On the September 22, 2021 CTV National News, broadcast at 10:00 pm and anchored by Lisa Laflamme, there was a report about the United States border patrol. The report began at 10:14 pm and was introduced by Laflamme in the following terms:
The humanitarian crisis unfolding at the US-Mexico border is worsening by the day for the thousands of Haitian migrants who’ve been living under a bridge for over a week. Tonight, horrifying new video shows border agents on horseback charging at the migrants using reins as whips. CTV’s Tom Walters has that story.
The over-the-shoulder image beside Laflamme showed three border patrol officers on horseback near water with a man standing in the water. The report by Tom Walters then aired.
Walters: Like the bridge above it, this squalid camp sits between two destinations. [aerial view of camp] One, a hopeful future. [footage of a mother & baby sitting in the camp] The other, a grim past. [migrants walking through water] But the migrants here don’t know which one fate will choose for them. [footage of families sitting in the camp] Over a thousand people have been flown back to the despair they left behind in Haiti, a country many fled years ago, scrambling for meagre possessions dumped on the tarmac in plastic bags. [Haitians milling around airplane; looking through plastic bags on tarmac] Some tried to storm a plane and force their way back to the US. [Haitians surrounding airplane] Darni and Etude Seville left Haiti after the 2010 earthquake and know it is still not a good place to be.
interview with Seville: Terrible. No. Kids all over the streets. People with guns.
Walters: But the Sevilles are emerging from the Del Rio camp with good luck. [people lined up near bus; people exiting bus] They are among the thousands being bussed to other ports of entry to make asylum claims. Some – it’s not clear how many – have already been released into American communities as they await hearings. [people exiting van; large empty hall with chairs lined up; a few people sitting at tables in the hall] Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas was roasted by Senate Republicans for not knowing the numbers.
There was footage of a US Senate hearing with a verbal exchange between Mayorkas and Republican Senator Ron Johnson during which Johnson yelled at Mayorkas for not having data readily available about the situation. The report continued:
Walters: But the Biden administration has also been sharply criticized by members of its own party. For this: the troubling image of border patrol agents on horseback charging at migrants.
This information was accompanied by video footage of two border patrol officers on horseback near water. There were two individuals, presumably Haitian migrants, standing in the water and another running into the water, seemingly away from the officers. That video footage was followed by a still photograph of a border officer on horseback holding a rein up in front of a group of six Haitian migrants holding plastic bags of belongings, and then a still photograph of a group of border officers on horseback in motion towards Haitian migrants standing in the water.
Those images were followed by footage of a Democrat Member of Congress speaking at a press conference:
Rep. Ayanna Pressley at press conference: We speak out against the cruel, the inhumane and the flat-out racist treatment of our Haitian brothers and sisters at the southern border.
Walters: Also condemned by the White House today.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki at press conference: The horrific video of the CBP officers on horse, on horses using brutal and inappropriate measures against innocent people.
Walters: The Biden administration has promised to make immigration more orderly and humane. And this latest crisis on the border has shown how far there is to go to live up to that. Lisa?
Laflamme: All right. Tom Walters in Washington tonight. Thanks, Tom.
A viewer saw the report on CJOH-DT (CTV Ottawa). She filed a complaint about it on September 28. She complained that the comment in the introduction that “border patrol agents used their horse reins as ‘whips’ is patently false” and that CTV “just parroted the lies told by the US mainstream media”. She also complained that the report itself was “denigrating the work of the US border patrol agents attempting to do the job that the US government is paying them to do.” She suggested that CTV should correct its false reporting.
CTV responded on November 5. It disagreed with the complainant’s characterization of its reporting, pointing out that it was “White House and US congressional leaders who labelled the border agents’ tactics as ‘inappropriate’ and ‘brutal’” and that the report contained photographic evidence of border agents “lashing out with their reins in a confrontational manner.” CTV also pointed out that the incident was a real event, not a fabrication, that was the subject of a US Department of Justice investigation. It considered that its report was a “fair and factual treatment of the events that occurred.”
The complainant filed a Ruling Request on November 8. She indicated that she was disheartened by CTV’s response and pointed out that she had never claimed the event itself was a fabrication; rather, in her view, the “lie” was in the introduction to the story, in the comment about using reins as whips. She noted that “the photographer who took the pictures has stated that at no time did the border patrol agents use their reins as whips against the people on the ground.” She argued that CTV improperly presented this story through a racial lens, which is what most of the US mainstream media did. She bemoaned that this type of reporting furthers divisions in society and leads people to distrust the media, as they are not doing their job of questioning and scrutinizing those in power.
CTV provided the CBSC with its final comments on this file on January 6, 2022. The broadcaster pointed out that it never stated that the whips were used on the refugees, only that the border agents were seen charging at the migrants using reins as whips. CTV suggested that it was up to viewers to form their own conclusions based on the footage. It reiterated that the border agents’ actions had been condemned by US lawmakers, the White House and eyewitnesses, and had resulted in a US Department of Justice and Homeland Security investigation. (The full text of all correspondence can be found in the Appendix.)
The CBSC 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 which read as follows:
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.
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.
1.3 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.
RTDNA Code of Journalistic Ethics, Article 5.0 – Respect
Our conduct will be respectful, always taking into account editorial relevance and the public interest.
5.4 We will avoid sensationalism.
The Panel Adjudicators read all of the correspondence and viewed a recording of the challenged broadcast. The Panel unanimously concludes that there was no breach of Clause 5 of the CAB Code of Ethics or Article 1.0 of the RTDNA Code of Journalistic Ethics for inaccuracy. The majority of the Panel concludes that there was no breach of Clause 5 of the CAB Code of Ethics, Article 2.0 or Article 5.4 of the RTDNA Code of Journalistic Ethics for unfairness or bias, but one adjudicator dissents on the basis that the introduction to the report sensationalized the issue.
The questions posed to the Panel were:
Material Inaccuracy in News
As noted above, the complainant acknowledged that CTV aired a valid story and that her concern was limited to Lisa Laflamme’s introduction about agents “using reins as whips”. The CBSC has, in several previous decisions, had to determine whether misconstrued facts are material enough to constitute a breach of the codes.
The threshold on material inaccuracy was crossed in CITY-TV re “You Paid for It!” (Immigration) (CBSC Decision 95/96-0088, December 16, 1997), when the broadcaster failed to make the important distinction between immigrants and refugees in a report which, in terms of accuracy, required that differentiation to be made. Accordingly, the Panel found that the broadcaster failed to inform the public in an accurate, comprehensive and balanced manner and stated 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 has 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. While the M.P. may have deliberately skewed his answer for political reasons, the reporter either missed that contortion or was complicit in its effect.
In another decision finding a material inaccuracy, namely CIII-TV (Global Television) re First National Newscast (Premiers’ Conference) (CBSC Decision 96/97-0246, February 26, 1998), the Panel found that the broadcaster had improperly edited a statement made by Quebec Premier Lucien Bouchard. In the report in question, Mr. 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 Quebeckers are federalists, well, it’s doomed before it begins.” The Panel stated its view that:
the choice made by Global Television in the news report at hand fails that test. 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 percent 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 dealing with two news reports about safety issues on the Scarborough Bluffs, the CBSC, in CIII-TV (Global Ontario) re Global News reports (“Bluffs Danger”) (CBSC Decision 05/06-0500, May 18, 2006), found that the misidentification of a particular housing development constituted inaccurate material and therefore a breach:
Where, for example, the broadcaster asserted that the “property [is] owned by Newton Trelawney Management”, it appears that the report was in error. As the complainant explained, the property “is collectively owned by the unit owners of a condominium corporation, governed by a volunteer board of directors who serve the community in their spare time, without remuneration of any kind.” The Panel assumes that this factual assertion could easily have been verified before broadcast. If it could not have been, making the statement was at risk of being inaccurate […].
The CBSC examined reports about a female teacher who had been accused of inappropriate sexual comments made towards a 16-year-old male student in CKCO-DT (CTV Kitchener) re a report on CTV News at Six (“Inappropriate Conversation”) (CBSC Decision 14/15-1508, April 7, 2016). In the first report broadcast at 6:00 pm, viewers were informed that the charges had been dropped because there was not enough evidence to go to trial. The reporter stated that a judge had ordered the teacher to quit. The report went on to present information from the Agreed Statement of Facts that had been submitted in court to which both the accused and the Crown had consented.
During the 11:30 pm newscast, the station 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 by stating that the teacher had been ordered by a judge to quit; in fact, she had voluntarily resigned from the Ontario College of Teachers and that decision was an important factor in the judge’s decision to drop the charges. The Panel found a breach of 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 RTDNA Code of Ethics by airing a correction the following day. The Panel considered that the rest of the coverage was accurate and fair because:
the charges were grave: a teacher, i.e. a person in authority, was accused of sexual exploitation of a minor. The resolution of such charges was clearly both newsworthy and of interest to the community. The Panel notes that the report included information from the court proceedings that did not reflect well on the complainant. It may be that there could have been other ways to tell the story that did not reflect as poorly on the complainant. Broadcasters, however, are entitled to tell stories in whatever way they choose. In this case, using information from the Agreed Statement of Facts which indicated that some inappropriate communications occurred, may have left a negative impression of the complainant; however, it did not amount to sensationalism or to bias.
In its review of a news report about United States President Donald Trump, the majority of the Panel in CJOH-DT (CTV Ottawa) re a report on CTV National News (Woodward’s Trump tapes) (CBSC Decision 20.2021-0062, January 27, 2021) concluded that the mischaracterization of what Trump had actually called a “hoax” was a material inaccuracy that constituted a breach of Clause 5 of the CAB Code of Ethics and Article 1.0 of the RTDNA Code of Journalistic Ethics:
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. […]
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.
Two newscasts about a not-for-profit organization were not found to breach the codes. In CHAN-TV re Newscast (Recycling Society) (CBSC Decision 96/97-0004, March 10, 1997), the broadcaster interviewed one of the two signatories to a memo alleging abuses on the part of a Recycling Society as well as a Society official. That newscast dealt mainly with the treatment of the handicapped employees working there. The second newscast focussed principally on questions of financial mismanagement; for this broadcast, the reporter interviewed another Society official and discussed Society finances, suggesting that there were some financial irregularities relating, among other things, to the salaries paid to staff and the sources of the organization’s funds. Overall, in the complainant’s view, the coverage was malicious, one-sided and destructive. The Panel concluded that the reporting did not entirely “meet the standards of telling the story fairly, comprehensively and accurately” but further added
[I]t was the duty of the station to ensure that it had all the information it required to tell its story fairly, comprehensively and accurately, particularly as it chose its own interviewees. In this respect, the Council considers that the station and its reporter did not succeed in all respects in meeting those standards although it does not believe that the breach was such as to constitute a breach of the Code. The Council is of the view that the reporter’s principal failure was with respect to the financial issues raised in the newscasts. There is, for example, a difference between “grants” and “contracts for services rendered.” The Council does not agree with the broadcaster’s justification of the one term for the other as a “break[ing] out of jargon to properly and directly convey meaning”. The word “grant” is not jargon. It has a well-known meaning and an implication of government largesse. It provides an inherent justification for cautious oversight of the activities of an entity benefitting from such beneficence. It appears, on the other hand, that the Society worked for its money, that it rendered services for which it was paid. That does not imply that it can do what it wants; the investigation was not unwarranted. The reporter ought, however, to have been “tighter” in his choice of language. Words are, after all, his work.
[The reporter] then made the sarcastic and apparently unwarranted comment that the wages of the “administrative staff” rose by “12%, which apparently translates to 2%.” It appears to the Council that the reporter was reading a line item in a budget and extrapolating from this a conclusion that each administrative wage may have risen by an average of 12% rather than that the overall administrative wage pot may have increased by that amount, which is essentially the information conveyed both by the Executive Director in her interview and in the letter she provided.
It is, of course, eminently material that she was given the opportunity to be on the record and to present her point of view but, in viewing and re-viewing the tape, Council members believe that the waters were muddied by the reporter in the confused and unnecessarily sarcastic way he chose to introduce the item.
All in all, the Council considers that the reporter, the News Director and the station ought to have exercised greater vigilance in the way they chose to tell this story which they were justified in bringing to the attention of the public. It is not, and cannot be, that every inadvertence or inappropriate comment will fall afoul of the various broadcaster Codes. This is a case where they do not but where the Council would have wished that the broadcaster had been further from the edge.
A report on carbon monoxide detectors did not breach broadcast standards but the Panel called it “an example of on-the-edge journalism” in CTV re News Item (CO Alarms) (CBSC Decision 98/99-0475, November 19, 1999):
The Council’s problems with the CTV report include the following issues. In the first place, the Council does not find that the report was anything like irreproachably accurate, which it ought to have been. The inclusion of the declarative words such as “observed by the Ontario Fire Marshall’s office” is a case in point. That the Seneca professor who conducted the test also works for the Ontario Fire Marshall’s office is hardly sufficient to support the claim that the Fire Marshall’s office was in any way officially involved, which is precisely the implication of the language used in the newscast. It was likely included to add credibility to the story when, on that point, the Council is unsure as to whether such a conclusion was merited.
Similarly, the Council questions whether the scientifically dependable sense of the phrase “weeks of testing” fairly or accurately describes the so-called “new study”, the results of which were reported by CTV. […]
No such description or disclosure of the method of conducting the tests was given to CTV’s audience by this report. The viewers were given no solid information relating to the nature of the testing on the basis of which they might be able to form a judgment regarding its unimpeachability. […] Moreover, nothing in CTV’s response to the complaint negates the allegation that the so-called “tests” may have been nothing more than a classroom demonstration, as alleged by the complainant. They said:
A CTV News team researched this story for several weeks and learned the tests were conducted at Seneca College in January and February. Twenty-six carbon monoxide detectors, available to consumers in the greater Toronto area, were tested against Canadian standards. CTV News spoke directly to those who conducted the tests, one of whom is a professor at Seneca College, and another, an independent expert. CTV News obtained a copy of the test results, which formed the basis of the report. We believe this report is factually accurate.
There was an opportunity in their own letter and without the time constraints imposed by a television report to explain something more regarding the seriousness and reliability of the tests at Seneca College which would have left the Council (if not the complainant) with more of a sense of comfort regarding the on-air report of them. They did not take that opportunity. Once again, the network’s very choice of language used, “testing”, without any qualification or limitation of the term, left a sense of greater dependability than appears to have been merited.
A CBSC Panel examined a news report on Canadian firearm legislation where the reporter claimed that powerful weapons were easily obtainable despite Canada’s gun registry program in TQS re a report on Le Grand Journal (“Machine Gun by Mail”) (CBSC Decision 05/06-0785 & -0800, June 30, 2006). Two complainants argued that the report: contained inaccurate and misleading information about Canada’s firearm laws and the actual weapons shown in the report; made it sound like all gun owners were potential serial killers; and damaged the reputation of a firearm retailer. The CBSC Panel determined that the report had “somewhat distorted” the information, but that it did not technically contain any inaccurate statements.
The Panel considers that that message was that anyone can get a serious, heavy-duty, dangerous, military firearm (with the associated bullets or cartridge clips) with great ease, that even a 14-year old could do so.
In order to create that impression, the Panel considers that the reporter was fairly fast and loose with his facts. His information was woolly, not sharply defined. The trick was how he knitted together the fabric of his argument. Technically speaking, most of the components were, if considered in isolation, either accurate or, at best, not inaccurate. By juxtaposing elements that were not intended to be so conjoined, [reporter Normand] Lester was able to leave an impression that was, in a composite or overall sense, somewhat distorted.
[…] [T]he Panel regrets the rather liberal or loose use of accurate terminology used by Normand Lester to illustrate his point. As he admitted in the TQS letter, duck and squirrel hunting permits do not exist in Canada. He then explained than an apparently material part of his story, relating to the age at which one can obtain a permit “has nothing to do with the subject of the report which did not relate to the age of acquisition of a firearm in Canada.” His explanation for the use of such terms: “I was just illustrating my topic.” His justification: “It is common in journalism to use lapidary [sic] and colourful formula in punch lines.” The Panel disagrees. Colourful is fine. Terse and succinct are fine. Illustrative is fine. Irrelevant and misleading are not. They are a regrettable usage and suggest sloppier practices than are customary in the exercise of serious journalism. That being said, for the reasons discussed in detail above, the Panel is not of the view that any of the statements is materially incorrect or that the overall perspective left is materially misleading. The Panel wishes that the reporter had been more thoughtful in his presentation but, in conclusion, it finds no breach of the codified standards cited above.
The CBSC reviewed two news reports about Parliament’s decision to vote down the extension of two anti-terrorism measures in CTV Newsnet re two reports entitled “Anti-Terror Measures Voted Down” (CBSC Decision 06/07-0745, November 29, 2007). The first report was an interview by the CTV anchorman of a former CSIS Officer where the anchor questioned him about the implications of the Government’s decision, and, at one point, 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 an interview with a representative from Amnesty International Canada by another CTV anchor. The second 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 detain someone “indefinitely” and the measures had never been used, not “rarely used”. He also suggested that these errors demonstrated CTV’s bias against the Conservative government. The Panel did not find any code violations in either of the two reports, although it did find some problems with the first report as follows:
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. Nor should an anchor be entitled to rely (as the broadcaster’s representative stated in his letter) on “[t]he expectation […] that the guests would provide the facts and clarification and if necessary correct any misconceptions.” While it is fair to expect that expert interviewees will provide facts, these should be delivered in reply to questions rather than apparently factual assertions on the part of the news anchor. Nor, in that sense, should there be any misconceptions to be corrected. The anchor should be asking questions, not proffering factual concepts susceptible of correction.
On the second news report and the use of the word “rarely” as opposed to “never” the Panel stated the following:
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. The Panel’s view is that both words imply great infrequency; in a sense, the quantification of the level of infrequency is the only issue […]. […] 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. There is no Code breach on this account.
In another CBSC decision involving two separate news reports, namely 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), a viewer (who identified himself as a journalist) complained about the content which he considered to be misleading. 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 provided a word-by-word analysis of the report to demonstrate why he was of the view that it was inaccurate and sensationalized. He argued 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 and made the following comments:
In general, the Panel considers that the complainant has engaged in hair-splitting. In the view of the Panel, what matters far more to audiences is the forest rather than the trees. On that larger level, the Panel does not find the report inaccurate, misleading or even deceptive in any material sense. In arriving at this conclusion, the Panel places some emphasis on a word that the complainant himself has used several times in his letters of May 8 and 22, namely, context. It begins with the notion that the motion is a motion, not a statute, in other words, the enunciation of a principle or a direction rather than the legislative fruits of a declaration policy. There is a chasm of difference between the two.
It is undeniable that he used the word clothing in the motion, when he had moments earlier used uniforms. The Panel considers that this was likely the result of careless wording or possibly the fact that the mover of the policy saw no material distinction between the two terms. Nor, in the view of the Panel, would the CIVT-TV audience. The Panel is of the view that, in choosing the word “uniforms” rather than “clothing”, the broadcaster was making a reasonable effort to convey the intention of the mover and the unanimous Parliament. In the view of the Panel, that was an eminently logical interpretation of the debates on the subject. That was the cautious and thoughtful path. That was the language that would best provide the audience with a reasonable interpretation of the Parliamentary perspective.
Although the Panel in the above decision considered that the report was perhaps a bit glib, it was not in any material way inaccurate or misleading, nor was it sensationalized, especially given the fact that it was pointed out that the effect of the motion would be nil since the Olympic clothing for Canadian athletes had already been approved.
The Panel’s Decision
The Panel has carefully reviewed the correspondence and the logger provided by CTV in the present matter. The news report prepared by Tom Walters was factually correct in every respect. There is nothing either in the wording or the visual elements of the report that says or intimates that the US horseback border patrol used their reins to whip the migrants trying to enter the country. The issue of how US border patrol on horseback dealt with migrants has become a highly politicized and charged event. This story was widely disseminated on all media platforms and the story evolved greatly after it was first broadcast. However, the Panel is satisfied that both the verbal components of the report and the visual elements did not say, nor did they show, that reins were used to whip or strike the migrants.
Did some of the visual elements of this report show the reins whip the air? Absolutely. Did the visual elements show the US horseback border patrol charge towards the migrants? Again, yes. However, there is nothing in the report that insinuates the use of reins as whips on the migrants themselves.
The Panel, having concluded that the news report was factually correct, then considered whether the anchor’s introduction was materially inaccurate. There are many components to news including teasers, promos, headlines, intros, and the stories themselves. Generally, teasers, promos, headlines and intros are used to maintain audience interest, move people through the segment of a newscast by informing them of what is to come and ensuring that they stay tuned. Teasers, promos, headlines and intros do not typically provide a lot of context as the news story itself should provide this element. The intro used by the CTV anchor stated that:
The humanitarian crisis unfolding at the US-Mexico border is worsening by the day for the thousands of Haitian migrants who’ve been living under a bridge for over a week. Tonight, horrifying new video shows border agents on horseback charging at the migrants using reins as whips. CTV’s Tom Walters has that story.
Based on both the spoken and visual elements of the news story, it was factually correct to say in the intro that US border agents on horseback charged at the migrants and used reins as whips. Indeed, the US border agents used the reins to, among other things, whip the air. Reins are generally meant to pull the bit in the horse’s mouth to guide it, but reins can also be used as whips in order for the horses to respond quickly. This is a technique used in horseback riding when the horse may be hesitant with groups of people.
Given that intros are usually short and punchy in nature and do not provide the full context, it is possible that one could perhaps surmise that the intro was intimating that US border control agents had whipped migrants using their reins. However, this was never explicitly said in either the news story or the intro. Intros do not require that every element of a news story be provided. They are, as stated earlier, meant to introduce news in a way that keeps viewers interested and ensure they tune in to the full news story. CTV picked the element most likely to keep the viewer riveted and take them into the story. This is a common technique and the way it was exercised by CTV in this context does not constitute an inaccuracy, much less a material inaccuracy. The news story soon clarified how the reins were actually used by the US border agents.
The crux of the news story was that US border agents were being aggressive with the migrants. The Panel considers that a viewer would have watched the news report, including the intro, and would have all the necessary information to judge whether the actions of the border agents were aggressive and harsh regardless of whether the reins were used as whips against the migrants. Accordingly, the Panel does not find that the use of the phrase “using reins as whips” in this report constitutes a material inaccuracy in violation of Clause 5 of the CAB Code of Ethics and Article 1.0 of the RTDNA Code of Journalistic Ethics.
Bias or Unfairness in News
The issue of whether there was bias or unfairness in the news report reviewed in the CJOH-DT decision outlined above (CJOH-DT (CTV Ottawa) re a report on CTV National News (Woodward’s Trump tapes) (CBSC Decision 20.2021-0062, January 27, 2021) was considered and, although in that case, the Panel found a breach under Article 1.0 of the RTDNA Code of Journalistic Ethics because the use of the word “hoax” was materially inaccurate, the Panel did not find there was unfairness or bias towards President Trump under Clause 5 of the CAB Code of Ethics or 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 organization in a negative light does not necessarily amount to bias.
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.
Applying that precedent to the matter at hand and consistent with previous CBSC decisions in this regard, the fact that CTV used what could be considered a tantalizing teaser or intro to the news story, the reality is the news report clearly demonstrated that, although strong-arm tactics were being used by the US border agents to keep migrants at bay, it did not state that reins were being used as whips on the migrants. Moreover, since neither the news story nor the introduction was materially inaccurate, the Panel does not consider that CTV was attempting to slant the story in any way. The news segment reported factually what had occurred and, therefore, the Panel does not consider that the use of the phrase “using reins as whips” demonstrates bias or unfairness contrary to Clause 5 of the CAB Code of Ethics and Article 2.0 of the RTDNA Code of Journalistic Ethics.
There is no doubt that the anchor’s phrase “using reins as whips” could, as stated above, be considered a tantalizing teaser. However, the majority of the Panel believes that its use was simply to keep the viewers interested and commit to watching the full news story. This is especially the case since both the intro and the news story were factually correct. Accordingly, the majority of the Panel concludes that the use of the phrase “using reins as whips” did not sensationalize the story contrary to Article 5.4 of the RTDNA Code of Journalistic Ethics.
Dissenting Opinion of J. Tiessen
I consider that the use of the phrase “using reins as whips” in the intro was somewhat assumptive in nature and had the impact of creating more out of a controversial public issue than was needed. The intro would have benefitted from greater context. The omission of the necessary context, I believe, might have led viewers to infer that the reins were indeed used as whips against the migrants, when that fact was actually in dispute in the story.
In this case, the broadcaster interpreted the words “using reigns as whips” as not sensationalizing when placed in the context of the entire story. Regardless of what information came to light following the broadcast, a broadcaster should be circumspect in how it characterizes an incident based on the facts at hand at the time of broadcast. I am not convinced that the broadcaster appropriately contemplated the impression that would be left by the intro when it was developed initially for airing, and used in conjunction with this story.
As a result, it sensationalized the news report contrary to Article 5.4 of the RTDNA Code of Journalistic Ethics.
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 addressed the complainant’s concerns, providing its viewpoint on the choice of words and imagery in its report. The broadcaster fulfilled its obligations of responsiveness and nothing further is required on this occasion.
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 28, 2021:
Name of Television or Radio Station: CTV
Program Name: CTV National News
Date of Program: 22/09/2021
Time of Program: 10:00PM
On September 22, 2021 CTV News did what it does so frequently these days. It once again just parroted the lies told by the US mainstream media to the audience here in Canada. Anchor Lisa Laflamme introduced this fabrication of the US mainstream media by announcing to her audience “tonight horrifying new video shows border agents on horseback charging at the migrants using reins as whips.” Tom Walters ensuing “report” showcased Ayanna Pressley and the White House press secretary denigrating the work of the US border patrol agents attempting to do the job that the US government is paying them to do. Tom Walters wrapped up his rigorous report by commenting how far the US still has to go to live up to the promise of making immigration more orderly and humane. The report by CTV National News that these border patrol agents used their horse reins as “whips” is patently false. When will CTV News correct this false reporting by its journalists?
CTV responded to the complainant on November 5:
We acknowledge receipt of your complaint to the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council regarding our coverage of the migrant crisis at the U.S. southern border on September 22, 2021.
We strongly disagree with your assertion that CTV News “parroted the lies told by the U.S. mainstream media.” In fact, as indicated in Tom Walters’ report, it was the White House and U.S. congressional leaders who labelled the border agents' tactics as “inappropriate” and “brutal.”
Moreover, the images themselves, as seen in Tom Walters’ report, provide photographic evidence – the uniformed border patrol agents are seen on horseback, chasing migrants, lashing out with their reins in a confrontational manner. The video was enough for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to not only launch an investigation, but to also temporarily suspend horse patrols at the border.
This was a real event, with real consequences – not “lies” or a “fabrication” as you erroneously state in your complaint.
It’s also worth noting the incident is still the subject of a U.S. Department of Justice investigation in which criminal charges may be the outcome. We believe Tom Walters’ story, as well the introduction, was a fair and factual treatment of the events that occurred.
CTV News is a member in good standing of the CBSC and adheres to the Codes and guidelines administered by the Council.
The complainant filed a Ruling Request on November 8:
I would ask that the CBSC review my complaint as the response from CTV is quite unacceptable. It is very disheartening to receive a response like the one I just received from [the Executive Producer National News & Network Specials, CTV News] in answer to my complaint of CTV’s patently false reporting of events on the southern border of the United States. But it certainly helps to clarify just why the journalists at that organization do such a terrible job of reporting the facts of current events. At no time did I imply in my letter, as [the Executive Producer] incorrectly stated in her response, that this “event” was a lie or fabrication. What I did say was that the border patrol agents did not use their reins as whips which is what anchor Lisa Laflamme incorrectly stated in her introduction to the story. That was the lie. That was the fabrication. It has been widely reported that the photographer who took the pictures has stated that at no time did the border patrol agents use their reins as whips against the people on the ground. It has also been widely reported that the riders were using their reins to control their horses. But as CTV and its reporters are accustomed to doing, they report many events improperly through a racial lens. This is what Tom Walters and Ms. Laflamme did with this story along with most of the mainstream media in the US. Unfortunately, this kind of reporting only serves to divide the society that CTV is there to serve. It is reporting like this that prompts the majority of people, according to surveys, to believe that the media lie to them in their reporting. Journalists are supposed to question and scrutinize those in power not parrot the latest propaganda coming from politicians and, in this case, the White House which is the opposite of what [the Executive Producer] appears to believe, based on her response to me. While pictures can often be worth a thousand words that is not the case with this story.
Once it confirmed that this file required adjudication, the CBSC provided CTV the opportunity to provide final comments. CTV did so on January 6:
With respect to the upcoming panel meeting on this file, we would like to provide the following information:
Here is Lisa LaFlamme’s introduction to Tom Walters’ story, which aired on September 22, 2021:
THE HUMANITARIAN CRISIS UNFOLDING AT THE U-S/MEXICO BORDER IS WORSENING BY THE DAY FOR THE THOUSANDS OF HAITIAN MIGRANTS WHO HAVE BEEN LIVING UNDER A BRIDGE FOR OVER A WEEK. TONIGHT HORRIFYING NEW VIDEO SHOWS BORDER AGENTS ON HORSEBACK CHARGING AT THE MIGRANTS USING REINS... AS WHIPS. CTV'S TOM WALTERS HAS THE DETAILS.
Definition of a whip: Strip of leather or length of cord, used for flogging or beating a person or for urging on an animal.
Nowhere in Lisa LaFlamme’s introduction – or in Tom Walters’ script – was it stated the whips were used on the refugees, even though the images support that assertion. The script only indicates that border agents were seen on horseback, charging at the migrants – using reins as whips. We do not specify if the whips were used on the migrants or on the horses. We left it up to viewers to decide, based on the footage aired. We only concluded that the border agents were on horseback and they charged at the migrants using their reins as whips – a logical conclusion based on the images in question, the condemnation of the border agents from U.S. lawmakers, the White House, eyewitnesses – and also, the fact that this incident resulted in an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Homeland Security.