Report on Unpublished Information Potentially Jeopardizing a Kidnap Victim’s Safe Return Breaches Journalistic Ethics Code, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, March 9 , 2005– The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning a news report on the case of Amanda Stamp, who had been kidnapped from her home in Toronto. In addition to the pictures and video clips of the kidnap victim, her mother’s emotional plea, a focus on the alleged kidnapper, and an interview with Ontario’s Corrections Services Minister Monte Kwinter included in the news item, the reporter presented a new twist to the story, which was the sighting of Amanda Stamp at a convenience store. Accompanying that part of the report was a video clip showing police officers at the convenience store in question, which was described as being in Brampton, Ontario and was identifiable from the video footage that was shown.

A complainant questioned whether the premature release of that information might have the effect of “get[ting] the poor woman killed.” The broadcaster’s representative stated that Global had released the information because it “thought other media outlets had already reported it.” The Managing Director at Global National News hastened to point out that the good news was that the kidnap victim had been released unharmed the following day.

The CBSC’s National Conventional Television Panel ruled that the essence of the relevant provision of the Radio-Television News Directors Code of (Journalistic) Ethics was “that any broadcast in such circumstances ought not to endanger lives, provide vital information to the perpetrator(s) or potentially interfere with the successful resolution of the matter being reported.” With respect to the broadcast in question the Panel concluded:

In the matter at hand, the report that Amanda Stamp had been in a quite specific location and had advised a cashier at a store who she was and that the cashier should call 911 was, it seems clear to the Panel, an endangering bit of news. Had the abductor been watching television at the moment of the newscast and learned of what Stamp had said, he may well have taken retributive action. That would have been a tragic outcome, which is clearly what the Code article sought to avoid. It goes without saying it would be no defence to say that “other media outlets had already reported it.” It is surely the obligation of each news medium to determine what does, or does not, reflect their industry’s standards. It is clear that each broadcaster would have to arrive at such a determination for itself. In the present instance, Global Television has breached the codified standard established in Article 10 of the RTNDA Code of (Journalistic) Ethics.

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 550 radio and television stations and specialty services from across Canada are members of the Council. 

– 30 –

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