February 1997

Ottawa, February 13, 1997 — The B.C. Regional Council of the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning the activities of a journalist at CKNW.

In March 1995, CKNW's Victoria Bureau Chief filed an allegation with the province's Conflict of Interest Commissioner, regarding a possible conflict of interest concerning then-Premier Harcourt's involvement in the NOW Communications matter. The CBSC received a complaint about the actions of the CKNW journalist. In its lengthy letter, the complainant argued that the station had contravened provisions the broadcasting industry's Code of Ethics concerning news and controversial public issues. The complainant argued that, by filing the allegation, the station had “crossed the line from reporting on news to creating news by directly participating in political action.” After highlighting several instances where CKNW's journalist had made public statements on the matter and had allegedly approached opposition parties regarding the filing of the request, the complainant concluded that “CKNW and its employees have made a series of decisions which have resulted in a perception of bias against the Premier of the province and his government that have caused the public to question the station's journalistic integrity.”

The CBSC forwarded the letter to CKNW, whose Program Director replied that the complainant had not cited any instance of bias in CKNW's reporting of the matter; indeed, in the Program Director's view, the station's reporting had been substantially the same as that provided by the other media. He added that, by initiating a request with the Conflict of Interest Commissioner, CKNW's reporter was “merely taking information which had been put into the public domain by others and asking for information to be answered” by the Commissioner. The complainant, unsatisfied with the response, asked the CBSC's B.C. Regional Council to review the matter.

In its decision (attached), the Regional Council determined that, indeed, nothing in the complaint letter suggested that CKNW had covered a subject which it should not have covered, and nothing in that letter pointed to a specific newscast or program where CKNW had not reported fairly or accurately on the matter. In this way, CKNW had not breached the broadcasters' Code of Ethics, which stipulates that news should be reported in a full, fair and proper manner, without editorialization. Moreover, “CKNW did not select the news; one of its reporters, by filing an allegation, became a news story which every journalistic entity was entitled to cover.”

CKNW did, however, in the Council's view, contravene the RTNDA Code of (Journalistic) Ethics, which stipulates that broadcast journalists must govern themselves, on and off the job, in a way to avoid real or apparent conflict of interest. The Regional Council considered that its was the responsibility of the journalist to investigate matters of public interest, but it was a breach of the journalistic Code to ask the Conflict of Interest Commissioner to have him carry out that role, for it then put CKNW in an apparent conflict of interest regarding the story. The Council added, “the broadcast journalist's role is to investigate a matter and report it to the public, not to take a public stand on such an issue by bringing the matter to the Conflict of Interest Commissioner.” Thus, Council decided that CKNW had breached the journalistic Code. CKNW is, consequently, required to announce the decision during peak listening hours.

Nearly 400 private sector radio and television stations from across Canada are members of the Council. In addition to administering industry codes on broadcast ethics and journalistic ethics, the CBSC administers the Voluntary Code Regarding Violence on Television, and the Sex-Role Portrayal Code.

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Ottawa, February 13, 1997 — The B.C. Regional Council of the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning the film, The Last Temptation of Christ, aired on BCTV.

The film, a speculation on the life of Christ, was aired by BCTV at 1:30 a.m. The broadcast was preceded by an oral advisory indicating that the film was thought-provoking and controversial. The opening was followed immediately by an advisory by the filmmakers, indicating that the film was fictional, and not based on the Gospels. A BCTV viewer complained about the film, questioning “how a TV station can air a disgusting piece of religious hate material like Last Temptation of Christ, considering we have Hate Laws, a Charter of Rights, and a Human Rights Council. They should be sued, and made to apologize publicly for the affront.” In its reply, BCTV suggested that the television medium enabled expression of differing opinions. In airing the film at a late hour, BCTV reasoned, the mainly-adult audience would be able to accept or reject the concepts and principles expressed by the filmmakers. BCTV continued with quotes from film critics Roger Ebert and Leonard Maltin. Both mentioned the film's thought-provoking, but sincere, exploration of the nature of faith. The viewer, unsatisfied with BCTV's reply, asked the CBSC's B.C. Regional Council to consider the matter. He added that he wanted the film removed from television, theatres and video stores.

In its decision (attached), the Regional Council elaborated on the overall societal principle of freedom of expression and its balance with the complainant's particular faith. It noted, “the Council does consider that, as important as the principle of freedom of expression may be, there are competing social values in Canada which it is duty bound to apply in the exercise of its mandate. One of these is the application of the principle that abusive or discriminatory material or comment based on race or religion will not be shielded under the protective umbrella of freedom of expression. The difficult matter to resolve in each case where such conflict presents itself if whether the program in question amounts to the broadcast of abusive or discriminatory material or comment. Furthermore, this measurement must be made in the overall societal context, not in the narrow context of the sensibilities of individuals.” The Council found that, the film was thoughtful and reasoned, not negative toward Christians or Christianity. Thus, the Regional Council decided that BCTV did not breach the broadcasting industry's Code of Ethics provisions regarding abusive or discriminatory material or comment.

In addition to administering a Code of Ethics, the CBSC administers codes on journalistic practices, television violence, and gender portrayal. Nearly 400 private sector radio and television stations, members of the CBSC, adhere to these codes.

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Ottawa, February 13, 1997 — The B.C. Regional Council of the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning comments made by an announcer on Kelowna's CKLZ-FM.

The announcer discussed a police radar trap (a “fuzz-trap”, in the announcer's words), and added that listeners should consider picking up a box of donuts and coffee for the police monitoring the radar trap. He closed with a mention of the U2 song, Achtung Baby. A CKLZ-FM listener and police officer wrote to express his concerns with the announcer's supposedly “childish name calling, the insinuation that a donut and a coffee could buy a cop, and with all the all the negative connotations that accompany the word 'Achtung.'” The station replied that the reference to “fuzz trap” was intended to remind listeners that they should observe speed limits; that the reference to donuts and coffee was simply a suggestion of a kind gesture that listeners could perform to recognize the work of police officers, and that the use of “Achtung” was strictly in reference to an album by the group U2. After further correspondence, in which the station sent the listener a tape of the broadcast, he conceded that he was most preoccupied with the use of the word “Achtung”, which, in his view, radio listeners would not have associated with U2. The listener asked the CBSC's B.C. Regional Council to consider the matter.

In its decision (attached), the Regional Council noted, with regard to the use of “Achtung”, that the term, per se, is not offensive, though in its current context, it had come to be associated with Nazi atrocities in the Second World War. Nonetheless, the Council recognized that the term had been used on a rock station, in reference to a highly popular rock album, and that most listeners to the station would therefore have associated “Achtung” with the rock group, and not with the Second World War. As the Council stated, “expectations of listeners are … a matter of substantial relevance to the Council …. In the matter at hand, the Council considers that the station's rock music audience would have understood that the song in question would immediately follow the commercial break. They would have read nothing more into the comment….” Thus, the Regional Council decided that CKLZ-FM did not broadcast improper, abusive or discriminatory material or comment, and that the station did not breach the broadcasting industry's Code of Ethics.

In addition to administering a Code of Ethics, the CBSC administers codes on journalistic practices, television violence, and gender portrayal. Nearly 400 private sector radio and television stations are members of the CBSC and adhere to these codes.

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Ottawa, February 11, 1997 — The B.C. Regional Council of the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning a newscast aired on CFJC-TV in Kamloops.

A CFJC-TV viewer was concerned about a news report covering the Kamloops Anti-Racist Group. The report began with a mention of a local resident who was the group's spokesperson, then used library footage depicting BC white supremacists, and then included segments of an interview with an owner of a local surplus and survival shop. The reporter opened the interview by mentioning that the Anti-Racist Group feared that the store catered to white supremacists. The store owner was featured stating that, while his shop appeared to attract white supremacists, his merchandise was legal and he did not direct his clients to, or provide them with information about, white supremacist groups.

The viewer complained that the news director had made “deliberate and derogatory statements amounting to fear” concerning the shop owner, and that the report was in “the worst taste possible.” The news director replied that the report had been unbiased and had not contained derogatory statements. The news director felt that the report had balanced the Group's view and the shop owner's position. The viewer, unsatisfied with this reply, asked the CBSC's B.C. Regional Council to consider the matter. Its decision is attached.

The Regional Council, after reviewing the tape of the report and the related correspondence, noted that it was in the public interest for the station to report on the story. The message of the report was to indicate to viewers that the white supremacist issue, a story of public importance was, nonetheless, also a phenomenon of local concern. Moreover, the Council agreed that the story had been balanced. The footage of the shop and its merchandise, and the Group's allegations, were juxtaposed against the shop owner's own comments and point of view. The Council members recognized that “the order of presentation of the story might have resulted in some initial imbalance in the presentation of the story but all agreed that the owner's on-screen explanations provided the effective counterpoint required.” Thus, in the Council's view, the station had respected the broadcasting industry's Code of Ethics.

In addition to administering a Code of Ethics, the CBSC administers codes on journalistic practices, television violence, and gender portrayal. Nearly 400 private sector radio and television stations are members of the CBSC and adhere to these codes.

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Ottawa, February 11, 1997 — The B.C. Regional Council of the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning a newscast aired on Victoria's CHEK-TV.

CHEK-TV's evening newscast included an item on the non-renewal of the B.C. (NDP) government's contract with NOW Communications. The report mentioned the contention by a Liberal MLA that the firm had been paid $3,500 to write and print a letter to the Premier. A CHEK-TV viewer complained to the CBSC that the news item had been biased, since the station made no mention of the previous government's contracting practices or those of Liberal governments in other provinces. The station's News Director replied that the item in question had included copy on the cancellation of the Premier's contract with NOW Communications, and his denial that the action had anything to do with possible political links; it was followed by a short clip of a Liberal MLA outlining the amount of money paid to NOW. In the station's view, the item was not biased. The viewer was unsatisfied with this response and asked that the CBSC refer the matter to its B.C. Regional Council for adjudication.

Council members viewed a tape of the segment and reviewed the complaint under the industry's Code of Ethics, which requires broadcasters to report the news with accuracy, without bias, in a full, fair and proper manner. The Regional Council examined the question of whether the reporting of the Liberal MLA's allegation was objective and fair. In its decision (attached), the B.C. Council affirmed that the report was, indeed, unbiased. In the Council's words, “the complainant's issue here seems … that the station did not go far enough in providing the balance to the Liberal allegation by providing an historical context for any issue of pork barrel politics. That, though, is a part of the political cut-and-thrust and is thus the job of the Liberals' political opponents, not the news reporting bodies, electronic or print. The absence of such context to a report does not mean an absence of balance in it.” Thus, Council decided that CHEK-TV did not breach the code.

The B.C. Regional Council is composed equally of representatives of the public and of the broadcasting industry. Some 400 private sector radio and television stations from across Canada are members of the Council. In addition to administering the industry's code of ethics , the CBSC administers the Voluntary Code Regarding Violence on Television, the Sex-Role Portrayal Code, and the RTNDA Code of (Journalistic) Ethics.

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Ottawa, February 7, 1997 — The B.C. Regional Council of the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning the use of what one viewer termed “gutter language” in a BCTV (CHAN-TV) sportscast.

During an early evening sportscast, a sports reporter on BCTV commented on the state of play of the Vancouver Canucks, stating that fans were “sick and tired of the crap they're dishing out”, and later added that, from the point of view of the team's owner, the team should “get [its] ass in there”, repeating the word “ass” a few moments later in the sportscast. A viewer wrote to the CBSC to complain about this use of language, indicating that this “crude language is completely unacceptable and is setting a very poor example to the younger generation of B.C.” In its written reply to the complaint, BCTV acknowledged that there was no excuse for “gutter or crude” language on television, but recognized that the reporter in question was known to be outspoken and controversial. The viewer was unsatisfied with this response, and returned to the CBSC with a request that its B.C. Regional Council consider the matter.

After reviewing the tape of the sportscast and examining the correspondence, the Regional Council decided that the words used by the reporter were typical of sports broadcasting. Further, the words “crap” and “ass” (presumed to be the words that the viewer found objectionable) were, in the Council's determination, part of everyday English vernacular — even though, at one time, such words might have been considered offensive. Using the industry's Code of Ethics and the CRTC's Television Broadcasting Regulations as a guide, the Council felt that the words could not be considered sanctionable. Ultimately, in the Council's view, the question was one of good taste. As the Council explained, “the words in question are not…attractive, articulate or perhaps even appropriate to the airwaves….They are not, however, in the view of the B.C. Regional Council, either obscene or profane, which is ultimately the test which the Regional Council must apply. To the extent that the question is one of taste rather than obscenity or profanity, the CBSC will not interfere with the broadcaster's choice.” As a result, the B.C. Regional Council decided that BCTV did not breach the industry's Code of Ethics.

The B.C. Regional Council is composed equally of broadcasters and representatives of the general public. The Regional Council Chair, a broadcaster, is Erin Petrie. The Vice-Chair, representing the public, is Monica Becott. Other public members are Catherine Murray and Robert Mackay (not present for the decision); while the other broadcasters are Susan Brinton and Gordon Vizzutti.

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Ottawa, February 7, 1997 — The B.C. Regional Council of the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning a newscast aired on CHBC-TV in Kelowna.

The newscast concerned a couple who had purchased a home, only to find later it had a dry well. The couple filed a lawsuit against the previous owner of the home, but had no success in collecting the amount of their judgement. CHBC-TV's news reporters visited the previous owner (the defendant) at his home and attempted to interview him; however, he refused a formal interview at the time and indicated to reporters, taping the scene, that he would speak with them the next day. The report broadcast by the station described the events, showed the clip with the dialogue between the defendant and the reporter, and discussed the general issue of the difficulties plaintiffs encounter when trying to collect their court awards.

The defendant wrote to the CBSC to express his concern that the news crew entered his private property, unannounced and uninvited, and broadcast images of his family and home. CHBC-TV replied that reporting on the story was in the public interest and, while the station's news crew would enter private property to conduct interviews, it would leave if requested, which it did in this case. The viewer, unsatisfied with this response, asked that the CBSC refer the matter to its B.C. Regional Council for adjudication.

Council members viewed a tape of the segment and reviewed the complaint under the Radio Television News Directors Association Code of Ethics, which requires broadcasters to respect the dignity and privacy of people with whom they deal, and to recognize their right and responsibility to provide informed analysis on public events. In its decision (attached), the B.C. Council affirmed that the report was, indeed, in the public interest. In the Council's words, “no story is, after all, told in a vacuum, unrelated to real people and real events.” Morevoer, the Council added that the interview itself had not been conducted in a clandestine or misleading way. According to the Council, “in this CHBC-TV case, the complainant/defendant was a willing, if not blasé, participant. That willingness to be interviewed on the following day was declared, both at the time of the kitchen window interview as used in the clip and in the subsequent letter of complaint….” Thus, Council decided that CHBC-TV did not breach the code.

Nearly 400 private sector radio and television stations from across Canada are members of the Council. In addition to administering industry codes on journalistic ethics, the CBSC administers the Voluntary Code Regarding Violence on Television, the Sex-Role Portrayal Code, and the Code of Ethics.

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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