June 1997

Ottawa, June 19, 1997 — The B.C. Regional Council of the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning a CHAN-TV (Vancouver) newscast.

In June 1996, CHAN-TV aired two newscasts about the Ridge Meadows Recycling Society, a not-for-profit organization that hired physically and mentally challenged people to work in its recycling facility. Accusations of cruelty to the employees drew a CHAN-TV reporter and crew to the society, where they filmed mentally challenged employees working outdoors, and interviewed both a signatory to a memo alleging abuse and a Ridge Meadows official. In a second newscast, the reporter interviewed another Ridge Meadows official and discussed the finances of the Society, suggesting that there was some financial mismanagement in the salaries paid to staff and in the sources of the organization's funds.

The Executive Director complained that the reports had been “malicious, one-sided and destructive”, since the news crew had arrived with no prior notification and with no authorization to film the mentally challenged employees. She added that the reports seemed to have been intended to discredit the Society by alleging financial irregularities that were unfounded. CHAN-TV responded by indicating that the issues of mistreatment of employees and financial mismanagement on the part of Ridge Meadows were of public interest and were legitimate to examine in a news broadcast. The station's Vice-President and News Director further noted that the employees were filmed at some distance and could not be identified individually. The Society had, in both newscasts, been invited to respond to the allegations and its point of view had been presented fairly and adequately, in his opinion. Other representatives of the Society were 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 newscasts and examining the correspondence, the Regional Council decided that CHAN-TV did not breach the industry's Code of Ethics or the Code of (Journalistic) Ethics. The Council affirmed that news crews cannot gather the news “by appointment” for every report they prepare. Such an expectation would have had the effect of muzzling the ability of the reporter to present this issue of public interest. The Council added that the mentally challenged individuals who appeared in the reports could not have been identified in the brief time they appeared on camera; moreover, there was a compelling interest in using these unidentified images to illustrate the story. Still, the Council was somewhat troubled by certain of the reporter's (ultimately unfounded) suggestions of financial mismanagement. For example, the reporter had implied that the Society received government grants for its financing, when in fact it received payment for services rendered as a result of its contract with the local government. He also incorrectly extrapolated, from the Society's budget, that overall salary increases of 12% had been mispresented by the Society as being merely 2%. This presentation did not, in the Council's view, meet the standards of telling the story fairly, comprehensively and accurately but it did not breach the industry's Codes on ethics and journalistic practices. As the Council commented, “it is not, and cannot be, that every inadvertence or inappropriate comment will fall afoul of the various broadcaster codes. This is a case where they do not but where the Council would have wished that the broadcaster had been further from the edge.”

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 involved in the decision are Catherine Murray and Robert Mackay; while the other broadcasters who participated in the decision were Susan Brinton and Gordon Vizzutti.

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Ottawa, June 18, 1997 — The CRTC today anounced its decision regarding the Classification System proposed by AGVOT on May 5, 1997, the details of which can be found on the CBSC website. The CRTC's News Release notes that

The new classification system will have six levels as well as an exempt category that uses descriptive guidelines to evaluate the content of television programs. The content evaluation results in the assignment of a rating for the intended age of the audience based on the nature and the degree of violence present in a program. Programs will be classified in the following categories:

Children: programming for children under the age of 8 years; Children over 8 years: programming for children between 8-12 years old;Family: programming intended for the whole family; Parental Advisory: programming that may not be suitable for children under the age of 8 and may be inappropriate for unsupervised viewing by children 8-13 years old; Over 14 years: programming with themes or content that may not be suitable for viewers under the age of 14; Adults: programming intended for viewers 18 years and older.

The Media Release also notes that the Classification System will function as “an important addition to the anti-violence code already adhered to by Canadian broadcasters” and administered by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council. French-language broadcasters in Quebec will continue to use the rating system of the Régie du cinéma.

In effect, the Commission acknowledges that, in accordance with the AGVOT report, the V-Chip system will take longer to implement than originally envisaged; however, the Commission made it clear that it

expects encoding and the V-chip to be implemented as soon as an effective, affordable, user-friendly system can be made available to consumers. To that effect, the Commission will closely monitor the progress of the industry and ensure that all necessary efforts have been made to achieve this goal.

The full text of the Commission's decision, Classification System for Violence in Television Programming, Public Notice CRTC 1997-80, is accessible by clicking here.

Ottawa, June 12, 1997 — The Ontario Regional Council of the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) released its decision today concerning a newscast aired on Ottawa's CJOH-TV.

CJOH-TV filmed and reported on a vigil held in December 1994, in an Ottawa park. The vigil was held in commemoration of the victims of the massacre at the Université de Montréal. A CJOH-TV viewer who had attended the vigil wrote to the CBSC of her concern that the news crew had invaded a private moment of grief shared by the women attending the vigil. She stated that the news team had ignored the request not to film the final few moments of the vigil. Though she had contacted the station and spoken with the news anchor, she was dissatisfied with his response that the vigil was of interest to the public and had taken place in a public park, and was therefore legitimately filmed and reported on by the station. CJOH-TV replied to the written complaint by reiterating the news anchor's points and by adding that the report was accurate and comprehensive, without sensationalizing or intruding. The viewer was unsatisfied with this response and asked the CBSC's Ontario Regional Council to consider the matter.

In its decision (attached), the Council noted that the organizers of the vigil had invited news crews to cover the event. Moreover, by holding it in a public place, its organizers appeared to have wanted it to attract some attention. Thus, in the Council's view, the event was newsworthy. As the Council put it, “the one wish that did not come true was that the coverage would end at the moment that the organizers, the complainant and no doubt others would have wished that it would end. Freedom of the press is not a tap that can be turned off at the whim of the news maker …. When a story is in the public interest, the press will legitimately expect to be able to report on it.” Further, the CJOH-TV coverage was extensive and sympathetic, and the news crew had merely taken up the invitation from the organizers. The Council therefore decided that CJOH-TV breached neither the industry's Code of Ethics nor the Code of (Journalistic) Ethics.

In addition to administering codes of ethics, the CBSC administers broadcasting industry codes on gender portrayal and television violence.

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Ottawa, June 12, 1997 — The Ontario Regional Council of the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) released its decision today concerning a commercial for Maple Leaf Meats aired on CTV.

The decision concerns a commercial aired in April 1996, depicting a butcher waving a meat cleaver over a butcher's block. The butcher compared his meat to that packaged by Maple Leaf Meats. His script closed with the butcher swinging his cleaver into the block and declaring, “you can argue with me, but I don't think you should.” A CTV viewer wrote to complain about the commercial. In her view, the commercial contained a threat which made her “sick just watching it”. She expressed concern about the children that might have watched the commercial and been negatively affected by it. CTV's President, and the Vice-President of Corporate Communications and Director of Programming each replied to the viewer. The President wrote that the commercial contained no hint of threat and that the butcher's tone had been good-natured and convivial. The Vice-President of Corporate Communications and Director of Programming reiterated the President's position. She added that in CTV's view, the commercial complied with the industry's code concerning television violence and in fact, had been cleared by an independent body as suitable for television broadcast. The viewer was unsatisfied with CTV's replies and asked the CBSC to consider her complaint.

In its decision (attached), the Ontario Regional Council reaffirmed its jurisdiction over certain types of advertising complaints, such as those that fall within the scope of the industry's Voluntary Code Regarding Violence in Television Programming. Referring to the Code, which prohibits gratuitous violence and required broadcasters to schedule programs containing “scenes of violence intended for adult audiences” after 9 p.m., the Regional Council decided that, while there was an implied “threat” in the commercial, it was clearly not serious and could not be considered by anyone to be menacing. Nor was there any scene or depiction of violence in the commercial. As a result, in the Council's opinion, CTV did not breach the industry's code on television violence.

In addition to administering the Violence Code, the CBSC administers broadcasting industry codes on ethics, gender portrayal, and journalistic 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