News Reports about Police Officers Did Not Demonstrate Anti-Police Bias, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, July 7, 2010 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning CHAN-TV (Global BC)’s 6:00 pm newscast of March 23, 2009.  A viewer complained that the combination of the top three stories demonstrated an anti-police bias.  The CBSC disagreed and found no violation of any broadcast standards.

The first report was about the testimony at the Braidwood Inquiry into the Dziekanski Taser incident at the Vancouver Airport of one of the RCMP officers involved in the incident.  The report suggested that Mr. Dziekanski’s mother had attempted to speak to the testifying officers, but had been ignored.  Then, an RCMP spokesman was quoted in the report as saying that was not true.

The second report was about the same RCMP officer’s involvement in a motor vehicle accident in which a 21-year-old man had died.  The RCMP Corporal had been arrested for drinking and driving and had been suspended from his job, but charges had not yet been laid.  The third report was about the fatal shooting of a man by the Vancouver Police Department (VPD).  A bystander claimed that he had captured video of the incident with his cell phone, but that a police officer had erased it.  The report also mentioned that the bystander had been smoking marijuana for medical purposes.

The viewer asserted that the Corporal’s vehicle accident and suspension had been raised in order to call into question the credibility of his testimony at the Braidwood Inquiry.  The viewer did not object to this, but he argued that the background of the bystander in the VPD case should also have been mentioned, given that the man was, the complainant alleged, a pro-marijuana advocate who had had previous run-ins with the police.

The CBSC’s British Columbia Regional Panel examined the complaint under the Clause 5 (News) of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics and Article 1 (Accuracy) of the Radio Television News Directors Association of Canada’s (RTNDA – The Association of Electronic Journalists) Code of (Journalistic) Ethics, both of which require news to be presented accurately, comprehensively, fairly and without bias.  The Panel also applied Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics, which requires the full, fair and proper presentation of news.  In finding no Code violations with respect to Global BC’s presentation of the three stories, the panel made the following observations:

Regarding the first story, the Panel disagrees with the complainant; it finds not a modicum of anything that could be characterized as “uncontained hostility [or] obvious bias” [as alleged by the complainant].  […]  In the second report, […t]he Panel agrees entirely with the pertinence of reporting on such an issue relating to a person integrally involved in the death of [Dziekanski], although it does not agree with the complainant’s assertion that the story was told “to impeach his credibility as a witness.”  It may relate to that, but it may equally relate to the character of the police officer, his attitude toward the law, his stability, reliability, competence, and so on.  […]  [In the third story,] the broadcaster was cautious and correct in reporting the [cell phone video] story as it did, and it had no responsibility to seek the impeachment of the [bystander’s] assertions at the time of the report.

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 and the pay television Codes, as well as the Code dealing with journalistic ethics created by the RTNDA – Association of Electronic Journalists in 1970.  More than 735 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