Public Affairs Discussion Must Accurately Distinguish between “Free” and “Subsidized”, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, March 28, 2012 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning a segment on The Source broadcast on Sun News Network.  The CBSC found that the station violated the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics because host Ezra Levant inaccurately called an Edmonton housing program for artists “free” housing when in fact people pay to live in the housing complex.  The CBSC did not, however, require Sun News to announce the decision on air because the host acknowledged the error in a subsequent broadcast.

The Source is a public affairs discussion program.  On the July 4, 2011 episode, host Ezra Levant had as his guest Sun Media journalist-blogger Kathryn Marshall to talk about public funding for the arts.  Both Levant and Marshall objected to taxpayer money going to arts programs and they specifically talked about a program in Edmonton that provides live/work space for artists called Arts Habitat.  Levant repeatedly referred to the program as “free” housing for artists.  Marshall used the word “subsidized” most of the time, but did use the word “free” on one occasion.  Arts Habitat is in fact housing subsidized by the municipal and provincial governments of Edmonton and Alberta.

The CBSC received complaints from viewers who pointed out that artists are required to pay rent to live in Arts Habitat housing and that Sun News should not have been allowed to broadcast inaccurate information.  Sun News stated that, on an episode of The Source broadcast two days later, Levant had read an e-mail from a viewer which made this distinction and he acknowledged his error.

The CBSC’s National Specialty Services Panel concluded that Sun News Network was entitled to broadcast criticisms of public funding for arts programs, but that those criticisms must be based on accurate information.  Sun News violated Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics for referring to Arts Habitat as “free” housing when it is in fact subsidized housing, but it respected Article 7 of the Radio Television Digital News Association’s Code of Ethics by correcting the error.

The CBSC was created in 1990 by Canada’s private broadcasters to administer the codes of standards that they established for their industry.  The CBSC currently administers 7 codes which deal with ethics, equitable portrayal, violence, news and journalistic independence.  Nearly 750 radio stations, satellite radio services, television stations and specialty and pay television services 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