Contest “Rewarding” Use of Handheld Cellphone Not in Breach of Code, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, June 17, 2009 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning CJMF-FM’s broadcast of a promotional contest pursuant to which listeners could win a rebate on a Bluetooth hands-free cell phone device, or the device itself, if they were spotted driving while using their cell phone, an act which had recently become illegal in Quebec.

A listener who was concerned that the radio station was promoting an illegal act, namely, driving while holding and using a cellular telephone, complained to the CBSC.  He argued that the promotion would entice people to break the law in order to win half, or all, the cost of a Bluetooth device.  On the other hand, the broadcaster explained that its attempt was to encourage drivers to do the right thing, namely, to use a hands-free device if talking on a cell phone while driving.

The Quebec Panel examined the promotion under the clause of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics which requires that broadcasters shall take care to ensure that its promotions are “not […] potentially dangerous or likely to give rise to a public inconvenience or disturbance.”  It concluded that

the broadcaster’s perspective [wa]s more realistic.  The Panel doubts very much that people would begin driving while holding their cell phones in order to win a prize of inconsiderable value.  To choose an extreme example, if the station had proposed awarding a new car to persons violating the recently amended Highway Safety Code, it would be more inclined to view the promotion as a serious incentive.  That was not the nature of the promotional outcome in this case.

The Panel nonetheless agreed

with the broadcaster that “the advertisement for this promotion caused some confusion.”  The Panel does believe that the broadcaster ought to have chosen another way to move listeners into the recently legalized ambit of the Highway Safety Code.  That it did not do so does not, for the reasons stated, move it into the area of a Code breach.

Canada’s private broadcasters have themselves created industry standards in the form of Codes on ethics, equitable portrayal, television violence and journalistic independence 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 and the pay television Codes, as well as the Code dealing with journalistic ethics created by the RTNDA – Association of Electronic Journalists in 1970.  More than 725 radio stations, satellite radio services, 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