On July 4, 2020, towards the end of the 6:00 pm CTV News at 6 newscast, there was an entertainment report about the reality competition program Canada’s Drag Race. At approximately 6:38 pm the CTV Toronto news anchors Andria Case and Rahim Ladhani informed viewers what was coming up during the broadcast:
Ladhani: Just ahead, a recap of tonight’s headlines.
Case: Plus, combining the art of drag with mathematics.
Caption at bottom of screen: The Art of Drag Mixed with Math
There was a clip from the video-sharing website TikTok featuring a drag queen in green hair & clothing saying “Okay, what does F at X mean? [words on screen “What is f(x)?”]. I want you to think of F as any other appliance in your kitchen.” That was followed by scenes of a drag queen in a black and white outfit posing for photographs standing on a fake snow mountain while other drag queens looked on from a pink table on the sidelines.
Case: A contestant on Canada’s Drag Race shows off another talent while gaining quite a following on social media. That story coming up in just a few minutes.
After a commercial break and some other stories, the report aired from 6:50 to 6:52 pm.
In the upper-right corner of the screen, above Ladhani’s shoulder, there was a pink graphic featuring a white crown with a maple leaf and words in white “Drag Race Canada” [sic]. Under those words were words in black that read “crave original”. Ladhani introduced the report:
Ladhani: If you missed the debut on Thursday, the first episode of Canada’s Drag Race is now available on Crave. One of the contestants is also a student at the University of Waterloo who combines their art with academics on social media. CTV’s Teagan Versolatto explains.
The report was a profile of Kyne Santos, one of the contestants on Canada’s Drag Race. Canada’s Drag Race was a reality competition program that sought to crown Canada’s best drag queen. The report included: clips of the TikTok videos that Santos makes in which he explains mathematical concepts while dressed in drag; clips from Canada’s Drag Race which showed Santos performing the various challenges; and interviews with Santos (not in drag) in which he explained his motivation for combining math and drag and talked about his experience on the reality show.
The segment concluded with a voice over stating “The Stars Tonight is brought to you by Lastman’s Bad Boy Superstore”. The words “The Stars Tonight” appeared on screen, followed by an advertising photograph for Bad Boy Superstore.
The same day, the CBSC received a complaint about this segment. The viewer complained that “For the past week (or more) the CTV news programs have been advertising their affiliated Crave service and specifically the ‘drag race’ program within their news broadcasts as if it were part of the daily news; it isn’t news.” He went on to write that he did not have a problem with the drag race program or the Crave service in general, but rather the way CTV “arbitrarily inserted” segments about Crave programming into its newscasts with minimal to no references about the relationship between Crave and CTV. He stated that “this is clearly an abuse of the station’s position as a news source and is clearly an underhanded attempt to advertise a service and program without identifying the content as an ad” and that CTV has repeatedly done this in the past.
Crave is an internet-based subscription video streaming service (similar to Netflix) which is owned by Bell Media. Bell Media also owns the conventional television stations branded as CTV; this newscast aired on the local Toronto station of the CTV network. That station responded to the complainant on August 10. CTV noted that the report was identified as an entertainment segment. CTV explained that generally in its entertainment segments, it covers stories from all distributors and production companies that it feels are of interest to viewers, not just content that airs on Bell Media properties. This particular report was about a contestant from the Kitchener, Ontario area.
The complainant responded to the station on August 11 with a copy to the CBSC and also filed his official CBSC Ruling Request. He reiterated his concerns that these entertainment reports amount to “under-handed advertising” for CTV/Crave programming presented in the guise of “news”. He again suggested that this is a consistent practice for this and other television networks.
CTV sent further information to the CBSC in October, stating that the editorial decision to profile Canada’s Drag Race was made independently by CTV News without any pressure from its parent company. (The full text of all correspondence can be found in the Appendix to this decision.)
The English-Language Panel examined the complaint under the following provisions of the Radio Television Digital News Association of Canada’s (RTDNA) Code of Journalistic Ethics and the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics:
RTDNA Code of Ethics, Article 2.0 – Fairness
We are committed to impartial, unbiased journalism that serves the public interest through the free and open exchange of ideas, and respects the diversity of society.
2.2 We will clearly distinguish news content from advertising and other forms of sponsorship.
RTDNA Code of Ethics, Article 3.0 – Independence
Journalism’s first obligation is to act in the public interest. We will resist any attempts at censorship or interference, direct or indirect, which would undermine the principle of editorial independence.
3.1 We will oppose any corporate, political or other attempts to influence our journalistic decisions.
3.4 We will apply the same journalistic standards of fairness and balance when reporting news about owners. We will oppose attempts by owners, either directly or indirectly, to influence news coverage.
RTDNA Code of Ethics, Article 4.0 – Integrity
We will govern ourselves on and off the job in a manner that avoids conflict of interest, real or perceived. When conflicts are unavoidable, they should be disclosed.
CAB Code of Ethics, Clause 5 – News
(2) News shall not be selected for the purpose of furthering or hindering either side of any controversial public issue, nor shall it be formulated on the basis of the beliefs, opinions or desires of management, the editor or others engaged in its preparation or delivery. The fundamental purpose of news dissemination in a democracy is to enable people to know what is happening, and to understand events so that they may form their own conclusions.
The Panel Adjudicators read all of the correspondence and viewed a recording of the challenged broadcast. The Panel concludes that CFTO-DT (CTV Toronto) breached Articles 2.2 and 4.0 of the RTDNA Code of Journalistic Ethics.
The questions put to the Panel were:
Should the broadcast have disclosed that both CTV and Crave are owned by Bell Media? If yes, did that failure and any other content aired during the news report violate any of the above code provisions?
The current version of the RTDNA Code of Journalistic Ethics came into effect on July 1, 2016. The amended code was significantly revised from the previous version. The purpose of the revisions was to ensure the integrity and accuracy of the news through clear guidelines that avoided “grey” areas in the interpretation and application of the code articles.
Article 2.2 of the RTDNA Code of Journalistic Ethics has no direct equivalent in the previous version of the code. The general purpose of Article 2.0 is to ensure “Fairness” through the provision of impartial, unbiased journalism that serves the public interest. For its part, Article 2.2 requires that news content be clearly distinguished from advertising and other forms of sponsorship.
Article 4.0 of the RTDNA Code of Journalistic Ethics which is now labeled as the “Integrity” disposition was previously numbered as Article 6 and was called the “Conflict of Interest” provision which read as follows:
Electronic journalists will govern themselves on and off the job in such a way as to avoid conflict of interest, real or apparent.
Article 4.0 of the RTDNA Code of Journalistic Ethics not only changes the language, it adds the requirement to disclose situations where conflicts are unavoidable as follows:
We will govern ourselves on and off the job in a manner that avoids conflict of interest, real or perceived. When conflicts are unavoidable, they should be disclosed.
The CBSC has established in previous decisions that broadcasters are fully entitled to cover light news stories and entertainment issues in their newscasts. This includes profiles of television programs that are generating interest. Accordingly, the Panel considers that CTV News was fully entitled to broadcast this story about a television program and one of its local contestants.
The CBSC has also determined that broadcasters can cover stories that involve their corporate owners or other entities owned by the same company. When they do so, broadcasters are required to disclose their relationship to the company being profiled.
In CIII-DT (Global Ontario) re News Hour Final (shomi report) & CTV News Channel re Bell Gigabit Fibe report (CBSC Decision 14/15-1311 & -1393, February 3, 2016), the CBSC dealt with two separate news reports. The Global Ontario report was about the now defunct online video streaming service called shomi which was jointly owned by the television distribution companies Rogers and Shaw. At the time, Global was also owned by Shaw. The report informed viewers that shomi would soon be available to anyone who wanted to subscribe to the service rather than only to customers of Rogers and Shaw, as had been the case when the service had first launched. The report included interviews with a shomi vice-president who commented on shomi’s extensive video library and with a technology analyst who suggested that there would be intense competition between the over-the-top media providers.
The CTV News Channel report was about Bell Fibe’s launch of a faster internet service in Toronto. The report featured video clips of a press conference announcing the initiative where both the Bell president and Toronto mayor commented on the positive impact of this investment on Toronto’s economy. CTV News Channel is owned by Bell Media. A viewer wrote that it was a conflict of interest for broadcasters to air reports like these because they could lead to financial benefits for the parent companies. Both broadcasters responded that these topics were of interest to the public, that management had not been involved in the newsrooms’ decisions to cover the stories, and that the relationship between the broadcasters and the parent entities had been announced in the reports.
Although that CBSC decision was issued under the previous version of the RTDNA Code of (Journalistic) Ethics, the determinations of the Panel remain relevant to the issue at hand. First, that decision reaffirmed that even news stories related to the station’s owners are valid and newsworthy if they inform the public on matters of importance. The Panel came to that determination by interpreting Article 5, which was labeled “Independence”. That article provided as follows:
Independence is a fundamental value and we will resist any attempts at censorship that would erode it. Electronic journalists will resist pressures to change or alter the news. Intrusion into content, real or apparent, should be resisted.
The Panel’s findings on Article 5 were as follows:
The Panel finds that the notions of “independence” provided for in Article 5 of the RTDNA Code of Ethics does not mean, for a newscast or a newsroom, ignoring a news story because it is in some way related to the station’s owners. On the contrary, the Panel considers that broadcasters would be remiss in their duty to inform the public of matters of importance by failing to report on a newsworthy item because of such a relationship. The Panel also found that the news reports in question were presented in a balanced way to inform, and not as vehicles to attract new customers for the respective services. Moreover, the Panel finds that there was no censorship, no pressures to alter the news and no intrusion in the content when comparing the content to what was reported in other media.
Second, the CBSC decision made a determination on Article 6 contained in the previous version of the RTDNA Code of (Journalistic) Ethics dealing with “Conflict of Interest”. The Panel came to the following conclusion:
The Panel finds that, for each of the two broadcasts, the on-air disclosure of the relationship between the news organizations and the organizations which were the subjects of the reports is sufficient notice of the relationship between the organizations. The Panel is of the view that, in such situations, news organizations have to be careful and disclose their relationship. Moreover, the Panel finds that this kind of disclaimer is good practice and should be followed in similar cases.
As stated earlier, the Panel finds that CFTO-DT’s coverage of Canada’s Drag Race from the perspective of a local Kitchener contestant combining the art of drag with mathematics was totally legitimate. The Panel also accepts the station’s assertion that the decision to air this news segment was made independently by CTV News without any pressure from its parent company.
However, Article 4.0 of the RTDNA Code of Journalistic Ethics is clear that where a conflict is unavoidable this requires disclosure by the broadcaster. The station failed to disclose the relationship between CFTO-DT and Crave, more specifically, that both services are ultimately owned by Bell Media. This relationship could easily have been disclosed sometime during the news report. With such disclosure, the news segment would have been compliant with Article 4.0. Without it, the broadcast constitutes a breach. In today’s environment, maintaining the integrity of the news is essential.
On the matter of Article 2.2 of the RTDNA Code of Journalistic Ethics, the Panel notes that the actual news report began with the anchor Rahim Ladhani stating the following:
If you missed the debut on Thursday, the first episode of Canada’s Drag Race is now available on Crave.
As explained earlier, Article 2.2 of the RTDNA Code of Journalistic Ethics is a new article that does not have a direct equivalent in the previous version of the code. This provision requires that news content be clearly distinguished from advertising and other forms of sponsorship. The Panel considers that, when the news report begins with the promotion of the program and which online service offers this show, this can reasonably be perceived by viewers as an advertisement of both the show and the online service. It is certainly the perception of the complainant in this matter since he considered this as advertising of Bell Media’s affiliated Crave service and more specifically the program called Canada’s Drag Race. Accordingly, the Panel considers that the introduction to the news report amounted to advertising which was not clearly distinguished from the news content and that this constitutes a breach of Article 2.2 of the RTDNA Code of Journalistic Ethics.
The Panel considers that editorial control is at the heart of maintaining the integrity of the news and ensuring compliance with the applicable broadcast code. This is the best means by which to ensure that valid news stories are told in a way that is compliant.
In all CBSC decisions, the Panels assess the broadcaster’s response to the complainant. The broadcaster need not agree with the complainant’s position, but it must respond in a courteous, thoughtful and thorough manner. In this case, CTV provided a reply to the complainant, outlining its view of the broadcast. The broadcaster fulfilled its obligations of responsiveness and, subject to the announcement of this decision, nothing further is required on this occasion.
CFTO-DT is required to: 1) announce the decision, in the following terms in audio and video format, once during prime time within three days following the release of this decision and once more within seven days following the release of this decision during the time period in which CTV News at 6 was broadcast, but not on the same day as the first mandated announcement; 2) within the fourteen days following the broadcasts of the announcements, to provide written confirmation of the airing of the statement to the complainant who filed the Ruling Request; and 3) at that time, to provide the CBSC with a copy of that written confirmation and with air check copies of the broadcasts of the two announcements which must be made by CFTO-DT.
The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has found that CTV Toronto breached the Radio Television Digital News Association of Canada’s Code of Journalistic Ethics in the broadcast of CTV News at 6 on July 4, 2020. In a report about a Crave program, CTV introduced the news report in a manner that could be seen as advertising or sponsoring of a program offered on an affiliated online service and it failed to mention that Crave and CTV are both owned by Bell Media. This constitutes a breach of Articles 2.2 and 4 of the code.
This decision is a public document upon its release by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council.
The CBSC received the following complaint via webform on July 4, 2020:
Name of Television or Radio Station: CTV Toronto
Program Name: CTV News
Date of Program: 04/07/2020
Time of Program: 6:00PM
For the past week (or more) the CTV news programs have been advertising their affiliated Crave service and specifically the ‘drag race’ program within their news broadcasts as if it were part of the daily news; it isn’t news.
There is no indication that this is some kind of entertainment segment and there is only a minimal reference at the end of these advertisements to indicate the relationship between CTV and Crave but instead it is just arbitrarily inserted within the newscast as if it was news information that people needed to hear about.
I don’t have any problem with the show itself or the Crave service in general but this is clearly an abuse of the station’s position as a news source and is clearly an underhanded attempt to advertise a service and program without identifying the content as an ad.
This station and network has repeatedly done this in the past and clearly has zero integrity when it comes to respecting broadcasting standards and/or their audience. They need to be fined and/ or taken off the air if this continues.
CTV responded to the complainant on August 10 with the following:
This letter is in response to your correspondence to the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC).
Thank you for sharing your concerns regarding our coverage on the CTV News at 6 on July 04, 2020. We welcome feedback from our viewers and take viewer concerns seriously.
The report in question concerned a contestant on “Drag Race Canada”.
In your correspondence, you suggest that the coverage is advertising for Bell Media’s streaming service Crave; that the content is inserted into the newscast as news information which you believe it is not, and that it is not identified as entertainment content. We disagree. Our newscasts cover a variety of news information and that includes entertainment.
We have reviewed the story that aired, and it was a feature on one of the contestants of “Drag Race Canada” who is from the Kitchener area. The story was identified as part of an entertainment segment that had been sponsored. While our entertainment segment has included content that airs on Bell Media properties, it does not exclusively do so. We cover entertainment stories from all distributors and production companies that we feel are of interest to our viewers.
CTV News is a member in good standing of the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council and adheres to the codes and guidelines administered by the Council.
Thank you for taking the time to write with your concerns and for watching CTV News. We hope this explanation goes some way in addressing this issue.
The complainant replied directly to the station with a copy to the CBSC on August 11:
Hello [S.] and thank you for your reply.
Unfortunately, nothing in your reply is remotely effective in convincing me that your presentation of the events/results of a CTV/Crave entertainment program within the body of a CTV news program – presented by a primary news anchor, no less – is anything other than the sleazy under-handed advertising that it is.
I don't care if you want to advertise your other stations and/or programs but it is not appropriate to insert these advertisements within a news broadcast and imply that it is somehow 'news-worthy'; it isn't.
And to be clear, I made this complaint not exclusively based on the single occurrence of this on this specific date but only after seeing this same fraud occurring repeatedly on several preceding days; not to mention the fact that you have done this same thing in the past months/years for programs like The Amazing Race and Who Can Dance.
You are not the only network that participates in this fraudulent behavior but you are definitely the most egregious in this regard, which is why I have made this complaint and will continue to do so until the practice is stopped.
The complainant also filed his Ruling Request on the CBSC website on August 11 with the following comments:
Please see the comments within my email reply to their response. This is not a one-time occurrence for this network, nor is it exclusive to them, and if there are any real broadcasting standards in Canada I don't see how this can be allowed to continue.
After informing the broadcaster that this file would be sent to a Panel and offering a final opportunity to respond, CTV sent the following on October 19:
In terms of providing additional information, we would add the following: