No Code Breach for Identifying Lawsuit Plaintiff in News Report, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, September 16, 2008 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision about a Global Edmonton (CITV-TV) news report, which told the story of an adult woman who was suing her foster mother.  The daughter complained that the report had revealed her name and showed photographs of her as a child and young adult.  The CBSC concluded that the broadcast did not violate the woman’s privacy under the Radio-Television News Directors Association of Canada (RTNDA – The Association of Electronic Journalists)’s Code of (Journalistic) Ethics.

Aired during Global Edmonton’s 6:00 pm newscast on January 16, 2008, the report explained that a 44-year-old woman was suing her foster (and later adoptive) mother for half a million dollars.  The broadcast, primarily an interview with the 71-year-old mother, provided both women’s full names and showed home movies and photographs of the daughter through the years.  CITV reported the daughter’s allegations that: the foster mother had deceived the biological mother in order to be allowed to adopt the daughter; and the daughter had grown up in sub-standard housing.  In the interview, the mother expressed her surprise at those allegations, as well as her sadness at becoming estranged from her daughter.

The CBSC received a complaint from the daughter who was concerned that her name, photographs and other identifying information had been provided in the report without her permission.  Global argued that there was no publication ban in place regarding the court case, and that it was entitled to broadcast the information.

The CBSC’s Prairie Regional Panel examined the complaint under Article 4 of the RTNDA Code of (Journalistic) Ethics, which requires broadcasters to refrain from infringing on people’s privacy except when necessary in the public interest.  The Panel found no breach of that Article because the woman had initiated the court proceedings which are, by their nature under the Canadian judicial system, public.  The Panel stated:

The Panel understands the complainant’s perspective regarding the disclosure of details associated with her person and her life.  She falls into the familiar category of individuals who would prefer to “fly under the radar” despite their presence in the courts of the land.  She cannot, however, avoid the consequence of her decision to begin her litigation against her adoptive mother.  It rendered an otherwise private issue very public.  Moreover, the personal details revealed are inextricably linked to the legal proceedings she herself instituted.  Consequently, in the view of the Panel, their broadcast does not constitute an unreasonable infringement of complainant’s privacy, on the one hand, or a matter that would not be considered other than in the public interest, on the other.

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 690 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