No Breach for News Item Identifying Place of Business with Criminal Charges against Owner, Says Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, November 21, 2001  — The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning CKCO-TV's (Kitchener) broadcast of a news item about the disappearance of a man following the telecast of an earlier news item reporting charges laid against him for possession and distribution of child pornography.  The report identified him as the owner of a local pub and showed a photograph of the establishment.  A complainant alleged that CKCO should not have identified the pub in its report since it was not relevant to the crime and could have negative consequences for the man's family and the pub's employees.

The Ontario Regional Panel considered the second broadcast under the provisions in the Canadian Association of Broadcasters' Code of Ethics and the Radio Television News Directors Association's (RTNDA) Code of (Journalistic) Ethics regarding sensationalization of news and invasion of privacy.  The Panel found no breach.  As to the question of invasion of privacy, the Panel noted that this was a story about a missing person and that “[t]he identification of [the] place of business would help the members of the public understand who the individual was … increas[ing] the likelihood that someone in the public who knew him by sight might be able to help locate him.”   Moreover, the Panel found that

in the Canadian democratic system, in the absence of a Court order to the contrary (and assuming that the special rules of the Young Offenders Act are not in play), the identity of the parties and the substance and details of the proceedings are accessible by the public and the media which report these in the public interest. […]  With respect to judicial proceedings, as is the case in the matter at hand, it can be safely assumed that […] those charged in penal and criminal matters do not feel comfortable having their business conducted in the public eye.  This is probably also true of their close friends and relatives, who may sense discomfort in the reflected glare.  It is, however, a personal cost necessarily incurred for the benefit of the public. It follows that CKCO's identification of the accused by name, address and business association was entirely justified as being in the public interest […].

The Panel further supported the broadcast of the identity of the pub as in the public interest because it was a commercial establishment “to which the public was liberally invited” and “there would be a good reason to know whether this was a place they wished to continue to visit or one they wished, for their own reasons, to avoid.”

On the issues of the relevance of the inclusion of the pub in the report and the alleged sensationalization, the Panel stated: 

the information had a direct connection with the identity of the individual, who was well-known in the community.  It was a fact.  It was a current fact.  It was a publicly known fact, although not in the context of a criminal indictment. […] [I]t was also a relevant fact, although one with potential problematic consequences to the colleagues and family of the accused.  It was not exaggerated, untrue, distorted, speculative or “stretched”.  It was not, in other words, sensationalized.

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 470 radio and television stations and specialty services from across Canada are members of the Council.

– 30 –

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