Use of the Term “Deadbeat Dads”, When Balanced by News Report, Is Not in Breach, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, December 17, 2004 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning the broadcast of a news item on CHAN-TV (Vancouver) for which the term “deadbeat dads” was used in the teaser and the introduction to the piece.  The B.C. Regional Panel concluded that the regrettable introductory use of the term was more than balanced by the actual news story, which was scrupulously correct in using the expression “deadbeat parents” or its gender-less equivalent on several occasions. 

In the morning news segment, the teaser for the upcoming story read: “The Ontario government is cracking down on deadbeat dads.” The news anchor, Sophie Lui, later introduced the report with the following: 

In describing the chaotic Ontario situation, which was based on the fact that thousands of files had not yet been dealt with, reporter Graham Richardson said that “phone calls here go unanswered, files are lost, deadbeat parents, mostly men, slip through the cracks.”  The complainant acknowledged the proper use of the term “deadbeat parents” in the item but said that he found the introductory use of “the term ‘deadbeat dads’ […] offensive and sexist.”  In finding no breach, the Panel said, 

It is the view of the B.C. Regional Panel that the use of the term in the teaser and in Sophie Lui’s introduction to the Richardson news item was unnecessary and unfortunate, particularly as there was no justification in the story itself for a unisexual approach to the subject.  That being said, the Panel notes that the unfortunate term was, in a sense, immediately corrected in the story itself.  Any reference by the reporter, Richardson, was correctly generic, namely, to “deadbeat parents”, rather than “deadbeat dads” alone. […] 

[T]he reporter never used the challenged expression.  It is as though an incorrect description of contents was put on the front of the package but, as soon as it was opened, it revealed for any to see that the contents were what this Panel would expect.  Any error relating to the news report itself was instantly corrected by the substantive portion of the broadcast. 

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.

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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