Public Affairs Segment about Detaxers Did Not Breach Broadcaster Codes, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, March 6, 2003 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning a segment called “No Tax” broadcast within an episode of CTV's public affairs program W-FIVE. The segment dealt principally, but not solely, with the Canadian wing of a movement known as the “detaxers” who believe that citizens do not need to pay income tax. The CBSC National Conventional Television Panel reviewed complaints accusing the broadcaster of bias against the detaxers in the segment but found no Code violation.

The “No Tax” segment on W-FIVE was divided into two parts. The first dealt with the question of the basic posture of the detaxers regarding the obligation to pay state-levied taxes at all. The second reflected the broadcaster's suggestion that an anti-tax position could lead to a more general anti-government view which can then in turn lead to violence. In the first part, W-FIVE explained the detaxers' position that, based, among other things, on such ancient laws as the Magna Carta, Canadian citizens are not legally required to pay income tax. The segment included interviews with some of the movement's leaders who elaborated on the views, positions and arguments of the group. It also included interviews with a tax lawyer, the Minister of the Canadian Customs and Revenue Agency, judges and various other experts who took an position opposing that of the detaxers. The opponents posited that the detaxers were misinterpreting the tax laws. In the second part, some of the individuals interviewed provided examples of cases in which tax employees and judges had been threatened allegedly in detax-related matters. One interviewee also noted that anti-tax movements in the United States have been connected to violent activities and that Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh had started out as an anti-tax adherent.

The CBSC received a number of complaints about the segment, some from detax proponents. They complained that the segment had been inaccurate and biased, making all detaxers look like terrorists. The National Conventional Television Panel reviewed the matter under the Canadian Association of Broadcasters' (CAB) Code of Ethics and the Radio Television News Directors Association of Canada (RTNDA) Code of (Journalistic) Ethics. The Panel found no breach of either Code. The Panel found the piece balanced since “the detaxers were provided ample opportunity to state their case.” It also considered that the program did not need to present every single one of the detaxers' political philosophies in order to be fair.

[T]he broadcaster was under no obligation to provide time for every argument the detaxers wished to raise. Television is not print. Nor is it the Internet. The detaxers may well be able to expound on their arguments in those media that provide fewer, if any, limitations of space or time. On television, on the other hand, they must fit within the constraints of the medium. That being said, they were right to expect that the broadcaster would allow them to put their case. It did and they did. CTV had no further obligation in this respect

The Panel concluded that W-FIVE's attempt to link anti-tax violence from the U.S. example to Canadian detaxers was quite weak, but that the segment clearly distinguished the Canadian examples from the American ones. It stated that “the audience members were entirely free to reach their own conclusions regarding the applicability of the American historical examples to the Canadian future.”

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 530 radio and 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