Comedic Sketch Invaded Participants’ Privacy, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, May 14, 2002 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning a comedic sketch that was broadcast on the program Tôt ou tard on CFTM-TV (TVA) on July 30, 2001. The CBSC Quebec Regional Panel determined that CFTM-TV had breached the privacy provisions of both the Canadian Association of Broadcasters' (CAB) Code of Ethics and the Radio-Television News Directors Association's (RTNDA) Code of Ethics for not respecting the request of two people featured in the sketch to not have their images broadcast.

The sketch was filmed at a drive-in cinema and presented a comedic “investigation” into the plight of drive-ins. One of the hosts of Tôt ou tard interviewed movie-goers and offered humourous services, such as washing windshields and giving out mouthwash. Two people who were apparently willingly filmed in this context asked the host (before he even left the drive-in cinema) to not use their images when the sketch went to air. The next day, they contacted TVA and the program producer to make this same request. Nonetheless, when the segment was broadcast nearly two months later, the scenes showing the two individuals did appear. The two unwilling interviewees complained to the CBSC.

The CBSC Quebec Regional Panel examined the issue under Clause 6, paragraph 3 of the CAB Code of Ethics which requires broadcasters to ensure the “full, fair and proper presentation of news, opinion, comment and editorial”, and Article 4 of the RTNDA Code of Ethics which requires broadcasters to “respect the dignity, privacy and well-being of everyone with whom they deal.” The Panel made the following comments in finding a breach of the two provisions:

This was not, admittedly, a news report. Nor did it even concern a serious public affairs issue. It was simply a humorous sketch with entertainment value, to be sure, but not of societal impact. There was not, in other words, either a public interest component or an issue of journalistic time pressure involved behind whose shield the broadcaster could protect itself and which would have required the on-screen presentation of the complainants. (The Panel nonetheless considers that the principle of respect for the rights of privacy of individuals should be understood as extending to individuals even though the form of coverage does not, strictly speaking, fall into a journalistic category.) In such circumstances, there was more than ample time, more than seven weeks, in fact, for the broadcaster to sort out its permissions and waivers. Moreover, the affected persons were extremely diligent. They took steps from the very beginning to ensure that their interview, even if consensually granted at the time of filming, would not be shown. They spoke to the “reporter” at the time. They called the broadcaster the next day. They wrote swiftly to TVA. They could not have done more. They were entitled to expect that their request would be honoured, as all in authority agreed it would be.

Canada's private broadcasters have themselves created industry standards in the form of Codes on ethics, gender portrayal and television violence by which they expect the members of their profession will abide. In 1990, they also created the CBSC, which is the self-regulatory body with the responsibility of administering those professional broadcast Codes, as well as the Code dealing with journalistic practices first created by the Radio Television News Directors Association of Canada (RTNDA) in 1970. More than 500 radio and television stations and specialty services from across Canada are members of the Council.

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All CBSC decisions, Codes, links to members' and other web sites, and related information are available on the CBSC's website at www.cbsc.ca. For more information, please contact the CBSC National Chair, Mme Andrée Noël CBSC Executive Director, John MacNab