Misrepresentation of SkyTrain CEO’s Comments in News Broadcasts Violates Codes, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, November 5, 2008 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning news reports and teasers about the SkyTrain transportation system on CKWX-AM (News 1130) Vancouver on May 1, 2007.  The reports and teasers misrepresented comments made by SkyTrain’s CEO and failed to inform listeners that an audio clip had come from SkyTrain’s website.  The CBSC concluded that the broadcasts violated Articles 1, 3, and 11 of the Radio Television News Directors Association (RTNDA – The Association of Electronic Journalists) Code of (Journalistic) Ethics as well as Clauses 5, 6 and 12 of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics.

News1130’s top news story on the afternoon of May 1 was that SkyTrain’s CEO had issued a public statement about the safety of the system.  Teasers and promos for the story were aired throughout the afternoon and the story itself was broadcast at each top-of-hour and half-hour newscast.  The teasers and promos for the story used language such as “Even the boss of SkyTrain says he wouldn’t let his kids travel alone late a night on the system.”  The story itself included an audio clip of the SkyTrain CEO, as well as an interview with a SkyTrain user.

The CBSC received a complaint from the company that owns SkyTrain, TransLink.  It complained that the promos and news reports left the impression that SkyTrain’s CEO (who was occasionally misidentified as TransLink’s CEO) believed the system was unsafe, when in fact his full commentary stated that safety on SkyTrain had been improved and that he would not allow his children to go anywhere alone at night because travelling in a group and in well-lit areas was simply the prudent thing to do.  The broadcaster argued that its teasers and reports were not inaccurate and were merely worded in such as way as to generate audience interest.

The CBSC’s British Columbia Regional Panel concluded that the reports, and especially the teasers, had distorted the SkyTrain CEO’s words contrary to Article 3 of the RTNDA Code, which prohibits the editing of interviews which have the effect of changing or misrepresenting their meaning.  The editing also rendered the content inaccurate, contrary to the requirement for accuracy in Article 1 of the RTNDA Code and Clause 5 of the CAB Code.  In addition, the Panel concluded that the promos were misleading, contrary to Clause 12 of the CAB Code.  The Panel made the following observations:

The Panel finds that CKWX took the [SkyTrain CEO] interview, decontextualized it, and recast it in ways that had little or nothing to do with the original material.  […]  [T]he broadcaster has taken the SkyTrain web-based interview with the CEO of the company and reshaped it to make it conform to the story and teasers CKWX wished to air.

[…]

[T]he Panel finds the implication in the statement that “The boss of the rapid transit system says he wouldn’t […] let [his] children travel alone late at night on SkyTrain” equally misleading.  While technically accurate, the isolated words do not reflect the essence of the CEO’s statement and perspective.  The issue was not, as he explained, “a SkyTrain thing, it’s a societal thing.”  Finally, with respect to the teasers, there was no shocking admission, nor any surprising news, at least for any parent, in the CEO’s stating that he would not permit his child to travel “alone at night”.  The Panel presumes that most parents would not either.  Common sense, exaggerated language.

The station also exaggerated and sensationalized the story contrary to Clause 6 of the CAB Code.  In combination with the decontextualized comments of the CEO, the reports referred to “recent violence” and claimed that many people were extremely concerned about their safety, yet they provided no information about safety concerns and interviewed only one SkyTrain user about her thoughts.

[T]he broadcaster made at least seven references in the May 1 newscasts to “recent violence” without identifying or concretizing a single incident.  In other words, CKWX was creating an impression of safety issues without grounding its story in reality. […]  [B]y leaving that sense of numbers of concerned individuals, the broadcaster was promising more than it ever delivered.  […]  The single individual was not authoritative, nor was there another example provided, in other words, nothing other than vague, unsupported assertions of a wide-spread problem.

News1130 also gave the impression that the comments from the SkyTrain CEO had been provided in an interview with the station when in fact they had come from a clip posted on SkyTrain’s website.  News1130’s failure to indicate the source of the interview violated Article 11 of the RTNDA Code.

Canada’s private broadcasters have themselves created industry standards in the form of Codes on ethics, equitable portrayal, television violence and journalistic independence 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 ethics created by the RTNDA – Association of Electronic Journalists in 1970.  More than 690 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