Relocating Missing 9 Violated Contest Provision of Broadcast Code, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, July 8, 2009 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning CKIX-FM (99.1 Hits FM, St. John’s, Newfoundland)’s Missing 9 Contest held in Fall 2008.  The CBSC concluded that, because the missing 9 object was moved part way through the contest, the contest was not fair under Clause 12 of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics.

The premise of the Missing 9 Contest was that an actual physical 9 had been hidden somewhere in the St. John’s area; listeners had to determine its location on the basis of the clues provided on air throughout September and October 2008.  Listeners complained that the contest had been unfair because some of the clues were vague or misleading and because the 9 was ultimately found in a pick-up truck that did not arrive at the final hiding spot until the day the 9 was found.

99.1 Hits FM explained that it had moved the 9 part way through the contest due to unforeseen circumstances.  The 9 had originally been hidden inside a locker on the premises of a self-storage facility, without the knowledge of that facility.  When the company put up a No Trespassing sign, the station was faced with the difficult, if not impossible, task of moving the 9 while still trying to ensure that the previous clues remained valid.  Hits FM chose to move the 9 onto a pick-up truck that was then parked just outside the gate of the storage facility.

The CBSC’s Atlantic Regional Panel examined the complaint under Clause 12 of the CAB Code of Ethics, which requires broadcasters to ensure that contests are conducted legitimately and fairly.  The Panel noted that there was no problem with conducting this type of scavenger hunt contest and that it was reasonable to expect that clues would be vague and open to more than one interpretation.  With respect to the execution of the contest, however, the Panel concluded that moving the 9 led to the contest being unfair and thus in violation of Clause 12.  It explained its reasoning as follows:

To begin, the Panel considers that the station’s decision to hide the 9 in a locked storage room at a privately-owned facility was ill-conceived (although not ill-intentioned), as CKIX-FM itself learned the hard way when the storage facility put up its No Trespassing sign.  […]

[…]  The station was then forced to hastily alter its plans, moving the 9 from the locker within the facility to a location outside its locked gate.  That was, of course, unfair to those who had already laboured over the clues. The unfairness of the situation was further exacerbated by the fact that the 9 did not arrive at its final hiding place, where it had never before been located, until the morning of October 6.  Effectively, in that location, the 9 had not been generally accessible to the public until the truck arrived at the spot, meaning that, even if listeners had been attentive to the clues, they did not have the opportunity to win the month-long contest before that moment.

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 725 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