Ottawa, September 6, 2023 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released two decisions concerning complete and accurate information in public affairs programming. The first involved a segment of the investigative journalism program W5 broadcast on CTV British Columbia (CIVT-DT). The second involved The Vassy Kapelos Show, a talk show broadcast on radio station CFRA (Ottawa). In both cases, the CBSC determined that the broadcaster had not provided a full, fair and accurate presentation of facts, and had not corrected the errors, contrary to the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics and Radio Television Digital News Association of Canada’s (RTDNA) Code of Journalistic Ethics.
W5 “Dog Fight”
The W5 segment entitled “Dog Fight” was about pet custody disputes and aired on March 11, 2023. The segment included a lengthy interview with one woman who had initiated court proceedings against her ex-boyfriend to get custody of the dog they had shared. It was stated that the dispute “began the day she broke up with her boyfriend and he took the dog with him.” The woman explained why it was so important to her to have the dog and included video footage of her being affectionate with the dog.
The CBSC received a complaint from the ex-boyfriend who complained that W5 had misrepresented and omitted important facts of the case. The ex-boyfriend objected primarily to the statement that he had taken the dog. In his version of events, the woman had originally taken the dog when they broke up, had eventually signed a legal agreement granting the ex-boyfriend possession of the dog, but then had initiated legal proceedings to dispute the agreement’s validity. The complainant stated that he had made W5 aware of this, but W5 had neglected to obtain or broadcast his side of the story. The complainant was also concerned that the broadcast had violated his privacy because, although he was not identified by name, viewers could have deduced who he was because his ex-girlfriend’s name was provided.
CTV argued that the broadcast had intentionally avoided details of the legal case because it would have been perilous to explore the merits of a matter before the courts. Since the merits were not raised, CTV was not required to provide balance. The case served only to illustrate the complexities of pet custody disputes.
The CBSC’s English-Language Panel examined the complaint under the provisions of the CAB Code of Ethics and RTDNA Code of Journalistic Ethics regarding accuracy, fairness, balance, correction of errors, and privacy. The Panel concluded that certain statements made in the segment and CTV’s failure to acknowledge the nuances of the situation constituted an incomplete, unfair, biased and inaccurate presentation of the story, contrary to Clauses 5, 6 and 7 of the CAB Code of Ethics and Articles 1.0 and 2.0 of the RTDNA Code. CTV should have provided some clarification about the details, as per the requirement of Article 1.3 of the RTDNA Code.
With respect to privacy, the Panel concluded that CTV did not breach Article 5.5 of the RTDNA Code because the complainant was not identified by name.
The Vassy Kapelos Show
The Vassy Kapelos Show is a talk show on which the host and guests discuss current events. In an episode that aired on CFRA on April 3, 2023, Kapelos and guests discussed the indictment of former United States President Donald Trump on charges related to campaign finances. Guest commentator Tom Mulcair suggested that Trump might face more serious charges at a later date, since “There were police officers killed on January 6th.” This reference was to January 6, 2021 when Trump supporters had rioted at the Capitol Building in Washington, DC to protest the outcome of the 2020 US presidential election.
The CBSC received a complaint from a listener who stated that Mulcair’s statement was inaccurate because no police officers died on January 6, 2021 at the US Capitol. CFRA explained that one police officer had died the following day and, although the medical examiner eventually ruled that his January 7 death was “natural” due to two strokes, some people, including the Capitol police chief, attributed the officer’s death to what he had endured the day before when confronting the protesters.
The majority of the CBSC’s English-Language Panel agreed with the complainant that it was inaccurate to state that police officers had been killed on January 6. CFRA therefore breached Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics for inaccuracy. Two adjudicators dissented on this point, finding that it was not possible to definitively conclude whether or not the events of January 6 contributed to the officer’s death, which allowed for some latitude in the interpretation of this fact.
The Panel unanimously concluded that the broadcaster ought to have clarified the imprecision regarding police officer deaths under the RTDNA Code’s requirement to correct errors. The lack of clarification was especially problematic given that the host stated during the program that she was going to “fact check” the information about Trump, but then made no mention of Mulcair’s debatable statement.
Both CTV and CFRA are required to announce the CBSC findings on air on two occasions.
The CBSC was created in 1990 by Canada’s private broadcasters to administer the codes of standards that they established for their industry. The CBSC currently administers 5 codes which deal with ethics, equitable portrayal, violence, news and journalistic independence. Around 800 radio stations, satellite radio services, conventional and discretionary television services across Canada participate in the Council.
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All CBSC decisions, codes, and related information are available on the CBSC’s website. For more information, please visit www.cbsc.ca.