Interview with Accused’s Young Son in News Report in Breach of Journalistic Standards, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, July 6, 2005 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning a news report broadcast on CITY-TV’s CityPulse at Six news program.  In the report, about a man who had been charged with possession of child pornography and other sex crimes. the accused and his residence were identified.  The news report also included an interview with the man’s young son.  The CBSC Ontario Regional Panel concluded that the news broadcast violated the privacy of the boy and did not demonstrate sensitivity towards children, contrary to provisions of the Radio Television News Directors Association of Canada (RTNDA) Code of (Journalistic) Ethics.

The report in question revealed that a Toronto man had been charged with sexual assaults against children, as well as production and possession of child pornography.  The broadcast provided the man’s name and a photograph of him, as well as his civic address.  A CityPulse reporter was shown both outside and inside the man’s apartment building.  There was also a segment in which the reporter was seen in the apartment hallway speaking to a person standing in a doorway.  The face of the person was digitally obscured, but the voice sounded like that of a young boy.  The reporter showed the boy a photo of the accused.  The boy stated that the man was his dad and that he had gone to jail. 

The CBSC received a complaint from a viewer who was concerned about the treatment of the accused’s son in the report.  The viewer felt that it was unethical to interview a vulnerable child without his parent’s permission.  In its responses to the complainant, CITY-TV acknowledged that it should not have included that footage.  The Ontario Panel also agreed that the report violated the RTNDA Code of (Journalistic) Ethics.  The Panel observed that the report provided enough information to identify the boy and that this “constituted an unjustified invasion of privacy, in violation of the requirements of Article 4 of the [Code].  What is more, it actually added no piece of information that was in the public interest.”  The Panel also emphasized that “the rules ought to be more vigilantly observed in the case of young children,” particularly since Article 8 of the Code requires that broadcasters must “use special sensitivity when dealing with children.”  The Panel made the following statements on this issue:  

They [young children] are vulnerable and, where, as in this case, they add no useful information to the story being reported, there is simply no reason for their inclusion in the piece.  […]  Those who were concerned about the accused’s identity already knew his name, what he looked like, what he did for a living and where he lived.  Nor was it more useful than it was wrenching to hear this young boy say that his dad “went to jail”.  The Panel finds that the broadcaster did not display the “special sensitivity” required by the Code “when dealing with children.”

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 550 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