Repeated Episodes of Call-in Programs Must Be Identified, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, September 28, 2011 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning an episode of Friendly Fire that aired on CFRB-AM (Toronto) on December 29, 2010.  On that daily (weekday) program, the hosts, Ryan Doyle and Tarek Fatah, regularly critiqued municipal and provincial politics and frequently enticed listeners to join the daily debates.

During the December 29 episode, which had been previously broadcast (the date of the original broadcast was not known to the Panel), the topics discussed included new drinking and driving legislation, a new law pertaining to those who default on their child support payments, immigration, voting in the city of Toronto (more specifically the policy related to whether wearing a religious face-covering should be acceptable when a person is voting), a by-law regarding Chinese superstition, and other matters.  The hosts took calls and interviewed guests, addressing the foregoing topics.

Every half hour or so, listeners were encouraged to call in and interact either by the hosts or via pre-recorded voice-overs.  In addition, throughout the show, the hosts took calls and referenced text messages they had received; all instances appearing to be live interactions.  In all, listeners were invited, not just to call, but also to text the station, as occurred on no less than eight occasions during the December 29 episode.  While the calls were free, listeners were advised as follows: “$0.25 will be charged to your wireless carrier” for each text.

A listener complained that CFRB was “running repeat broadcasts without notifying the listener that the show that they are listening to is a repeat. They are encouraging people to text messages or call them during these repeat broadcasts. […] I find this practice […] misleading as well as costing listeners unnecessary text costs that they end up paying to their cell phone companies.”

The Ontario Regional Panel agreed.  While it acknowledged that there were no specific codified standards that deal with repeated programs or episodes, there were, however, specific principles that could be applied.  The Panel concluded that the creation of a “potentially incorrect audience expectation” was of concern.

At the very least, it would be courteous to the audience’s sensibilities to advise them that a program or an episode of a program is being repeated.  After all, there may be those who have previously listened to it and may not wish to do so again.  Equally, there may be those who had wished to hear the full discussion and, having missed all or some of it, are now glad to have the opportunity to hear the entire interchange.  Some who may have heard the entire segment may want to enjoy it once more.  The point is that, at the very least, the broadcaster ought to advise listeners that the show is being repeated.  Where, however, it is a part of the original broadcast that persons were invited to contact the station, as in any call-in show, the lack of courtesy in failing to advise listeners not to call becomes an inconvenience if not an annoyance.  Where, as in the matter at hand, listeners are invited, not just to call, but also to text the station, […] the inconvenience turns to expense.  Moreover, the utility of phoning the station (which likely involves no listener expense) or texting the station (which would involve an expense of $0.25 per text message) would be nil since the discussion of the issues had already taken place and neither phoning nor texting would result in any listener input on the issues.  The Panel considers that the failure to advise the audience of the value-less nature of that effort constitutes a breach of Clauses 6 and 12 of the CAB Code of Ethics.

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.  Nearly 730 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