CTV Toronto’s (CFTO-DT) September 12, 2019 CTV News at 6 newscast was anchored by Ken Shaw and Michelle Dubé. The second story in the newscast was broadcast at 6:02 pm and concerned a daytime stabbing incident in Kingston, Ontario. The banner at the bottom of the screen read, “Developing News: Bagot St. & Queen St., 2 Dead in Kingston Stabbing”. Ken Shaw provided a verbal description of the event:
And in Kingston, Ontario this afternoon, police shot a man who had stabbed several victims with a large knife. This is the crime scene at Bagot and Queen Streets. One of the stabbing victims has since died, as has the man. He was shot by police. Witnesses say he was shot in the leg and stabbed himself in the neck. Four paramedics crews were called to the corner. They transported multiple people to hospital. The Special Investigations Unit has now taken over the scene.
As Shaw provided the above narration, a video of the incident appeared on screen. It appeared to be footage taken with a cell phone. The image bounces as if the person filming is walking. The footage shows a city street. From a distance, there appears to be a body or other large object lying in the intersection. Filmed from across the street, the footage shows two individuals struggling. The two figures fall to the ground. A man in a dark-coloured shirt is on his knees, over a man in a green shirt. The man in the dark shirt makes two stabbing motions into the side of the man in the green shirt. A car passes, blocking the view, but once it passes, the dark-shirted man is standing a few steps away from the green-shirted man who is still lying on the ground. A police officer comes running into the frame. He points his gun at the dark-shirted man, who takes a few steps away. A bystander enters the frame and blocks the view of the altercation for a second. The suspect is then seen running towards the intersection with the police officer in pursuit with his gun drawn. Another vehicle driving past blocks the view of the altercation. A person in a white shirt who was crossing the intersection dodges the suspect as he is running from the officer.
The CBSC received five complaints about this broadcast, but only one complainant filed a Ruling Request. His complaint was received on September 12, 2019. The complainant expressed his concern that there had been “no warning before showing violent content footage of someone being stabbed to death? [...] Clearly that is inappropriate!”
CTV Toronto responded to the complainant on October 8. CTV explained that “Both the airing of the video and the omission of a warning were human errors, which we take extremely seriously. CTV News Toronto sincerely apologizes for this serious error in judgment.” CTV also indicated that it “took immediate steps to remove the video from [its] archival system” and “launched an internal investigation which involved interviews with each staff member involved in the process from start to finish, both editorially and technically so that [it] can ensure this will not happen again.”
The complainant submitted his Ruling Request on October 9. He acknowledged that CTV had admitted its mistake but wrote that this was not the first time the station had made a similar omission. He also expressed concern that CTV only responded after a complaint had been filed, “instead of proactively when an issue is identified”. He also sent a copy of an email he had originally sent to the station before he contacted the CBSC. (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 Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Violence Code and the Radio Television Digital News Association of Canada’s (RTDNA) Code of Journalistic Ethics:
CAB Violence Code, Article 6.0 – News & Public Affairs
6.1 Broadcasters shall use appropriate editorial judgment in the reporting of, and the pictorial representation of violence, aggression or destruction within their news and public affairs programming.
6.2 Caution shall be used in the selection of, and repetition of, video which depicts violence.
6.3 Broadcasters shall advise viewers in advance of showing scenes of extra-ordinary violence, or graphic reporting on delicate subject matter such as sexual assault or court action related to sexual crimes, particularly during afternoon or early evening newscasts and updates when children could be viewing.
6.4 Broadcasters shall employ discretion in the use of explicit or graphic language related to stories of destruction, accidents or sexual violence, which could disturb children and their families.
6.6 While broadcasters shall not exaggerate or exploit situations of aggression, conflict or confrontation, equal care shall be taken not to sanitize the reality of the human condition.
6.7 Broadcasters shall refer to The Code of Ethics of the Radio-Television News Directors Association of Canada (RTNDA) [since 2011, called the Radio Television Digital News Association of Canada – RTDNA] for guidance regarding broadcast journalism in general.
RTDNA Code of Journalistic Ethics
5.2 We will act with sensitivity and restraint when reporting on potentially dangerous situations and when using violent or graphic images and descriptions.
The Panel Adjudicators read all of the correspondence and viewed a recording of the challenged broadcast. The Panel concludes that CTV Toronto breached Articles 6.1, 6.2, 6.3 and 6.4 of the CAB Violence Code and Article 5.2 of the RTDNA Code of Journalistic Ethics.
The questions put to the Panel were:
Was the airing of the stabbing incident relevant and did it contribute to the news story and was there proper context provided, or was the airing contrary to the CAB Violence Code and the RTDNA Code of Journalistic Ethics?
Should CTV have provided a warning to viewers prior to airing the footage in accordance with the CAB Violence Code?
Both the CAB Violence Code (Articles 6.1 and 6.2) and the RTDNA Code of Journalistic Ethics (Article 5.2) require broadcasters to use appropriate editorial judgment, caution and sensitivity when showing violent footage.1 If the violence is “extraordinary” or “graphic”, broadcasters should provide a warning to viewers prior to airing the clip.2
Using appropriate editorial judgment, caution and sensitivity means that when a broadcaster chooses to air a disturbing or violent video as part of a news story, it must be careful and considerate in deciding how to tell the story so as to “temper the public’s need to know with the measure of how much needs to be known so as not to exceed the bounds provided in the Violence Code.”3
The Panel recognizes that television is a visual medium and, as such, a broadcaster is entitled to seek and use video footage to illustrate its stories. But this entitlement must be tempered with the fact, where “the footage is so extraordinary or graphic, on the one hand, or exaggerated or exploitative, on the other, that it is apparent that it ought not to be broadcast.”4
In considering whether footage is “extraordinary” or “graphic”, factors such as whether the segment is frightening, depicts violence, shows blood, or identifies the victim and aggressor are taken into account. But even if just some and not all of the above factors are evident in the segment, the clip can contravene the applicable codes.5
The broadcaster also needs to ensure that the footage is relevant and necessary to the story. In this context, the footage should either add clarification of the issue or have expository value and it should provide information to the viewers so that they can better understand the particular news event.6 To ensure the clip is relevant and necessary, this requires that the proper set-up and context to the subject video footage be provided.
In the case at hand, the broadcaster failed to provide the proper context to the video footage and did not provide any viewer advisory. The anchor simply described the events as the video played and did not provide any set-up to the news item. The Panel believes that notwithstanding the fact that the video is a little blurry, there is no blood that is evident and viewers do not see the face of the victim or the aggressor, the sight of two individuals struggling and one falling to the ground and then seeing the aggressor make two stabbing motions into the side of the man on the ground is jarring. There is no doubt that this is both a violent and very disturbing incident. When one combines the airing of the video as presented with the failure to provide any set-up or viewer advisory, this constitutes a violation of both the CAB Violence Code and the RTDNA Code of Journalistic Ethics.
In making this finding, the Panel is not determining that the subject news clip should never have aired but simply not in the manner in which it was presented. The Panel considers that with the proper editing and context as well as the inclusion of a viewer advisory it would have been possible to include video footage of the incident. After all, this was a stabbing that occurred in broad daylight in Kingston, Ontario. Prior to airing the video, the broadcaster should have considered the graphicness of the segment and whether this was necessary or relevant to the story; in other words, the broadcaster needed to exercise the restraint and sensitivity required under the RTDNA Code of Journalistic Ethics.
The Panel also notes that the broadcaster itself has recognized that “Both the airing of the video and the omission of a warning were human errors which we take extremely seriously” and that this constituted a “serious error in judgment.” The broadcaster did not attempt to justify the airing of this segment and in fact stated that it had launched “an internal investigation which involved interviews with each staff member involved in the process from start to finish, both editorially and technically so that we can ensure this will not happen again, and we have reinforced our quality control communication process.”
Accordingly, the broadcaster itself has recognized that this incident was a serious error in judgment and the Panel commends the broadcaster’s efforts to ensure that such an incident not reoccur.
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 sufficient reply to the complainant. The broadcaster fulfilled its obligations of responsiveness and, subject to the announcement of this decision, nothing further is required on this occasion.
CTV Toronto (CFTO-DT) is required to: 1) announce the decision, in the following terms, 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 Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ Violence Code and Radio Television Digital News Association of Canada’s Code of Journalistic Ethics. During CTV News at 6 on September 12, 2019, CTV broadcast a video of a stabbing without a warning to viewers. This contravened Article 6 of the Violence Code and Article 5.2 of the Journalistic Ethics Code.
This decision is a public document upon its release by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council.
1 CTV re Canada AM (Airborne Hazing) (CBSC Decision 94/95-0159, March 12, 1996); CICT-TV re a news report on the Tour de France (CBSC Decision 00/01-0982, January 14, 2002); CHAN-TV re a news item concerning a fatal accident (logger tapes) (CBSC Decision 00/01-0839, January 23, 2002); CTV Newsnet re a News Item (Hostage Murder in Riyadh) (CBSC Decision 03/04-1817, December 15, 2004); CTV re coverage of the fatal luge accident at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games (CBSC Decision 09/10-0895+, November 12, 2010); and, CHEK-DT re CHEK News report (motorcycle crash) (CBSC Decision 17/18-0855 & 0856, April 11, 2018).
2 CTV re Canada AM (Airborne Hazing) (CBSC Decision 94/95-0159, March 12, 1996); CTV Newsnet re a News Item (Hostage Murder in Riyadh) (CBSC Decision 03/04-1817, December 15, 2004); CTV re coverage of the fatal luge accident at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games (CBSC Decision 09/10-0895+, November 12, 2010); Global BC (CHAN-DT) re Global News at 6 & Global News at 11 (Abbotsford school stabbing) (CBSC Decision 16/17-0553+, September 26, 2017); and, CHEK-DT re CHEK News report (motorcycle crash) (CBSC Decision 17/18-0855 & 0856, April 11, 2018).
3 CTV Newsnet re a News Item (Hostage Murder in Riyadh) (CBSC Decision 03/04-1817, December 15, 2004).
5 Global BC (CHAN-DT) re Global News at 6 & Global News at 11 (Abbotsford school stabbing) (CBSC Decision 16/17-0553+, September 26, 2017).