CITY-TV re CityPulse (Neighbourhood Drug Bust)

ONTARIO REGIONAL COUNCIL
(CBSC Decision 96/97-0216)
A. MacKay (Chair), R. Stanbury (Vice-Chair), R. Cohen (ad hoc), P. Fockler, M. Hogarth, M. Ziniak

THE FACTS

During its noon news broadcast of May 5, 1997, CITY-TV (Toronto) aired a report
concerning a neighbourhood drug bust. The report was introduced as follows:

Anchor: And a big police broom has been sweeping street level crack cocaine dealers from
the Parkdale area. Police announced today that a total of 105 suspected crack dealers aged
14 to 55 have been arrested since late March in Parkdale. Police say that information from
area residents was key to the success.

The report was aired again during CITY-TV's 6 p.m. newscast. It went as follows:

Anchor: Next, the story of a neighbourhood plagued by its own explosive situation, Jojo
Chintoh tells us tonight that they have gotten some temporary relief from a huge drug bust.

Jojo Chintoh: Yes, Gord, 105 alleged crack cocaine dealers, the youngest fourteen years
old, have been arrested in the West End Toronto Community. While police believe a six
week sweep will make a dent in the drug trade, residents are very skeptical.

Mr. Boykach (area resident): There are people on the street, right now (who) are crack
cocaine dealers.

Mr. Chintoh: Right now?

Mr. Boykach: Yeah, right now, before I talked to you, I passed one.

Ali (area business owner): How long they'll be off the street … next week they'll be back,
… the week after they'll be back, when they leave here, they'll go 2 blocks down the street,
they'll leave and we'll say, “Hey, it's clean you know?”, and another two weeks they'll move
back to this block.

Mr. Chintoh: The majority of the people arrested here on the streets of the West End in
the past six weeks, especially in the area of Lansdowne and Bloor, Lansdowne and Queen,
don't even live here, neither do their customers. So why do they come here?

Detective Ian Briggs (14 Division): We have a lot of transient people living in and around
this area, and unfortunately the word got out that once crack cocaine really took, this is
really where people seem to come down to make their crack purchases.

Mr. Chintoh: That's not fair to this community though?

Detective Briggs: No, not at all. The shop owners, and the people living here, the people
walking back and forth, they have to put up with dealers, and being accosted, asked as to
whether they want to buy drugs, and that's why they wanted to have something done about
this.

Muhammed (area resident): When they've got more police on the road, they see them
and they move away, but when there's no cops on the road, they don't care.

Unidentified area resident: These people are sick, they need help. They need help.

Mr. Chintoh: Residents around here tell me without the cooperation of the police, the
courts and all levels of government, we will never win this battle. I'm Jojo Chintoh in the
West End for CityPulse.

The Letter of Complaint

On May 5, 1997, the complainant sent a letter to CITY-TV which read substantively as
follows:

I am writing to object to a report on today's noon newscast on City T.V. The item in question
dealt with a Media Release from the police at 14 Division citing a recent drug bust in the west
end of Toronto. Several neighbourhoods were involved in the sweep, none of which were
specified by the police. However, when City-TV ran the item, Parkdale was the only area
mentioned.

We are concerned that our neighbourhood – Parkdale – is being stigmatized by the press
and media by being singled out in this manner. Unfortunately, we have had recourse to
complain to your newsroom on more than one occasion about inaccurate reporting in regard
to Parkdale.

The complainant sent this letter to the CRTC on May 30, stating that she had “withheld
sending this complaint in the hope that [the broadcaster] would respond to [her] letter.”

The Broadcaster's Response

Upon receiving the complaint, the CBSC Secretariat forwarded it to the broadcaster
following its normal procedure. CITY-TV's Director of News Programming, CityPulse,
responded to the complaint by letter dated June 5, 1997. His letter read as follows:

You did not receive a response to your letter as no one in the station can recall seeing your
letter. However, on the day of the specific broadcast I was informed that you called the
station about the story in question, as the issue was referred to me by Mr. Rubinstein's
office. I spoke to the news writer in question and a clarification was immediately made in
our next broadcast. In conversation with the police they estimated for us while only 25% of
the dealers arrested were residents of Parkdale, the majority of the customers came from
your community. Regardless, our mistake was a sloppy generalization that as broadcasters
we consistently strive to avoid and I apologize for that.

As to your concerns about our general treatment of your neighbourhood. We have enjoyed
an ongoing dialogue with the residents of Parkdale for about twenty years now and to
suggest that our coverage is misleading or inaccurate does not recognize all of the positive
attention your community has enjoyed over the years.

I was raised in Parkdale, I have family that lives in Parkdale and many of the staff members
here in the newsroom are your neighbours. They all recognize that Parkdale is indeed a
vibrant place to live but they also recognize that it had more than its fair share of problems.

I invite you to alert this newsroom at anytime you feel we have misrepresented your home.
I also invite you to contact us regarding coverage for any upcoming community events you
might feel would present a balanced view of the Parkdale community like the upcoming
“Parkdale Then and Now Festival” which we have supported faithfully from the beginning.

Further Correspondence from the Complainant

The complainant was unsatisfied with this response and requested, on June 17, that the
matter be referred to the appropriate Regional Council for adjudication. Her request for
adjudication was accompanied by the following letter:

In reference to my complainant concerning neighbourhoodism in the news reporting of
CityTV, I cannot accept the apology submitted to me by [the Director of News
Programming]. My reasons are as follows:

1. The singling out of Parkdale by CityTV in its news report does not truthfully reflect the
reality of the police operation as stated in the police Media Release. In fact [the News
Director's] apology was tempered by the statement “the majority of the customers came
from your community.” I have spoken with Superintendent Keith Cowling of the
Metropolitan Police Service (14 Division) and he has assured me that no customers were
arrested in the sweep, in fact all the drug purchases were made by undercover police
officers. The police were also very clear that the drug arrests covered the whole area of 14
Division, the parameters of which encompass only a small part of Parkdale. It is this type
of erroneous assumption that finds its way into CityTV broadcasts and does damage to our
community.

2. No direct clarification of the mistake was made on the 6:00 pm news broadcast on 5th
May, 1997. What CityTV did was to send a broadcaster and video camera to Parkdale to
report on the issue. No public retraction was made, and although Parkdale was not
mentioned by name, the visuals were of this neighbourhood in spite of the fact that there
was no police statement to justify coverage here. Is this fair and unbiased reporting?

3. The mandate of CityTV is to be “everywhere”. They are a unique form of local
broadcasting and, as such, they have tremendous power to manipulate public perceptions
both in a positive and negative way. However, they also have a responsibility to make sure
that the information they are disseminating is correct and ethically presented, and to refrain
from stigmatising neighbourhoods by incorrect reporting or by headlining them in a negative
fashion.

4. A private apology to me does not address the point at issue, viz. that CityTV deliberately
singled out Parkdale as the neighbourhood in question. It does not inform the public that
misinformation was broadcast and as such the error should be corrected publicly in
accordance with Article Two of the RTNDA Code of Ethics.

5. The community of Parkdale has suffered from erroneous reporting too many times. It
is perceived as a dangerous and unsavoury area mainly because of alarmist reporting in the
media. We are trying to correct this image, but are constantly being undermined by news-broadcasts like those of CityTV. On June 11th, for example, a friendly community walk was
described by CityTV as taking place on “the troubled streets of Parkdale”. We do not have
troubled streets; we are way down the list in terms of crime figures. This stigmatisation
must stop.

6. My letter to Mr. Rubinstein was faxed to his assistant on May 5th. I telephoned her to
check that she had received it.

In light of the above reasons, I ask you to investigate CityTV's news broadcasting standards,
and to request that they make a public retraction of their statement of May 5th, 1997, that
105 drug dealers were arrested in Parkdale.

Further Correspondence from the Broadcaster

The Director of Business Affairs/Legal Counsel responded to the complainant's second
letter by a letter dated October 25, 1997. In it, he wrote [all emphasis original]:

You allege “no direct clarification of the mistake was made on the 6:00 p.m. newscast.”
However, your original concern was that Parkdale not be named, since the drug sweep took
place throughout Metropolitan Toronto police “14 Division”. As [the News Director] stated
in his response to you “I spoke to the news writer in question and a clarification [was]
immediately made in our next broadcast.

This in fact was done. First, the 6 p.m. report did not identify Parkdale. Secondly, the
report did disclose that the drug sweep took place in the West End of Toronto. This fact is
irrefutable.

Citytv spoke with citizens in the affected area who confirmed that drug dealers had been
plying their trade in proximity of their homes and businesses. We also confirmed with a
spokesperson for 14 Division of Metropolitan Toronto Police that the raids had taken place
in 14 Division which is located in the West End of Toronto. This was accurately disclosed
in the report.

The CityPulse reporter, Mr. Chintoh stated: “the majority of people arrested here on the
streets of the West End in the last 6 weeks, especially in the area of Lansdowne and Bloor
and Lansdowne and Queen do not even live here, neither do their customers.”

This statement was accurate, and confirmed by a representative of Metropolitan Toronto
Police who appeared on-camera. Consequently, there was no suggestion that the drug
dealers or their customers resided in the area. Contrary to your assertions, Citytv did not
engage
in “stigmatising neighbourhoods by incorrect reporting or headlining them in a
negative fashion.”

The CityPulse report accurately stated that neither the buyers or sellers were resident of the
community. The report clearly illustrated that the residents of the community were being
victimized by the drug dealers, who had come from outside the community.

You also allege in your second letter of complaint “the visuals were of this neighbourhood
in spite of the fact there was no police statement to justify coverage here”
.

You are incorrect. Detective Ian Briggs of 14 Division Metropolitan Toronto Police
confirmed that drug trafficking had occurred in the West End area of Toronto and stated in
the 6 p.m. report:

“We have a lot of transient people living in and around this area, and
unfortunately the word got out that once crack cocaine, really took this is
really where people seem to come down to make their crack purchases.
[sic, this paragraph is incomprehensible but reproduced as provided in the
CITY-TV letter]”

It was Mr. Chintoh who stated to Detective Briggs: “That's not fair to this communitythough?”

Detective Ian Briggs confirmed that the drug trafficking was unfair to local residents:

“The shop owners, and the people living here, the people walking back and
forth, they have to put up with dealers, and being accosted, asked as to
whether they want to buy drugs, and that's why they wanted to have
something done about this.”

You claim that the reporting was neither fair nor unbiased. We disagree.

Aside telecasting [sic] the statement of a Metropolitan Toronto Police Detective, Mr. Chintoh
solicited opinions from residents and shop owners. They did not agree that the problem had
ended with the police raids.

A resident of the area, Mr. Bob Boykach was interviewed on-camera.

Mr. Boykach stated: “There are people on the street, right now (who) are crack cocaine
dealers.”

Mr. Chintoh then said: “Right now?”

Mr. Boykach “Yeh, right now, before I talked to you, I passed one.”

Mr. Chintoh also solicited opinion from residents and shop keepers as to whether they
believed that the police initiative, called “Project Trident” would keep all drug dealers off of
their streets and out of their neighbourhoods.

A proprietor of a butcher shop identified as “Ali” confirmed that drug dealers had been
selling drugs in proximity to his store on Queen Street West.

“How long they'll be off the street … next week they'll be back, … the week
after they'll be back, when they leave here, they'll go 2 blocks down the
street, they'll leave and they say, hey it's clean you know, and another two
weeks they'll move back to this block.”

Another resident of the area identified as Muhammed stressed the need for enhanced long-term police enforcement:

“When they've got more police on the road, they see them and they move
away, but when there's no cops on the road, they don't care.”

In summary, had CityPulse only recited the Media Release issued by 14 Division Metropolitan
Toronto Police, without any public response, viewers would have received a biased and
one-sided view of an important story which affected many people living in Toronto. Instead,
we provided a balanced and accurate story which disclosed:

  • 105 alleged crack cocaine dealers, the youngest 14 years old, had been arrested
    in the West End of Toronto (correctly identified in the story as Metropolitan Toronto
    Police “14 Division”).
  • A majority of the drug dealers and their customers were not residents of the
    community and thereby victimized people living in the affected area;
  • While police believed that the 6 week sweep had made a dent in the drug trade,
    residents of the area were sceptical;
  • In the hours and days following the police raids, residents of the area revealed the
    drug dealers were still on the streets, in the community plying their trade;
  • Residents and store owners stressed the need for more visible public policing on
    the streets of the community to deter drug dealing.

Finally, in your letter of June 17th, you accused Citytv of “alarmist reporting”. That
accusation is without merit. Consider the actual words spoken by Mr. Chintoh: “Residents
have told me that without cooperation of police, the courts and all levels of government, we
will never win this battle.”

Mr. Chintoh accurately identified community law enforcement as a cooperative effort of
many parties. Mr. Chintoh suggested that community law enforcement is an ongoing
venture, involving not only the Metropolitan Toronto Police Force, but includes the judicial
system as well, and is not limited to one-time police raids.

Based upon our review of the tape of the telecast, the report complied with the Code of
Ethics of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters
and the Radio Television News
Directors Association of Canada Code of Ethics
which are the only “broadcast codes”which would be applicable in this situation.

Although Mr. Hurlbut acknowledged in his previous correspondence, that the 12 noon report
contained information (reference to Parkdale) that was in error, he took immediate action
after the telecast to ensure that the error was not repeated and consequently there were no
errors or omissions in the 6 p.m. telecast. His actions where completely in compliance with
the Codes. There is no requirement in the Broadcast Codes to issue a retraction, or
compound an error by reiterating incorrect information in a subsequent news broadcast, as
you infer in your June 17th letter.

We submit that the 6 p.m. report was provided with accuracy and without bias.

The CBSCs Ontario Regional Council considered this complaint under the Codes of
Ethics of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB) and the Radio Television News
Directors Association (RTNDA). The relevant provisions read as follows:

CAB Code of Ethics, Clause 6

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.

RTNDA Code of (Journalistic) Ethics, Article 2

News and public affairs broadcasts will put events into perspective by presenting relevant
background information. Factors such as race, creed, nationality or religion will be reported
only when relevant. Comment and editorial opinion will bo identified as such. Errors will
be quickly acknowledged and publicly corrected.

The Regional Council members viewed a tape of the program in question and reviewed
all of the correspondence. The Council finds that the broadcast did not contravene the
above-noted codes.

The Accuracy of the Report

In their June 5 response, CITY-TV acknowledged that the noon report had not been
completely accurate, acknowledging that “our mistake was a sloppy generalization that as
broadcasters we consistently strive to avoid.” The Council does not consider, however,
that this or any broadcaster-acknowledged “mistake” necessarily constitutes a breach of
the codified broadcast standards. In the Council's view, absolute perfection is a goal to
strive for, but not one which can or should, at all times, be enforced. Just as the law does
not generally deal with trifles, honest broadcast errors, particularly those which are rapidly
put right, cannot reasonably be the object of CBSC sanction. After all, the pace of
broadcasting, particularly news broadcasting, in the electronic age is such that inadvertent
errors can be expected to occur from time to time. The issue for the public and the CBSC
must, in general, surely be what the broadcaster does with such an error when made
aware of it.

The CBSC has previously accepted that a report may even, in circumstances, not “meet
the standards of telling the story fairly, comprehensively and accurately” while not
amounting to a breach of the Codes. In CHAN-TV re Newscast (Recycling Society) (CBSC
Decision 96/97-0004, March 10, 1997), the British Columbia Regional Council found that
“the newscasts in question were not in breach of the Code provisions cited above but that,
in some respects … they were only on the edge of acceptability.” In concluding that the
broadcaster had not breached the Codes in that case, the B.C. Council stated “[i]t is not,
and cannot be, that every inadvertence or inappropriate comment will fall afoul of the
various broadcaster Codes.”

In CFRA-AM re the Mark Sutcliffe and Lowell Green Shows (CBSC Decisions 9697-0083,
0084 and 0085, May 7, 1997), the announcer had inadvertently identified the victim of a
police shooting as a Jamaican. About 30 minutes into the talk show in question, the
station became aware of the fact that he was St. Lucian. It quickly corrected the error and
dealt with the nationality of the victim accurately for the rest of that show and those of the
following days which were under review. The Ontario Regional Council simply concluded:

Of the principal issues raised by the complaint, the first relates to the identification of Mr.
Nicholls as “Jamaican”. This occurred to a much less significant extent than has been
suggested in the letter of complaint. The characterization of Mr. Nicholls as “Jamaican” did
not last for more than 30 minutes of the first of the three programs being reviewed here.
It appears to have been an honest error and one which, in any event, was corrected by Mr.
Sutcliffe himself as quickly as the information became available to him. It does not
constitute a breach of either the CAB or the RTNDA Codes of Ethics.

The Ontario Regional Council considers, in this case, that the generalized statement that
the drug bust had occurred in Parkdale, as opposed to the West End of Toronto, was
made inadvertently and that the inaccuracy is not so significant as to constitute a breach
of the above-cited provisions of the Codes. Moreover, the Council notes that the
broadcaster corrected its report in order to present the facts accurately in the very next
newscast. While the Council recognizes that this mis-identification was the crucial issue
to the complainant, it is of the view that the steps taken by the broadcaster to virtually
instantly put the matter right were sufficient to avoid a conclusion of broadcaster Codebreach.

The Use of Retractions in the Broadcast Media

The complainant argued that “the error should be corrected publicly in accordance with
Article 2 of the RTNDA Code of Ethics.” The Council's interpretation of the Article 2
terminology “quickly acknowledged and publicly corrected” does not match that of the
complainant who appears to be seeking an “on bended knee” solution by the broadcaster.
This is not, in the view of the CBSC, the goal of this RTNDA provision. The broadcast
medium does not favor the use of retractions given its fast pace and constant evolution of
the news in multiple daily newscasts. While an error in the print media has a long lasting
effect, the impact of an error in the broadcast media is far more ephemeral. After all,
television newscasts are regularly repeated throughout the day and, except for the 28-day
logger tape retention required by the CRTC and the CBSC, are not generally publicly
archived by anyone. The Council does not believe that it would be unfair to observe that,
whether for space storage or other reasons, broadcast reports are not considered to have
the archival value of the print media, which all “live” forever in original or microfilmed
formats in the National Library and many other libraries in Canada and around the world.
It is that permanence which in part results in the need for an equally permanent retraction
process.

Retractions are, as one might expect, of a very different nature and serve a different
purpose in the electronic arena. They are less frequently required than in the print media
for the reasons given above. In the view of the Council, acknowledgment would probably
only be required in the event of a matter of great moment and widespread effect. The
more important goal of Article 2 is the “publicly corrected”; this was accomplished. Nor
was there any need to repeat the previous mistake in making the correction; the
broadcaster's job is just to present the information correctly. Moreover, the textual revision
was done “quickly”, as envisaged by the other adverb in the sentence. Accordingly, the
Council is of the view that CITY-TV's actions vis-à-vis the inaccuracy noted by the
complainant were entirely appropriate and sufficient.

The Issue of Stigmatization by the Media

The complainant also stated a general concern that her community “is perceived as a
dangerous and unsavoury area mainly because of alarmist reporting in the media”, calling
this stigmatization “neighbourhoodism” on the part of the broadcaster. The Council
believes that anyone viewing the first newscast objectively would not have arrived at the
same conclusion regarding the stigmatization of Parkdale. The complainant's concern, in
fact, bears some similarity to that of the complainants in CFMT-TV re South Asian
Newsweek
(CBSC Decision 95/96-0160, October 21, 1996). In that case, 17 viewers had
signed a common letter of complaint against a station for concentrating on negative
aspects of the crucial semi-final match of the 1996 Cricket World Cup which was won by
Sri Lanka, their country of origin.

The Ontario Regional Council concluded in that case that the broadcaster had presented
a factual and positive account of the World Cup match, despite the riot that had occurred
during the contest. Consequently, it concluded that there had not been any breach of the
Code of Ethics.

In the matter at hand, the complainant suggested that the World Cup victory was an
opportunity to broadcast some positive news about Sri Lanka which the broadcaster had
missed. The Council does not come to the same conclusion. It considers, first of all, that
the broadcaster obviously agreed that the event itself was newsworthy; otherwise the story
would not have appeared at all. It is, however, possible that the broadcaster deemed the
story worthy of reporting primarily because of the existence of the fan riot. If this was the
case, the Council considers that it fell to the broadcaster to make such a choice. It may
even be that the story would not have been covered at all without the riots. The Council
cannot, of course, know what the coverage, if any, would have been in the absence of the
riot. As the station's Vice-President stated in her letter, “We also reported on the events that
surrounded the forfeit by India of the semi-final game and the behaviour that caused such
an unusual thing to occur at any world championship.”

The Council can, however, make an evaluation of the coverage as it actually occurred. In
this respect, it concludes that the newscast did not ignore the Sri Lankan victory, nor did it
associate the negative riots with the Sri Lankans; the reporting clearly attributed the riots to
the Indian fans. Furthermore, the broadcaster did present a factual and positive account
of the Sri Lankan victory, which is evidenced by the interviews with various fans.
Accordingly, the Council considers that there was both balance and fairness in this specific
news presentation.

Similarly here, Parkdale was not the broadcaster's issue; it was the drug bust. By
identifying the Police Division responsible for the bust, street designations and other
details, CITY-TV provided relevant peripheral Metro Toronto geographical information.
Even in this connection, Parkdale was not the central issue. If anything, Parkdale
residents were given credit for aiding in the multiple arrests over the course of the previous 60 days. The Council finds no bias or even any imbalance, much less a breach of either
of the Codes of Ethics in this regard.

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 statement, included in its June 5
apologetic response, that “the majority of the customers came from your community” was
inappropriate (especially given the fact that it was directly contradicted by further
correspondence emanating from CITY-TV's Director of Business Affairs/Legal Counsel)
and may have fueled the complaint. This having been said, the Council does find that, in
the end, CITY-TV's responses addressed fully and fairly all the issues raised by the
complainant. 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.