CTV News Channel re news reports (“Clashes Erupt in West Bank”)

national specialty services panel
A. Noël (Chair), G. Bonin (ad hoc), D. Braun (ad hoc), D. Ish (ad hoc), F. Niemi, C. Sephton, R. Waksman

The Facts

CTV News Channel is a 24-hour news specialty service.  On February 25 2013, between 1:20 and 2:30 pm, it broadcast two similar reports about events that had occurred in the West Bank.  The caption featured on both reports was “Clashes Erupt in West Bank”.

The first report was broadcast at approximately 1:25 pm and was presented by news anchor Sandie Rinaldo.  Rinaldo stated, “Scenes of mourners in a funeral procession for a Palestinian detainee who died in an Israeli jail.  There have been widespread clashes.  The prisoner died while taking part in a hunger strike.”  That statement was accompanied by video footage showing masses of people walking down a street, some carrying flags.  A car drives down the street with people walking alongside it and people standing on top of it.  There is then a scene of a street showing people running and one person in a military uniform.  There also appear to be a couple of military vehicles and some smoke billowing from somewhere.  Another street scene shows more commotion, with smoke and vehicles, and people running around, some with their faces covered.

The second report, at approximately 2:19 pm, was presented by anchor Amanda Blitz.  She said, “Thousands of mourners marched today in a funeral procession for a Palestinian detainee who died in an Israeli jail.  The death has caused widespread clashes and is, uh, stoking concern in Israel that a new uprising could erupt.  The prisoner died while taking part in a hunger strike.”  The video footage was identical to that of the 1:25 pm report with a few additional seconds at the end showing people with their faces covered throwing unidentified objects.

The CBSC received a complaint about these reports on March 5.  The complaint came from a group called Honest Reporting Canada, which had already contacted CTV News Channel directly on February 25 and 27.  The group argued that the Palestinian detainee had not in fact been participating in a hunger strike and had died of “what is believed to be a heart attack or natural causes”.  Honest Reporting requested that CTV make “an immediate on-air correction” of this error.

CTV News Channel replied to the complainant group on March 12.  The channel explained that it “later learned that [the detainee] was not among several Palestinian prisoners that were participating in a hunger strike” and that its source of information had been a report by US television network NBC.  It pointed out that it did not broadcast any further reports about the situation and “promptly took steps to ensure an accurate account was posted on our website”.

On March 12 the complainant requested that the CBSC pursue the matter, in particular that the CBSC enforce its own rules regarding on-air corrections:  “any fair-minded person would expect that if a serious error was broadcast on TV, it should also be corrected on TV – not the internet.”  (The full text of all correspondence can be found in the Appendix.)

 

The Decision

The National Specialty Services Panel examined the complaint under the following articles 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

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 reports in question.  The Panel concludes that CTV News Channel broadcast inaccurate information contrary to Clause 5 of the CAB Code of Ethics and Article 1 of the RTDNA Code of Ethics and failed to correct the error on air as required by Article 7 of the RTDNA Code of Ethics.

CTV News Channel acknowledged in its March 12 letter that the information about the Palestinian being on a hunger strike was inaccurate.  The Panel notes that the focus of the two news stories in question was more about the detainee’s death and the resulting unrest in the West Bank rather than the cause of death.  The Panel recognizes, however, that the issue of the hunger strike was relevant to other, related news stories about that area of the world which were taking place at the time and therefore it was important to get that information right.  The Panel also notes that CTV News Channel explained that the source of information was an American news outlet.  It is, however, incumbent upon Canadian broadcasters to ensure the accuracy of the information that they themselves broadcast.  CTV News Channel broadcast inaccurate information about the detainee’s participation in a hunger strike; this constitutes breaches of Clause 5 of the CAB Code of Ethics and Article 1 of the RTDNA Code of Ethics. 1

The Panel commends CTV News Channel for quickly correcting the error on its website, but Article 7 of the RTDNA Code of Ethics clearly requires broadcasters to correct errors “on all platforms”.  The Panel agrees with the complainant’s contention that if an error is broadcast on television, the correction of that error should also be broadcast on television.  CTV News Channel’s failure to do so constitutes a breach of Article 7 of the RTDNA Code of Ethics. 2

 

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 News Channel provided a response to the complainant, noting the steps it had taken to rectify the original broadcast error.  Although the channel should have broadcast an on-air correction, the broadcaster fulfilled its obligations of responsiveness and, subject to the announcement of this decision, nothing further is required in this regard in this instance.

 

Announcement Of The Decision

CTV News Channel 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 news reports were broadcast (i.e. between 1:20 pm and 2:19 pm), 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 CTV News Channel.

The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has found that CTV News Channel breached the codes of ethics of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters and the Radio Television Digital News Association’s in its broadcast of two news reports about the West Bank on February 25, 2013.  The reports contained inaccurate information contrary to Clause 5 of the CAB Code of Ethics and Article 1 of the RTDNA Code of Ethics.  CTV News Channel failed to correct the error on television as required by Article 7 of the RTDNA Code.

 

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

1 See the following CBSC decisions for other examples of inaccurate information found in breach of these clauses:  CTV Television and CTV Newsnet re news reports (ghettos and concentration camps in Poland) (CBSC Decision 04/05-0380 and -0672, December 15, 2004); 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); and CFMJ-AM re an AM640 News report about an elevator accident (CBSC Decision 08/09-2014, April 1, 2010).

 

2 See the following CBSC decisions for other cases where an on-air correction was required: CIII-TV (Global Ontario) re a report on News Final (“Dual Protests”) (CBSC Decision 07/08-1677, October 22, 2008) and Sun News Network re The Source (Edmonton Artists’ Housing) (CBSC Decision 10/11-2102 & -2124, March 28, 2012).