CKVR-TV re a News Report (Penned Hunt)

ONTARIO REGIONAL PANEL
(CBSC Decision 00/01-0761)
R. Stanbury (Chair), M. Ziniak (Vice-Chair), R. Cohen (ad hoc), M. Oldfield,J. Pungente, C. Reyes

THE FACTS

On March 26, 2001, the CBSC received a complaint about the news report from one of Mr. Grignon's neighbours (the full text of all correspondence can be found in the Appendix). Although this was nearly six months after the broadcast, well beyond the 28-day period during which broadcasters are required to retain logger tapes, the complainant had himself obtained a tape of the newscast from the broadcaster during that period. It was that tape which serves as the basis for this decision.

The complainant explained that he owned a deer breeding operation 30 km down the road from Mr. Grignon's proposed hunt park property and that the animals shown in the news segment had actually been his deer.  He outlined his concerns with the broadcast.  He argued, first, that the news crew had not asked for his permission to film his animals, and he declared his suspicion that they had trespassed on his property in order to obtain the footage.  Second, he stated that the program fraudulently depicted the hunt park as an open area and argued that the footage misrepresented both his breeding operation and Mr. Grignon's hunt park.

CKVR-TV responded to his complaint on May 24.  The broadcaster explained that

After they interviewed Mr. Grignon our crew was informed that there were no animals to photograph there at this time and were directed to a farm where they could get visuals of deer and elk.  We are a visual medium and so it was important for us to show our viewers the type of animals we were referring to in our story.

 

They also stated that the reporter and photographer “did not enter any fenced areas [or] what they perceived to be private property,” and that the visuals were shot “from the roadside with a telephoto lens.”

The complainant requested on August 26 that the matter be adjudicated by the CBSC Ontario Regional Panel.

THE DECISION

The Ontario Regional Panel examined the complaint under the following news provisions of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters' (CAB) Code of Ethics and the Radio Television News Directors Association of Canada's (RTNDA) Code of (Journalistic) Ethics. The relevant portions of those provisions are cited below:

CAB Code of Ethics, Clause 6 (News):

It shall be the responsibility of member stations to ensure that news shall be presented with accuracy and without bias.  The member station shall satisfy it

  [.]  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.

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 (Accuracy):

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

 

RTNDA Code of (Journalistic) Ethics, Article 4 (Privacy):

Broadcast journalists will respect the dignity, privacy and well-being of everyone with whom they deal, and will make every effort to ensure that news gathering and reporting does not unreasonably infringe privacy except when necessary in the public interest.  [.]

The Ontario Panel Adjudicators viewed a tape of the news item and reviewed all correspondence.  The Panel concludes that CKVR-TV is in breach of the two foregoing Code provisions concerning news accuracy, but not of the provision regarding privacy.

A Preliminary Matter:  The Extent of the CBSC's Mandate

The complainant directly raises the issue of trespassing when he asserts in his letter that “The news crew entered my property without permission, they entered a fenced area that is posted without my permission.  This is generally called trespassing which is a criminal offence.”  Since trespassing is a criminal offence, the Panel is unable to comment on this issue.  Not being a court and having no jurisdiction to make rulings with respect to matters under the Criminal Code or any other laws, the CBSC cannot respond to this concern of the complainant; it renders decisions only with respect to the broadcaster Codes it has been mandated to administer.

Moreover, the CBSC is generally unable to address issues associated with the off-screen activities of broadcasters or reporters.  Except in very unusual circumstances, the CBSC must limit its adjudication to what actually appeared on-screen in its evaluations.

An Invasion of Privacy?

From the correspondence, in which the broadcaster readily admits that these scenes were filmed at a farm down the road from Mr. Grignon's hunt park property, it appears that the animals shown in the report are likely those belonging to the complainant.  (Whether this is or is not definitively the case, the Panel considers that its appreciation of this issue will be the same.)  The question for the Panel to decide is whether the use of the footage, without first obtaining the permission of the animals' owner, constitutes an invasion of that owner's privacy.

It must readily be acknowledged that, being a visual medium, television broadcasters will wish their news broadcasts to be supplemented by video footage.  It must equally be acknowledged that they are not, on that account, at liberty to choose just any footage for that purpose.  Factors that will assist in determining acceptability of such footage will include the extent of the identifiable images, on the one hand, and the justifiability of their use, on the other.

In one relevant, but not absolutely congruent, circumstance, namely, CIHF-TV re News Item (Random Neighbourhood Shooting) (CBSC Decision 97/98-0622, November 25, 1998), the Atlantic Regional Panel examined a news report about a pellet gun shooting incident in a rural neighbourhood.  The broadcast included a visual image of the house from which the shot was alleged to have originated.  The complaint came from the owner of the house who felt that the inclusion of the footage was unfair to his family, particularly since the shot was alleged to have been fired by a visitor.  With respect to his allegation of invasion of privacy, the Panel noted that “no individual or individuals is, or are, named” in the report.  Accordingly, it concluded:

While it may be true that the house may be distinctive in its neighbourhood, and indeed that some friends, neighbours or relatives may have been able to identify the owner of the house on this basis, there is insufficient information in the report to make it clear to others who the possible perpetrators of the alleged offence might be.

Similarly, in a matter involving individuals rather than property, namely, CTV re Canada AM (Airborne Hazing) (CBSC Decision 94/95-0159, March 12, 1996), the Ontario Regional Panel put the matter in the following terms:

The point is that the issue is not so much the recording and broadcasting of the image of the individual as it is the identification of the person.  Where the broadcaster provides no information which permits the public at large to identify the individual, such as in this case, the broadcaster has not interfered with that person's right to privacy.  The fact that the individual filmed and those close to him may know who he is does not interfere with his right to be free from identification by the public at large.

In the matter at hand, the filmed subjects are deer rather than people and the Panel considers that the likelihood of their identification by viewers in general is non-existent.  Nor does the Panel consider that, as a herd, the animals will be identifiable by the general audience as belonging to the complainant.  Furthermore, the broadcaster has done its best to avoid the filming and broadcast of any signage or markings which would facilitate that identification.

Although the foregoing point is determinative of this matter, the Panel considers it important to add its perspective that the broadcaster logically sought to provide the audience with a more specific sense of the subject matter and relevance of the type of animal, broadly speaking, that was involved in the story.  It takes no issue with the broadcaster in this respect.  Its problem is not with any alleged invasion of privacy; it is with the accuracy of the video clip and the method of its presentation, matters discussed below. There is no breach of any codified standards relating to privacy.

Inaccuracy of the Report

The problem for the Panel relates to the choice and use of video images to accompany the story; it stems to a considerable extent from the broadcaster's failure in some way during the report to identify the footage as either not belonging to the hunt park or even being illustrative of the circumstances in which the animals would be hunted.

The report begins with an interview with a woman opposed to the hunt park.  At this point the viewer has no real idea what the nature of the hunting environment even is.  It is at this point that the broadcaster chose to insert the video clip of a group of antlered animals in an open field, filmed, the broadcaster has explained, through a wire fence as the reporter narrates that the woman “is upset with plans for exotic animals to be hunted in a fenced-in area just outside her village [emphasis added].”  During the interview with Mr. Grignon,  the hunt park owner, trucks are seen driving through a forest.  Later in the report, the journalist is seen standing beside a fence surrounding a wooded area and states that the hunt park is to be located in “this enclosure”.  The segment concludes with a scene of one animal in a pen.

At no time has the broadcaster made the audience aware that the scenes were shot at two separate properties.  The reporter's statement that the woman is opposed to plans for animals to be hunted “in a fenced-in area” directly overlying the visuals of animals in a penned open field leaves the viewer with the distinct impression that those are in fact the animals to be hunted and that the enclosure shown is indeed the hunt park terrain.  Should this not have been the case (and, as matters turned out in fact, it was not), it would have been important and, indeed, accurate to indicate in some manner, such as a “file footage” caption at the bottom of screen or a brief statement that they were discussing “animals like these”, that the images of the deer in the open field had been obtained at some location other than the hunt park which was the subject of the report.

The broadcaster claims that “there were visuals of deer and elk but it was neither said nor suggested that these were the specific animals to be hunted [.].”  The Panel finds no justification for the broadcaster's choices in that statement.  While it may not have been said that those were the animals to be hunted, it was suggested that they were.  Had the broadcaster been careful with respect to this story, it ought to have indicated that they were not the animals in question and that the circumstances of their disposition in open fields bore little or no relevance to its story on the hunt park.  Television journalism tells stories primarily through visual images.  The accurate juxtaposition of visuals and words in the television context are key to disseminating news in such a way as “to enable people to know what is happening, and to understand events so that they may form their own conclusions,” as required by the CAB Code of Ethics.  In disseminating an image, a broadcaster must assume, unless it advises the audience otherwise, that that visual component is a part of the story it is telling.  It is not justifiable for it to expect that, unless it advises the viewer that it is a part of the story, the viewer is not reasonably entitled to draw that conclusion.  The Panel does not consider that the broadcaster was intending to mislead its audience.  Nonetheless, while attempting to help its viewers, it has, in the view of the Panel, done them a disservice in its misrepresentation of the nature of the hunt park. The broadcaster is thus in breach of Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics, and of Article 1 of the RTNDA Code of (Journalistic) Ethics.

Broadcaster Responsiveness

In all decisions, the CBSC Adjudicating Panels assess the broadcaster's responsiveness to complainants.  Although a broadcaster need not agree with a complainant's view of the issues, under CBSC membership requirements broadcasters are required to provide a reasonable response to all complaints.  The Ontario Regional Panel concludes that CKVR-TV clearly addressed the complainant's concerns in a thoughtful manner and thus has met its responsibilities of membership.  Nothing more is required in this respect on this occasion.

ANNOUNCEMENT OF DECISION

CKVR-TV is required to:  1)  announce this 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 in the time period in which the “Penned Hunt” news item was broadcast; 2)  within fourteen days following the broadcast of the announcements, to provide written confirmation of the airing of the announcements to the complainant who filed the Ruling Request; and 3)  at that time, to provide the CBSC with that written confirmation and with air check copies of the broadcasts of the two announcements which must be made by CKVR-TV.

The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has found that CKVR-TV has breached provisions of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters' Code of Ethics and the Radio-Television News Directors Association's Code of (Journalistic) Ethics dealing with accuracy of news.  In its choice of video clips accompanying the broadcast of a news report entitled “Penned Hunt” on October 3, 2000, the broadcaster implied that their visuals of deer in an enclosed unwooded field belonged to a proposed hunt park when in reality the circumstances of the hunt were very different.  First, they were not among the deer that would be hunted and second, the hunting was to take place in the hunt park forests rather than the open but penned in fields depicted in the broadcast.  This constitutes a breach of the two Code provisions which both require that news be presented in an accurate manner.
This decision is a public document upon its release by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council.