognized in CFOX-FM re the Larry and Willie Show (CBSC Decision 92/93-0141, August 30, 1993), where the B.C. Regional Council concluded that

It is not any reference to “race, national or ethnic origin, religion, age, sex, marital status or
physical or mental handicap” but rather those which contain “abusive or discriminatory
material or comment” based on the foregoing which will be sanctioned.

In this case, the Council does not find that the report “disparaged … the gay and lesbian
community” as alleged by the complainant. The report was about controversial plays and
whether these should receive government funding. It focused on the Loud 'N Queer
festival which, as the Council understands it, is specifically aimed at bringing non-traditional lifestyles into the spotlight. While the sexual orientation of participants in the
festival may not have been relevant information had another festival been the focus of the
report, it was in this case. The reporter's comments, then, since relevant to the story and
not based on homophobic views, were not considered by the Council as being in
contravention of Clause 2 of the CAB Code of Ethics.

Accuracy and Fairness

The complainant also alleges that the interviews were obtained on false pretences and
presented out of context. With respect to the allegation of false pretences, the Council
notes that there was no allegation that the reporter did not disclose that she was indeed
a reporter
, nor was it alleged that the video footage was taken surreptitiously. Rather, the
allegation of false pretences is based on the fact that the reporter did not divulge the focus
of her story, i.e. that it would form part of the series “You Paid For It!” when requesting
interviews.

While the Council notes that the broadcaster has apologized for the conduct of Ms. Fox
in relation to this story, stating that her conduct violated their own Company Code of
Journalistic Ethics and Guidelines, there is insufficient evidence for the Council to
conclude that her conduct also constituted a breach of the CAB Code of Ethics or the
RTNDA Code of (Journalistic) Ethics. Because the CBSC is not an evidence-gathering
body, it does not hold hearings at which evidence, including the testimony of witnesses,
is presented. The correspondence between the complainant and the broadcaster is
always taken into consideration, but these letters are treated only as argument and not as
evidence. In this case, based on the acknowledgement of the broadcaster, it may be that
the reporter's conduct was in breach of the Codes of Ethics administered by the CBSC;
however, without knowing the precise nature of the reporter's misrepresentation which
was acknowledged by the broadcaster, the Council cannot make a determination in this
regard. The Council considers it opportune to note, nevertheless, that, in its view, the
reporter was under no obligation to divulge the angle she was planning to give to the story
she was preparing, even if she did know it prior to seeking the interviews. Indeed, the
Council recognizes that, during the interview stage, reporters may not always have an
absolutely fixed preconceived notion of the story that is developing and, even where they
do, requiring the divulgation of the angle of the story to interviewees may unfairly hinder
the information-gathering process.

As to the presentation of interview footage out of context, the RTNDA Code of
(Journalistic) Ethics
strictly prohibits the editing of taped interviews to “distort the meaning,
intent, or actual words of the interviewee.” Accordingly, while the Council is generally not
concerned with issues surrounding the obtaining of interviews, the ultimate use of interview
material in a broadcast report is an issue of importance for the CBSC and its members.

The Council does not consider that a distortion occurred in this instance. In the Council's
view, the complainant's allegation stems from her dissatisfaction with the ultimate angle
given to the story and not with the manipulation of what was said. It may well be that the
interviewees would not have volunteered certain information had they known how it would
be used; however, that is very different from employing creative editing in order to
broadcast something which was never actually said.

In this regard, the complaint at hand is not unlike that dealt with in CFTO-TV re News
(Sexual Assault)
(CBSC Decision 93/94-0215, June 22, 1994). In that decision, a woman
claimed that the reporting of proceedings against a doctor who had allegedly assaulted her
sexually was inaccurate and unbalanced. The Regional Council disagreed.

Although one member [of the Council] considered that the complainant had been right to
be annoyed about the reporting of the amount of money she was seeking, all were agreed
that there had not been any breach of the Codes in so reporting since the complainant had
herself provided the interview used on air and the $300,000 figure was the inevitable and
logical conclusion of her own statements.

Whether, in the end, the complainant sought those or any damages is unknown to the
Council and immaterial to the result of this adjudication. It had been complainant's choice
to disclose such information on air. Numbers, particularly large numbers, are interesting to
the public and CFTO-TV acted reasonably in reporting information which the station
believed would be of interest to its viewers. The accuracy of the CFTO news report in this
respect was not in question. Consequently, no breach of the Codes could be found in the
reporting of this information.

As to the complainant's allegation that the story “disparaged arts funding”, the Council
considers this case to be analogous to the situation faced by the British Columbia
Regional Council in CHAN-TV re Newscast (Recycling Society) (CBSC Decision 96/97-0004, March 10, 1997). That decision involved two newscasts about a not-for-profit
organization which, in the complainant's view, had been malicious, one-sided and
destructive. The British Columbia Regional Council dealt with the issue of “how the story
was told” in the following way:

In general, it is the responsibility of the news organization to choose the story it will tell and
the way it will tell it. In CFTO-TV re Newscast (Pollution) (CBSC Decision 92/93-0178,
October 26, 1993), the broadcaster had referred to an American pollution study, using the
information to give the story local relevance. The complainant, who was an expert in the
area of pollution, felt that the original report, which gave rise to the story, had been distorted
or misrepresented. The Council did not agree; it found that there had been no breach of the
Code.

CFTO-TV used the American report only as a “top” to its story, which dealt
with a local perspective, oriented more particularly toward the automobile.
It did not represent that this was the essence of the study, or even a part
of it. The complainant was obviously dissatisfied that the report did not
adequately explain the American study; this was not the story which CFTO-TV chose to tell . In that, it was not inaccurate or biassed. At worst, it
simplified the more complex issues raised by the study. This does not,
however, constitute a breach of the CAB Code of Ethics.

Similarly, in CHEK-TV re Evening News (CBSC Decision 94/95-0137, December 18, 1996),
the B.C. Regional Council upheld the broadcaster's right to tell the story it chose to tell in
that case. The broadcaster was not obliged to treat the issue central to that report in greater
depth or more broadly. The broadcaster was obliged to be accurate but not to relate the
story in question to related or similar matters taken from prior British Columbia or national
political history.

In this matter, the consideration is only slightly different. Here, the complainant would have
liked to choose the persons to be interviewed by BCTV to reflect the story it wanted to tell.
Provided, however, that the station could be fair and balanced in telling the story it chose
to tell, it was not necessary for it to interview the specific individuals proffered by the
Society.

This case, like the CHAN-TV case, is one where the complainant would have liked the
report to reflect the story she wanted to tell. After due consideration, however, it appears
to the members of this Council that, all in all, the reports in question were fair and
balanced.

Broadcaster Responsiveness

The CBSC always recognizes the broadcaster's obligation, as a CBSC member, to be
responsive to complainants. In this case, the Regional Council considers that the
response from the broadcaster (“response” being defined, for the Council's purposes, as
the combination of the letter to this complainant and that to the other complainant, which
was annexed to this complainant's letter) dealt in great detail, issue by issue, entirely
frankly, and even apologetically (where the broadcaster felt it could have acted differently)
with the issues raised by the complainant. The Council notes that many, if not all, of the
complainants in this matter were closely intertwined and accordingly, the actions of the
broadcaster in response to this complaint, i.e. attaching a letter of response to another
complainant, were neither inappropriate nor disrespectful. In fact, the CBSC considers
that the broadcaster's response was as fine as any it has seen in any region. It goes
without saying that the Council finds that the station did not breach 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.