Live Coverage of Criminal Activities Must Not Endanger Lives, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, July 19, 2007 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning CKNW’s (Vancouver) coverage of the Montreal Dawson College shooting on September 13, 2006.  CKNW, owned by Corus Entertainment, provided live breaking news of the situation from its sister station in Montreal, CINW.  The CBSC’s British Columbia Regional Panel found CKNW in violation of the Radio-Television News Directors Association (RTNDA) Code of (Journalistic) Ethics for revealing information that could have endangered lives. 

The Corus Radio Network provided up-to-the-minute live coverage from its station in Montreal as the situation at Dawson College unfolded.  At the time, facts and details of the event were unclear.  Authorities were uncertain how many shooters there were, where they were located in the school, what their motives were and how the attack had been organized.  The coverage contained interviews with students and their family members.  Two of the interviews broadcast on-air revealed the precise location of students still barricaded in the school.  The CBSC received a complaint from a CKNW listener who expressed his concern that broadcasting this information “could have tipped the gunman to the whereabouts of the trapped people” and that “lives were put in jeopardy”. 

The BC Regional Panel examined the complaint under the article of the RTNDA Code of (Journalistic) Ethics that deals with reporting on criminal activities.  That article requires that the reporting “does not knowingly endanger lives […] or provide vital information to the perpetrator(s).”  The Panel concluded that the broadcast did violate this code provision for the following reasons: 

[T]echnology has created new risks for the public in the reporting of criminal activities such as hostage-takings, prison uprisings or terrorist acts.  […]  The Panel notes that the broadcaster not only aired live telephone calls with trapped students but that it also repeated, no less than four times, the locations of those students in the building.  The Panel is not suggesting that the station ought not to have either taken or broadcast those cell phone calls from the frightened trapped students.  […]  The broadcaster ought never, however, to have permitted that part of those calls (the students’ locations) to go to air.  […]  Nor should they have revealed those details on air in summaries by the anchor or the reporters thereafter.  The consequences might, as the complainant validly assumed, have been lethal.  Broadcasters must always assume that the perpetrators have access to the information they report.  […] In the Dawson College situation, the BC Panel concludes that the live broadcast of details relating to the location of the students in the building in the midst of the unresolved shooting crisis constituted a breach of Article 10 of the RTNDA Code of (Journalistic) Ethics

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 stations, satellite radio services, 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