On August 13, 2014, the CBSC received a complaint regarding a news report that aired August 12, 2014 on Fairchild Television, a Canadian specialty channel that offers an array of information and entertainment programs broadcast predominantly in the Cantonese language. The news report pertained to an alleged renovation scam in which the renovator was identified. His name, his business card, his picture, and his home/business address, as well as a transcript of a conversation that had occurred between the renovator and the scam victim were shown on screen.1 (The full transcript of the segment can be found in Appendix A.)
The complainant was of the view that the privacy of the renovator was violated and also considered the report to be unfair and “without any solid proof.”
Following its standard procedures, the CBSC sent the complaint to the broadcaster for response.
The broadcaster answered the complaint on September 2, 2014. The content of the challenged news report was summarized in order to justify the accuracy of the report. The broadcaster also indicated that Fairchild Television “endeavours to discharge [its news fairly] at all times, but particularly when it reports on an issue likely to be of interest to its viewers, in this case an apparent instance of a home renovation scam.” Further, it noted that “Fairchild’s reporter limited himself to the allegation and disclosure of the supporting material and provided no editorial comment or conclusion on the allegation made.” Finally, the broadcaster pointed out that the renovator was given “the opportunity to be interviewed and to provide a response to the complaint”, which he refused to do, and that he had not filed a complaint against Fairchild Television regarding the news report in question.
The complainant submitted a Ruling Request on September 3, 2014 in which she declared that she was not satisfied with the broadcaster’s response, and asked that the CBSC review the matter. (The full text of all correspondence can be found in Appendix B.)
The National Specialty Panel examined the complaint under Article 4 (Privacy) of the Radio Television Digital News Association’s (RTDNA) Codes of (Journalistic) Ethics, which reads as follows:
Broadcast journalists will respect the dignity, privacy and well-being of everyone with whom they deal, and will make every effort to ensure that news gathering and reporting does not unreasonably infringe privacy except when necessary in the public interest. Hidden audio and video recording devices should only be used when it is necessary to the credibility or accuracy of a story in the public interest.
The Panel Adjudicators read all of the correspondence and viewed a recording of the challenged broadcast. The Panel concluded that the broadcast did not violate the aforementioned Code provision.
In the view of the Panel, two questions were raised by the broadcast. First: Did showing the contractor’s business card on air, therefore displaying his name, picture, civic address, phone number and e-mail address and airing a clip showing the house from which he operates his business, including showing the civic address on the house constitute an invasion of privacy under article 4 of the RTDNA Code of Ethics? Second: does the fact that the house shown was also the contractor’s personal home could impact that determination?
The Panel Adjudicators concluded that displaying the business card of the contractor on air, although it included a picture of him, did not constitute an invasion of privacy under Article 4, as business cards constitute a marketing tool for businesses. That the card included a picture of the contractor does not change that fundamental fact.
The Panel also concluded that showing the location from where the contractor operates his business, including the civic address, even when that house was also his personal residence, did not constitute an invasion of privacy under Clause 4 because the contractor advertised his business using that address2. However the Adjudicators caution broadcasters to be careful when displaying addresses as there is a fine line between legitimate information and invasion of privacy.
The Panel Adjudicators conclude therefore that the broadcaster did not violate any of the dispositions of Article 4 of the RTDNA Code of Ethics.
With respect to the issue of fairness raised by the complainant, the CBSC has consistently found that while news reports should, where feasible, present both sides of an issue, when a news report by its nature presents bad or negative news, such as in the case of this consumer-oriented investigation, it is the reporting of the newsworthy event which must be evaluated for its objectivity and fairness and not the overall effect of the news report on the person or company who is its subject.3 Further, as Fairchild Television indicated in its news report and in its response to the complainant, the renovator, Mr. Zhang, declined to do an interview with the reporter, therefore choosing not to discuss and defend his side of the story.
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, Fairchild Television provided a reply to the complainant, outlining its view of the broadcast. The broadcaster fulfilled its obligations of responsiveness and nothing further is required in this regard.
This decision is a public document upon its release by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council.
1 The broadcaster provided a translation/transcript of the Cantonese news report. It was reviewed by a Cantonese translator who has no affiliation with either Fairchild Television or the CBSC. This individual confirmed the accuracy of the transcript, as did a Cantonese-speaking CBSC Panel member.
2 In CKYK-FM re broadcast of a civic address (CBSC Decision 05/06-0710, June 30, 2006), the broadcast of a person’s residential address was found to be a breach of the privacy provision however in that instance, the address had not been used for a business.