On March 27, 2021 during the 6:00 pm CTV News at Six newscast, CTV Vancouver (CIVT-DT) had as its top story a stabbing incident in the North Vancouver neighbourhood known as Lynn Valley.
The caption at bottom of screen read, “Brazen Attack Kills One, Injures Others”. Anchor Angela Jung introduced the report with the following statement:
Good evening. Thanks for joining us. We begin with breaking news on that horrifying incident in North Vancouver where six people have been taken to hospital. One person has already succumbed to their injuries. CTV’s Penny Daflos joins us now from Lynn Valley with the latest. Penny, what do we know so far?
Reporter Penny Daflos was at the scene and stated:
Well, it’s still a very fluid situation. The homicide team is now on the scene. A lot of investigators still here right now. And we’re hearing from witnesses who say this appeared to be a completely random series of attacks. People were just out in that pedestrianized plaza, that mall, living their lives as normal and they say it seemed this man simply started attacking people at random. Among the victims: an elderly man and a beloved local high school teacher. So there are six victims in the Lynn Valley Village here, a pedestrianized strip mall of sorts in this suburb. Some of the victims were outside. A couple of them in a library complex. There was a book sale going on that’s apparently a weekly event here as well. One person stabbed in their vehicle parked outside the library. Another woman managed to make her way into a local restaurant after some sort of scuffle at the door. Everybody absolutely shocked by what they saw.
While Daflos was speaking, there was footage of victims being attended to by paramedics. In all cases, the victims’ faces were blurred. The images included scenes of:
Many of these scenes or similar ones were repeated throughout the report, including footage of victims being wheeled into ambulances on stretchers. There were clips of interviews with a few bystanders who described what they saw. For example, one man gave the following description of the scene:
We saw a stabbing victim in this car right here [points off camera] who was getting out of her, er, going into her vehicle. She had a seven-year-old son who was, uh, multiple stab wounds and bleeding profusely. We helped her into the restaurant. She said there was a man with a knife on the loose that was stabbing people at random. And we saw multiple victims and helped another one around the corner. There’s at least five within this little circle of a hundred yards and the police caught him just down the street.
After another comment from a different bystander, the report showed grainy, distant footage of numerous police vehicles near an intersection. There was a man in the crosswalk. He stopped to face all the police vehicles, then bent at the waist and jumped. An object fell away from him and he fell to the ground.
Another interview with a different male bystander described that moment:
He came out and he was just walking, pacing back and forth on the side of the street, like, between that crosswalk down there. And he stabbed himself and then they, apparently someone said he, they bean-bagged him as well. And then they just were tackling him and all over him.
That remark was followed by footage of police and emergency personnel attending to the person on the ground in the crosswalk, with an ambulance nearby. They hoisted him to his feet and onto a stretcher.
Reporter Daflos provided more details about the situation:
Again, footage from multiple angles appears to show the suspect stabbing himself before he was arrested by RCMP. I’ve spoken with a teenage witness just moments before going on the air here. He says that he estimates that the knife was at least one foot long. He says the man was screaming obscenities at police as they were trying to arrest him. Witnesses peg his age probably somewhere in his twenties, perhaps early thirties. He was taken away on a stretcher, but he had leg shackles on according to witnesses at the time, uh, when he was taken away. So, IHIT is preparing to, uh, give us a briefing, an update around 6:15. We’re just on standby to hear the details from investigators. But I have to tell you, there’s no shortage of witnesses here. There were dozens and dozens of people who saw what happened because it spread over such an area. A bus was actually brought in to take care of all the witnesses. But aside from the people who saw firsthand what happened, there are so many videos from people that have already been posting to social media. There was even a drone in the air. So investigators are going to have a whole lot of evidence as they look into this, Angela.
The segment concluded with Jung asking Daflos if police had any idea of a possible motive. Daflos explained that officials had the suspect in custody and CTV would attempt to gather more information from them. (A more complete description and transcription can be found in Appendix A.)
On March 27, the CBSC received a complaint about the broadcast. The complainant was concerned that CTV had shown video of the stabbing victims. CTV Vancouver responded to the complainant on May 12. CTV noted that the complainant appeared “to take issue with the fact that some of the wounded survivors of this incident – all adults, between the ages of 22 and 78, according to RCMP – were shown on our broadcasts – with faces blurred – as police investigated and paramedics provided first aid.” CTV asserted that it believed it had reported this incident “fairly, responsibly, and with sensitivity and restraint” and respectfully disagreed with the complainant’s contention that the images were inappropriate for a news program. CTV noted that it had chosen to blur the victims’ faces, “so as not to cause them further trauma, while at the same time showing our news viewers the scene of this very public attack.” CTV cited the relevant provisions of the CAB Violence Code and CBSC decisions which allow for the presentation of unpleasant news stories and asserted that its broadcast was “in accordance with all applicable industry codes and that there was a legitimate need for CTV News to tell this story with appropriate images”. CTV also wrote:
We believe our broadcast followed all these guidelines including a warning to viewers about the images they were about to see. Accordingly, in our opinion, our news reporting of this tragic event struck the right balance between reporting essential information to the community, while at the same time being sensitive to the use of troubling images.
The complainant submitted her Ruling Request on May 12, stating that she felt a review of the broadcast was warranted especially since CTV had been reprimanded for similar stories in the past.
CTV Vancouver sent an additional letter to the CBSC on June 16 in which it emphasized “that the images of this crime scene were newsworthy and essential to our journalism in that the attacks occurred in a public shopping plaza” and were “editorially essential”. It argued that the images showed mostly first responders and police investigators performing their duties and the victims were part of the crime scene so they were a “key part of telling the story and explaining to our audience the nature of this very public and random attack.” CTV also pointed out that the images were taken at a public location and that it had blurred the victims’ faces to protect their identities and to demonstrate sensitivity. All of the images were of adults who were fully conscious as first aid was being provided to them in a calm and professional manner. CTV considered that the “images were not used sensationally, but in an editorially relevant, respectful and journalistically sound way.” CTV then acknowledged that “there was no formal announcement of a traditional warning per se”, but “viewers were told from the onset of the newscast that they were going to learn about a mass attack”. CTV cited the caption at the bottom of the screen which mentioned the “brazen attack”, “so the content itself was explained in advance before any images were shown and served the role of a warning to viewers.” CTV expressed the view that the images struck “the right balance of not exploiting and not sanitizing reality” and that these types of images are common on the nightly news. The station expressed concern that a negative ruling on this broadcast would have a chilling effect on news coverage of crime scenes, accidents or disasters, which would be an undesirable outcome with respect to freedom of the press. (The full text of all correspondence can be found in Appendix B.)
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 and 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, Article 5.0 – Respect
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. A majority of the Panel concludes, with one member abstaining, that CTV Vancouver did not breach sub-articles 6.1, 6.2 and 6.4 of the CAB Violence Code or Article 5.2 of the RTDNA Code of Journalistic Ethics, but the Panel unanimously concludes CTV did breach sub-article 6.3 of the CAB Violence Code for failing to provide an adequate warning prior to airing this report.
The questions posed to the Panel are presented below:
Did CTV use appropriate editorial judgment, caution, discretion, sensitivity and restraint in reporting on and showing images of this incident under sub-articles 6.1, 6.2 and 6.4 of the CAB Violence Code and Article 5.2 of the RTDNA Code of Journalistic Ethics?
The requirement to use appropriate editorial judgment, caution, discretion, sensitivity and restraint when showing violent footage is considered within the context of Article 6.6 of the CAB Violence Code which states that broadcasters shall not sanitize reality. This means that within the proper context and if the segment is not gruesome or unnecessary, violent footage is acceptable and can be aired.
In the CBSC’s first decision considering the provisions of the News and Public Affairs section of the 1993 Violence Code (CTV re Canada AM (Airborne Hazing) (CBSC Decision 94/95-0159, March 12, 1996), the Panel examined a complaint related to the use of a lengthy video segment showing the subsequently disbanded Airborne Regiment’s hazing practices, which was included in the 7:00 am newscast on Canada AM. The newscaster, in her tone, visual cues and words, made it “apparent from the end of the first sentence that the news item would be unpleasant.” Explicit warnings were also given before the video clip ran. The Panel did not make a finding of a breach and it made the following observations:
The Code recognizes that society has a right, if not an obligation, to have presented to it the reality of the news, however unpleasant or even intolerable that news may be from time to time.
This does not, however, open the floodgates to every bit of reality which could be defined as news or every bit of every story which ought to be brought to the attention of the Canadian public. Elements of editorial judgment must be exercised on many levels. Since, in the first place, there are innumerable stories competing for the time available in any newscast, a story ought to be reported for reasons “beyond simply engaging the audience’s attention”, as CTV News’ Vice-President said in his letter of August 16. […]
Almost every story which must be told will require editorial judgment as to how it will be told. Nor will every story requiring such judgment ultimately come to the CBSC’s attention. Such rare occurrences will generally be those which , in their edited form, still attract viewer attention by reason of their frightening, violent, graphic or other unpleasant characteristics. In each such case, the broadcaster must 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.
The clauses dealing with this point collectively require editorial judgment “in the reporting of, and the pictorial representation of violence, aggression or destruction” in news stories. Broadcasters must use “caution” in the selection of the video clips depicting violence which they run. The must not “exaggerate or exploit situations of aggression, conflict or confrontation” in such reports and they must be discreet in their “use of explicit or graphic language related to stories of destruction, accidents or sexual violence.” Finally, it should be noted that, in circumstances in which the exercise of careful editorial judgment still results in the legitimate need to broadcast “scenes of extra-ordinary violence, or graphic reporting on delicate subject matter”, the broadcaster “shall advise viewers in advance” of the sequence of what is to come. While the public in general must be informed, individual viewers are, of course, entitled to decide what is not palatable for them and their families.
In CTV re News Report (Police Shooting) (CBSC Decision 94/95-0213, March 26, 1996), the 7:00 am newscast included as its final story a 22-second item which showed a woman getting out of her van and being shot by California police. A warning as to the graphic nature of the sequence was given about 9 seconds into the story. The Panel found that CTV had, in this circumstance, violated the CAB Violence Code, in contradistinction to its decision in CTV re Canada AM (Airborne Hazing):
The case at hand stands in stark contrast. There was no fundamental relevance of this American story to Canadian viewers, nor was there any attempt made to establish such a link. In general terms, there was no editorial context given for the piece, for viewers in any country. Furthermore, except for the moment of the shooting, no story was even told. There had been no information on the reasons for the shooting and no details on whether the woman in question had been armed. There was neither introduction nor follow-up. The Council believes that the airing of the news item simply turned on the availability of the video component. […]
In consequence, the Council considers that the running of the news item in question constituted a totally unnecessary “pictorial representation of violence”, contrary to the CAB Violence Code […].
Nor did the presence of an advisory alter the view of the Council, which is, if anything, concerned by the proximity of the warning to the video portion for which the alert was given. Not only was the advisory not placed at the beginning of the news story, it was almost halfway through the segment and only 7 seconds before the actual shooting. There was scarcely time for a viewer to respond to the warning before the shot was fired.
The Panel in CHAN-TV (BCTV) re Newscast (Toronto Subway Death) (CBSC Decision 97/98-0383, May 20, 1998) found that, by including a video shot of the lacerated and bloody face of the victim, BCTV unnecessarily depicted the violence associated with that tragedy, contrary to the provisions of the CAB Violence Code:
While […] the B.C. Regional Council accepts that the news story was inherently violent and that some pictorial representation of the violence that occurred may have been acceptable, it finds that the shot of the victim’s face as she lay dying on the paramedics’ gurney was utterly unnecessary to the story. It added no clarification of any of the issues, no expository value to the sad tale, and no information which the viewer required to understand the series of events. The additional depiction could only have been calculated to make a viewer cringe or, at least, feel discomfited.
The CBSC considered a complaint concerning a news report on the June 1999 sentencing of Charles Ng, the notorious serial killer who was found guilty four months earlier of the 1984 and 1985 murders of 11 individuals (CTV re a News Report on Charles Ng’s Sentencing (CBSC Decision 98/99-1120, March 22, 2000). The item, broadcast by CTV during its 11:00 pm National News, included a video clip of about seven seconds in length which showed either Ng or his accomplice beginning to cut the blouse of one of the female victims who was at that moment tied helplessly to a chair. The viewer who complained stated that “[n]ot only have [CTV’s] actions caused harm to the families of murder victims everywhere, but [CTV has] violated my rights as a television viewer. I should not expect, or be prepared, to be subjected to those kinds of images.” The Panel found that the video segment used in the news report constituted an “unnecessary pictorial representation of violence and aggression” and exceeded the limits of the term “aggression” used in Article 6.1 of the CAB Violence Code. It also found that Article 6.2 of the CAB Violence Code calls for “[c]aution […] in the selection of the video which depicts violence” and stressed that “special additional vigilance” must be used by the broadcaster when making such editorial choices “in circumstances where the video material it wishes to use has been created by the perpetrators of a crime as part of their malevolent activities.” The Panel found:
In the first place, the CTV story had to do with the sentencing of one of the two murderers, not with any question of the actual commission of the crimes. If it might have had relevance and purpose in telling the story of the criminal activities themselves (and while the Council does not so conclude in the context of that story), it does readily find that the inclusion of the footage in this story was irrelevant.
While the inclusion of unnecessary footage is generally a point of little more than the efficacity of the story being told or an evaluation of the quality of the editing of the piece, the potential inconsequential nature of the evaluation disappears when the material is violent and aggressive. In such a case, Article 6.1 of the Violence Code calls for the use of “appropriate editorial judgment” in the selection of the pictorial representation.
In CICT-TV re a news report on the Tour de France (CBSC Decision 00/01-0982, January 14, 2002), the CBSC Panel dealt with a complaint about a 6:00 pm news report that included footage of a car ploughing through a crowd of spectators at the Tour de France bicycle race. One spectator was thrown over the hood of the car after being hit. The 45-second home video footage was shown once and then repeated twice in slow motion. The Panel did not find that the report was sensationalized, nor did it find any breach of Articles 6.1, 6.2 or 6.3 of the CAB Violence Code.
In a news story about a bicyclist who had been killed after falling in the path of an oncoming truck, the Panel found no breach of Article 6.0 of the CAB Violence Code in CHAN-TV re a news item concernant a fatal accident (logger tapes) (CBSC Decision 00/01-0839, January 23, 2002). The complainant had objected to the news segment since it showed firefighters hosing down the road surface and the “implication for viewers was that the victim’s blood was being washed away.” The Panel stated:
[T]he Panel considers that it is clear that the conclusion drawn by the complainant is subjective and exaggerated. While it is certainly possible, if not in fact likely, that some of what was being washed away by the firefighter’s hosing of the street was the blood of the victim, it is at least as likely that other debris from the accident was involved. Any such impact would leave bits and pieces of metal, glass, possibly cloth, undoubtedly dirt from the undercarriage of the vehicle, and so on, on the street, all of which would need to be cleared away. There was absolutely nothing in the broad swathe of watering of the pavement that would have suggested any predominance of blood. There was certainly no indication in the voice-over that there was any blood involved, although the Panel assumes that there probably was some on the road. […] From the point of view of the Code, the Panel believes that the broadcaster did use “appropriate editorial judgment” in the footage that it shot (and from which it ultimately made its broadcast selection) and in avoiding any reference to blood that might have appeared ghoulish at the end of the day.
The CBSC examined a news report that originated from the Mainland China broadcaster Chinese Central Television (CCTV) which featured a story on Fu Yi-bin, who was accused of having killed his wife and father in Talentvision re a News Report (Mainland China Murders) (CBSC Decision 01/02-0416+, May 3, 2002). The news report included an interview with the accused and showed, a total of four times, images of the blood-soaked apartment where the murders took place. The CBSC found a violation of Articles 6.1 and 6.2 of the CAB Violence Code:
[I]t was fair to bring [the murders] to the attention of the public. However gruesome by its nature, murder is an offence against the state legal order in almost any country and the reporting of homicides is a matter in the public interest. There are, though, as the CBSC decisions cite above reflect, limits on reporting, which are equally in the public interest. Broadcasters and news directors have determined that appropriate editorial judgment shall be used in the selection of footage to accompany news stories and, as though to emphasize that point, they provide separately that caution shall be used in that selection as well as in the repetition of the footage selected. In the case at hand, there are no fewer than four separate video clips of the blood-soaked apartment. In the view of the Panel, the point about the particularly gruesome nature of the family murders was achieved by the use of the clip once; the additional airings were excessive and constituted inappropriate repetition of violent footage in a news report, contrary to the provisions of Articles 6.1 and 6.2 of the CAB Violence Code and Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics.
In CTV Newsnet re a News Item (Hostage Murder in Riyadh) (CBSC Decision 03/04-1817, December 15, 2004), the CBSC dealt with a complaint about a video clip of a murder that aired at 6:05 pm. The report was about the alleged murder of an American man in Saudi Arabia by al-Qaeda. The news anchor introduced the clip with the information that “viewers should be aware that this story contains graphic video.” The news anchor then contextualized the event with some background information about the presumed victim and the circumstances surrounding his death. The video clip of the alleged death lasted about eight seconds. The footage was slightly blurred with erratic camera movement. The beginning of the clip featured no distinguishable activity on screen, only the sound of a man’s voice pleading “No, please, please, please, no, no.” It then contained the sound of a gunshot and, far away from the camera, the scene of a body falling to the ground and another man running towards it. The faces of the individuals were not visible. A viewer complained that Canadians should not be subjected to such graphic imagery when watching the news. The Panel concluded that the use of the clip was appropriate:
In making this evaluation, the Panel considers it material to point out that television is a visual medium and that television broadcasters are entitled to seek and broadcast video footage to illustrate their stories, unless that 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. There is not, of course, any mathematical formula that can be applied in such a determination. The assessments call for judgment on the part of the broadcaster and, where a member of the public is concerned and requests an adjudication of the matter, an appreciation on the part of the Panel responsible for the file.
[…] [I]t is the view of the Panel that the footage selected was entirely reasonable. That there was fear, if not terror, in the voice of the hostage is undeniable. The video clip used, though, did not show the face of the victim, or other physical evidence of the murderous assault. The shot was fired off-screen and, other than seeing the victim fall (from behind and at some distance) there was not blood or other physical manifestation of the terrible event. In the view of the Panel, the broadcaster chose wisely, balancing its belief that visual representation of the event was appropriate with the sense that members of the audience would not wish to be exposed to anything excessively graphic. Moreover, the anchor advised that “Viewers should be aware that this story contains graphic video.” The Panel finds that there is no breach of the foregoing Code provisions.
The CBSC received multiple complaints about an Olympic incident in CTV re coverage of the fatal luge accident at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games (CBSC Decision 09/10-0895+, November 12, 2010). During a practice run just prior to the commencement of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, a luge athlete from the country of Georgia flew off his sled coming out of a steep turn, was projected off the track, and struck one of the support posts. The accident was caught on film by CTV and was broadcast at various times that day, both as news of the accident was breaking and again later once it had been confirmed that the Georgian athlete had died from his injuries. The video was approximately 40 seconds in duration. Multiple cameras were placed along the track so that the television audience could see all the athletes’ runs from different points along the track and at different angles. The video clip showed the Georgian athlete going down at a very fast speed and then the luger flew off the sled, a clang was heard, presumably the sound of the luger’s helmet hitting the post. The luger’s limp body was partially obscured by other posts in front of the camera, but viewers could see a number of people, mainly on-site medics, running towards the man. Each time the video was shown, a CTV on-air personality warned viewers that it was unpleasant and difficult to watch. Complainants expressed the view that broadcasting the footage was disturbing for viewers and disrespectful to the deceased luger and his loved ones. The Panel did not find a violation of Article 6 of the CAB Violence Code but it did note that advisories in visual format (rather than just audio) would have been helpful to viewers:
[T]he Panel cannot but recognize the horror of the footage showing Nodar Kumaritashvili careening down the track and over the wall. That said, it also realizes that there were no tight shots reflecting the Georgian athlete’s condition after impact. There was, in other words, no effort to sensationalize or exaggerate the terrible event. The Panel considers that the shots were fair, sufficiently distant and not in any way an attempt to exaggerate the awful circumstances of the collision with the post. Moreover, each of the news reports, even before the outcome of Kumaritashvili’s injuries was known, was introduced by careful language advising viewers of the video report that was to follow. The examples were: “this video is very tough to watch”; “it is very graphic and we really do want to warn you that, uh, what’s about to come is not pleasant”; “we should warn you, the images of the crash are disturbing”; “Once again, a warning that the video we’re about to show you is difficult to watch. And the outcome is just devastating.”; and “Our coverage contains video that is disturbing, but necessary to tell this story.”
In the matter at hand, the Panel finds that each airing of the disturbing video was preceded by an explicit and personally-crafted warning that provided sufficient information to viewers to avoid watching the news item if they wished.
In 2017, the CBSC examined a complaint concerning CTV’s coverage of a stabbing at a school in Abbotsford in CTV Vancouver (CIVT-DT) re CTV News at 6 (Abbotsford school stabbing) (CBSC Decision 16/17-0554, September 26, 2017). The anchor first warned viewers that it was “very graphic” and “shows a frightening situation”. There was no audio, but the video was shown in slow motion. It showed a male pushing over a female who was already lying on the ground. As an older male approached them, the first male held up his arm as if to begin a stabbing motion. The video cut and then resumed as something shiny fell to the ground and the young male backed away. The female’s body was blurred and there was a blurred red blotch beside her. The reporter verbally described the scene while the video played. Although there were several complaints filed in relation to this news report only one ruling request was made. The complainant was of the view that the video of a “murder” was “completely inappropriate and extremely disrespectful to the family of this child.” CTV argued that it had not included the audio portion, had edited out the moment when the attacker actually struck the victim, and had blurred her identity. The Panel found breaches of Articles 6.1 and 6.2 of the CAB Violence Code but concluded that CTV had provided an adequate warning and had therefore, not breached Article 6.3. The Panel’s conclusion was based on its view that “the video, even its edited form, did not contribute to the story and therefore showed inappropriate editorial judgment on the part of the broadcaster. […] The absence of audio and of the violent act in its entirety did not diminish the impact of the disturbing clip.”
A news report concerning a vehicle collision during a 5:00 pm newscast was examined by the CBSC in 2018 (CHEK-DT re CHEK News report (motorcycle crash) (CBSC Decision 17/18-0855 & -0056, April 11, 2018). The anchor said, “Security camera footage shows the truck turning across traffic, smashing into the motorcycle, crushing it. The motorcyclist was rushed to hospital, but the 58-year-old North Saanich man did not survive.” As the anchor provided the verbal description, footage of the accident was shown. A nearby security camera had captured the accident on film from a distance and at an awkward angle. The accident itself was seen in the upper left corner of the screen and highlighted by a circle. It was partially obscured by the security camera’s time stamp. A dark-coloured vehicle was seen going across an intersection; the motorcycle was barely visible. The footage was then zoomed in on and repeated in slow motion. The motorcycle was crossing the intersection and it toppled over as the truck crossed the intersection from the other direction. Something trailed the truck after the impact. That footage was followed by scenes of the police investigating the accident scene, including shots of the mangled motorcycle. There was no warning prior to showing the clip. Two complaints were lodged about the news report from viewers who were concerned about showing the security footage, and the fact that it was repeated in close-up, without any warning. The Panel did not find a breach of Articles 6.1, 6.2, 6.4 and 6.6 of the CAB Violence Code but concluded that the station should have given advance warning as per Article 6.3:
As detailed earlier, the security footage captured the accident from a distance and from an awkward angle; there was no sound and it was grainy in quality with a time stamp on it. It was not really possible to see the motorcycle until the footage was shown again zoomed in and in slow motion. It was only at that point that the viewer could discern that there was a collision between the truck and motorcycle and that afterwards the motorcycle toppled over. It was not possible to identify or see the operator of the motorcycle nor was the motorcyclist identified by the anchor. The footage that followed included more scenes of the police investigation of the accident site along with shots of the mangled motorcycle.
The Panel considers that the broadcaster exercised appropriate editorial judgment and caution in the use of the security footage. CHEK-DT did not exaggerate nor did it exploit the accident. The footage was sufficiently distant, lacked any sound and with its poor quality, its broadcast did not exaggerate the awful accident. The broadcaster set up the segment properly and also provided additional context in its follow up. In the circumstances, the Panel considers there was a legitimate reason to broadcast the security footage.
[…] Moreover, there was no sound accompanying the segment. With this single repetition and given that this repetition provided better information to the viewer on the accident, the Panel considers that the repetition was appropriate and not excessive.
The Panel notes that the anchor did introduce the segment by saying that there was a “horrific crash between a motorcycle and truck” but did not provide a clear advisory prior to airing the news segment.
Although the violence in the security footage was neither extraordinary nor excessive, the Panel does believe that it was disturbing. Viewers should have been clearly advised in advance of the sequence to come and that the images and outcome of the accident could well be categorized as disturbing. The Panel considers that the public in general needs to be informed so that individual viewers are then in a position to decide what is, or is not, palatable for them and their families.
Finally, in CFTO-DT (CTV Toronto) re CTV News at 6 report (Kingston stabbing) (CBSC Decision 19/20-0064, November 27, 2019), the Panel dealt with a news report about a daytime stabbing in Kingston, Ontario. The anchor informed viewers that a man had stabbed several victims with a large knife at a particular intersection. One of the stabbing victims had since died, as had the suspect who had stabbed himself in the neck and been shot in the leg by the police. Video footage of the incident, taken via a cellphone from a distance, was included. It showed two individuals struggling and falling to the ground. One man then made two stabbing motions into the side of the other. A police officer entered the frame and the suspect ran away with the officer in pursuit. There was no warning before airing the clip. A viewer complained that this was inappropriate. The station explained that both the airing of the video and the omission of a warning were errors and it took steps to ensure a similar event did not recur. The Panel concluded that the manner in which the video was presented constituted breaches of Articles 6.1, 6.2 and 6.4 of the CAB Violence Code and the lack of warning constituted a breach of Article 6.3:
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.
As noted earlier, in considering whether CTV Vancouver has used appropriate editorial judgment, caution, discretion, sensitivity and restraint when showing the violent footage related to this stabbing incident, the Panel has been mindful that, with the proper context and where the video is not gruesome or unnecessary, the public is best served “to have presented to it the reality of the news, however unpleasant or even intolerable that news may be from time to time”. Accordingly, the Panel, mindful of the gravity of this incident, believes that it necessitated showing the victims of the crime in order to inform the public of the vastness and seriousness of the stabbing incident. After all, these were real people who were subjected to a horrific and terrifying incident with real and serious consequences. In this regard, the proper context was provided by the station on this news item. Consequently, the public interest was served by providing video footage related to the event.
In addition, the Panel notes that all of the victims’ faces were blurred in the video footage aired by CTV Vancouver. This was helpful as it served to protect the victims’ identities. There were no inappropriate close-ups or slow motion shots or sensational language used. There was one shot of a man on a stretcher with what appeared to be blood on his abdomen and bandages around his head. This shot was used twice in the news segment and, although the use of this particular shot does not constitute a breach of the applicable code provisions, the Panel believes that every shot in a news segment should demonstrate the sensitivity and restraint required by the codes. In addition, the use of the shot where the perpetrator stabs himself, even though it was quite blurry, is of the type that requires much sensitivity and should only be used with great caution such as blurring entirely the moment of impact. The majority of the Panel, with one adjudicator abstaining, does not consider that its inclusion constitutes a breach but notes that, editorially, the story regarding the self-inflicted stab wounds could have been told simply through a narration by the anchor or reporter.
Did the content require an advance warning to viewers under Article 6.3 of the CAB Violence Code?
The past CBSC decisions quoted above have generally stated that where the violence is “extraordinary” or “graphic”, broadcasters should provide a warning to viewers prior to airing the clip. In the present circumstance, the Panel was especially mindful of the reasons why warnings are required under the applicable code provision. Foremost, it is to call attention to the inclusion of what could be for some viewers disturbing violent footage. After all, the broadcaster can never be sure who is watching and it can fully expect that children may be viewing a broadcast at 6:00 pm.
More importantly, warnings should be obvious and explicit and it should be easy for the viewer to understand. The warning should reinforce and call viewers’ attention to what could be shocking video content. Warnings are considered a journalistic best practice to allow persons either to switch off the video or to prepare psychologically for what could be disturbing content. This is all the more relevant at times of the day when children are likely to be watching. Warnings also enhance the story-telling impact as it calls viewers’ attention to the screen. That is why an implied warning or one that is not easily understood will not be considered an adequate warning.
CTV Vancouver acknowledged in its letter of June 16 that there “was no formal announcement of a traditional warning per se, viewers were told from the onset of the newscast that they were going to learn about a mass attack along with a caption which read ‘Breaking News: Brazen attack kills one, injures others’.”
Although CTV Vancouver did not include video footage that was contrary to the CAB Violence Code, there is no doubt that the news segment included graphic images such as person on a stretcher with blood on his abdomen and the perpetrator self-inflicting stab wounds. Such images should be a trigger for a broadcater to air a clear and express warning. Therefore, the Panel considers that a clear warning was necessary. It was not sufficient to expect that informing viewers of the context of the news item would prepare them for graphic images that could be disturbing or troubling and possibly inappropriate for their family. Consequently, the Panel unanimously considers that the lack of an express warning was contrary to Article 6.3 of the CAB Violence Code.
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 Vancouver provided a lengthy and thoughtful reply to the complainant which explained in detail why it believed its report had adhered to the standards set out in the relevant codes. The broadcaster fulfilled its obligations of responsiveness and, subject to the announcement of this decision, nothing further is required on this occasion.
CIVT-DT (CTV Vancouver) 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 Six 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 CIVT-DT.
The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has found that CTV Vancouver breached the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ Violence Code on March 27, 2021. During CTV News at Six, CTV did not provide viewers with an advance warning about disturbing content in a report about a stabbing incident. This violated Article 6.3 of the code.
This decision is a public document upon its release by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council.
On March 27, 2021 during the 6:00 pm CTV News at Six newscast, CTV Vancouver had as its top story an incident of a stabbing incident in the North Vancouver neighbourhood known as Lynn Valley. A description and transcription of the report is as follows:
caption at bottom of screen: “Brazen Attack Kills One, Injures Others”
anchor Angela Jung: Good evening. Thanks for joining us. We begin with breaking news on that horrifying incident in North Vancouver where six people have been taken to hospital. One person has already succumbed to their injuries. CTV’s Penny Daflos joins us now from Lynn Valley with the latest. Penny, what do we know so far?
reporter Penny Daflos [on scene]: Well, it’s still a very fluid situation. The homicide team is now on the scene. A lot of investigators still here right now. And we’re hearing from witnesses who say this appeared to be a completely random series of attacks. People were just out in that pedestrianized plaza, that mall, living their lives as normal and they say it seemed this man simply started attacking people at random. Among the victims: an elderly man and a beloved local high school teacher. [footage of a woman sitting on the ground with her back up against a blue construction fence while paramedics attend to her; her face is blurred out] So there are six victims in the Lynn Valley Village here, a pedestrianized strip mall of sorts in this suburb. [a person sitting on the ground near a small outdoor dining table while 4 individuals attend to the person; one is holding a cloth around the victim’s arm; the victim’s face is blurred] Some of the victims were outside. A couple of them in a library complex. There was a book sale going on that’s apparently a weekly event here as well. [a man is sitting up on a stretcher which is in an interior lobby; he has a towel over his shoulder; he is shirtless, seemingly with blood on his torso and hand; there are RCMP officers and other emergency personnel standing around him; the man’s face is blurred] One person stabbed in their vehicle parked outside the library. [emergency personnel surround another person who is sitting on the floor near tables stacked with books; a firefighter holds a towel to the person’s face] Another woman managed to make her way into a local restaurant after some sort of scuffle at the door. [people wearing “Fire Rescue” shirts surround a person sitting in a vehicle; the person’s face is blurred] Everybody absolutely shocked by what they saw.
interview with male bystander #1: We saw a stabbing victim in this car right here [points off camera] who was getting out of her, er, going into her vehicle. She had a seven-year-old son who was, uh, multiple stab wounds and bleeding profusely. We helped her into the restaurant. [another scene of the woman by the fence, taken from a more direct angle; 3 emergency personnel assist her; her face is blurred] She said there was a man with a knife on the loose that was stabbing people at random. [police, emergency personnel & civilians surround the person sitting on the ground near the coffee shop’s outdoor table; the police officer is touching the person’s head and holding a white cloth that has what appear to be blood on it; a man is on a stretcher being wheeled into an ambulance by paramedics; he is shirtless but partly covered by a towel; there is blood on his torso; his face is blurred] And we saw multiple victims and helped another one around the corner. [a different person being wheeled on a stretcher towards ambulances by emergency personnel; the person’s face is mostly covered by blankets and bandages] There’s at least five within this little circle of a hundred yards and the police caught him just down the street. [emergency personnel help the woman by the fence get to her feet and walk towards a stretcher; her face is blurred; a woman in a yellow jacket is standing nearby, pointing with one hand, which her other arm is around another woman]
interview with female bystander: It’s really scary. It’s quite scary for everyone to go through this, I think. But, I think the community hopefully can come back together. [more scenes of the people around the coffee shop table; the victim’s face is blurred] But in twenty years, I haven’t, I haven’t seen this.
reporter to bystander: It’s surreal to watch this?
female bystander: So, it’s real, it’s really real. [another scene of emergency personnel attending to shirtless man inside; they wrap a bandage around his torso and there appears to be a cloth on his head] And there’s so many, there’s so many children around here.
[Grainy, distant footage of numerous police vehicles near an intersection. There is a man in the crosswalk. He stops to face all the police vehicles, then bends at the waist and jumps. An object falls away from him and he falls to the ground.]
interview with a male bystander #2: He came out and he was just walking, pacing back and forth on the side of the street, like, between that crosswalk down there. And he stabbed himself and then they, apparently someone said he, they bean-bagged him as well. And then they just were tackling him and all over him.
[footage of police and emergency personnel attending to the person on the ground in the crosswalk, with an ambulance nearby; they hoist him to his feet and onto a stretcher]
Daflos: Again, footage from multiple angles appears to show the suspect stabbing himself before he was arrested by RCMP. I’ve spoken with a teenage witness just moments before going on the air here. He says that he estimates that the knife was at least one foot long. He says the man was screaming obscenities at police as they were trying to arrest him. Witnesses peg his age probably somewhere in his twenties, perhaps early thirties. He was taken away on a stretcher, but he had leg shackles on according to witnesses at the time, uh, when he was taken away. So, IHIT is preparing to, uh, give us a briefing, an update around 6:15. We’re just on standby to hear the details from investigators. But I have to tell you, there’s no shortage of witnesses here. There were dozens and dozens of people who saw what happened because it spread over such an area. A bus was actually brought in to take care of all the witnesses. But aside from the people who saw firsthand what happened, there are so many videos from people that have already been posting to social media. There was even a drone in the air. So investigators are going to have a whole lot of evidence as they look into this, Angela.
Jung: Penny, you mentioned that this appears to be random. It is early on in the investigation. But do police have an idea what the possible motive could be?
Daflos: You know, I’m curious to see if IHIT’s going to be able to tell us something at this point, Angela. ʼCause this all happened around 1:30 this afternoon. They have had a chance to speak to the suspect that they have in custody. We’re going to find out or at least we’re going to ask, “Has he been cooperative with them? Is there anything that he said?” because, uh, judging from the obscenities that we heard that he was slinging at police, uh, we don’t know how cooperative he’s been or exactly what he’s told them.
Jung: Thank you very much, Penny. Penny Daflos joining us live from Lynn Valley tonight.
The CBSC received the following two complaints from the same complainant via its webform on March 27, 2021:
Name of Television or Radio Station: CTV
Program Name: CTV News Vancouver
Date of Program: 27/03/2021
Time of Program: 4:00PM
Specific Concern: Concerned that Shannon Paterson of CTV News found it appropriate to tweet out a video of stabbing victims.
Name of Television or Radio Station: CTV
Program Name: CTV News Vancouver at 6
Date of Program: 27/03/2021
Time of Program: 6:00PM
Specific Concern: CTV News Vancouver at 6:00, on March 27th, 2021, aired video of stabbing victims at the beginning of the show.
The CBSC explained to the complainant that it has no jurisdiction over Twitter content, but that it could deal with the television broadcast.
CTV responded on May 12:
Your complaint to the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has been forwarded for our reply.
Thanks very much for reaching out and sharing your concern about the decision by CTV News journalists to show images on our 6PM newscast of the scene of a mass stabbing attack that occurred on March 27th, 2021 in a busy outdoor shopping plaza in North Vancouver.
You appear to take issue with the fact that some of the wounded survivors of this incident – all adults, between the ages of 22 and 78, according to RCMP – were shown on our broadcasts – with faces blurred – as police investigated and paramedics provided first aid.
First of all, I share your feelings of shock and concern about this attack. I happen to live a few minutes from where this happened and was shopping there with my wife just an hour earlier.
While we appreciate your concern and understand that stories such as these are very disturbing, we believe that CTV News reported this incident fairly, responsibly, and with sensitivity and restraint in accordance with Article 5 of the RTDNA Code of Journalistic Ethics (RTDNA Code). And we must respectfully disagree with your suggestion that the images we broadcast were inappropriate for a news program.
We believe we exercised appropriate editorial judgment in choosing the images that aired and respecting the dignity of the victims as per the RTDNA Code. And as mentioned above, we chose to blur the faces of the survivors in our coverage of this important story, so as to not cause them further trauma, while at the same time showing our news viewers the scene of this very public attack. We note that one of the survivors has since publicly identified herself in thanking the community for its expressions of support.
The Canadian Association of Broadcasters Voluntary Code Regarding Violence in Television Programming (the Violence Code) https://www.cbsc.ca/codes/cab-violence-code/ recognizes that broadcasters shall use appropriate editorial judgment in the reporting and pictorial representation of violence in their news and public affairs programming, but at the same time, should not sanitize the news. “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.”
The CBSC has also acknowledged this principle in past decisions. “The [Violence] Code recognized that society has a right, if not an obligation, to have presented to it the reality of the news however unpleasant or even intolerable the news may be from time to time.” The Code also calls on broadcasters to “advise viewers in advance of showing scenes of extra-ordinary violence ...”
We believe our broadcast followed all these guidelines including a warning to viewers about the images they were about to see. Accordingly, in our opinion, our news reporting of this tragic event struck the right balance between reporting essential information to the community, while at the same time being sensitive to the use of troubling images.
While we regret you were offended by the images shown in the report, and that was certainly not our intention, we believe our report was in accordance with all applicable industry codes and that there was a legitimate need for CTV News to tell this story with appropriate images.
CTV News is a member in good standing of the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council and adheres to all applicable codes and guidelines administered by the CBSC.
The complainant submitted her Ruling Request on May 12 with the following note:
I am not satisfied with CTV's response that I received today (May 12th, 2021) and feel a review is warranted. Especially given the fact that they have been reprimanded for similar news stories in the past.
Once it has determined that a file requires Panel Adjudication, the CBSC gives the broadcaster one last opportunity to provide comments. CTV did so in this case on June 16:
In regards to the upcoming CBSC Adjudicating Panel meeting of June 30, 2021, please accept this additional submission from CTV News in response to the complaint regarding the reporting of a stabbing incident broadcast on CIVT-DT on March 27th, 2021.
Regarding CTV News Vancouver’s decision to broadcast images from a mass stabbing at a busy shopping centre in North Vancouver on March 27th, 2021, we again wish to emphasize that the images of this crime scene were newsworthy and essential to our journalism in that the attacks occurred in a public shopping plaza. The images in question also mostly showed first responders and police investigators performing their duties. In our opinion, these images were all editorially essential. As for the victims themselves, they were part of the crime scene, not separate from it, and as such the images that included the victims being treated by paramedics and interviewed by police were a key part of accurately telling the story and explaining to our audience the nature of this very public and random attack.
We believe it is important to stress that these images were not gathered by aiming a camera lens through a hospital or ambulance window; they were in public and part of the crime scene journalists were covering and bystanders in the area were witnessing, some of whom spoke to CTV News and explained the situation they were seeing on-camera. Notwithstanding, we made the editorial decision to blur the faces of every victim to protect their identities and thus showed caution and sensitivity to their trauma and to our viewers. We also point out that the images themselves were not exploitive or gratuitous. The victims in these images were all adults, were mostly sitting up and were fully conscious and responsive as first aid was being delivered calmly and professionally to them. These images were not used sensationally, but in an editorially relevant, respectful and journalistically sound way. While this attack was brazen, and very unfortunate, with one death and six injured individuals, thankfully, no orange tarps covering many dead bodies was part of the coverage as was the case in the Toronto van attack.
While there was no formal announcement of a traditional warning per se, viewers were told from the onset of the newscast that they were going to learn about a mass attack, along with a caption which read: “Breaking News: Brazen attack kills one, injures others”, and so the content itself was explained in advance before any images were shown and served the role of a warning to viewers. This is consistent with the way CTV Toronto handled the reporting of a deadly van attack in Toronto. And as you are aware, the CBSC did not choose to adjudicate the Toronto van complaints and did not find a breach in regards to the lack of a formal warning. We also note that none of the complainants in this case expressed any concern about the absence of a formal warning, which suggests that they likely understood what the report was going to be about.
And the images themselves, in our view, strike the right balance of not exploiting and not sanitizing reality, as per the CAB Violence Code. A conscious adult patient being treated professionally at the scene of a crime that is thankfully now over is an extremely common image on the nightly news and in this case, besides informing viewers immediately of the seriousness of our top story, we went beyond that level of caution and also fully obscured the identities of the injured. We note that the CBSC in its correspondence in the Toronto van attack found that the non identification of any victims was an important issue.
We believe our editorial decisions are in line with the relevant Codes and we stand behind the work of our journalists in bringing this important story to our community. In our view there should be no difference in reporting standards between the coverage of local events and international events where trauma victims are being treated – and we point out that in our experience, CTV’s international reporting of very similar scenes and images overseas rarely if ever triggers CBSC complaints.
We believe a negative ruling by the CBSC against CTV News Vancouver in this case would send a chill to journalists across the country by suggesting that crime scenes, or even the scenes of accidents or disasters, must no longer show the people who are most directly affected by these newsworthy events – even if those people have their identities obscured and if all of the images chosen are not gratuitous. In our view, that would be a highly negative outcome for those who believe in freedom of the press in covering newsworthy events that occur in public places and certainly not consistent with the Violence Code that acknowledges that “equal care should be taken not to sanitize the reality of the human condition.”
Thank you for your further consideration.