News Reports were Accurate and Fair, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, August 4, 2010 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning two news reports that aired on CTV British Columbia (CIVT-TV) during its late evening newscast, CTV News at 11:30, on May 7, 2009.  The first was about a Parliamentary proposal to incorporate seal fur into Vancouver 2010 Olympic clothing and the second was about an oil spill that had occurred in Burnaby.  The CBSC concluded that neither report contained any inaccurate, unfair or biased information.

The “Seal Fur Uniforms” report informed viewers that a motion had passed in the House of Commons to have seal fur included in Olympic uniforms as a reaction to the European Union’s decision to impose a ban on the importation of Canadian seal products.  A viewer complained that the report was inaccurate because the motion had actually referred to Olympic clothing, not athletes’ uniforms and it was only about studying the possibility of doing so.  He suggested that the wording of the report was politicized because manufacturing anything with seal fur is a controversial issue.

The “Oil Spill” report stated that an oil holding tank owned by energy company Kinder Morgan had experienced a spill that day and that this was the second spill involving the company in less than two years.  The report also included a comment from a local resident who argued that the tank should not be located so close to a residential area.  The same viewer complained that this report also contained inaccurate and biased information.  He alleged that the report had stated that Kinder Morgan had caused the first oil spill when, he explained, there were other companies and factors involved.  He also thought the inclusion of the resident’s comment was biased because the oil tank had actually occupied that location prior to the construction of the residential homes.

The CBSC’s British Columbia Regional Panel examined the complaints under Clause 5 of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics and Article 1 of the Radio Television News Directors Association of Canada (RTNDA – The Association of Electronic Journalists) Code of (Journalistic) Ethics, both of which require that news be presented accurately and without bias.  The Panel also considered the complaints under Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics, which requires the full, fair and proper presentation of news.

The Panel found that neither report violated any of those Code provisions.  With respect to the “Seal Fur Uniforms” story, the Panel said

that the complainant has engaged in hair-splitting.  In the view of the Panel, what matters far more to audiences is the forest rather than the trees.  On that larger level, the Panel does not find the report inaccurate, misleading or even deceptive in any material sense.  […]  It begins with the notion that the motion is a motion, not a statute, in other words, the enunciation of a principle or a direction rather than the legislative fruits of a declaration of policy.  There is a chasm of difference between the two. […] The Panel acknowledges that the term “seal fur” was not a part of the motion.  It is undeniable that what was stated in the French version was “produits dérivés du loup-marin” and in the English “seal products”.  That said, the Panel is utterly unable to fathom what products derived from seals (to use the full original expression) could logically or reasonably be understood as possibly incorporated in clothing (or uniforms) other than the skin or fur.  Surely, the complainant was not trying to suggest that it could have been any of the other products of the harvesting of seals, namely, seal meat, seal blubber, seal oil (derived from the blubber), the pharmaceutical product omega-3 fatty acids, or seal organs.  It is so patently evident that what was intended in the motion was seal skin or fur that there is no need to take this argument any further.

The Panel also dealt with the complainant’s objection to the use of the word “included” in the story when, once again, the motion said “using these products in the making” of the clothing.  And also with the report’s choice of “uniforms” rather than “clothing”, as in the motion.  As the Panel said,

Technically, the complainant is again correct, but, in the view of the Panel, his observation does not amount to a material distinction. […] The Panel is of the view that, in choosing the word “uniforms” rather than “clothing”, the broadcaster was making a reasonable effort to convey the intention of the mover and the unanimous Parliament.  In the view of the Panel, that was an eminently logical interpretation of the debates on the subject.  That was the cautious and thoughtful path.  That was the language that would best provide the audience with a reasonable interpretation of the Parliamentary perspective.

It noted that there was justification for CTV British Columbia’s choice of words when one considered the context and examined the Hansard record of what was actually stated in the House of Commons.

With respect to the “Oil Spill” report, the Panel noted that the anchor had not used the word “caused”, but rather identified the second spill as “involving” Kinder Morgan, which was accurate.  As the Panel stated, there was not “the least attribution of fault in either the intro or the extro.  In the intro, there was a dispassionate factual observation that there had been a major oil spill involving energy giant Kinder Morgan.  The piece was not in the least focussed on any issue of fault.”  The Panel also had no problem with the inclusion of the resident’s viewpoint because it was simply a “cursory interview reflecting local residents’ concerns” regardless of the fact that the oil tank had existed first.

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