News Report about Firearms Somewhat Distorted but Not in Breach, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, August 15, 2006 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning a news report about Canadian firearms laws broadcast on TQS’s news program Le Grand Journal.  Viewers complained that the report contained inaccurate and misleading information about Canadian regulations and the availability of firearms.  The CBSC Quebec Regional Panel concluded that the report had somewhat distorted certain facts but that overall the report did not violate any broadcaster codes. 

TQS broadcast the report on December 5, 2005.  In it, Normand Lester claimed it was easy to obtain semi-automatic weapons and ammunition in Canada despite the gun registration laws.  He alleged that even a 14 year old could gain access to such firearms.  Some viewers complained that Lester’s report had contained inaccurate information about both the firearms depicted and the laws relating to gun ownership and use in Canada.  They also complained that Lester had incorrectly compared the MG34 machine gun to the Mini Ruger-14 used by Marc Lépine in the École Polytechnique massacre of 1989.  TQS provided the complainants with responses from Lester himself, who explained that the overall purpose of his report had been to demonstrate that heavy weapons are relatively easily accessible and that he had simply used “colourful” language to illustrate his points. 

The Panel examined the complaints under the Codes of Ethics of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) and the Radio-Television News Directors Association (RTNDA).  The Panel concluded that leaving an impression of easy access to firearms had been the reporter’s goal. 

In order to create that impression, the Panel considers that the reporter was fairly fast and loose with his facts.  His information was woolly, not sharply defined.  The trick was how he knitted together the fabric of his argument.  Technically speaking, most of the components were, if considered in isolation, either accurate or, at best, not inaccurate.  By juxtaposing elements that were not intended to be so conjoined, Lester was able to leave an impression that was, in a composite or overall sense, somewhat distorted.  

Thus, “the reporter did not use the verb ‘buy’ […]; he said […] ‘procure’ and, in this respect, it is undisputed that a 14-year old may obtain a Minor’s Licence, which will permit that young person to use or borrow, although not to buy or own, non-restricted firearms.”  He also did not say that the MG34 and Ruger-14 were “the same”, only that they both fired in semi-automatic mode.  As to the “colourful” language, the Panel observed it had been “sloppy” and contained “somewhat distorted” information. 

Colourful is fine.  Terse and succinct are fine.  Illustrative is fine.  Irrelevant and misleading are not.  They are a regrettable usage and suggest sloppier practices than are customary in the exercise of serious journalism.  That being said, for the reasons discussed in detail above, the Panel is not of the view that any of the statements is materially incorrect or that the overall perspective left is materially misleading.  The Panel wishes that the reporter had been more thoughtful in his presentation but, in conclusion, it finds no breach of the codified standards cited above.  

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