Video Segment Unrelated to Topic Should Not Have Appeared in Public Affairs Program, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, October 14, 2005 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning a video segment that was broadcast by TVA during an episode of the public affairs program Dans la mire. The individuals who appeared in the video clip complained to the CBSC that the use of the clip had left the impression that they were autistic when in fact they were not. The Quebec Regional Panel concluded that the inclusion of the clip during the episode rendered the broadcast inaccurate, contrary to the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics and the Radio Television News Directors Association (RTNDA) Code of (Journalistic) Ethics.

The February 1, 2005 episode of Dans la mire dealt with the subject of autism. The host and her guests explained the nature of the condition, its symptoms and possible treatments. The episode featured a number of video clips of (presumably) autistic children in order to illustrate the discussions. At one point in the discussion, when zootherapy was mentioned in the context of potential remedies, TVA broadcast a clip of two adult women and one man playing with a dog.

The CBSC received complaints from the man and one of the women who had appeared in the clip. They explained that the footage had been filmed four years before for a story on medical assistance dogs which TVA had never aired. They complained that the use of that footage in the 2005 episode of Dans la mire about autism had violated their privacy and had inaccurately given the impression that they suffered from autism.

The Quebec Regional Panel examined the complaints under the News clause of the CAB Code of Ethics and the Accuracy clause of the RTNDA Code of Ethics which both require the accurate presentation of information. The Panel concluded that the use of the clip to illustrate a discussion on autism breached both of those Code provisions for the following reasons:

Television is, the CBSC Adjudicators understand, a visual medium. While panels such as that employed by TVA in this instance can be extremely informative and helpful, television broadcasters seek visual enhancements for their discussions. […] Such a dilemma notwithstanding, the broadcaster cannot avoid the obligation to be accurate.

[…]

[W]hile one of the complainants readily acknowledged that she was sight-impaired, both complainants were decidedly not autistic. Using their images in the context of such a story could reasonably have led viewers to conclude they were autistic. […] [T]he Quebec Regional Panel, while sympathetic to the dilemma of the broadcaster in seeking to find appropriate images beyond the “talking heads”, concludes that TVA has reported this public affairs story inaccurately […].

With respect to the aspect of the complaint about invasion of privacy, the Quebec Panel found it had “insufficient information regarding the circumstances of the taping to make a determination” and noted that there were discrepancies between the broadcaster’s and the complainants’ version of events which it was not in a position to resolve.

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