On December 16, 2015, during its 6:00 pm newscast CTV News at Six, CTV Toronto (CFTO-DT) broadcast a report about the housing situation faced by refugees arriving in Toronto from Syria. Earlier in the year, the Canadian government had agreed to accept a significant number of refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war. The report included interviews with representatives from an Armenian Cultural Centre who alleged that the refugees were having trouble securing housing because landlords were asking for a year’s worth of rent payments and documentation such as proof of employment and credit checks, which the newly-arrived individuals did not have.
The report then showed the CTV reporter entering the offices of a property management company alleged to have refused tenancy to Syrian refugees. The reporter announced “We’re with CTV. We’re trying to find someone we can talk to.” A woman approached the reporter and spoke to him, but their conversation was inaudible because CTV overlaid narration for the report. The view of her was also partially blocked by the reporter’s back due to the position of the cameraperson behind him. The woman was then seen walking away holding what was presumably the reporter’s business card. The footage then switched to an interview with the vice-president of the property management company who indicated that this was the first he was hearing of any difficulties for refugees and would look into the matter. (A full transcript and description of the report is available in Appendix A.)
The complaint, filed on January 11, 2016, came from the woman shown in the report. She wrote that the reporter had not informed her that the camera was actually filming, nor had he asked her permission to be filmed or provided any other indication that she might appear on the evening news. She felt that her privacy had been violated.
CTV Toronto responded to her on February 1. CTV pointed out that its reporter had clearly identified himself and the cameraperson had been clearly visible beside him when they entered the company’s offices. CTV suggested that the woman could have advised the CTV news team at that time that she did not want to appear on camera. The station also pointed out that the woman was not identified in the segment and only appeared for seven seconds, three of which had her obscured by the reporter standing in front of her. CTV regretted that the footage had troubled her, but believed the story had been handled responsibly and professionally.
The complainant wrote back to both the broadcaster and the CBSC on Feburary 1. She argued that she should not have been expected to know to ask not to be filmed since the reporter did not even inform her that the camera was on. She also wrote that the fact that she only appeared on screen for a short time did not lessen its impact on her. She asked whether the reporter was required to inform her that the camera was filming or to ask for her consent to be included in the report. (The text of the correspondence can be found in Appendix B.)
The English-Language Panel examined the complaint under Article 4 (Privacy) of the Radio Television Digital News Association of Canada’s (RTNDA) Code of Ethics which reads as follows:
Electronic journalists will respect the dignity, privacy and well-being of everyone with whom they deal, and will make every effort to ensure that newsgathering and reporting does not unreasonably infringe privacy except when necessary in the public interest. Clandestine newsgathering techniques should only be used when necessary to the credibility or accuracy of a story in the public interest.
The Panel Adjudicators read all of the correspondence and viewed a recording of the challenged broadcast. The Panel concludes that CTV Toronto did not breach Article 4 of the RTDNA Code of Ethics.
The Panel considers that there is no requirement under the RTDNA Code of Ethics to alert people that they are being recorded; there are, however, limitations on clandestine newsgathering, as indicated in Article 4 above. The Panel Adjudicators determine, from the angle of the footage, that the cameraperson had to be holding the camera on his shoulder, in plain view of the complainant. Camerapeople usually carry their cameras in their hands when they are not filming and on the shoulder when they are. As a result, in the view of the Panel, there were no clandestine newsgathering techniques used in the filming of the story.
The Panel was also faced with the question of whether the broadcaster should have requested permission from the complainant to film her and to air the seven-second footage where she appeared in full view or partly hidden by the reporter.
The Panel Adjudicators unanimously agree that the broadcaster did not need specific permission to film the complainant and air the footage during the newscast. She was not identified, was not asked to make a statement, only appeared briefly on screen and the footage was taken in a place accessible to the public. In addition, the footage was part of a newscast on a matter of public interest and the complainant worked for one of the property management companies allegedly involved in refusing housing to Syrian refugees on reasonable terms.
Therefore the Panel Adjudicators conclude that CTV Toronto did not breach Article 4 of the RTDNA Code of Ethics by airing the seven-second footage in which the complainant appeared.
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 Toronto provided a reasonable reply to the complainant, explaining its news team’s actions. The broadcaster fulfilled its obligations of responsiveness and nothing further is required in this regard in this instance.
This decision is a public document upon its release by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council.
 See the following CBSC decisions regarding clandestine newsgathering and privacy: TVA re J.E. (Report on HMS 90) (CBSC Decision 97/98-0472, August 14, 1998); TVA re J.E. en direct (Alternative Medicine) (CBSC Decision 97/98-0580, September 24, 1998); TVA re a report broadcast on J.E. (CBSC Decision 00/01-0838, April 5, 2002); CHEK-TV re News Report (Landlord-Tenant Dispute) (CBSC Decision 03/04-0712, October 14, 2004); CICI-TV (CTV Northern Ontario) re CTV News reports (Furnace Fiasco) (CBSC Decision 12/13-0558, August 22, 2013)
CFTO-DT (CTV Toronto) re CTV News at Six report (refugee housing)
CBSC Decision 15/16-0581
The report in question aired during CTV Toronto’s CTV News at Six on December 16, 2015. The following is a description and transcription of the report.
anchor Colin D’Mello: We’re learning today that a third plane of Syrian refugees will be landing at Pearson Airport on Friday. It’s going to arriving from Beirut and will carry mostly government-assisted refugees.
anchor Andria Case: Meanwhile, agencies helping the privately-sponsored refugees already here say they’re resting to find places, they’re wrestling to find places for them to live. CTV’s John Musselman reports.
Musselman: The dream of a new life in Canada is hitting a roadblock for many Syrian refugees. Instead of renting an apartment, they are stuck in hotel rooms like this because they can’t rent an apartment. [footage of men & women with luggage in hotel hallway & room]
interview with Hagop Janbizian, Armenian Cultural Centre: We have some problems with the landlords. Uh, for example, they’re asking the whole amount for the, uh, whole year, uh, that they have to pay.
Musselman: Officials at the Armenian Cultural Centre say superintendants are also demanding proof of employment, bank statements, even credit checks. Sponsors have offered to pay up to four months’ rent in advance. And yet they claim families are still being turned away. [footage of people arriving & hugging outside Cultural Centre]
interview with Lena Ohannessiam, Armenian Cultural Centre: Most of the sponsors here, they’re elderly people. They’re on pension [sic]. So the minute we show the income, they’re saying it’s not enough. And, uh, they’re not approving our applications.
Musselman: This feel-good refugee story is now turning into a housing nightmare. More than one thousand families were sponsored, but the Armenian Cultural Centre has been overwhelmed by the numbers. [more footage of people arriving at & entering Cultural Centre; people sitting in pews of place of worship] Local City Councillor Jim Karygiannis says property management companies need to wake up to this issue.
interview with Jim Karygiannis, City Councillor: My message to those, uh, property managers is, um shake your head, get a reality check. These people are just coming into Canada. This is the government of Canada has sponsored them [sic].
[Musselman walking into an office. A man in a purple shirt approaches him.]
Musselman: Hi, we’re with CTV. We’re trying to find someone we can talk to.
[A woman with short, purple hair, wearing a black dress approaches Musselman.]
Musselman: Metcap Living Management owns one of the buildings where officials at the Armenian Cultural Centre claim refugees have been turned away. The vice-president told CTV News today he wasn’t aware this was an issue.
[Woman speaks to Musselman, but the view of her is blocked by his back in whole, then in part. Woman then walks away, holding what is presumably Musselman’s business card.]
interview with John Tsangaris, Metcap Living Management: First of all, this is the first time I’m hearing –
Musselman: Yeah, yeah.
Tsangaris: From you guys.
Musselman: Yeah, yeah.
Tsangaris: So, but, definitely I can follow that through and, and find out exactly what is happening.
[footage of people exiting hotel doors pulling luggage; close-up of plastic bags with stickers that read “Welcome to Canada/Bienvenue au Canada”]
Musselman: Officials at the Centre say they need government help or this problem will get worse. John Musselman, CTV News.
CFTO-DT (CTV Toronto) re CTV News at Six report (refugee housing)
CBSC Decision 15/16-0581
The following complaint was submitted via the CBSC webform on January 11, 2016:
Station Name: CTV News
Program Name: CTV News at Six
Date of Program: 2015/12/16
Time of Program: 6:00 pm
Specific Concern: Mr. John Musselman came in on December 16th to a Metcap Living office I work in and asked if he could speak to someone in regards to a piece they were doing on housing for Syrian refugees. He gave me a business card and I asked him to wait while I get someone. I am not a receptionist in that office, it just happened that I was the one he addressed to. At the time he spoke to me he never once mentioned they were filming, he did not ask for my permission to be filmed, he did not make me aware in any way that I was on camera, and there was a possibility that footage will be shown on the news. He spoke briefly to someone in the office. The next morning I found out from some of my colleagues that there was footage of myself shown on the 6:00 news (I appear briefly between min 14:50-15:15) in that news segment. He already got to speak to someone. I can't see how me being in that footage impacts the facts of his story. I am deeply disappointed that I was not made aware I was filmed and it was very disturbing to find out from other people. I do feel like my privacy was violated. This was not a hidden camera situation; was he not supposed to advise me that I was being filmed?
I really appreciate you taking the time to address my concern, thank you.
CTV Toronto responded with the following letter on February 1:
Thank you for your email about a CTV News Toronto story that aired on CTV News at 6 pm on December 16, 2015.
We appreciate feedback from our viewers, both positive and negative. I have reviewed the story and your concerns with members of the senior news management team. CTV News is a member in good standing of the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) and adheres to all codes and guidelines administered by the CBSC.
In response to your complaint concerning your brief appearance in John Musselman’s report regarding housing for Syrian refugees, John Musselman and his photojournalist entered Metcap Living Management and disclosed fully that they were with CTV News and wanted to speak to someone about a story CTV News was doing on the Syrian refugees; specifically as it related to housing.
The CTV cameraperson with his camera rolling was clearly visible beside Mr. Musselman. If you had a problem with being filmed, you could have so advised our reporter or cameraperson.
There was no intention to offend you and we regret that such footage caused you any concerns. Your name did not appear on screen, the script did not refer to you in anyway, and your position was not misrepresented in the story. The appearance was brief, approximately 7 seconds in length with 3 seconds of that obscured by John Musselman standing in front of you.
We feel the footage was warranted in the story, as it illustrated our attempts to gather both sides of the story. John Tsangaris, Vice President of Operations was ultimately interviewed for Metcap Living Management.
After viewing the story, we believe it was handled responsibly and professionally.
Again, thank you for bringing your concerns to our attention. You can reach me at the number below if you would like to discuss this issue or any future concerns.
The complainant wrote back to the broadcaster on February 1:
Thank you for taking the time to address my concern. However, I find your comment "The CTV cameraperson with his camera rolling was clearly visible beside Mr. Musselman. If you had a problem with being filmed, you could have so advised our reporter or cameraperson" insulting. You are implying that I knew I was being filmed and chose not say anything. Perhaps you wish to explain to me how was I supposed to know the camera was rolling. Your comment makes little sense to me. Also, while to you the fact that I "only" appeared in the footage for 7 seconds it does not seems important [sic], it means a lot to me. I am sorry but I find your response to my concern not satisfactory at this time.
She also filed her Ruling Request the same day:
All I wanted to know was if the reporter (and cameraperson) who recorded footage of me was supposed to let me know that they are recording, and ask for my consent. In their response to my concern, the broadcaster said "The CTV cameraperson with his camera rolling was clearly visible beside Mr. Musselman. If you had a problem with being filmed, you could have so advised our reporter or cameraperson". I find this comment very insulting. They are implying I knew I was being filmed and I chose not to say anything. Also, they said "The appearance was brief, approximately 7 seconds in length with 3 seconds of that obscured by John Musselman standing in front of you" as if the fact that I "only" appeared for 7 seconds in the footage should lessen the way I feel about it. I am very sorry to take your time with this but such comments are not acceptable to me. I only want to know if the reporter was supposed to let me know they were filming and that it was probable the footage would be used. As a private person I think I have [the] right to be asked for consent to be filmed or at least I should be made aware. It cannot be assumed that any person holding a camera has the camera on and that is recording. I did not. Thank you.