CIVT-TV (CTV British Columbia) re a report on CTV News at 11:30 (“Tandoori Fire”)

BRITISH COLUMBIA REGIONAL PANEL

CBSC Decision 11/12-1317

July 24, 2012
S. Warren (Chair), H. Ainsworth, J. Doobay, P. Lawson, O. Mowatt, T. Plasteras

THE FACTS

On February 22, 2012, CTV British Columbia’s (CIVT-TV) late evening newscast included a report entitled “Tandoori Fire”. News anchor Coleen Christie informed viewers that a fire had occurred at a local Indian restaurant called the Tandoori King.  There were no injuries, but the building had been severely damaged and, at the time of the report, firefighters were still trying to determine the cause of the blaze.  The report also included the information that “The Tandoori King restaurant has been in the news before.  For more than a decade, the owner has been in a bitter feud with his brother-in-law who runs a restaurant called the Original Tandoori King just down the block.”  That comment was followed by video clips of separate interviews with the two restaurant owners who stated that they were not associating with each other anymore.  (A full transcript and description of the report can be found in Appendix A.)

The CBSC received a complaint on March 1 from the owner of the destroyed restaurant. The restaurant owner complained that CTV’s coverage “incorporat[ed] footage from a decade old dispute with an extended family member pertaining to a copyright issue that had already been settled several years ago.  This footage was of no relevance to the story on the fire.”  The complainant went on to suggest that CTV added to his stress regarding the fire by bringing up an irrelevant personal dispute from the past.  The complainant pointed out that the cause of the fire had eventually been ruled accidental and that CTV’s mention of the old dispute was intended to sensationalize the story “to make it appear as if the accidental fire was connected to some sort of malicious, more sinister dispute.”  The complainant identified a number of provisions from the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics and Radio Television Digital News Association of Canada’s (RTDNA) Code of Ethics, which he felt had been violated in the report.

CTV responded to the complainant on March 9. It provided the complainant with a transcript of the report and argued that it had included the information about the previous dispute because it “believed it to be newsworthy and relevant to [its] viewers as The Tandoori King Restaurant was well-known in the community and had been in the news before.”  CTV also pointed out that it informed viewers the following day that the fire had been ruled accidental.

The complainant wrote back to the CBSC on March 26. He did not accept CTV’s justification of the broadcast because “the dispute has been settled long ago.  However, [the] anchor’s use of the present tense makes it appear as if the dispute is still ongoing.”  He also said that the report inaccurately described the location of the other restaurant as “just down the block” when that had not been the case for over a year.  The complainant argued that the report “draws negative assumptions about the restaurant’s business practices in the minds of viewers (who are also potential customers).”  (The full text of all correspondence can be found in Appendix B.)

THE DECISION

The British Columbia Regional Panel examined the complaint under the following provisions of the RTDNA Code of Ethics and the CAB Code of Ethics:

RTDNA Code of Ethics, Article 1 – Accuracy

Electronic journalists will inform the public in an accurate, comprehensive and fair manner about events and issues of importance.

RTDNA Code of Ethics, Article 2 – Equality

Electronic journalists will report factors such as race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sexual orientation, marital status or physical or mental disability only when they are relevant.

RTDNA Code of Ethics, Article 4 – Privacy

Electronic journalists will respect the dignity, privacy and well-being of everyone with whom they deal, and will make every effort to ensure that newsgathering and reporting does not unreasonably infringe privacy except when necessary in the public interest. Clandestine newsgathering techniques should only be used when necessary to the credibility or accuracy of a story in the public interest.

CAB Code of Ethics, Clause 5 – News

  1. It shall be the responsibility of broadcasters to ensure that news shall be represented with accuracy and without bias. Broadcasters shall satisfy themselves that the arrangements made for obtaining news ensure this result. They shall also ensure that news broadcasts are not editorial.
  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.

CAB Code of Ethics, Clause 6 – Full, Fair and Proper Presentation

It is recognized that the full, fair and proper presentation of news, opinion, comment and editorial is the prime and fundamental responsibility of each broadcaster. This principle shall apply to all radio and television programming, whether it relates to news, public affairs, magazine, talk, call-in, interview or other broadcasting formats in which news, opinion, comment or editorial may be expressed by broadcaster employees, their invited guests or callers.

The Panel Adjudicators read all of the correspondence and viewed the challenged report. The Panel concludes that the broadcast violated Article 1 of the RTDNA Code of Ethics as well as Clauses 5 and 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics, but did not violate any of the other aforementioned Code articles.

Privacy

The BC Panel considers that the report did not violate anyone’s privacy. Identifying the owner of the damaged restaurant was legitimate information to include.  The inclusion of the old clip about the dispute between the two Tandoori King restaurants also did not violate their privacy as they had clearly consented to those interviews at the time they were filmed.

Fairness, Comprehensiveness and Accuracy

Article 1 of the RTDNA Code of Ethics requires broadcasters to present news in an “accurate, comprehensive and fair manner”, while Clause 5 of the CAB Code of Ethics sets out similar requirements regarding accuracy so that the members of the public can understand events and come to their own conclusions.

In this case, the BC Panel considers that the information that CTV chose to include about the dispute between the restaurant owners was not comprehensive or fair. According to the complainant, the dispute had been resolved years ago, yet the news anchor used the present tense when she referred to it.  In addition, on the video clips of the interviews with the two restaurant owners, there was no indication of the dates on which those clips had been originally broadcast or that they were “file footage”.  That absence of context further gave viewers the impression that the dispute was ongoing.  The creation of that misleading and effectively inaccurate impression that the dispute was still ongoing renders the report inaccurate, unfair and incomprehensive under Article 1 of the RTDNA Code of Ethics and Clause 5 of the CAB Code of Ethics.

Inclusion of Irrelevant Background Information

In addition to the information about the dispute being inaccurate, unfair and incomprehensive, the Panel finds that it was also irrelevant to the story about the fire.

In an earlier version of the RTDNA[1] Code of Ethics, the wording of Article 2 (Equality) was more general, stating that reports should only present relevant background information.  Under that version of the Code, the CBSC released a decision in which it concluded that a broadcaster had violated that version of Article 2 in a report about a woman being killed in a car accident because the report had mentioned that the woman had been involved in a previous car accident which had resulted in another individual’s death.[2]  In that case, the CBSC’s Atlantic Panel acknowledged that the information had been accurate and that the station had likely not intended to be malicious, but that the reference to the previous car accident had been irrelevant, insensitive and prejudicial.

When the RTDNA revised its code in 2000, it changed the wording of Article 2 to specify the precise types of background information which would be considered irrelevant, namely that relating to race, religion, national or ethnic origin, sexual orientation, etc. Although this new wording of Article 2 limits its applicability to matters relating to a person’s identity, the CBSC does deal with other types of background information under Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics, which requires the “proper” presentation of news in general.

Applying Clause 6 in that manner to this file, the BC Panel concludes that the inclusion of the reference to the dispute between the restaurant owners was irrelevant to the story about the fire. The CBSC understands that, on February 22, this story was breaking news and authorities had yet to determine the cause of the fire.  Informing viewers about a fire at a local restaurant was clearly in the public interest; it was logical and appropriate to include information about the name and location of the restaurant, as well as the name of the owner.  The fact that the owner had been in the news before due to a dispute with his brother-in-law who owned a similar restaurant may have been interesting to viewers, but it was not necessary or relevant to the story about the fire.  While CTV did not make any direct link between the dispute and the cause of the fire, the inclusion of that information in the report had the potential to leave that impression in the minds of viewers.  The inclusion of that information was all the moreso problematic given that CTV misrepresented the dispute since it had apparently been resolved long before this 2012 fire.  The reference to the old dispute in the story about the fire constituted irrelevant background information and was improper under Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics.

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, CTV British Columbia responded to the complainant with a full transcript of the report and an explanation of the station’s position on the matter.  The broadcaster fulfilled its obligations of responsiveness and nothing further is required in this regard in this instance.

Announcement of the Decision

CIVT-TV is required to: 1) announce the decision, in the following terms, once during prime time within three days following the release of this decision and once more within seven days following the release of this decision during the time period in which the report “Tandoori Fire” on CTV News at 11:30 was broadcast, but not on the same day as the first mandated announcement; 2) within the fourteen days following the broadcasts of the announcements, to provide written confirmation of the airing of the statement to the complainant who filed the Ruling Request; and 3) at that time, to provide the CBSC with a copy of that written confirmation and with air check copies of the broadcasts of the two announcements which must be made by CIVT-TV.

The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has found that CTV British Columbia violated the Canadian Association of Broadcsters’ Code of Ethics and the Radio Television Digital News Association’s Code of Ethics in its broadcast of a news report.  On CTV News at 11:30 on February 22, 2012, CTV broadcast a report about a fire at a local restaurant.  The report included unfair, inaccurate and irrelevant background information about the restaurant.  This breached Clauses 5 and 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics and Article 1 of the RTDNA Code of Ethics.

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

[1] The Radio Television Digital News Directors Association of Canada (RTDNA) adopted that name and acronym in 2011. Prior to that time, the organization was called the Radio Television News Directors Association of Canada (RTNDA) and the title of its code reflected that name.  When the CBSC first took on administration of that Association’s Code of Ethics, it was a 1986 version that was in effect.  The RTDNA revised its Code in 2000 and again in 2011.

[2] CKEN-AM re Newscast (CBSC Decision 95/96-0134, February 14, 1997)