CTV re Canada AM (MacDonald Interview)

(CBSC Decision 95/95-0059)
M. Barrie (Chair), A. MacKay (Vice-Chair), P. Fockler, T. Gupta, R. Stanbury


As a part of its CANADA AM broadcast of November 11, 1994, the 7:10-7:20 a.m. segment consisted of an interview by Keith Morrison with Mark Brayford, the attorney for Robert Latimer, the Saskatchewan farmer charged with the murder of his severely disabled daughter, and Gerry MacDonald, an advocate for the disabled.

The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) received a complaint sent on
the date of the broadcast, which had initially been made to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), and which had been
forwarded to the CBSC by the CRTC on December 01. In it, the complainant stated:

This morning on “Canada AM” …, I heard a man names GerryMacDonald say succinctly “You're a pedophile.” My experience hasshown me to find this disgusting example of slander to bereprehensible. I am tired of insults, racial slurs and other derogatorynonsense. … That comment was broadcast nationwide, and nobodyaccuses a Nobel Prize nominee of sexual assault, specifically regardingchildren.

CTV's Vice-President, Corporate Communications, responded to the complainant
on January 19, 1995. In her letter, she explained that she had spoken to the
production staff of Canada AM about the complaint raised.

If I understand your letter correctly, you say that Gerry MacDonaldaccused someone of being a pedophile. I have discussed yourcomplaint with the production staff of Canada AM. Mr. MacDonaldappeared on the program to talk about the rights of the disabled. Hedid not accuse anyone of being a pedophile.

The CTV response did not satisfy the complainant, who returned to the CBSC with
her request that the matter be referred to the Regional Council for adjudication.

CAB Code of Ethics, Article 6

It shall be the responsibility of member stations to ensure that newsshall be represented with accuracy and without bias. The memberstation shall satisfy itself that the arrangements made for obtainingnews ensure this result. It shall also ensure that news broadcasts arenot editorial. News shall not be selected for the purpose of furtheringor hindering either side of any controversial public issue, nor shall it bedesigned by the beliefs or opinions or desires of the stationmanagement, the editor or others engaged in its preparation ordelivery. The fundamental purpose of news dissemination in ademocracy is to enable people to know what is happening, and tounderstand events so that they may form their own conclusions.

Therefore, nothing in the foregoing shall be understood as preventingnews broadcasters from analyzing and elucidating news so long assuch analysis or comment is clearly labelled as such and kept distinctfrom regular news presentations. Member stations will, insofar aspractical, endeavour to provide editorial opinion which shall be clearlylabelled as such and kept entirely distinct from regular broadcast ofnews or analysis and opinion.

It is recognized that the full, fair and proper presentation of news,opinion, comment, and editorial is the prime and fundamentalresponsibility of the broadcast publisher.

The Regional Council reviewed all the correspondence and watched the tape of the
program in question. Members also had the benefit of a transcription of the
interview. The Regional Council did not consider that the broadcast had breached
the Code.

Simply stated, a review of the tape and the program transcript indicated that the
guest, Gerry MacDonald, had not uttered the words quoted by the complainant or
anything remotely similar to them. Indeed, it was difficult to see what part of what
MacDonald had said could possibly have given rise to such an accusation. The
subject matter of the interview never approached any sexual issues. Furthermore,
members of the Regional Council were puzzled by the reference to “a Nobel Prize
nominee” in the complainant's letter. It seemed to be as remote from the reality of
the interview as the matter of pedophilia.

This is not the first occasion on which viewers or listeners have “heard” remarks
which were not present on the logger tapes. As the British Columbia Regional
Council stated in the CFOX-FM decision (The “Larry and Willie Show”, (CFOX-FM, March 15-19 and April 26, 1993) See also CHUR (August 2, 1993)),

The Council noted a number of errors in the complainant's report of thehosts' on-air statements. While, in general, each complainant to theCBSC uses his or her best efforts to reconstruct with accuracy thewords used by the broadcaster, it is understandably difficult to expectthat complainants will be able to supply precise and total recollection ofthe on-air moment. Regional Council members always have the benefitof logger tapes and the ability to play and re-play the material momentsof an allegedly offending broadcast until they have been able to fairlyassess the tone as well as the actual words used.

In the present case, in which the complaint appears to have been utterly unfounded,
the Regional Council considers the response of CTV's Vice-President, Corporate
Communications, to the complainant to be amply satisfactory in the fulfilment of
broadcaster responsiveness to a complainant.

This decision is a public document upon its release by the Canadian Broadcast
Standards Council and may be reported, announced, or read by the station against
which the complaint had originally been made; however, in the case of a favourable
decision, the station is under no obligation to announce the result.