Inaccurate and Distorted News Reports Violated Broadcast Standards, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, July 18, 2006 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning two news reports broadcast on Global Ontario (CIII-TV)’s Global News on October 4 and 5, 2005.  Provoked by an emergency crumbling cliffside rescue of three teenagers, the two reports dealt with safety issues on the Scarborough Bluffs.  The CBSC Ontario Regional Panel concluded that the news broadcasts contained inaccurate information as well as sensationalized and distorted content but that they did not violate anyone’s privacy or endanger anyone’s life. 

The Global News reports focussed on the conditions at a particular condominium housing development located near the Bluffs and another dangerously accessible area situated, according to the stories, “just metres away”.  The reports, which were reviewed by the Panel as a single story, suggested that an eroding parking lot and lack of fencing were dangerous, that there were many dangerous places on the Bluffs (due to their easy accessibility) and that no-one seemed will to take responsibility for the dangerous situations.  Among other things, the story included footage of a telephone call between the reporter and the property manager, an attempt to obtain comments from a member of the condominium board, as well as a scene in which the reporter was seen speaking to a group of young teenage boys at the edge of the Bluffs. 

The CBSC received a complaint from a resident of the housing development who was also the member of the condominium board who had appeared on camera.  She provided a detailed list of her concerns about the reports, including the inaccurate identification of the property’s location and owners, the impression left of the property owners’ failure to maintain safety around the Bluffs, the use of her image and the voice of the property manager without their consent, and endangering the lives of the teenage boys by accompanying them to a dangerous area.  The Ontario Panel examined the complaint under both the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics and the Radio-Television News Directors Association of Canada (RTNDA) Code of (Journalistic) Ethics

The Panel concluded that the report failed to differentiate between private land owned by the condominium association and public land owned by the city, and thus gave a misleading presentation about precisely which areas were dangerous and whether they were the responsibility of the condo association.  The report also inaccurately identified the owners of the property.  The story also included other aspects of the reports that misrepresented the state of the Bluffs and the steps taken by the property owners to guard against problems.  In the latter respect, the Panel found that “the impression left [by the story] was distorted, incomplete and unfair.” 

With respect to the complainant’s concerns about the use of her image and the voice of the property manager, the Panel concluded that those segments had been edited to leave a false impression of those individuals’ co-operation, but did not find that the scenes violated their privacy.  

By selectively choosing the moment of the hanging-up of the telephone by the property manager without any context […], the broadcaster appears to have distorted the reason for the manager’s action.  Of greater concern to the Panel, though, is the conclusion its reporter has drawn from the complainant’s hand over the camera lens.  In the view of the Panel, these editing choices […] do not appear […] to have been justified. 

The Panel also concluded that the broadcast had not endangered the lives of minors, though the broadcaster “may have wished to create the filmed illusion of danger.” 

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 590 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