News Report about Pedophile Assault Not Problematic but Required Viewer Warning, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, August 6, 2008 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning a news report broadcast on TQS about a pedophile in St. Thomas, Ontario who had been arrested following his live webcam broadcast of an assault on a young girl.  The CBSC’s Quebec Regional Panel concluded that the report did not contain any material that exploited or sexualized children, but that it should have been preceded by an advisory about its disturbing subject matter.

The report, entitled [translation] “Girl Assaulted Live”, was broadcast on November 2, 2006 during the 6:00 pm newscast.  It explained that an undercover police officer was doing cybersurveillance and encountered the live webcast of the assault.  The officer determined the man’s location and contacted the police there who then arrested the man.  The report included an interview with the officer, as well as blurred website images of young women with bare breasts and in underwear.

A viewer complained that the images were unnecessary and promoted child pornography.  The Quebec Regional Panel examined the complaint under the Exploitation clause of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Sex-Role Portrayal Code which requires that programming “refrain from the exploitation of women, men and children,” and prohibits the sexualization of children.  The Panel acknowledged the revolting nature of the report’s subject matter, but concluded that

the broadcaster chose discreet, non-exploitative images which were entirely relevant, indeed useful to the awful story it was called upon to report.  It does not find that the images were either explicit or sensationalist, as the complainant has contended.  Moreover, the Panel does not consider that the reporting of such matters, to begin with, in any way perpetuates the recurrence of the criminal activity.

The Panel did, however, conclude that TQS should have aired some form of warning prior to the report, as required by Article 6 of the CAB Violence Code.  It stated the following in that respect:

The fact that such disconcerting matter deserves broadcast does not obviate the need to alert viewers of the imminent unpleasantness that will face them on their television screens.  In order for audiences to be able to make informed viewing choices regarding disturbing news reports for themselves and their families, a viewer advisory is required by the Code.  […] [T]he Quebec Panel does consider that an advisory on the part either of the host or the reporter was necessary in the matter at hand, particularly considering the 6:00 pm broadcast of the challenged newscast.

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 685 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