Le Québec matin is a news and public affairs program broadcast on LCN from 5:30 to 10:00 am. The hosts are Julie Marcoux and Jean-François Guérin. On November 27, 2019, LCN broadcast a report at 9:23 am about an incident that had occurred in the United States.
The text at the bottom of the screen read [translation] “A horse mistreated in Texas”.
Marcoux was standing in front of a large screen on which one could see the video of a truck dragging a horse through the snow. The horse’s bridal was attached to the back of the truck. The horse was resisting as best as it could. The short clip was shown three times before Marcoux had uttered the second sentence of her introduction:
Marcoux: I’m going to tell you about this story of animal cruelty that is attracting attention in the United States. A mistreated horse in Colorado and I warn you, the images are not easy to watch. I’ll show you the clip and then we will be back.
The clip was shown one more time with Marcoux in front of the screen. Then, the image changed to full screen mode and more of the clip was shown seven and a half times while Marcoux and Guérin had the following exchange (that is, the clip was shown a total of 11 and a half times during the report):
female voice on the video: [in English in original] ... the ranch, so John’s pullin’ him across. ʼCause he’s being a douchebag.
Marcoux: So it’s a couple who own a ranch who want to transport the animal from one location to another. The animal refuses to cooperate. See the how they did it using the truck. The poor animal can hardly keep up.
Guérin: Oh, that’s terrible.
Marcoux: This went on for about a hundred metres. Uh, to really add insult to injury, the two owners you hear, the owner of the ranch, it’s the wife of the man driving the truck.
Guérin: She’s talking about a “douchebag”.
Marcoux: Yes. She insults the animal, saying this horse refuses to cooperate. You see how –
Guérin: Yeah, I think the douchebag, he’s in the cab of the truck, eh?
Marcoux: Yes, that’s it. That’s just it. But, uh, we’re being funny, but this video was sent to friends of acquaintances of the group who alerted the authorities, saying, really, these people here crossed a line and this constitutes negligence. Uh, it was enough for the authorities, uh, charged the couple. The animal was taken elsewhere. And evidently, the couple now regrets their actions, saying they made, uh, a poor, a poor choice, an error in judgement. Indeed, the woman said she lost her job. This type of story, this shouldn’t happen at all. And now these people will have to answer for their behaviour in court.
The CBSC received a complaint from a viewer on November 27. The complainant contended that his spouse had [translation] “been personally traumatized to see images of animal torture and brutality without any censoring and smack during a time when children can see everything. What’s more, the host presenting the story never allowed enough time for viewers to change the channel.”
LCN replied to the complainant on January 22, 2020. LCN noted that, during the entire broadcast of the story, there was a banner on the screen that stated [translation] “mistreated”. In addition, [translation] “during the introduction to this story, before the broadcast of the images, the presenter provided a warning” informing viewers that the images were not easy to watch. LCN argued that it did not breach any broadcast codes since the hosts expressed their disagreement with this act and reported that there were charges laid against the owner couple of the horse. LCN wrote that it always tries to achieve balance between the public interest, the public’s right to information, and viewers’ sensitivities; it chose to broadcast this report to demonstrate how cruel some humans can be towards animals and to denounce these acts of cruelty.
The complainant submitted his Ruling Request on January 28. He wrote that he did [translation] “not need to see animal torture to understand what it is” and he noted that another broadcaster had thought it wise not to show the images. He characterized LCN’s broadcast as [translation] “an exercise in sensationalism”. Once the CBSC informed LCN that an Adjudicating Panel would be examining this file, the station sent an additional email on March 24 to confirm its position. According to LCN, the broadcast of the video (including its repetition) was acceptable under Article 6 of the CAB Violence Code and the warning was sufficient. The broadcaster also asserted that the broadcast was in accordance with Article 9 of the CAB Violence Code regarding violence against animals. With respect to the question of accuracy about the location of the incident (Texas vs. Colorado), LCN considered that point to be of [translation] “low importance”. (The full text of all correspondence can be found in the Appendix to this decision, in French only.)
The French-Language Panel examined the complaint under the following provisions of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics, the Radio Television Digital News Association of Canada’s (RTDNA) Code of Journalistic Ethics, and the CAB Violence Code:
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.
RTDNA Code of Journalistic Ethics, Article 1 – 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.
CAB Violence Code, Article 6.0 – News and Public Affairs Programming
6.1 Broadcasters shall use appropriate editorial judgment in the reporting of, and the pictorial representation of violence, aggression or destruction within their news and public affairs programming.
6.2 Caution shall be used in the selection of, and repetition of, video which depicts violence.
6.3 Broadcasters shall advise viewers in advance of showing scenes of extra-ordinary violence, or graphic reporting on delicate subject matter such as sexual assault or court action related to sexual crimes, particularly during afternoon or early evening newscasts and updates when children could be viewing.
6.4 Broadcasters shall employ discretion in the use of explicit or graphic language related to stories of destruction, accidents or sexual violence, which could disturb children and their families.
6.6 While broadcasters shall not exaggerate or exploit situations of aggression, conflict or confrontation, equal care shall be taken not to sanitize the reality of the human condition.
CAB Violence Code, Article 9.0 – Violence Against Animals
9.1 Broadcasters shall not telecast programming which sanctions, promotes or glamorizes violence against animals.
9.2 Broadcasters shall not be restricted in the telecast of legally sanctioned activities associated with animals. In such telecasts, judgment shall be used in the selection of video and associated audio, particularly if the telecast is broadcast outside of late evening hours.
The Panel Adjudicators read all of the correspondence and viewed the broadcast in question. The Panel concludes that LCN breached Articles 6.2 and 6.3 of the CAB Violence Code. LCN did not breach the other aforementioned articles.
The questions put to the Panel were:
Was the broadcast of the clip of the horse acceptable under Articles 6.1, 6.4, et 6.6 of the CAB Violence Code?
Under the CAB Violence Code, broadcasters can, in their newscasts, report on violent, upsetting or unpleasant situations. Indeed, it is anticipated in Article 6.6 that “care shall be taken not to sanitize the reality of the human condition”. Nearly any subject can be covered, including animal cruelty.
But in doing so, broadcasters must use appropriate editorial judgment. This means that they must use discretion when they decide how to present the story and how much the public has a right to know, since it is not necessary to provide all explicit details.
In CITY-TV re an episode of Hard Copy (CBSC Decision 96/97-0055, May 8, 1997), the adjudicating panel considered whether showing video footage of abuse being inflicted on a two-year old child in a report on a nanny accused of abusing the child entrusted in her care was appropriate. The panel disagreed with the complainant:
There can be no doubt that the reporting of child abuse, just like the reporting of other crimes and issues of general concern, is in the public interest and broadcasters should not be reluctant to deal with this and other controversial subjects for fear that the simple broaching of them may result in a breach of broadcast standards.
In addition, the mere availability of a violent video does not justify its broadcast. In CTV re News Report (Police Shooting) (CBSC Decision 94/95-0213, March 26, 1996), the final story in a 7:00 am newscast was a 22-second report showing a woman getting out of her van and being shot by California police. The panel asserted that:
[…] there was no editorial context given for the piece, for viewers in any country. Furthermore, except for the moment of the shooting, no story was even told. There had been no information on the reasons for the shooting and no details on whether the woman in question had been armed. There was neither introduction nor follow-up. The Council believes that the airing of the news item simply turned on the availability of the video component. […]
In consequence, the Council considers that the running of the news item in question constituted a totally unnecessary “pictorial representation of violence”, contrary to the CAB Violence Code [...].
In this case, the Panel is of the view that the clip might be considered shocking, but it serves to illustrate a news item that treats the issue of animal cruelty. In addition, the journalist does provide context for the clip. Cruelty or violence against animals is a matter of public interest and images related to this issue are not only acceptable, but important, as long as the broadcaster uses editorial judgment in their presentation. It would have been desirable to follow up this report with some context regarding animal cruelty in the province of Quebec, but even without such a link, the Panel concludes that the broadcast of the clip of the horse is acceptable under Articles 6.1, 6.4 and 6.6 of the CAB Violence Code.
Did the repetition of the clip breach Article 6.2 of the CAB Violence Code?
In some cases, the broadcast of a violent video might be acceptable, but the unjustified repetition of the video will constitute a violation of Article 6.2 of the CAB Violence Code.
In CITY-TV re an episode of Hard Copy (CBSC Decision 96/97-0055, May 8, 1997), the Panel concluded that it was acceptable to depict the issue of child abuse and to include images showing the treatment inflicted on a child. The Panel noted, however, that the video footage had been repeated up to nine times, in whole or in part, throughout the three-minute report and concluded that this constituted a breach of Article 6.2 of the CAB Violence Code:
[...] it does find that the repetition of the video segment, in whole or in part, on 9 separate occasions throughout the report was disproportionate to its relevance in presenting the story. No new information was conveyed in the repetition of the video and no new perspective was provided to the story by the repeated use of the disturbing pictures generated by the hidden surveillance camera.
Having concluded that the broadcast of the clip was acceptable, the Panel considered the repetition of the clip. The video in question was shown in whole or in part 11 times during the report which lasted one minute and thirty-seven seconds. This amount of repetition provided neither new information nor a new perspective within the report. Given the short length of the clip, it was understandable that the broadcaster felt it necessary to repeat the video, but, in the view of the Panel, the continued repetition during the entire report without furnishing any new information or a new perspective constitutes a breach of Article 6.2 of the CAB Violence Code.
Did the clip require a warning under Article 6.3 of the CAB Violence Code? If yes, did LCN provide an adequate warning?
Warnings and advisories are particularly important in newscasts that are broadcast during the day or early evening when children can be watching. In addition, the warning must be given to allow viewers who wish to avoid the upcoming content enough time to avoid it; the warning should not be inserted into the middle of a video showing violence.
In CTV re News Report (Police Shooting) (CBSC Decision 94/95-0213, March 26, 1996), the Panel considered the insertion of a warning during a violent video segment:
Nor did the presence of an advisory alter the view of the Council, which is, if anything, concerned by the proximity of the warning to the video portion for which the alert was given. Not only was the advisory not placed at the beginning of the news story, it was almost halfway through the segment and only 7 seconds before the actual shooting. There was scarcely time for a viewer to respond to the warning before the shot was fired.
In the present matter, the clip labeled “A horse mistreated in Texas” had already been shown three times by the time the presenter gave her verbal warning. There was thus a delay between the broadcast of the clip and the moment when the warning was given by the news presenter. First, the Panel is of the view that the clip in question necessitates a warning since the images were sufficiently violent and disturbing, and it concludes that LCN met its requirement to provide this warning.
Furthermore, as indicated above, warnings during newcasts broadcast during the day or early evening are particularly important given that the audience can include children. That is why a warning must be provided at the beginning of the report in order to allow viewers to avoid the upcoming content. LCN did not meet its requirement in this regard. Consequently, the insertion of the warning after the clip had been shown three times is in violation of Article 6.3 of the CAB Violence Code.
Is the error regarding the location of the incident sufficiently material to constitute a violation of Clause 5 of the CAB Code of Ethics and Article 1.0 of the RTDNA Code of Journalistic Ethics? If yes, is the fact that the presenter said “in Colorado” a sufficient correction of the error under Article 1.3 of the RTDNA Code of Journalistic Ethics?
The report was accompanied by a banner at the bottom of the screen that read [translation] “A horse mistreated in Texas”. In her introduction, the presenter said that the incident involved “a horse mistreated in Colorado”. In fact, the incident in question took place in Colorado.
In CITY-TV re CityPulse (Neighbourhood Drug Bust) (CBSC Decision 96/97-0216, February 20, 1998), the broadcaster acknowledged that it had made a “sloppy generalization” in reporting that a drug bust had occurred in the Parkdale neighbourhood when in fact it had occurred in the West End of Toronto. The Panel concluded that the statement was made inadvertently, that the error was not significant enough to constitute a breach of the code and that, in any event, it was quickly corrected.
In The Weather Network & MétéoMédia re 30 Day Forecast (CBSC Decision 16/17-1869 & -1872, October 12, 2017), a Panel examined complaints about meteorological information provided by the channels, in particular the use of a graphic entitled “30 Day” when only 28 days were actually shown on the high definition channel and 27 days on the standard definition channel. The Panel found no breach for inaccuracy:
For an error or inaccuracy to amount to a code breach, a Panel will need to determine if it was material to the information being conveyed. In many previous decisions, the CBSC has recognized that inaccuracies that do not affect the overall purpose of the message will not amount to a code breach.
The Adjudicating Panel is 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 in 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.
Consequently, the Panel finds no violation of Clause 5 of the CAB Code of Ethics or of Article 1 of the RTDNA Code of Journalistic Ethics.
Finally, the Panel duly noted LCN’s last comment to the effect that the broadcast complied with Article 9 of the CAB Violence Code regarding violence against animals. The CBSC never raised the issue of whether or not the broadcast respected Article 9 of the CAB Violence Code. Broadcasters have a right to address issues related to animal cruelty and reports on this subject do not necessarily constitute a sanction, promotion or glamorization of the act. This question was, therefore, not at issue for the Panel. The Panel is, however, of the view that even if the broadcast is in accordance with Article 9 of the CAB Violence Code, it was not entirely in accordance with Article 6 of that code.
In all CBSC decisions, the Panels assess the broadcaster’s response to the complainant. The broadcaster need not agree with the complainant’s position, but it must respond in a courteous, thoughtful and thorough manner. In this case, LCN provided a detailed response to the complainant explaining its decision to broadcast the images. The broadcaster fulfilled its obligations of responsiveness and, subject to the announcement of this decision, nothing further is required on this occasion.
LCN is required to : 1) announce the decision, in the following terms, once during prime time within three days following the release of this decision and once more within seven days following the release of this decision during the time period in which Le Québec matin 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 LCN.
The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has found that LCN breached the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ Violence Code in its broadcast of a report on November 27, 2019 during Le Québec matin. LCN repeated scenes of cruelty towards an animal contrary to Article 6.2 of the code and did not provide an adequate warning contrary to Article 6.3 of the code.
This decision is a public document upon its release by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council.
Le CCNR a reçu la plainte suivante le 27 novembre 2019 :
Station de télévision ou de radio : Le Canal Nouvelles LCN
Titre de l’émission : LCN Info
Date de la diffusion de l’émission : 27/11/2019
Heure de l’émission : 09:00
Préoccupation précise :
Ce matin, mon épouse écoutait a écouté [sic] le poste LCN 'Le canal Nouvelles' de TVA et a été traumatisée personnellement de voir des images de torture et de brutalité animale sans aucune censure et en pleine heure d'écoute où les enfants peuvent tout voir. De plus, l'animateur présentant la nouvelle n'a jamais laissé de temps afin que les spectateurs puissent changer de chaîne. On parle ici d'images d'un cheval se faisait trainer par un camion !!!
Quel manque de jugement les gestionnaires de cette chaîne ont fait preuve c'est incroyable.
Nous vivons dans un monde déjà assez violent sans avoir à voir des images explicites de torture d'animaux qui laissent des souvenirs post-traumatiques indélébiles.
Je pense bien poursuivre en justice cette chaîne de nouvelles pour dommages psychologiques si aucune action ou suivi n'est fait par le CRTC. Mon épouse est traumatisée et ne fait que pleurer depuis qu'elle a vu ces images.
Ceci est totalement inacceptable.
La réponse du télédiffuseur
LCN a répondu au plaignant le 22 janvier 2020 :
Le Conseil Canadien des Normes de la Radiotélévision (CCNR) nous a transmis pour analyse et réponse votre plainte datée du 27 novembre 2019 relativement à une nouvelle présentée à LCN.
La nouvelle rapporte le mauvais traitement réservé à un cheval par un couple. Vous affirmez avoir « été traumatisé personnellement de voir des images de torture et de brutalité animale sans aucune censure et en pleine heure d’écoute ». Vous indiquez aussi que l’animateur n’a pas laissé le temps aux spectateurs de changer de chaîne.
La présentatrice de LCN présente cette nouvelle comme un cas de cruauté animale survenu aux États-Unis. Les images montrent un cheval se faisant trainer derrière un camion pour être amené à un autre endroit par les propriétaires. Elle indique qu’il s’agit d’un cheval maltraité : un panneau apparaît à l’écran tout au long de la diffusion de la nouvelle avec la mention « maltraité ». Lors de l’introduction de cette nouvelle, avant la diffusion des images, la présentatrice émet l’avertissement suivant : « Je vous avertis, les images ne sont pas faciles à regarder ». On y voit un cheval tiré et traîné par un camion parce que la bête refuse de collaborer.
Soyez assuré que notre équipe met tout en œuvre afin de se conformer aux différents codes applicables en matière de télédiffusion. Notre équipe procède dans chaque cas à une réflexion quant à la balance entre l’intérêt public, le droit public à l’information et la sensibilité des téléspectateurs.
Il nous apparaît important de clarifier certains faits tout en vous confirmant que LCN n’a enfreint aucun des codes supervisés par le CCNR.
Lors de la diffusion de la nouvelle, autant l’animateur que la présentatrice ont exprimé leur désaccord face à ce qu’ils trouvaient inacceptables. L’animateur commente « c’est épouvantable » et la présentatrice réfère à la « pauvre bête ». La présentatrice indique que cette vidéo a été envoyée à des connaissances du couple qui elles ont alerté les autorités, « en disant, ces gens-là ont dépassé les bornes. Il s’agit de négligence ». La présentatrice ajoute que le couple regrette leur geste. Elle rapporte qu’il y a eu des accusations portées contre le couple et qu’ils devront répondre leurs actes devant la justice. La femme a perdu son emploi.
Nous sommes d’avis, comme vous, qu’il faut dénoncer les actes de cruauté envers les animaux. C’est pourquoi nous avons diffusé les images en question. À notre avis, ces images montrent aux téléspectateurs à quel point certains humains peuvent être cruels envers les animaux. Montrer ces images dures participe à la dénonciation publique.
Dans ces circonstances, nous sommes d’avis que le reportage en question ainsi que les images diffusées n’ont enfreint aucune disposition des codes supervisés par le CCNR.
Nous sommes toutefois désolés que ces images aient pu vous choquer et nous vous remercions d’avoir pris le temps de nous faire part de vos préoccupations.
Le 28 janvier, le plaignant a déposé sa demande de décision :
Je ne suis pas satisfait de la réponse du diffuseur. En tant que téléspectateur, je n'ai pas besoin de voir de la torture animale pour comprendre ce que c'est. Il est intéressant de noter que RDI n'a pas jugé bon de montrer ces images gratuites et horribles. En fait ce n'est même pas une 'nouvelle d'information' mais plutôt un exercice de sensationnalisme. En espérant que LCN n'a pas influencé des personnes stupides à essayer ce genre de chose. Le diffuseur doit comprendre son impact social.
Le CCNR fournit au radiodiffuseur une dernière opportunité d’ajouter au dossier lorsqu’il établit la date de la réunion du comité décideur. LCN a envoyé le courriel suivant le 24 mars :
Nous désirons ajouter que la diffusion de la vidéo (incluant sa répétition) était acceptable eu égard à l’article 6 du Code de l’ACR concernant la violence.
Nous sommes respectueusement d’opinion que l’avertissement était suffisant eu égard au même article.
Quant à l’endroit de l’incident, (Colorado - Texas) cette question nous apparaît d’une importance réduite.
Aussi , nous sommes d’avis que la diffusion était conforme à l’article 9.1 du Code de l’ACR concernant la violence contre les animaux.
Par ailleurs, l’article 9.2 du Code prévoit que les télédiffuseurs ne doivent pas être limités dans la présentation d’activités sanctionnées par la loi.
Il est à noter que le télédiffuseur a rapporté dans son reportage que des accusations avaient été portées contre les responsables des gestes de brutalité.