Divulging Private Addresses in a News Story Breaches Code, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, April 17, 2007 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning a number of news reports run on CFTO-TV (CTV Toronto) on June 3, 2006 on the subject of the arrests that day of 17 individuals (12 adults and five minors) charged with terrorism-related offences.  The reports were grouped together with headlines or voice-over statements such as “Terror strikes close to home”, “Terror in Toronto”, “Terrorism Charges” and the like.  One of the co-hosts also provided the names of all of the adult accuseds, as well as the civic addresses of 10 of them.  The CBSC received a complaint from an individual, who wrote,  

I felt that the display of the full home addresses of the accused individuals was unreasonable because it infringed on their privacy.  I would agree that displaying the name and city of the individuals is reasonable for public interest, however, the display of the entire home address of all these individuals was irresponsible and held no public value except to create fear and paranoia among local residents. 

The complainant also argued that the right of the accuseds to a fair trial was also compromised by the reports.  The broadcaster replied that the charges were extremely serious, and that the public had the right to know certain information, including the accuseds’ addresses, which, they argued, were available in telephone directories and on the Internet.  The Ontario Regional Panel disagreed with the broadcaster on the issue of privacy infringement. 

There was […] every likelihood that, in addition to the presumed-to-be innocent accuseds, there were other persons living at the disclosed addresses who had not a scintilla of connection with the (unproved) offences.  Moreover, there was no indication of any issue of public safety or security associated with the revelation of such personal details, which might constitute a matter of public necessity.  The fact that the charges were “extremely serious”, to use the words employed by the broadcaster’s representative in his reply, does not affect the question of public safety or security.  It is the nature of the threat to the public, not the consequences of the crime or conspiracy, if carried out, that would be compelling.  In the matter at hand, there was no indication that the public were any safer, more secure, or better protected by receiving those civic addresses than they would have been without them. 

On the other issue under consideration, the Panel concluded that it was essential “that a broadcast must not be so prejudicial that it may interfere with the right of an individual to a fair hearing, to which he or she would be constitutionally entitled in most Western democracies.”  The Panel split on whether the challenged news reports were or were not likely to prejudice the right of the accuseds to a fair trial.  While the majority acknowledged that some of the language used was provocative, “in its view, the prospect of a fair trial would not be prejudiced on that account.  Unless the language broadcast would have that consequence, it would not be in breach of the code.”  The minority, on the other hand, felt that the cumulative effect of the broadcasts would have compromised the right of the accuseds to a fair trial.  The result of the majority position was that no breach was found on this issue. 

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 600 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