CJOH-DT (CTV Ottawa) broadcast the CTV National News at 10:00 pm on September 9, 2020. At 10:18 pm, anchor Lisa Laflamme told viewers what was coming up next on the broadcast.
Laflamme: Now on the virus, Donald Trump made a damning admission. When we come back ...
There was a clip of United States President Donald Trump at a press conference saying, “We don’t want to instill panic.” That was followed by scenes of Trump at a campaign rally, followed by a scene of five medical personnel in full protective gear wheeling a stretcher.
Laflamme: The decision to downplay the threat of COVID-19.
After a commercial break, the full report aired from 10:20 pm to 10:22 pm. Laflamme introduced the report:
Laflamme: The journalist who helped uncover Watergate and expose Richard Nixon released explosive audio recordings today of Donald Trump. The US President tells Bob Woodward he knew how deadly COVID could be but kept it quiet. Joy Malbon has the details.
There was a scene of Trump at a rally in Manchester, New Hampshire from February 10, 2020.
Malbon: In February, Donald Trump assured Americans they were safe.
Trump at rally: When it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away. I hope that’s true.
Malbon: But he already knew how deadly and contagious the coronavirus could be.
[sped-up street scene of crowds of people walking; microscope image of virus]
audio clip from Woodward tapes, with Trump’s words on screen. The date “February 7” is at the top of the screen, a photo of Trump on the left and the words “Source: CNN” at the bottom.
Trump, on recording: It goes through air, Bob. That’s always tougher than the touch. You know, the touch, you don’t have to touch things. Right? But the air, you just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed. It’s also more deadly than your – you know, your, even your strenuous flus. This is more deadly. This is five per – you know, this is five percent versus one percent and less than one percent. You know? So, this is deadly stuff.
Malbon: Still, Trump intentionally downplayed the threat for months. [scene of Trump at a rally].
February 27 video clip of Trump speaking at a meeting: You know, one day, it’s like a miracle. It will disappear.
Malbon: Calling the virus a hoax, Trump continued to hold packed rallies, minimizing the danger to young people when he knew better. [photographs of Trump rallies]
Another audio clip from Woodward recordings, with indication “March 19”.
Trump on recording: Now it’s turning out it’s not just old people, Bob, but plenty of young people. I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down.
Woodward: Yes, eh?
Trump: Because I don’t want to create a panic.
Malbon: Trying to justify his actions ...
Trump at press conference: We don’t want to jump up and down and start shouting, uh, that we have a problem.
Malbon: New Jersey’s governor, horrified.
video statement by Phil Murphy, New Jersey Governor: And to hear this and to think about the time that was wasted, uh, and the lives that have been lost is extremely disheartening.
Malbon: There have been hundreds of negative books about this president, but these are Trump’s own words, Lisa, that could potentially damage his re-election.
Laflamme: All right. Joy Malbon in Washington. Thank you, Joy.
A viewer complained to the CBSC on September 10 about this broadcast. The viewer asserted that reporter Joy Malbon’s statement “Calling the virus a hoax” was inaccurate because Trump had never called the virus itself a hoax. What he had characterized as a hoax was the Democrats’ efforts to politicize Trump’s response to the 2020 coronavirus pandemic. The complainant suggested that this error needed to be corrected and that CTV in general regularly demonstrated “disdain” for Trump.
CTV responded to the complainant with a letter dated October 21. CTV explained that the segment reported on the “shocking revelations” from the taped conversations between Bob Woodward and Donald Trump that Trump knew about the severity of the coronavirus, but never publicly acknowledged it. CTV acknowledged “that the statement in question in our report was used out of context and should not have been included in the report” and that the complainant was correct about its original context. CTV apologized for the inadvertent error, but emphasized that the overall sense of the story was that the president had purposely withheld important medical information about COVID-19, which was correct and accurate. CTV disagreed with the complainant’s assertion that it demonstrates disdain for Trump. It wrote that it did not believe that the coverage was in breach of any industry codes.
The complainant filed her Ruling Request on October 24. She reiterated her concerns that the report had included a quote taken out of context, which rendered it inaccurate and biased. She did not believe that the error was inadvertent and felt the report was formulated on the feelings and opinions of the reporter and news agency. (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) Code of Ethics and the Radio Television Digital News Association of Canada’s (RTDNA) Code of Journalistic Ethics:
CAB Code of Ethics, Clause 5 – News
1) It shall be the responsibility of broadcasters to ensure that news shall be represented with accuracy and without bias. Broadcasters shall satisfy themselves that the arrangements made for obtaining news ensure this result. They shall also ensure that news broadcasts are not editorial.
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.
3) Nothing in the foregoing shall be understood as preventing broadcasters from analyzing and elucidating news so long as such analysis or comment is clearly labeled as such and kept distinct from regular news presentations. Broadcasters are also entitled to provide editorial opinion, which shall be clearly labeled as such and kept entirely distinct from regular broadcasts of news or analysis.
RTDNA Code of Journalistic Ethics, Article 1.0 – Accuracy
We are committed to journalism in the public interest that is accurate and reliable. Journalists will strive to verify facts and put them in context.
1.2 Accuracy also requires us to update and correct news and information throughout the life cycle of a news story as we become aware of relevant and reliable information.
1.3 Errors and inaccuracy that affect the understanding of a news story will be unambiguously and promptly corrected.
RTDNA Code of Journalistic 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.
2.1 Journalists should be fair and balanced, and avoid allowing their personal biases to influence their reporting. News events and public issues may be analyzed and put into context, but commentary, opinion or editorializing must be kept distinct from regular news coverage.
The Panel Adjudicators read all of the correspondence and viewed a recording of the challenged broadcast. The majority of the Panel concludes that the statement about the “hoax” was inaccurate and therefore violated Clause 5(1) of the CAB Code of Ethics and Article 1.0 of the RTDNA Code of Journalistic Ethics. One adjudicator dissented on this point. The Panel unanimously concluded that the failure to correct the error constituted a violation of Article 1.3 of the RTDNA Code of Journalistic Ethics. The Panel also unanimously concluded that the report did not contain any unfairness, bias or partiality under Clause 5 of the CAB Code of Ethics or Article 2.0 of the RTDNA Code of Journalistic Ethics.
The first question put to the Panel was:
1) Was the sentence “Calling the virus a hoax, Trump continued to hold packed rallies, minimizing the danger to young people when he knew better” a material inaccuracy that violated Clause 5(1) of the CAB Code of Ethics and Article 1.0 of the RTDNA Code of Journalistic Ethics?
In order to determine whether the sentence included in the September 9, 2020 news report about Trump asserting that the virus was a hoax was accurate, the CBSC consulted a number of fact-checking websites such as Snopes, PolitiFact and The Associated Press which assess the veracity of claims made in news reports. These websites all confirm that Trump expressed the following at a rally on February 28, 2020:
Now the Democrats are politicizing the coronavirus. You know that, right? Coronavirus. They’re politicizing it. We did one of the great jobs. You say, “How’s President Trump doing?” They go, “Oh, not good, not good.” They have no clue. They don’t have any clue. They can’t even count their votes in Iowa, they can’t even count. No they can’t. They can’t count their votes.
One of my people came up to me and said, “Mr. President, they tried to beat you on Russia, Russia, Russia. That didn’t work out too well. They couldn’t do it. They tried the impeachment hoax. That was on a perfect conversation. They tried anything, they tried it over and over, they’ve been doing it since you got in.” It’s all turning, they lost, it’s all turning. Think of it. Think of it. And this is their new hoax. But you know, we did something that’s pretty amazing. We’re 15 people in this massive country. And because of the fact that we went early, we went early, we could have had a lot more than that. [Note: The 15 people refers to the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States as of that date].
There are a number of CBSC precedents dealing with the issue of comments taken out of context. In CIII-TV (Global Television) re First National Newscast (Premiers’ Conference) (CBSC Decision 96/97-0246, February 26, 1998), the CBSC Panel found that Global had improperly edited a statement made by Quebec Premier Lucien Bouchard. Premier Bouchard was quoted as saying that the projected national unity conference of the Premiers in Calgary was “doomed before it begins”, when in fact the Premier’s full sentence was, “If you enter into this new process, which is not substantial process, new process, with the idea that 65 per cent of Quebecers are federalists, well, it’s doomed before it begins.” The Panel found the broadcaster in breach of both the news Clause of the CAB Code of Ethics and the accuracy clause of the RTDNA Code of Ethics:
Whatever one’s view of Premier Bouchard’s attitude toward national unity, a news report ought not to distort his words to make them reflect a reporter’s or News Director’s view of Bouchard’s political position. The people, as the Code provides, should be entitled “to know what is happening” in order that “they may form their own conclusions.” By removing the first part of the Premier’s sentence “If you enter into this new process, which is not substantial process, new process, with the idea that 65 per cent of Quebeckers are federalists,” Global has not told the audience what was in fact happening. By leaving only “it’s doomed before it begins,” Global has usurped the audience’s democratic entitlement to reach its own conclusions. Its editing, not merely of an interview, but of a single sentence, has had the effect of distorting the meaning of the Premier’s statement as well as breaching the requirement to provide a “full, fair and proper presentation of [the] news.” In effect, Global took a statement Premier Bouchard had made for one purpose, namely, to comment on the view that 65% of Quebeckers had voted for federalist parties in the last election, and used it for another, namely, to conclude that any proposed Premiers’ conference on national unity would be doomed to failure.
In CKWX-AM re news reports about SkyTrain (CBSC Decision 06/07-1127, August 19, 2008), the B.C. Regional Panel dealt with a complaint from the company, TransLink, that runs the SkyTrain public transportation system in Vancouver. The complaint was that the all-news radio station had broadcast misleading and inaccurate reports including inaccurate teasers and promos concerning statements made by SkyTrain’s CEO about safety on the transportation system. Responding to concerns about safety on the system, the SkyTrain CEO had posted a video interview on the company’s website stating that he would not let his children go anywhere by themselves at night because it was just the prudent thing to do. The promos for the reports included various statements to the effect that the CEO of SkyTrain would not let his children ride the system at night. The station was also selective in the other clips it used in its actual reports. The Panel found code violations for distortion of interviews, misleading promos and sensationalization.
On the issue of material inaccuracies, previous CBSC Panels have dealt with the issue of whether an inaccurate statement is material enough to constitute a breach.
In CITY-TV re CityPulse (Neighbourhood Drug Bust) (CBSC Decision 96/97-0216, February 20, 1998), the Ontario Regional Panel found that an error as to the location of a drug bust did not amount to a breach of any of the codes:
The Ontario Regional Council considers, in this case, that the generalized statement that the drug bust had occurred in Parkdale, as opposed to the West End of Toronto, was made inadvertently and that the inaccuracy is not so significant as to constitute a breach of the above-cited provisions of the Codes. Moreover, the Council notes that the broadcaster corrected its report in order to present the facts accurately in the very next newscast. While the Council recognizes that this mis-identification was the crucial issue to the complainant, it is of the view that the steps taken by the broadcaster to virtually instantly put the matter right were sufficient to avoid a conclusion of broadcaster Code breach.
In LCN re Le Québec matin (mistreated horse) (CBSC Decision 19/20-1072, April 29, 2020), a segment in a public affairs program was about a couple who had been charged with animal cruelty after dragging their horse attached to the back of a truck. The text at the bottom of the screen read [translation] “A horse mistreated in Texas.” Verbally, the presenter stated [translation] “A mistreated horse in Colorado.” The incident had occurred in Colorado. The Panel was of the view that:
[…] the contradiction between the banner at the bottom of the screen that indicated the horse incident had occurred in Texas and the presenter’s account that placed it in Colorado is not significant enough to constitute a breach of the code provisions. Indeed, the fact that a horse was mistreated in Colorado rather than Texas is incidental to the topic of the news item, which centred on animal cruelty. In any event, the incident occurred in the United States and the presenter identified the correct American state verbally.
In CIVT-TV (CTV British Columbia) re reports on CTV News at 11:30 (“Seal Fur Uniforms” & “Oil Spill”) (CBSC Decision 08/09-1660, September 24, 2009), the complainant was concerned about the misleading content in two separate news reports. The first report stated that, in reaction to the European Union’s ban on the import of Canadian seal products, politicians had adopted a motion to support the inclusion of seal products in the 2010 Winter Olympics Canadian athletes’ uniforms. The report also noted that the athletes’ uniforms had already been designed and approved by the Canadian Olympic Committee so the motion would likely have no effect. The complainant was of the view that the motion had referred generally to Olympic “clothing” not uniforms and that it had been moved by only one Member of Parliament, not “politicians” (plural). The Panel did not find any breach for inaccuracy or sensationalism because other statements made by the MP during the Parliamentary debate had indeed mentioned uniforms and the motion had been unanimously accepted by Parliament even if it had been moved by only one MP.
In CTV Newsnet re two reports entitled “Anti-Terror Measures Voted Down” (CBSC Decision 06/07-0745, November 29, 2007), the CBSC Panel dealt with two news reports on the subject of Parliament’s decision to vote down the extension of two anti-terrorism measures. The first report was an interview by the news anchor with a former Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) Officer. The questions revolved around the implications of the Government’s decision and at one point the anchor commented that, “You can arrest a guy on suspicion, hold him indefinitely, force him to testify. That doesn’t sound Canadian to a lot of people.” The second report was another interview conducted by another CTV anchor with a representative from Amnesty International Canada. The anchor commented that the anti-terrorist provisions that had been voted down “were rarely used anyway.” A viewer complained that these reports contained inaccurate information: the law did not allow authorities to detail someone “indefinitely” and the measures had never been used, not “rarely used.” On the first report, the Panel had some problems but did not believe the news segment had violated the Code:
The Panel finds that the anchor’s approach was unfocussed, exceedingly casual and without the rigour that an audience is entitled to expect from a news anchor. [...] The anchor should be asking questions, not proffering factual concepts susceptible of correction.
The bottom line, though, is that, while the Panel considers the Matheson interview to have been disappointingly conducted for the reasons stated in the preceding paragraph, it does not conclude that the interview was materially false or misleading and that is the element essential to a finding of breach of either of the foregoing codified news provisions.
With respect to the second report, the Panel found no code violation:
Apart from the fact that the CBSC has not researched the issue in order to determine whether the provisions had been used at all, the Panel does not agree with the materiality of the complainant’s contention that, in effect, “rarely” and “never” are poles apart. […] It is immaterial, a distinction without a difference, a cautious use of words by a news anchor who cannot be certain that, by using “never” rather than “rarely”, she would be correct. She has taken the safe fork-in-the-road option, and has thereby deceived no-one in any material way.
In CITY-TV re “You Paid for It!” (Immigration) (Decision 95/95-0088, December 16, 1997), the complaint concerned a report dealing with government spending in the area of immigration. The Panel found that the broadcaster had failed to make the important distinction between immigrants and refugees in a report which, in terms of accuracy, required that differentiation to be made and therefore failed to inform the public in an accurate, comprehensive and balanced manner. The Panel considered that:
CITV’s failure goes further than merely lacking “tightness”. The report on the issue of government spending in the area of immigration confused money spent on immigrants, i.e. foreigners who are accepted into Canada in the hopes that they will spur economic growth for the country, with money spent on refugees, i.e. people who are accepted into Canada out of humanitarian compassion. The confusion of money spent with respect to both groups in the context of the statement that a treasury critic “doesn’t believe that many of the bills paid by the Department of Citizenship and Immigration are paying off” was grossly misleading and had the overall effect of portraying all newcomers to Canada as “free-loaders”.
What the Council finds problematic in this case is the fact that the report was craftily put together to suggest that the government’s immigration policy does not stand up to economic scrutiny by including facts concerning refugees but without making this clear in the report. The Council does not consider that the lack of distinction between immigration spending and spending with respect to refugees was inadvertent; rather, the Council is concerned that, in her attempt at investigative reporting, the reporter either deliberately skewed facts to give her story more shock value or had not done sufficient research on the subject to prepare such a report.
In CTV Television and CTV Newsnet re news report (ghettos and concentration camps in Poland) (CBSC Decision 04/05-0380 and -0672, December 15, 2004), the CBSC dealt with the characterization of World War II ghettos and concentration camps as “Polish”. In a news report, CTV referred to a “Polish ghetto for Jews” and in a later news report, CTV Newsnet referred to the “Polish camp of Treblinka”. The complainants believed that the use of the adjective “Polish” left the impression that the ghettos and camps had been created by the Poles when in fact they had been created and run by the Nazis who occupied Poland at that time. The Panel found CTV Television and CTV Newsnet in breach of Clauses 5 and 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics and Article 1 of the RTNDA Code of (Journalistic) Ethics and, citing the definitions of “Polish” and other similar national adjectives, it determined that such words do have an “ethnographic or cultural connection” rather than just a geographical or topographical one, as initially stated by the broadcaster.
As noted earlier, President Trump’s comments on the “hoax” were made more than six months previous to the CTV news report at issue. This means that CTV had ample time and opportunity to do the necessary checking to ensure the factual accuracy of Trump’s remarks, which in reality were associated to the Democrats’ efforts to politicize the President’s response to the pandemic.
The essence of the CTV news report was not the characterization by President Trump of the COVID-19 virus as a “hoax” but rather was to focus on taped conversations between Bob Woodward and the President which demonstrated that Trump knew the severity of the pandemic, but chose not to publicly acknowledge it for fear of creating a panic response in the US population. In its response to the complainant, CTV acknowledged “that the statement in question in our report was used out of context and should not have been included in the report” and that the complainant was correct about its original context. CTV was of the view that this constituted an inadvertent error and that the overall sense of the story was that the President had purposely withheld important medical information about COVID-19, which was correct and accurate.
A majority of the Panel disagrees with CTV that the use of the term “hoax” in the context of this news report was not a material inaccuracy. The correspondent was not reporting on the use by Trump of the term “hoax” on the day of the news report at issue but rather on the COVID-19 revelations contained in the Woodward interview with President Trump. Given that the use of the term “hoax” by the President was used in an entirely different context months earlier, it was incumbent on the reporter to make sure the use of “hoax” in the context of this news report was factually correct. The Panel agrees with CTV that the reference to “hoax” should not have been included in the report. It certainly did not add anything to the substance of the news story. Its use was not only taken out of context, it represented, in the view of the majority of the Panel, a material inaccuracy that violated Clause 5(1) of the CAB Code of Ethics and Article 1.0 of the RTDNA Code of Journalistic Ethics.
Given that the “hoax” characterization was not the main thrust of the story, its use gave a more negative impression of how Trump was dealing with the pandemic. In these politically charged times, using the term “hoax” out of context to demonstrate that Trump was being dismissive of the pandemic does constitute a material inaccuracy in the view of the majority of the Panel. When listening to the report about how Trump was downplaying the pandemic to avoid a panic, the use of the term “hoax” gave the news story a whole different twist and painted the interview much differently and led to what constitutes a material inaccuracy.
Dissenting Opinion of E. Duffy-MacLean
The dissenting Panel member agrees that the use of the term “hoax” in the context of the subject news story was factually inaccurate. However, the inaccuracy did not have a material impact nor did it detract from the core news piece that Trump was downplaying the pandemic. The comment was certainly not necessary or accurate and perhaps could even be considered over the top, but it did not materially change the essence of the story which was focused on Trump downplaying the COVID-19 threat.
The second question put to the Panel was:
2) If yes to question 1, should the error have been corrected in a subsequent broadcast to comply with Article 1.3 of the RTDNA Code of Journalistic Ethics?
On the issue of corrections, Article 1.3 of the RTDNA Code of Journalistic Ethics requires broadcasters to correct errors when they become aware of them. The CBSC has also dealt with this issue in previous decisions.
In CTV News Channel re news reports (“Clashes Erupt in West Bank”) (CBSC Decision 12/13-1134, August 7, 2013) the CBSC Panel examined a complaint about the broadcast of erroneous information. In two separate reports, the 24-hour news specialty service reported that mourners marched in a funeral procession for a Palestinian prisoner who had died in an Israeli jail while taking part in a hunger strike. A group calling itself Honest Reporting Canada complained that the prisoner had not in fact been participating in a hunger strike; rather, autopsy reports showed that the cause of death was inconclusive. CTV acknowledged that it had relied on an American television network as the source of this information, but had not aired any further reports on the topic and ensured that an accurate account was posted on its website. The Panel found the news channel in breach of Clause 5 of the CAB Code of Ethics and Article 1 of the RTDNA Code of Ethics for airing incorrect information and stated that the station should also have broadcast a correction on air.
In CKCO-DT (CTV Kitchener) re a report on CTV News at Six (“Inappropriate Conversation”) (CBSC Decision 14/15-1508, April 7, 2016), the Panel examined reports about a female teacher who had been accused of inappropriate sexual comments made towards a 16-year old student. During the first 6:00 pm newscast, viewers were informed that the charges had been dropped because there was not enough evidence to go to trial. The reporter went on to state that a judge had ordered the teacher to quit. The 11:30 pm newscast, revised its story slightly to state that the teacher’s lawyer had informed CTV that the teacher had voluntarily resigned from the Ontario College of Teachers. The following day, CTV aired a correction, explaining that it had erred in its 6:00 pm newscast of the previous day, when it had stated that the teacher had been ordered by a judge to quit; rather, the teacher had in fact voluntarily resigned and that decision was an important factor in the judge’s decision to drop the charges. The Panel did find CTV had breached Article 1 of the RTDNA Code of Ethics and Clause 5 of the CAB Code of Ethics for its initial inaccurate statement regarding the teacher’s resignation, but it met the requirements of the correction of errors article of the RTDNA Code of Ethics by airing a correction the following day.
In CIVT-DT (Global Edmonton) re Global News at 5 report (Sunwing pilot) (Decision 16/17-1868, December 20, 2017), the report at issue was about a pilot who had pleaded guilty of attempting to fly an aircraft with a blood-alcohol level over the legal limit. The report was about his sentence and stated that he had been banned from operating any aircraft for two years. The complainant stated that the pilot had been banned for one year, not two. Global acknowledged its error and aired a correction 17 days later on both its 5:00 pm and 11:00 pm newscasts. The Panel found a breach for the inaccuracy and acknowledged that the broadcaster had met its responsibilities under Article 1.3 of the RTDNA Code of Journalistic Ethics.
The Panel unanimously agrees that the error should have been corrected in accordance with Article 1.3 of the RTDNA Code of Journalistic Ethics. It considers that broadcasters should make every effort to correct inaccurate information contained in news reports as soon as possible regardless of whether this information is materially wrong or constitutes what they believe to be an inadvertent error. All viewers need to be apprised of the error, not just the complainant. In the context of this news story, an incorrect superfluous comment was included and this should have led to a correction.
President Trump routinely accused the media of being unfair, biased and the disseminators of “fake news”. The impetus for broadcasters should be to strive to be as accurate as possible and where a mistake is made to acknowledge the error and make the necessary correction, otherwise it undermines the credibility of the news report.
The third question put to the Panel was:
3) Did the report contain any unfairness, bias or partiality in violation of Clause 5 of the CAB Code of Ethics and Article 2.0 of the RTDNA Code of Journalistic Ethics?
On the issue of bias and unfairness, the CBSC has explained that news reports can be critical of politicians, companies and organizations. Painting a person or an organization in a negative light does not necessarily amount to bias.
In the previously referred decision CTV Newsnet re two reports entitled “Anti-Terror Measures Voted Down” (CBSC Decision 06/07-0745, November 29, 2007), the Panel said in relation to the complaint that CTV was biased against the Conservative government:
It appears to the Panel that the complainant had determined that, to the extent that any criticism of Conservative government policy could be read into the conduct of interviewers […], the only explanation of motive could be anti-Conservative, pro-Liberal bias.
The Panel considers this allegation to be of the most speculative nature. It does not find a shred of evidence to support the notion in the words, tone or demeanour of either of the anchors. It also notes the strong disagreement of the CTV Newsnet Supervising Producer with that assertion, which it does not in any event need in order to dismiss the complainants hypothetical and conjectural assertion.
In CHAN-TV (Global BC) re reports on News Hour (CBSC Decision 08/09-1422, November 10, 2009), three news reports dealt with the actions of police officers and the complainant felt that, collectively, they demonstrated an anti-police bias. The Panel did not find the newscasts in breach of any code provisions:
The Panel can detect absolutely no unjustified direction in the reporting of [Robinson’s statements at the Inquiry] and [whether or not Robinson’s knee was on Dziekanski’s neck during the Tasering] in the [first] piece. The question of the entitlement to carry a Taser, the expiry of Cpl. Robinson’s training on the Taser and the appropriateness of his giving the order to someone else to employ the Taser on Mr. Dziekanski all appear entirely appropriate, germane and not the least bit overwrought. It is true that the facts do not look good for Cpl. Robinson or law enforcement, but that is a function of the facts, not of the reporting of them.
The Panel unanimously agrees that the report did not breach Clause 5 of the CAB Code of Ethics and Article 2.0 of the RTDNA Code of Journalistic Ethics. There is nothing in the news report that would lead one to the conclusion that the treatment of President Trump was inherently biased or unfair. The story focused on the interview tapes between Bob Woodward and Trump and how the President was choosing to withhold important medical information about COVID-19 so as to avoid a panic. The focus of the story was correct and accurate and certainly a germane news story to cover.
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 detailed reply to the complainant, addressing all of her points and explaining its view of the matter. The broadcaster fulfilled its obligations of responsiveness and, subject to the announcement of this decision, nothing further is required on this occasion.
CJOH-DT (CTV Ottawa) 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 National News 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 CTV.
The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has found that CTV breached the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ and Radio Television Digital News Association of Canada’s Codes of Ethics in a report broadcast on September 9, 2020. A statement by Donald Trump was misrepresented in a report about his approach to the pandemic. The report breached the clauses relating to accuracy and correction of errors.
This decision is a public document upon its release by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council.
The CBSC received the following complaint via its webform on September 10, 2020:
Name of Television or Radio Station: CTV
Program Name: CTV National News
Date of Program: 09/09/2020
Time of Program: 10:00PM
I am writing to you today after watching the CTV National News last night, September 09, 2020. The reporter Joy Malbon was reporting on President Trump and the Bob Woodward tapes that were recently released. In her reporting, Ms. Malbon lied to the audience when she said “Calling the virus a hoax” President Trump continued to hold rallies. That statement of hers is false and gives an inaccurate and wrong impression of what the President actually said about the coronavirus. President Trump used the word “hoax” on February 28, 2020 during a rally in South Carolina when he was talking to the crowd about how the Democrats were trying to politicize the coronavirus just as they had tried to politicize other issues like Russia and the impeachment trial. He was talking about how when Democrats are asked how President Trump is doing with the coronavirus they would say that he wasn’t doing a good job. “And this is their new hoax” he said about the Democrats NOT, as Ms. Malbon reported, about the virus. Here is the actual transcript:
One of my people came up to me and said, “Mr. President, they tried to beat you on Russia, Russia, Russia”. That didn’t work out too well. They couldn’t do it. They tried the impeachment hoax. That was on a perfect conversation. They tried anything. They tried it over and over. They’d been doing it since you got in. It’s all turning. They lost. It’s all turning. Think of it. Think of it. And this is their new hoax.
Ms. Malbon has lied to the audience about what was said and what the “hoax” was referring to as said by President Trump. This needs to be corrected if CTV National News has any integrity. It is obvious by the stories, tone and words used by the anchor of CTV National News and the reporters on this show that they have complete disdain for President Trump. But this newscast and its reporters should try to accurately report the news, not spin it to serve their personal feelings about the people being reported on, such as President Trump. Once again, the story as she reported it is false. President Trump never uttered the words as she reported them which gives the viewers a totally false and negative impression of President Trump. Correct the facts of this story.
The complainant wrote again on October 21:
I still have not heard from CTV regarding my complaint of reporter Joy Malbon’s inaccurate reporting on the CTV National News. I know they have a few more days (until Oct. 25) to respond to me but I have yet to hear from them. I am just concerned that they will dispose of the tape, if they haven’t already. Thanks for your time. The CBSC assured the complainant that recordings had been conserved and that the broadcaster would respond within the deadline.
CTV responded to the complainant on October 23 with a letter dated October 21:
We have received your complaint to the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) who in turn has forwarded it to CTV News for a response.
First we want to thank you for choosing CTV National News as your source for news coverage and for taking the time to share your concerns about what you have seen on CTV National News. We want you to know that we take your concerns seriously.
Your email expressed concern over a statement in our report attributed to U.S. President Donald Trump, “Calling the virus a hoax”.
As you are aware, the report in question involved the release of recorded audio conversations between U.S. President Donald Trump and award winning journalist Bob Woodward in connection with Woodward’s new book, Rage. The book offers detailed accounts of discussions between the two men on the President’s approach and handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
One of the biggest and most shocking revelations from the taped conversations was President’s Trump decision to hold back information from the U.S. public on the level of danger posed by COVID-19. He very explicitly described to Woodward just how dangerous the virus could be, but never publicly acknowledged that fact to the American public. In fact, his statements often said just the opposite. As detailed in the report, President Trump said “I wanted to – I wanted to play it down. I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”
We acknowledge that the statement in question in our report was used out of context and should not have been included in the report. You are absolutely correct in pointing out that the President used the word hoax in the context of suggesting the Democrats would and were politicizing his actions relating to the virus.
We regret and apologize for this inadvertent error and can assure you that there was no intent to “spin” the news as you suggest. We also respectfully disagree with your suggestion that CTV News staff have disdain for the President.
We at CTV News work very hard to present accurate information to our audiences. We believe as a whole, this report was correctly understood to mean that the President had intentionally withheld important medical information about COVID-19, which he was understandably aware of, and chose to intentionally downplay the seriousness of the virus. This is apparent from the differing statements Trump made to the public and statements he made to Woodward.
We at CTV News also deal with very sensitive topics during the telling of highly charged political stories. The highly divisive nature of political dialogue in the U.S. reminds us that we need to work very hard to report what has happened in a fair and responsible manner.
In summary, although we do not believe that our coverage of this story was in breach of any industry guidelines or codes, we understand that every individual may view news material or programming from a different perspective. CTV News is a member in good standing of the CBSC and adheres to all codes and guidelines.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact CTV News and thank you for watching our news coverage.
I hope this explanation goes some way in addressing your concerns.
The complainant filed her Ruling Request on October 24 with the following comments:
The first comments of Malbon’s report are a lie. The quote is taken out of context to totally change the meaning of his words and this was done deliberately. It was NOT inadvertent. Malbon has total disdain for POTUS [President Of The United States] – look at her twitter feed on Sept. 4, 9, 10, 16, 18, Oct. 3, 8, 13. I could go on. There are many more that display her contempt for the man she is reporting on in a so-called fair and balanced manner. I don’t think so and neither do millions of Canadians who tune out from mainstream media because of their biases. It is the broadcaster’s responsibility to ensure their reporting is accurate and without bias. This report on Sept. 9 was inaccurate and biased and was formulated on the feelings and opinions of this reporter and this news agency. Malbon did not include in her “report” that Dr. Anthony Fauci said regarding this issue, “I didn’t see any discrepancies between what he told us and what we told him and what he ultimately came out publicly and said. He really didn’t say anything different than what we discussed when we were with him.” Of course, Malbon left that part of the story out of her “report”. Where is the balance? Where is the accuracy? This report is neither fair, not accurate, nor unbiased, nor in context. All the ethics codes have been violated. This reporter’s personal bias has influenced her reporting. And it happens frequently, not just on September 9. I and many Canadians are sick of it. CTV news owes all of their audience an apology over this report. The apology to me does nothing to correct this behaviour. The acknowledgment to me that they were in error needs to be publicized. I hope and expect that CTV News will be asked to apologize to their audience for their biased, unfair reporting or this entire exercise is without merit. FYI – the response letter is dated October 21 but I received the response by email on October 23, 2020.