CKCO-DT (CTV Kitchener) re a report on CTV News at Six (“Inappropriate Conversation”)

ENGLISH-LANGUAGE PANEL
CBSC Decision 14/15-1508
2016 CBSC 3
April 7, 2016
A. Noël (Chair), D. Braun, C. Cowie, S. Crawford, J. Doobay, P.C. Fleming

The Facts

On July 15, 2015, CTV Kitchener (CKCO-DT) aired a report during its 6:00 pm newscast about a female high school teacher who had been accused of inappropriate sexual comments made towards a 16-year-old male student. The title of the report, which appeared on screen, was “Inappropriate Conversation”.  The report informed viewers that the charges had been dropped because there was not enough evidence to go to trial.  The reporter stated that “there is enough evidence of a sexual conversation between a teacher and a student for a judge to order her to quit.”

The report then presented information from the Agreed Statement of Facts that had been submitted in court to which both the accused and the Crown had consented. It provided quotations from a conversation between the teacher and student that had occurred on the social media networking website Facebook.

The report also included excerpts from a telephone interview with a representative from the Ontario College of Teachers who confirmed that the teacher had resigned. The representative also stated that teachers are expected to behave as professionally online as they are when out in the community.

The report concluded with the statement that the teacher is not allowed to communicate with the student and, if she does, “she will be recharged.”

The station covered the story again during its 11:30 pm newscast, this time with the title “Charges Dropped”. In that broadcast, the reporter indicated that the teacher was no longer employed with the local school board.  At the end of the segment, the reporter stated that the teacher’s “lawyer tells CTV that his client made the decision to resign on her own and, as part of the peace bond she entered into, [the teacher] is not allowed to contact the complainant, which is usual in these types of cases.”

The following day, July 16, CTV Kitchener aired a correction during its 6:00 pm newscast. The news anchor informed viewers that CTV had erroneously stated that the teacher had been ordered by the judge to resign, but, “in fact, she resigned voluntarily from the Ontario College of Teachers and has undertaken not to reapply.  Her resignation was not a term or condition of the peace bond, nor part of any court order.  However, we are advised that it was an important factor in the resolution of this matter.”  (The full transcripts and descriptions of all three broadcasts are in Appendix A.)

The teacher in question filed a complaint with the CBSC on August 1. She complained about the report broadcast on July 15 at 6:00 pm, stating that it was “factually flawed and without verification.”  She noted that the reporter had not actually been present in the courtroom for the proceedings, but rather had relied on information obtained from the Crown afterwards.  She claimed that CTV had not contacted her or her lawyer for comment.  She pointed out that she had resigned voluntarily from the College of Teachers; the report had erroneously stated that the court had ordered her to do so.  She also complained that the report had stated that, if she contacted the student, she would be recharged for the crimes when, in fact, she would only be charged for violating the peace bond.  She acknowledged that CTV Kitchener had modified the 11:30 pm story, but still felt the reports presented her resignation as part of a “plea deal” when, in reality, the charges had been dropped entirely.

CTV Kitchener replied to the complainant on August 19. The station acknowledged that it had not contacted the teacher or her lawyer prior to airing the 6:00 pm report, claiming that it was unable to find the relevant contact information.  It also agreed that the statement about her resignation being ordered by the judge was inaccurate.  The station pointed out, however, that the teacher had contacted the station following the 6:00 pm report to clarify the situation.  The station thus modified its 11:30 pm report to ensure accuracy and it aired a correction the following day.  CTV Kitchener took the position that the rest of the information presented in the reports was factually correct, as it was based on the Agreed Statement of Facts document.  The station also wrote that it had offered the teacher the opportunity to provide her side of the story, but she had declined.  According to CTV’s letter, the teacher’s lawyer had vetted the on-air correction prior to broadcast and deemed it satisfactory.

The teacher submitted her Ruling Request on August 21 and an additional letter on August 23, outlining her continued concerns with CTV’s coverage. She enumerated points in the station’s letter with which she disagreed.  Overall, she felt the coverage had been “biased, unfair and editorial in nature” as well as “sensationalized”.  Despite the correction regarding her resignation, she felt that the overall coverage had left the impression that she was guilty.  CTV had not corrected other errors, such as the impression left that she could be recharged for the same crimes if she contacted the student.  She was concerned that the report had not adequately explained what a peace bond was and made it sound like a plea agreement.  She felt the story had been distorted to suggest that a crime had taken place by showing the reporter outside of the school where she had worked and by making it one of the top stories.  CTV had noted that the teacher’s resignation was a factor in the judge’s decision to drop the charges, but the teacher argued that CTV had failed to mention the other factor, which was the negative impact the case had had on her health.

CTV Kitchener provided additional information to the CBSC on January 18, 2016. In that letter, the station reiterated that it had aired both a modified report at 11:30 pm on July 15, 2015 and a correction on July 16 regarding the resignation.  It wrote that it had repeatedly offered the teacher opportunities to provide her side of the story, but she had declined.  It argued that its coverage was not biased or sensationalized in any way, as the information provided in the reports came from court documents submitted by the Crown and defendant’s lawyer.  The reports had clearly stated that the charges had been dropped.  (The full text of all correspondence can be found in Appendix B.)

The Decision

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

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.

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.

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 7 – Corrections

Errors will be quickly acknowledged and publicly corrected on all platforms.

The Panel Adjudicators read all of the correspondence and viewed the three relevant broadcasts. The Panel concludes that CTV Kitchener violated Clause 5 of the CAB Code of Ethics and Article 1 of the RTDNA Code of Ethics for providing inaccurate information about the circumstances of the teacher’s resignation, but it met the requirements of Article 7 of the RTDNA Code of Ethics by airing a correction.  The Panel also concludes that CTV Kitchener did not violate any of the above-mentioned code provisions relating to bias, fairness and proper presentation of news.

Accuracy & Corrections

While the complainant had multiple concerns with various aspects of the reports, the Panel considers that the inaccuracy regarding her resignation, presented in the July 15 6:00 pm broadcast, was the most significant. The Adjudicators all come to the conclusion that that inaccuracy was material, rather than incidental, to the story and would affect viewers’ understanding of what had transpired with respect to the charges against the teacher.  There is a significant difference between resigning of one’s own volition and being ordered to resign by a judge.  The way the reporter framed her story left the definite impression that the resignation was ordered as a precondition for the charges to be dropped.

That was not the case.

The Adjudicators are also unanimous in describing the news report as lacking rigour and due diligence. Journalists should always get their facts straight before going to air, especially when reputation is at stake.  In this case, the facts were not properly checked and the information was inaccurate; therefore, the broadcaster is in breach of Clause 5 of the CAB Code of Ethics concerning News and of Article 1 of the RTDNA Code of Ethics concerning Accuracy.[1]

Because the nature of news reporting is such that sometimes inaccurate information gets transmitted, Article 7 of the RTDNA Code of Ethics requires the timely correction of errors.  In this case, the Panel had to determine if corrections to the flawed broadcast were made in a timely manner.

Once made aware of the mistake in the 6:00 pm report, the broadcaster promptly corrected it in the 11:30 pm newscast of the same day, displaying the title “Charges Dropped”. The Adjudicators agree that the second broadcast was factual and materially accurate, although the report did not acknowledge the inaccuracies of the previous broadcast.

The following day, during the July 16 6:00 pm broadcast, the broadcaster issued a correction acknowledging that it had erroneously reported the complainant had been forced to resign by the judge, when she had not.

The Panel finds that the inaccuracy was acknowledged and corrected within 24 hours, therefore meeting the test of Article 7 of the RTDNA Code of Ethics which requires that errors will be quickly acknowledged and publicly corrected on all platforms.

Although it is only an incidental point, it should be noted that, while the prompt broadcasting of the correction fulfills the requirements of Article 7 of the RTDNA Code, it does not, of course, have the effect of erasing the initial accuracy breach of Article 1 of that Code and Clause 5 of the CAB Code.

Fairness, Bias & Sensationalism

The complainant was of the view that the overall coverage of the story was biased in that the broadcaster had not recounted all the reasons for which the charges were dropped and that it had sensationalized the story.

The Panel reviewed the broadcasts in question very carefully. The Panel considers that the charges were grave:  a teacher, i.e. a person in authority, was accused of sexual exploitation of a minor.  The resolution of such charges was clearly both newsworthy and of interest to the community.  The Panel notes that the report included information from the court proceedings that did not reflect well on the complainant.  It may be that there could have been other ways to tell the story that did not reflect as poorly on the complainant.  Broadcasters, however, are entitled to tell stories in whatever way they choose.  In this case, using information from the Agreed Statement of Facts which indicated that some inappropriate communications occurred, may have left a negative impression of the complainant; however, it did not amount to sensationalism or to bias.

The complainant was also concerned that the broadcaster decided to air the story as a “top story”. As noted above, the Panel considers the charges to be newsworthy.  The Panel considers that the journalist could have perhaps made a more liberal use of the word “alleged” when describing the charges, but the fact remains that this story was not trivial.  Therefore the Panel does not find that the broadcaster sensationalized the information in billing it as a top story.

As to the reasons for dropping the charges, the corrected news report stated that the charges had been dropped and that the complainant’s resignation from the Ontario College of Teachers “was an important factor in the resolution of this matter”. The complainant claimed that this was not the sole factor and that her mental health was also a significant factor.

The Adjudicators note that the reports referred to “an important factor”, which implies that there were other factors.  The Panel recognizes the fact that broadcasters have the right to choose which specific pieces of information to include in any report and that they cannot be expected to include every fact and facet of every story in every report unless the omitted facts have a direct relevance to the story and their omissions equate to distorted information.[2]

The Panel is of the view that, by stating that the resignation was an important factor in the resolution of this matter, without mentioning that the complainant’s mental health was also a contributing factor in the decision of the Crown to drop the charges, the broadcaster did not breach Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics regarding Full, Fair and Proper Presentation.

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 Kitchener provided a lengthy reply to the complainant, explaining how the story was prepared, acknowledging its error, defending other elements of the coverage and offering the complainant an opportunity to tell her story on air.  The broadcaster fulfilled its obligations of responsiveness and nothing further is required in this regard in this instance.

Announcement of the Decision

As noted above, CTV Kitchener aired a correction to its July 15 report the following day, on July 16. In previous instances where a broadcaster has acknowledged or apologized for its Code-violating material on air, the CBSC has not required the station to air a customary CBSC decision announcement.[3]  The English-Language Panel considers that CTV Kitchener equally took the necessary steps to rectify the original error with the consequence that no announcement of the CBSC decision is required in this case.

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

 

Appendix A

 

CBSC Decision 14/15-1508

CKCO-DT (CTV Kitchener) re a report on CTV News at Six (“Inappropriate Conversation”)

 

The following report appeared in CTV Kitchener’s 6:00 pm newscast on July 15, 2015. The report aired from 18:02:45 to 18:05:10.

anchor Nancy Richards: A salacious Facebook conversation with a student cost a Cambridge high school teacher her job.  But all the sex-related charges against 42-year-old [S. R.] have been dropped.  CTV’s Nicole Lampa is at Preston High School in Cambridge where [R.] taught.  Nicole, [R.] was about to head to trial.  What happened?

Reporter Nicole Lampa, standing outside high school:      Well, Nancy, in court today, the Crown conceded that there is not enough evidence to go ahead with the sex-related charges.  However, there is enough evidence of a sexual conversation between a teacher and a student for a judge to order her to quit.

Lampa: [S. R.] used to be a teacher at [P.] High School, but was ordered to quit.  [alternating photo of the teacher and exterior scene of high school]  Today, the school board and the Ontario College of Teachers confirm she resigned earlier this month.

telephone interview with Brian Jamieson, Sr. Communications Officer, Ontario College of Teachers:                According to our records, she’s listed as “[S. D.]” and she was first certified to teach in November 1997.  Uh, and she has resigned effective, resigned her membership with the College effective July 9th.

Lampa: [exterior shot of Waterloo courthouse] According to the Agreed Statement of Facts heard in court today, [R.] had an inappropriate Facebook conversation with a 16-year-old student in the Spring of 2012.  [close-up of female hands typing on a keyboard and using a mouse; blurred Facebook screen scrolling]  At first the messages related to alcohol, then became sexual.  [photo of teacher]  When talking about a hot tub, [R.] asked if he was “more of a bathing suit guy or au naturel guy”, calling him “Young and cute” [quoted words from Facebook messages appear on screen under teacher’s photo].  There was also an indication that if [R.] knew the complainant while she was in high school, she would have given her left booby for a chance with him [quoted words on screen “Given my left booby for a chance with you.”]  The court also heard in the course of their Facebook conversation, [R.] expressed she would not engage in any activity that could constitute criminal conduct and that any social interactions could not occur until after his 19th birthday [words on screen “In the course of their Facebook conversations Ms. [R.] expressed that she would not engage in activity that could constitute criminal conduct, and that any social interactions between herself and the complainant could not occur until after his 19th birthday” with label “Agreed Statement of Facts”]  The Crown dropped all the charges against [R.], including sexual exploitation, invitation to sexual touching and two counts of luring via computer [scene of teacher speaking to another woman outside courthouse, taken from far away; exterior of courthouse]  While the school board does not have any policies when it comes to teachers and social media, the Ontario College of Teachers say teachers, including [R.], should know the guidelines [scene of blurred Facebook screen; photo of teacher].

Jamieson:             What we’re saying is whatever you would do in the, uh, in the community, uh, with respect to being professional and being seen as a professional, you should also do online.

Lampa [outside school]: Now [R.] is not allowed to communicate or contact the complainant.  If she does over the next twelve months, she will be recharged.  Nancy.

Richards:              Nicole Lampa in Cambridge tonight.

CTV covered the story again during its 11:30 pm newscast with the title “Charges Dropped”.

anchor Marc Venema:     A Cambridge teacher no longer faces sex-related charges, but 42-year-old [S. R.] will not be returning to her classroom at a local high school.  CTV’s Nicole Lampa has this story tonight.  Nicole, why were the charges dropped?

Lampa [in newsroom]:    Marc, in the Agreed Statement of Facts it says the Crown does not have enough evidence to prove the case, but it does indicate [R.] had an online conversation of a sexual nature with a 16-year-old student.  [photo of teacher]  After being a certified teacher for 18 years, [S. R.] resigned earlier this month from the Ontario College of Teachers.

telephone interview with Brian Jamieson, Sr. Communications Officer, Ontario College of Teachers:                According to our records, she’s listed as “[S. D.]” and she was first certified to teach in November 1997.  Uh, and she has resigned effective, resigned her membership with the College effective July 9th.

Lampa: Two years ago, [R.] faced a number of sex-related offences when she was a social studies teacher at [P.] High School in Cambridge [scene of teacher speaking to another woman outside courthouse, taken from far away; exterior of high school].  In court today, the Crown dropped all of them, including sexual exploitation, invitation to sexual touching and two counts of luring via computer [exterior of Waterloo courthouse; words on screen:  “[S. R.]:  Charges Dropped – sexual exploitation, – Invitation to sexual touching, – Two counts of luring via computer”]  In the Agreed Statement of Facts, it says “The Crown is not in a position to prove that in communicating with the complainant Ms. [R.] had the specific intent required to establish the offences … [quoted words appear on screen with label “Agreed Statement of Facts”]  But, according to the court document, [R.] had a flirtatious Facebook conversation with a 16-year-old student in the Spring of 2012 [close-up of female hands typing on a keyboard and a blurred Facebook screen].  At first, the messages related to alcohol, then became sexual [scrolling computer screen, photo of teacher]  When talking about a hot tub, [R.] asked if he was “more of a bathing suit guy or au naturel guy”, calling him “Young and cute” [quoted words from Facebook messages appear on screen under teacher’s photo].  There was also an indication that if [R.] knew the complainant while she was in high school, she would have given her left booby for a chance with him [quoted words on screen “Given my left booby for a chance with you.”]  The Agreed Statement of Facts goes on to say, in the course of their Facebook conversation, [R.] expressed she would not engage in any activity that would constitute criminal conduct and that any social interactions could not occur until after his 19th birthday [words on screen “In the course of their Facebook conversations Ms. [R.] expressed that she would not engage in activity that could constitute criminal conduct, and that any social interactions between herself and the complainant could not occur until after his 19th birthday” with label “Agreed Statement of Facts”]  The Waterloo District School Board confirms [R.] is no longer an employee [photo of teacher]  The Board says it does not have any policies in regards to teachers and social media; however, the Ontario College of Teachers says guidelines are in place for their members [scene of Facebook screen with blurred out identifying info]

Jamieson:             What we’re saying is whatever you would do in the, uh, in the community, uh, with respect to being professional and being seen as a professional, you should also do online.

Lampa: [R.]’s lawyer tells CTV that his client made the decision to resign on her own and, as part of the peace bond she entered into, [R.] is not allowed to contact the complainant, which is usual in these types of cases.  Marc.

Venema:               CTV’s Nicole Lampa reporting live in our newsroom.  Thank you, Nicole.

The following day, July 16, during the 6:00 pm newscast, CTV Kitchener aired the following correction:

Venema:               Yesterday, we reported Cambridge teacher [S. R.] had a number of sex-related charges against her dropped.  We had indicated [R.] was ordered by the judge to resign.  We wish to clarify that, in fact, she resigned voluntarily from the Ontario College of Teachers and has undertaken not to reapply.  Her resignation was not a term or condition of the peace bond, nor part of any court order.  However, we are advised that it was an important factor in the resolution of this matter.

Appendix B

 

CBSC Decision 14/15-1508

CKCO-DT (CTV Kitchener) re a report on CTV News at Six (“Inappropriate Conversation”)

 

The Complaint

The following complaint was submitted via the CBSC’s webform on August 1, 2015:

Television or Radio Station:          CKCO CTV Kitchener

Name of the program:                    CTV local news

Date of Program:                              July 15, 2015

Time of Program:                              6:00

Comments:

Covered a report concerning me which was factually flawed and without verification. No reporter was in the court room when I had all charges against me withdrawn and I entered into a peace bond.  No one contacted my lawyer or myself and instead stated in a very one-sided account that I was ordered to resign (which I wasn’t), and that if I broke the bond I would be recharged for the crime (not true as it was withdrawn in its totality).  When I spoke with news director [K. W.], she said they had a deadline and didn’t have time to verify.  I demanded they take it off their site as it was defamatory.  They “tweaked” the 11 o’clock but still presented my resignation as a plea deal.  There was no plea, yet they refused to acknowledge that my resignation, and the toll on my mental health due to the experience, were factors NOT conditions.  This is the information provided to the news from the crown:  “Following yesterday’s court appearance, I received a telephone call from Nadia Matos to inquire as to what had transpired as she was not present in court at the time the matter was dealt with.  I agreed to provide Ms. Matos with a copy of the agreed statement of facts that was read in during the proceedings and advised that the charges had been withdrawn after Ms. [R.] entered into a peace bond.  I further provided Ms. Matos with the terms of the peace bond, which is in effect for a period of 12 months.  The terms are that she is to keep the peace and be of good behaviour and not have any contact with two complainants, whose names were subject to a publication ban.  I further indicated that Ms. [R.] had resigned and undertaken not to reapply, which was an important factor in the Crown taking the position that it did.  This fact was also stated in court, on the record.  Her resignation was not and is not a term or condition of the peace bond, nor are they part of any court order.”  This is NOT the inference presented by CTV.

Broadcaster Response

The station responded on August 19:

Your correspondence to the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) concerning a CTV Kitchener report on July 15, 2015 has been forwarded to my attention for reply.

On July 15th, during the 6pm newscast, the station aired a story about the dropping of a number of sexually related charges against you, in relation to inappropriate Facebook conversations you had with a former 16-year-old student in 2012.  The report indicated that the Crown had conceded that there was not enough evidence to proceed with the various charges.

The story included details from the Agreed Statement of Facts, prior court appearances, notes from a telephone conversation with Crown Attorney [S. M.] and a telephone conversation with Brian Jamieson from the Ontario College of Teachers. You correctly state that CTV Kitchener was not in court to witness the proceeding.

Crown Attorney [S. M.] notified our reporters about the Peace Bond and agreed to provide us with the Agreed Statement of Facts. You are correct in stating that our reporter did not contact you or your lawyer prior to airing the report.  However, CTV Kitchener tried to do so, but was unable to locate a telephone number for you or obtain your lawyer’s name.  As such, we dispute your suggestion that we didn’t have time to verify before deadline.

CTV Kitchener believed that the Agreed Statement of Facts presented in court was accurate and representative of what the parties had agreed to. We believe that our general reporting on the case and the Agreed Statement was completely factual and accurate.

We also attempted to confirm the details regarding your resignation from the Ontario College of Teachers. Unfortunately, as a result of a misrepresentation of information given to our reporter by the Crown attorney, we erroneously reported that you had been ordered to resign by the judge.

As you are aware, you contacted the station immediately after the broadcast to indicate your concerns about the story, complaining that it contained erroneous information regarding your resignation. You advised us that your resignation was not court ordered and was voluntary on your part.  We also contacted your lawyer via e-mail – he responded, also stating your resignation was voluntary.  Since it was too late to confirm this information with the Crown, we accepted your position and deleted the online report and omitted any reference to your resignation being court ordered in our late night newscast at 11:30 pm.  Your resignation was never presented as a part of the plea agreement in our late night newscast as you suggest in your complaint.

We also indicated in the tag to that report that your lawyer had advised CTV that you made the decision to resign on your own.

As well, you were offered the opportunity to provide your position prior to our late night newscast. You declined an on-camera interview or a recorded telephone interview.

As you are aware, you then contacted the station again the following day on a number of occasions. While you indicated that you felt the late night story was accurate, you were still not pleased with the original coverage and requested a clarification to be issued in regards to the resignation issue.  CTV Kitchener again offered you the opportunity to comment.  You indicated that you would consider doing an interview, but not that day.  More importantly, we advised you that we would be seeking confirmation from the Crown regarding the resignation issue and would get back to you.

Accordingly, CTV Kitchener obtained the audio recording of court proceedings and corresponded again with the Crown Attorney to confirm whether or not your resignation was voluntary as you had indicated.

As you indicate in your correspondence, the Crown confirmed in writing that you had resigned and had undertaken not to reapply and that this was an important factor in the Crown taking the position that it did. She also indicated that “this fact was also stated in court, on the record.”  And that “your resignation was not and is not a term or condition of the peace bond, nor are they part of any court order.”

With this information, CTV Kitchener prepared and aired the following fulsome clarification (as requested) in our broadcast of July 16th, the following day, at the same time the original story aired, clarifying that the resignation was voluntary and not a term or condition of the peace bond or court ordered (as highlighted below).

Yesterday, we reported Cambridge teacher [S. R.] had a number of sex-related charges against her … dropped. We had indicated [R.] was ordered by the judge to resign.  We wish to clarify that, in fact, she resigned voluntarily from the Ontario College of Teachers and has undertaken not to reapply. Her resignation was not a term or condition of the peace bond, nor part of any court order.  However, we are advised that it was an important fact in the resolution of this matter. (emphasis added)

As I am sure you are aware, your lawyer again contacted CTV Kitchener on July 16th requesting that our station stop contacting you directly.  Accordingly, prior to airing this clarification, CTV Kitchener contacted your lawyer, read him the clarification and asked if he felt this addressed your concerns with the original story.  He stated it was satisfactory.  The station also requested Mr. [W., your lawyer] contact you on our behalf to ensure you were informed and you were satisfied.  Mr. [W.] agreed.

We believe our prompt attention to this matter was completely in accordance with the Code of Conduct of the Radio and Television Digital News Association of Canada which states the following in regard to errors:

“Errors will be quickly acknowledged and publicly corrected on all platforms.”

While we regret that an error was made in the first newscast of July 15th at 6 pm, we believe that CTV Kitchener acted in a professional and appropriate manner in correcting the inadvertent mistake in a prompt fashion for our next broadcast.  We also believe we went above and beyond by airing a detailed clarification the following day to alert our viewers who had watched the previous newscast.

CTV Kitchener is a member in good standing of the CBSC and adheres to all codes and guidelines administered by the CBSC.

Additional Correspondence

The complainant submitted her Ruling Request on August 21:

As per the response, there are a number of statements that I do not concur with. First:  “However, CTV Kitchener tried to do so, but was unable to locate a telephone number for you or obtain your lawyer’s name.  As such, we dispute your suggestion that we didn’t have time to verify before deadline.”  [The News Director] stated in my initial phone call with her that she had a deadline and did not have time to verify.  Also, my lawyer’s name was on record from previous appearances.  In fact, a reporter had asked my lawyer and I [sic] to say something on camera in December 2014.  Two other reporters contacted my lawyer on July 15th without any problems.  Furthermore, I am in the phone book.

Second: “You advised us that your resignation was not court ordered and was voluntary on your part.”  I also contested that you reported I would be charged again, implying for the original charges, if I broke the peace bond rather than I would be charged with breaking the peace bond.  There is a huge difference between those charges.

Third: “Your resignation was never presented as part of the plea agreement in our late night newscast as you suggest in your complaint.”  There WAS NO plea agreement and that is the issue I have with the way that you suggested there was.

Fourth: “You indicated that you would consider doing an interview, but not that day.”  I never stated that; I said I would come to speak off record.  After your report I have no faith in your ability to produce a balanced report and feel that you purposely presented it in that way so that I would have no other recourse but to agree to an interview.

Fifth: “However, we are advised that it was an important factor in the resolution of this matter”  What you failed to do was to balance that with the other major factor the crown considered which was the impact that this has had on my health.  The crown considered the hardship I endured as well as the fact that I felt I could never go back to teaching.  Instead you imply a plea or a tit-for-tat agreement.

Lastly: “…a detailed clarification the following day…”  Of only one error, and an unbalanced presentation of the other “factors” that were considered.

The entire tone of the report was suggestive of guilt and a plea. I asked that you apologize when you “clarified” so that it would negate the impression of guilt you created on the 15th.  You refused.

I had many people contact me that night, as I grew up in this community and have extensive family here, all of whom were angered by your presentation of the story. You may not feel it was one-sided but your audience does, especially those that know the truth.  All I requested was a fair and balanced coverage of an event that has been devastating to myself and my family.

What I have learned from the entire process is that there is no innocent until proven guilty; the media has presented a guilty until proven otherwise, and even then you are guilty.

She submitted a second Ruling Request on August 23:

Further to my response from August 21, 2015:

On July 15, 2015 CTV News Kitchener aired a report as a headline concerning the withdrawal of 4 charges (2 charges of luring, 1 exploitation, 1 invitation to touching. Although two of these charges had already been confirmed as being withdrawn from the crown’s office prior to this court date). This report was biased, unfair and editorial in nature.

At no time did CTV reporters attend the hearing with the withdrawal of charges; in fact, the only reason they were in the court house that day was to cover the sentencing in a murder conviction. The importance of this is that the reporter relied only on a statement of facts and notes from someone else who apparently interviewed crown attorney [S. M.], to which Ms. [M.] denied providing specific facts reported.  The report implied that the reporter was there and was reporting an entire event.

As you can imagine, the last two years have been incredibly stressful to myself, my three children, and my family. This story was sensationalized from the beginning two years ago, and continued to be with the withdrawal of charges being the lead story.  On a day I was to celebrate the resolution of such a horrible experience, I instead had to make numerous calls to the CTV newsroom and my lawyer.  The news report caused tremendous stress and anxiety.

Despite the response from [CTV Kitchener’s News Director], I maintain that CTV was biased and that the story was not presented in a straightforward, factual manner and was in fact sensationalized.

The following are the articles I believe CTV violated:

The Canadian Association of Broadcasters Clause 5 – News “…news be presented with accuracy and without bias.”

“…arrangements made for obtaining news to ensure this result.”

“…also ensure that the news broadcasts are not editorials.”

“The fundamental purpose of news dissemination in a democracy is to enable people to know what is happening, and to understand events so they form their own conclusions.”

Radio Television Digital News Association of Canada Article 1 – Accuracy “Electronic journalists will inform the public in an accurate, comprehensive and fair manner about events and issues of importance.”

Article 7 – Corrections

“Errors will be quickly acknowledged and publicly corrected on all platforms.”

Article 8 – Decency and Conduct

“They will strive to prevent their presence from distorting the character or importance of events.”

Article 13 – Sources

“Electronic journalists will make every effort to attribute news on record.”

CTV News Kitchener had a clear bias in the report as they did not take appropriate steps to ensure accuracy. They claim they tried but could not locate information as to how to “verify” the story.  According to CTV, they received information from the crown.  Could they not have asked at that time for my lawyer’s information?  It is public record. Also, reporters from the Kitchener-Waterloo Record easily contacted my lawyer and presented a fair coverage.  My lawyers have been included in previous reports as well.  There is no excuse to not have contacted him, and was easily accomplished had they chosen to do so.  At no time did they contact me BEFORE they aired the story and would not have spoken with me except for my calls to them.

The exclusion of facts, combined with the inaccurate information stated, resulted in a report that implied guilt of a crime for which I was not even tried. The court does not withdraw charges they believe to be true, yet CTV implied a “plea deal” of sorts as the crown did not have enough evidence rather than the fact that the evidence proved there was no intent.  The inaccuracy and exclusion of facts resulted in a one-sided, editorial, sensationalized report that did not allow for the public to form their own conclusions.

Moreover, as to the “corrections” made, the original report aired as a headline while the “correction” aired well into the report and still contained bias. It only concerned one of the concerns I and my lawyer shared with [CTV Kitchener’s News Director].

Specifically, the second error being I would be recharged with sex-related crimes. It should be made clear what a peace bond is, as did the Cambridge Times in their coverage of the withdrawal.  Instead, CTV implied that the court still believed I was guilty of a crime.  [The News Director], while in a telephone conversation, admitted that her reporter “misspoke”, yet refused to clarify that part of their story.  As well, in their clarification, they emphasized the fact that my resignation was a factor in the resolution but failed to indicate what the other significant factor was:  my mental health.  The crown received documents concerning my resignation, and the effect the charges have had on me which include 3 months of hospitalization, treatment, medication while managing ongoing PTSD, anxiety and depression.  They imply a plea again in their clarification.  This was not a fair and balanced correction.

As to Article 8 – Decency and Conduct, the reporter recorded the report in front of my previous place of employment, [P.] High School in Cambridge, ensuring that the community would watch to see why there would be news there when the building is empty.

This is sensationalizing the story by showing the school while she reports about the dropping of sex related charges.

Similarly, the placement of this story as a headline distorts the meaning of the withdrawal of charges which is: there was no crime.

Finally, Article 13 refers to sourcing, as journalists are to make every effort to attribute news on record. At no time did the reporter indicate that there was no actual coverage at the proceedings.  In fact, the coverage inferred detailed knowledge of the proceedings rather than the convoluted “trail of facts.”

They state that the crown, [S. M.], said things that she did not, again making it appear as if the crown and court believe there was guilt.

All I expected was a fair, factual and balanced report. There was no trial, the charges were withdrawn, yet the coverage presented me as a guilty person who made a plea in exchange for the charges being withdrawn.  I am not the only individual that takes exception to this one-sided, biased, sensationalizing editorial.  My lawyer watched the original airing which was consequently removed, and was greatly concerned with the errors and prejudicial tone of the coverage.  The media is to present information that is factual, fair and without bias.  In doing so, they need to ensure that they have verified their facts and address all aspects or persons involved.  CTV failed to do so.

They ([CTV’s News Director]), stated in a telephone conversation after the airing that she had a deadline and couldn’t verify the facts before then. It may be a “story” to them, but this is my life and I’m trying hard to re-establish myself in this community.

The withdrawal of the charges was to be a message to the community that I did not commit a crime, yet that is not how it was portrayed. I have accepted my mistakes, as should CTV News Kitchener.  The media should be accountable to the impact they have on people, including those with mental illness.

Once the CBSC informed it that this file was being sent to a Panel for adjudication, CTV Kitchener submitted the following additional letter on January 18, 2016:

In response to your request, CTV News Kitchener wishes to take this opportunity to provide further information to the adjudication panel in addition to our earlier response of August 19, 2015 concerning the above-noted complaint.

In our previous response, the station admits that in covering a report about sexual charges being withdrawn against the complainant, Ms. [R.], an inadvertent error was made. The 6 pm report indicated that Ms. [R.] was ordered to resign from the College of Teachers, rather than voluntarily resigning.  Although this was a minor part of the report, the station promptly included information from the complainant’s lawyer in the subsequent late night report, indicating that the decision was hers.  CTV Kitchener also issued a detailed on-air clarification the following day at the same time the original report had aired, once we had the opportunity to confirm with the court officials that this was in fact the case.

Our prior response provides significant detail as to how the station conducted itself after being contacted by the complainant. We believe that CTV Kitchener acted appropriately and professionally in accordance with the requirements of the CAB Code of Ethics as well as the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) Code of Ethics, and more specifically, Article 7.

Ms. [R.] had been given the opportunity to provide her position in connection with this story on numerous occasions. Although at one point she indicated that she would, her lawyer contacted us later to ask us not to contact her again.  Accordingly, before airing the detailed clarification, the station ran the wording by Ms. [R.]’s lawyer who advised the station it was satisfactory.  We did not contact Ms. [R.] again as requested, but did ask her counsel to contact her to ensure she would be satisfied with the clarification and he agreed to do so.  As such, we were very surprised that Ms. [R.] contacted the CBSC to make a complaint in this matter when genuine efforts were made to respond to her concerns in a timely fashion.

The CBSC has recognized in past decisions that any broadcast acknowledged “mistake” does not necessarily constitute 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.

(CITY-TV re CityPulse, CBSC Decision 96/97-0216, February 20, 1998)

In addition, as a final point, we believe it is important to note that in Ms. [R.]’s ruling request, she raises new accusations of bias and sensationalism with respect to our reporting that were never included in her original complaint. She cites several sections of the RTDNA Code of (Journalistic) Ethics and Clause 5 of the CAB Code of Ethics.

We strongly reject any accusation that our coverage of this story involved any bias or sensationalism. Ms. [R.], the complainant, a former teacher, was facing very serious, sex-related charges involving a student.  We believe there was a high public interest value in covering this story.

There was no editorializing in the story. The Agreed Statement of Facts, a common court document which was agreed upon and submitted to the court by both the Crown and Ms. [R.]’s lawyer, formed the basis for much of the detail in the story.  Our stories never suggested that there was a plea arrangement, as suggested by Ms. [R.], but rather they made it clear that the charges were dropped.

We at CTV Kitchener believe it was appropriate to provide our viewers with details about the conduct the complainant was accused of and the facts she had agreed to in open court. It was important to our story that our viewers understand what had occurred and why the charges were ultimately withdrawn.  The story was not biased or sensationalized in any way.

CTV Kitchener is a member in good standing of the CBSC and adheres to all codes and guidelines administered by the CBSC.

[1] See the following CBSC decisions regarding accuracy in news: CITV-TV re “You Paid for It!” (Immigration) (CBSC Decision 95/96-0088, December 16, 1997); TVA re J.E. (Entreprises Pendragon) (CBSC Decision 97/98-0390, August 14, 1998); CIII-TV (Global Ontario) re Global News reports (“Bluffs Danger”) (CBSC Decision 05/06-0500, May 18, 2006); CKWX-AM re news reports about SkyTrain (CBSC Decision 06/07-1127, August 19, 2008); CTV News Channel re news reports (“Clashes Erupt in West Bank”) (CBSC Decision 12/13-1134, August 7, 2013)

[2] CHAN-TV re Newscast (Recycling Society) (CBSC Decision 96/97-0004, March 10, 1997); CTV re News Item (CO Alarms) (CBSC Decision 98/99-0475, November 19, 1999); TQS re a report on Le Grand Journal (“Machine Gun by Mail”) (CBSC Decision 05/06-0785 & -0800, June 30, 2006); Global re a report on Global National (“Deportation Delayed”) and CIVT-TV (CTV British Columbia) re a report on CTV News at Six (CBSC Decisions 07/08-1136 & -1135, August 7 & 19, 2008)

[3] OMNI.1 re an episode of the Jimmy Swaggart Telecast (CBSC Decision 04/05-0097, April 19, 2005); CIII-TV (Global Ontario) re a report on News Final (“Dual Protests”) (CBSC Decision 07/08-1677, October 22, 2008); Sun News Network re The Source (Edmonton Artists’ Housing) (CBSC Decision 10/11-2102 & -2124, March 28, 2012)