Indoor Playground Report Deemed Full, Fair and Proper by Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, June 25, 1998 -- The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning a report on indoor playgrounds in fast food restaurants in the Edmonton area which aired as an “Eyewitness News Extra” on CFRN-TV on March 3, 1997. The CBSC received a complaint from an executive of one of the restaurant chains, which operated two of the “ball pens” investigated by the report. He alleged that the report was “unduly alarming” and “irresponsible in the extreme” and that the reporter had used “clever editing” techniques to make the report more dramatic, “creating reason for alarm and concern about health safety.”

The Prairie Regional Council did not find the story was as dramatic and “alarmist” as alleged by the complainant. While there was no doubt, in the view of the Council, that “the intention of the news reporter was not to recount a story that would not attract attention, ... [t]his alone [did] not mean that her story would be breach of either of the above-noted Codes.” The bottom line for the Council was that the most serious allegation made was that “a viewer recently told us that he believes his son got sick from playing in a ball pen. [Emphasis added.]” The Council concluded: “While this was apparently the motivation to do the story, the Council considers that the implications of it were largely benign. ... There was not, for example, any allegation of even a serious illness, much less a death, on the part of any individual in the Edmonton area.” Weighing this case with the CBSC’s previous decisions on similar matters, the Council determined that CFRN-TV could not be said to have sensationalized the news item contrary to the Radio Television News Directors Association (RTNDA) Code of (Journalistic) Ethics.

The Prairie Regional Council also assessed the fairness and balance of the on-air portion of the reporter’s comments. In its view, the broadcaster’s presentation of the report was “full, fair and proper” as required by the Code of Ethics. The Council found that there was full disclosure of the testing process used as a basis for the report and that, in any case, “the issues and consequences were not of such moment that science is material in the determination.” Moreover, interested parties, including the complainant, were extended invitations to appear on air. Even though the complainant chose not to appear, its oral and faxed reactions were included as a part of the report and the restaurant chain’s comments were, in fact, the final words spoken by the reporter. The Council concluded:

Although the complainant would obviously have preferred that the news feature not air at all, the presentation was, in the view of the CBSC, balanced and the complainant, even though not on air itself, had its point of view fully and fairly presented.

The CBSC is the self-regulatory body created by private broadcasters to respond to complaints and administer industry standards on ethics, journalistic practices, gender portrayal and television violence. More than 430 radio and television stations and specialty services from across Canada are members of the Council.

– 30 –

All CBSC decisions, Codes, links to members’ and other web sites, and related information 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 (###) ###-####.