Use of Confidential Information and Insulting Comments Are Both Unfair and Improper, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, July 20, 2004 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning host Gilles Proulx’s discussion regarding the public transportation strike during his midday television program on TQS, Journal du midi, on November 24, 2003.  The Quebec Regional Panel reviewed the broadcast in question and concluded that TQS had breached the terms of both Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics which requires the full, fair, and proper presentation of news, opinion, comment or editorial, and Article 4 (Privacy) of the RTNDA Code of (Journalistic) Ethics.

In the broadcast in question, host Gilles Proulx continued a discussion on the then on-going public transportation strike which he had started in previous broadcasts.  In this particular broadcast, Proulx commented on a complaint that had been made against him regarding his views on the strike.  The complainant had written directly to the host and also registered his concerns with the CRTC.  Proulx’s comments on the complaint began with the full name of the complainant and an identification of both the city where the complainant worked and that where he lived.  The host then added that the complainant “n’a rien compris dans sa tête de cabochon et son cerveau gros comme un pois à soupe, n’a rien compris.”  The same complainant wrote to the CBSC regarding his concern about two issues: first, the broadcast of his name and other confidential information on television without his knowledge or consent; and second, the host’s attitude toward, and characterization of, those who oppose his view. 

The Panel reviewed the broadcast and found it in breach of both the general CAB Code of Ethics and the RTNDA Code of (Journalistic) Ethics.  The Panel found that the disclosures constituted 

an unjustifiable exercise of the power of the microphone for petty and vindictive reasons.  There was no conceivable justification for Gilles Proulx to mention his name, much less to identify the city where he lives and that where he works, on the air.  The host’s actions were taken in an atmosphere of nastiness and insult.  That the complainant had written Proulx directly was a private matter, that he filed a complaint with the CRTC was also a non-public act […] 

It should also be remembered that those who complain to the CRTC or the CBSC are not persons who have access to the power of a microphone and a broadcast licence.  Those who receive such complaints and do have the power of a microphone and a licence must be conscious that those powerful tools have not been provided for personal retributive purposes.  Audience members are entitled to complain and, in the vast majority of cases that pass through the hands of the CBSC, broadcasters deal responsively and responsibly with them.  It is, thankfully, rare that a situation such as the present one occurs. 

[…]The general principle is that complaints are confidential, at least insofar as the broadcast of any personal information about those who make them is concerned.  The broadcast of the name of the complainant and the information relating to where he works and lives constitutes a breach of the above-cited provisions of the CBSC and RTNDA Codes and the broadcast of the insulting comments is both unfair and improper and in breach of Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics.

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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