BCTV Newscast On Mentally Challenged Workers Not Unfair Or Distorted (disponible en anglais seulement)

Ottawa, June 19, 1997 -- The B.C. Regional Council of the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning a CHAN-TV (Vancouver) newscast.

In June 1996, CHAN-TV aired two newscasts about the Ridge Meadows Recycling Society, a not-for-profit organization that hired physically and mentally challenged people to work in its recycling facility. Accusations of cruelty to the employees drew a CHAN-TV reporter and crew to the society, where they filmed mentally challenged employees working outdoors, and interviewed both a signatory to a memo alleging abuse and a Ridge Meadows official. In a second newscast, the reporter interviewed another Ridge Meadows official and discussed the finances of the Society, suggesting that there was some financial mismanagement in the salaries paid to staff and in the sources of the organization’s funds.

The Executive Director complained that the reports had been “malicious, one-sided and destructive”, since the news crew had arrived with no prior notification and with no authorization to film the mentally challenged employees. She added that the reports seemed to have been intended to discredit the Society by alleging financial irregularities that were unfounded. CHAN-TV responded by indicating that the issues of mistreatment of employees and financial mismanagement on the part of Ridge Meadows were of public interest and were legitimate to examine in a news broadcast. The station’s Vice-President and News Director further noted that the employees were filmed at some distance and could not be identified individually. The Society had, in both newscasts, been invited to respond to the allegations and its point of view had been presented fairly and adequately, in his opinion. Other representatives of the Society were unsatisfied with this response, and returned to the CBSC with a request that its B.C. Regional Council consider the matter.

After reviewing the tape of the newscasts and examining the correspondence, the Regional Council decided that CHAN-TV did not breach the industry’s Code of Ethics or the Code of (Journalistic) Ethics. The Council affirmed that news crews cannot gather the news “by appointment” for every report they prepare. Such an expectation would have had the effect of muzzling the ability of the reporter to present this issue of public interest. The Council added that the mentally challenged individuals who appeared in the reports could not have been identified in the brief time they appeared on camera; moreover, there was a compelling interest in using these unidentified images to illustrate the story. Still, the Council was somewhat troubled by certain of the reporter’s (ultimately unfounded) suggestions of financial mismanagement. For example, the reporter had implied that the Society received government grants for its financing, when in fact it received payment for services rendered as a result of its contract with the local government. He also incorrectly extrapolated, from the Society’s budget, that overall salary increases of 12% had been mispresented by the Society as being merely 2%. This presentation did not, in the Council’s view, meet the standards of telling the story fairly, comprehensively and accurately but it did not breach the industry’s Codes on ethics and journalistic practices. As the Council commented, “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.”

The B.C. Regional Council is composed equally of broadcasters and representatives of the general public. The Regional Council Chair, a broadcaster, is Erin Petrie. The Vice-Chair, representing the public, is Monica Becott. Other public members involved in the decision are Catherine Murray and Robert Mackay; while the other broadcasters who participated in the decision were Susan Brinton and Gordon Vizzutti.

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All CBSC decisions, Codes and related documentation are available on the World Wide Web at www.cbsc.ca. For more information, please contact the National Chair of the CBSC, Ron Cohen, at (###) ###-####.