CITV-TV re “You Paid For It” (Immigration)

PRAIRIE REGIONAL COUNCIL
(CBSC Decision 95/96-0088)
S. Hall (Chair), D. Braun (Vice-Chair), K. Christensen, D. Dobbie, V. Dubois, D. Ish

THE FACTS

On November 13, 1995, as a part of both its 6:00 and 10:00 p.m. newscasts, CITV-TV
(ITV, Edmonton) began a series entitled “You Paid For It” which focussed on how the
government spends taxpayers' money. The first segment of this series dealt with the
government's spending in relation to immigration.

The 2-minute report on the 6:00 p.m. newscast focussed on the language aspects of the
immigration issue. It went as follows:

Boni Fox: Tai has been in Canada for three years and she is struggling with the English
language. Tai and her fellow students are able to take this English as a second language
course for free. The Mennonite Centre for Newcomers runs most of its services for
immigrants that way, thanks to you, the taxpayer. Last year the budget showed revenues
of $1.1 million. More than half that came from Ottawa, about a third came from Alberta,
another fraction from local government.

Laurel Borisenko (Mennonite Centre for Newcomers): It's becoming increasingly
difficult to get the money to provide the services that we need. There's kind of a stereotype
that these people are coming and taking our jobs and sucking money out of welfare when,
in fact, that's not the case.

Boni Fox: Still, the Reform Party's Treasury Critic is convinced that much of the
Department of Citizenship and Immigration's spending is unnecessary.

John Williams (Reform MP, Treasury Critic): We are, in some cases, buying the
furniture, in many cases buying furniture for these people, paying the rent, buying the
groceries, paying for them to go to school. So where does our obligation stop?

Boni Fox: Williams' Ottawa office went through Access to Information legislation and spent
thousands of dollars researching this issue. Some of what he found he considers to be
unacceptable.

John Williams: This is the one I like which is airport limousine, right here. About as soon
as they arrive off the plane, we put them in the airport limousine and ferry them off to a
hotel because these are the ones who are sponsored by the Government of Canada.

Boni Fox: These immigrants don't consider their English classes extravagant. After all,
without the ability to communicate here, they'd have a tougher time becoming contributing
taxpayers themselves. So the next time you meet a person struggling with your language,
pay attention. It may be English that you've paid for. Boni Fox, ITV News at 6.

The 10 p.m. newscast aired the report again, using many of the same interview clips but
focussing this time on computer training as well as the language courses issue. The report
went as follows:

Boni Fox: A classroom full of young adults is introduced to computers. These students
speak different languages and they come from different countries. Like Shirin, they're getting a helping hand with English and job skills for their new life in Canada. They don't
have to pay for this twelve week course thanks to the Mennonite Centre for Newcomers and
thanks to you, the taxpayer.

John Williams: We are, in some cases, buying the furniture, in many cases buying
furniture for these people, paying the rent, buying the groceries, paying for them to go to
school. So where does our obligation stop?

Boni Fox: Last year the Mennonite Centre's budget showed revenues of $1.1 million.
More than half that came from Ottawa, about a third came from Alberta, another fraction
from local government.

Laurel Borisenko: It's becoming increasingly difficult to get the money to provide the
services that we need. There's kind of a stereotype that these people are coming and taking
our jobs and sucking money out of welfare when in fact that's not the case.

John Williams: This is the one I like which is airport limousine, right here.

Boni Fox: John Williams' Ottawa office went through Access to Information legislation and
spent thousands of dollars researching this issue. Williams doesn't believe that many of the
bills paid by the Department of Citizenship and Immigration are paying off.

John Williams: We are opening our door to these people and the minute they land, they
need our significant assistance in the form of tens of thousands of dollars. And they are
unable to contribute back to society because they don't have the skills, they don't have the
language skills and other skills to be able to interact in our society.

Boni Fox: But fresh from Iran, Shirin thinks otherwise. With your help she plans to be a
contributor. Without it …

Shirin Jafara: I'm sure it would be awful because no one is out there to help you. And, if
you want to learn English, it will be so expensive, there is no place like this.

Boni Fox: Boni Fox, ITV News at 10.

The Letter of Complaint

A viewer complained to the CRTC by letter dated November 14; this letter was in turn
forwarded to the CBSC. The complainant's letter read, in part, as follows:

I wish to bring to your attention some concerns that I have about a program my husband and
I watched last night, November 13/95, on the 6 p.m. news on ITV.

The program was titled Govt. Wastes, “You Paid For It.” On this first segment they talked
about free English classes given to new immigrants. The picture showed a Chinese woman.
It gave the impression that all immigrants get free English classes, receive money for food
and rent as well as furniture. The segment also implied that all immigrants get free
limousine service from the airport. What I found is first of all, they talk about immigrants
and refugees in the same sentence without explaining the difference. This is grossly
misleading to the public and has racial overtones. Joe Average is led to believe that all
immigrants are costing the government of Canada when that is not true. In speaking to the
immigration department today, I learned that 98% of the new immigrants today settle very
well in Canada and become an asset to the country and the few who do receive free classes
or education loans, pay back in more ways than one.

The story was very poorly put together and not what one would expect from professional
journalists. All this is going to do, is enforce a negative attitude towards immigration in the
minds of people who already hold a poor view of immigrants. As we all know, every great
industrial nation was built on immigration and people searching for a better and prosperous
way of life and Canada is no exception.

The Broadcaster's Response

In a letter of November 21, ITV's Vice President of News and Public Affairs wrote:

We are sorry you feel the report left an impression that tends to reinforce negative attitudes
towards immigrants. While we share your view that Canada is a better and more
prosperous nation thanks to immigration, we do not feel the story in question was
misleading, unfair, biased, poorly produced or unprofessional.

The report presents both sides of the issue and the point was clearly made that the
stereotype of immigrants taking advantage of Canada's welfare system is NOT true. We
take strong exception to your allegations of racism and misleading the public.

It is our responsibility to seek out and report differing opinions on matters of public interest.
The story in question does that. Opinions held by the Reform Party's Treasury Critic on
government funding for immigration services were balanced by an eloquent and moving
defence of the language training program being offered in Edmonton.

One final note; the report was not titled Government Wastes, Who Pays For It? as you state
in your letter. The actual title was You Paid For It.

The complainant was unsatisfied with this response and requested, on December 29, that
the CBSC refer the matter to the appropriate Regional Council for adjudication.

The CBSC's Prairie Regional Council considered the complaint under the Codes of Ethics
of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB) and the Radio and Television News
Directors Association (RTNDA). The texts of the relevant provisions of these Codes read
as follows:

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 1:

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

The Regional Council members watched tapes of the 6 and 10 p.m. broadcasts of the
report in question and reviewed the correspondence.

In the Council's view, the report failed to make the critical distinction between immigrants
and refugees, thereby failing to inform the public in an accurate, comprehensive and
balanced manner about the important issue of government spending with respect to
newcomers to Canada. By airing this report, CITV-TV breached Article 1 of the RTNDA
Code of Ethics as well as Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics.

The Issue: Accuracy vs. Fairness

The complainant alleged that the broadcast did not distinguish between immigrants and
refugees, thereby painting both with the same brush of government largesse. The
broadcaster, in its response, did not deal with that point, preferring to take the position that
the balance of views was the primary issue, and stating that “opinions held by the Reform
Party's Treasury Critic on government funding for immigration services were balanced by
an eloquent and moving defence of the language training program being offered in
Edmonton.”

It is important to appreciate that the complainant was not arguing that the report should
have contained more positive comments regarding immigration. Such a complaint, had
it been made, would have led to a conclusion similar to that of the B.C. Regional Council
in CHEK-TV re Evening News (CBSC Decision 94/95-0137, December 18, 1996) or of the
Ontario Regional Council in CFMT-TV re South Asian Newsweek (CBSC Decision 95/96-0160, October 21, 1996), both of which stand for the principle that broadcasters are
generally free to tell the stories they wish.

The CHEK-TV decision concerned a newscast which dealt with the non-renewal of the
B.C. government's contract with NOW Communications. The report covered the statement
by a Liberal MLA that NOW had been paid $3,500 to write and print a letter to the Premier.
A viewer complained that the news item had been biased, since the station made no
mention of the previous government's contracting practices or those of Liberal
governments in other provinces. The Council found that the reporting of the allegation was
objective and fair.

The complainant's issue seems to be that the station did not go far enough in providing the
balance to the political allegation at hand by providing an historical context for any issue of
pork barrel politics. That, though, is a part of the political cut-and-thrust and is thus the job
of the political opponents, not the news reporting bodies, electronic or print. A news-gathering body may legitimately choose to research and tell such a tale but it is not obliged
to do so every time. The absence of such context to a report does not imply an absence
of balance in it.

The issue in CFMT-TV re South Asian Newsweek (CBSC Decision 95/96-0160, October
21, 1996) concerned the telling of the story of a World Cup soccer match between Sri
Lanka and India, which had been broken up by a riot of the Indian fans:

The bottom line is this. As long as the reporting does not breach the standards established
in the various industry Codes, the broadcaster is free to tell the story the way it wishes to.
Those rules have largely to do with accuracy, absence of bias, non-intermingling of news
and editorial comment, avoidance of distortion and sensationalisation, respect for privacy
and avoidance of conflict of interest. Once those constraints have been respected, the
broadcaster has considerable freedom of choice in the presentation of its news story.

In this case, however, it is the accuracy of the report, not its objectivity, that is questioned.
Had the broadcaster chosen to tell the story of extravagant government spending in the
area of immigration, it would have presented no problem to the Council. Unfortunately, the
station confused immigration policy with refugee policy, as discussed at greater length
below. This resulted in an inaccurate report in which choice was not the issue.

The Application: Accuracy and Fairness

The Council notes that, throughout the report, newcomers to Canada were referred to most
often by the designation “these people” or “them”. The word “immigrants” is used sparsely
and the word “refugees” was not used at all in either the 6 or 10 p.m. broadcasts of the
report. There is, however, no doubt that some of the comments made by the Reform Party
M.P. were directed specifically at refugees. He states that “these are the ones who are
sponsored by the government of Canada.” In the Council's understanding, “sponsoring”
refers to the various categories of refugees, not to “immigrants” to Canada.

Accuracy of the terminology used by reporters was one of the issues dealt with in CHAN-TV re Newscast (Recycling Society)(CBSC Decision 96/97-0004, March 10, 1997). In that
decision the B.C. Regional Council chastised a reporter for his improper use of language:

The Council is of the view that the reporter's principal failure was with respect to the
financial issues raised in the newscasts. There is, for example, a difference between
“grants” and “contracts for services rendered”. The Council does not agree with the
broadcaster's justification of the one term for the other as a “break[ing] out of jargon to
properly and directly convey meaning”. The word “grant” is not jargon. It has a well-known
meaning and an implication of government largesse. It provides an inherent justification for
cautious oversight of the activities of an entity benefiting from such beneficence. It
appears, on the other hand, that the Society worked for its money, that it rendered services
for which it was paid. That does not imply that it can do what it wants; the investigation was
not unwarranted. The reporter ought, however, to have been “tighter” in his choice of
language. Words are, after all, his work.

In this case, the Council considers that CITV's failure goes further than merely lacking
“tightness”. The report on the issue of government spending in the area of immigration
confused money spent on immigrants, i.e. foreigners who are accepted into Canada in the
hopes that they will spur economic growth for the country, with money spent on refugees,
i.e. people who are accepted into Canada out of humanitarian compassion. The confusion
of money spent with respect to both groups in the context of the statement that a treasury
critic “doesn't believe that many of the bills paid by the Department of Citizenship and
Immigration are paying off” was grossly misleading and had the overall effect of portraying
all newcomers to Canada are “free-loaders”.

The fact that the report dealt briefly with a complex issue such as immigration spending
is not what concerns the Council. To fail to adequately explain all the complexities of an
issue does not in and of itself constitute a breach of the Codes. This was clearly stated
in CFTO-TV re Newscast (Pollution) (CBSC Decision 92/93-0178, October 26, 1993) which
dealt with a news story on pollution caused by automobile fuel emissions.

It should first be noted that the complainant's letter revealed in-depth technical expertise in
the area. Indeed, this seemed to be at the root of the complaint. CFTO-TV's report had
deviated from the thrust of the American study, but the Regional Council did not consider
that the station had foisted an inaccurate report upon the public. The reporter had briefly
referred to the American report as the lead to his story. In stating (emphasis added), “The
fine particles come mostly from the burning of fossil fuels which, among other things, power
our cars,” he seems, even according to the complainant's explanation, to have not
inaccurately reflected the summary of the American study.

It is here that the complainant and the station parted company, for 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 biased. 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.

Nor is it the fact that the report did not deal adequately with each group, immigrants and
refugees. The Council has ruled in the past that emphasizing one part of an opinion poll
without giving all of the results does not necessarily mean the report is inaccurate. In
CHUR-AM re Newscast (Abortion Poll) (CBSC Decision 92/93-0207, February 15, 1994),
a reporter stated on air that

A new poll out today indicates about a third of Canadians support the total legalization of
abortion. The figures from the Gallup poll were unchanged from September of 1992.
Results show 56 per cent of respondents believe abortion should be legal when the mother's
health is at risk, or if conception occurred because of rape or incest. Only ten per cent said
abortion should be outlawed in all cases.

The complainant felt that such reporting distorted the results of the survey and highlighted
the minority opinion. The Council found no Code violation.

The broadcaster had not suggested that the minority opinion on the legalization of abortion
was, in fact, the only opinion; the report had clearly indicated that a proportion of Canadians
polled did not believe at all in the legalization of abortion. Therefore, contrary to the
listener's contention, the station had not highlighted only a minority opinion in favour of the
legalization of abortion; it had also highlighted the fact that some Canadians do not favour
the legalization of abortion at all. In this sense, the station did not distort the news or
attempt to further or hinder either side of this controversial public issue.

What the Council finds problematic in this case is the fact that the report was craftily put
together to suggest that the government's immigration policy does not stand up to
economic scrutiny by including facts concerning refugees but without making this clear
in the report. The Council does not consider that the lack of distinction between
immigration spending and spending with respect to refugees was inadvertent; rather, the
Council is concerned that, in her attempt at investigative reporting, the reporter either
deliberately skewed facts to give her story more shock value or had not done sufficient
research on the subject to prepare such a report. While the M.P. may have deliberately
skewed his answer for political reasons, the reporter either missed that contortion or was
complicit in its effect.

The Council is also concerned with the overall tone of the report and the reporter's
gratuitous snide remarks such as “immigrants struggling with your language“. The Council
is of the view that the report preyed on the negative feelings which some Canadians have
towards immigrants. This, in the Council's view, is unnecessary, unfair and inappropriate.

The B.C. Regional Council faced a similar situation in CHAN-TV re Newscast (Recycling
Society)
(CBSC Decision 96/97-0004, March 10, 1997). In that decision, the Council
commented on the overall tone of the report created by the reporter's presentation of the
facts.

…by saying that the Society was “not strapped for money”, he implied, perhaps
inadvertently, that there might have been something wrong with the way the money had
been accumulated, particularly in the implied context of exploitation of physically and
mentally challenged workers.

He then made the sarcastic and apparently unwarranted comment that the wages of the
“administrative staff” rose by “12%, which apparently translates to 2%”. It appears to the
Council that the reporter was reading a line item in a budget and extrapolating from this a
conclusion that each administrative wage may have risen by an average of 12% rather than
that the overall administrative wage pot may have increased by that amount, which is
essentially the information conveyed both by the Executive Director in her interview and in
the letter she provided.

It is, of course, eminently material that she was given the opportunity to be on the record
and to present her point of view but, in viewing and re-viewing the tape, Council members
believe that the waters were muddied by the reporter in the confused and unnecessarily
sarcastic way he chose to introduce the item.

In this case, the Council considers that the serious inaccuracies contained in the report,
in the full knowledge that the issue was an evocative, if not a provocative one, for the
audience, combined with the reporter's overall tone, created an unfair, unbalanced and
inaccurate report. By airing this report, the broadcaster contravened the requirement of
Article 1 of the RTNDA Code of Ethics to “inform the public in an accurate, comprehensive
and balanced manner” and the requirement of Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics to
“ensure that news shall be represented with accuracy and without bias”.

Broadcaster Responsiveness

The CBSC always recognizes the broadcaster's obligation, as a CBSC member, to be
responsive to complainants. In this case, the Council finds the broadcaster's response
lacking. The Council is of the view that not much attention was paid to the complainant's
letter, as evidenced by the fact that the broadcaster failed to address the fundamental
issue raised by the complainant, that is the lack of distinction between immigrants and
refugees, and by the fact that even in its attempt to correct the viewer regarding the
segment's title, it did not accurately reflect what was stated by the complainant in her
letter.

In the Council's view, a more careful reading of the complainant's letter would have been
called for in this case. While the Council does not find the broadcaster fell below the
standard of responsiveness in this case, it reminds the broadcaster of its responsibility in
this regard.

The station is required to announce this decision forthwith, in the following terms, during
prime time and, within the next thirty days, to provide confirmation of the airing of the
statement to the CBSC and to the complainant who filed a Ruling Request.

The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has found that CITV-TV
breached provisions of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters' Code of
Ethics
and the Radio Television News Directors Association's Code of
(Journalistic) Ethics
in its broadcast of the segment “You Paid For It” on
November 13, 1995. The report failed to make an important distinction
between immigrants and refugees in a report which required such distinction
to be made and thereby failed to inform the public in an accurate,
comprehensive, unbiased and balanced manner about the important issue
of government spending with respect to newcomers to Canada.

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