Targeting Wrong Agency and Naming its Employees on Air Breaches Code, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, April 13, 2011 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning an episode of Maurais Live, a morning talk show broadcast weekdays on CHOI-FM (Radio X, 98.1 FM, Quebec City).  That episode, broadcast on March 23, 2010, dealt with the ongoing training activities of certain government agencies, as well as other subjects, but the host Dominique Maurais reverted to that principal issue on a number of occasions that morning.

As a part of that episode, Maurais referred to an investigative story in the Journal de Québec, on the basis of which he was critical of the Agence de la santé et des services sociaux de la Capitale-Nationale (translation : Capital City Health and Social Services Agency).  In addition to the host’s sarcastic treatment of the training program itself, he began to broadcast of the names of every one of the managers of the agency, together with (in most cases) the positions they held in the agency.

A complaint was received from the CEO of the agency that Maurais Live had targeted.  He complained of the derision and ridicule directed at employees of his agency and the fact that the investigative story in the Journal de Québec had referred to an entirely different provincial health agency.  The Quebec Regional Panel agreed with the complainant’s concerns and said:

In the matter at hand, the host and co-host attached their criticisms of the government policy regarding seminars and continuing education programs to the [translation] Capital City Health and Social Services Agency, when that agency had nothing whatsoever to do with the course or the travel expenses to which they referred.  The hosts had even referred on air to an investigative newspaper article that had related to the [translation] Mauricie and Central Quebec Health and Social Services Agency, not the same agency at all.  The CEO of the broadcaster tried to explain away the host’s error by saying that his [translation] “purpose was not to target a single agency, but rather to regionalise that news and take the example of our own agency in Quebec City.”  Although that may have been the host’s intention, he got things wrong.  Not only did he not hesitate to identify the Quebec City-based health agency without any justification, he went so far as to name its employees, thereby cementing his error.  In other words, his commentary was neither fair nor appropriate and the Quebec Regional Panel concludes that the broadcast of March 23 was in violation of Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics.

The Panel also found fault with the on-air identification of the individual employees.  It concluded that

there was not the slightest justification or public interest in the revelation of the names of employees of an agency that was itself erroneously targeted in the first place.  The painstaking focus on the names and functions of the agency staff without the slightest justification was careless and invasive.  The Panel concludes that CHOI-FM has breached the requirements of Article 4 of the RTNDA Code of (Journalistic) 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 760 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