Editorializing in News Must Be Distinct or Clearly Labelled, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, June 3, 2020 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning a news report on CFRB (Toronto) in December 2019. The CBSC concluded that the news reader had inserted his editorial opinion into a report about streaming services, without identifying it as opinion or keeping it distinct from the regular newscast. This contravened Clause 5 of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics and Article 2.0 of the Radio Television Digital News Association of Canada’s (RTDNA) Code of Journalistic Ethics.

The report was about the federal government exploring the possibility of imposing a tax on internet video streaming services like Netflix and Disney+. The newsreader introduced the item with the statement, “The libraries of streaming services like Netflix, Disney+ could soon have more of a Canadian flavour that nobody watches or wants if the federal government gets its way.” The CBSC received a message from a listener who complained that the “nobody watches or wants” comment was the newsreader’s opinion and should not have been inserted into the newscast. The listener wrote that this particular newsreader frequently editorializes during the news and should restrict his viewpoints to his separate commentary segment.

CFRB replied to the complainant, first arguing that the News and Views segment at 6:00 pm is labelled as an editorial segment. After the complainant pointed out that he had clearly identified the 5:00 pm newscast in his complaint, CFRB sent a second reply in which it maintained that it was obvious to the audience that the newsreader was expressing an opinion.

The CBSC English-Language Panel examined the complaint under Clause 5 (News) of the CAB Code of Ethics and Article 2.0 (Fairness) of the RTDNA Code of Journalistic Ethics, both of which require that news broadcasts are not editorial or biased, and any editorializing is kept distinct from regular newscasts. The Panel concluded that the newsreader had inserted his own bias when he said “nobody watches or wants” Canadian content, though one Adjudicator abstained from voting on this point. The Panel also concluded that the commentary had not been clearly labelled or kept distinct from the news, so listeners would not necessarily have known it was an opinion. It pointed out that the newsreader has a platform to express his opinion during the “News & Views” segment.

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 at www.cbsc.ca.