Live News Coverage of Alleged Hostage Situation Should Have Demonstrated More Sensitivity and Restraint,Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, May 19, 2021 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning coverage of an alleged hostage situation broadcast on LCN on November 13, 2020. The all-news channel provided live coverage of the incident while the emergency response operation was in progress. The CBSC concluded that LCN breached the Radio Television Digital News Association of Canada’s (RTDNA) Code of Journalistic Ethics for divulging critical information during a potentially dangerous situation and for failing to demonstrate sensitivity and restraint in information-gathering.

On November 13, a major police operation took place in Montreal in response to a phone call alleging that there was a hostage taking inside the office building of the company Ubisoft. From approximately 2:00 to 4:00 pm, LCN provided live coverage. The station broadcast images of the police tactical unit around the building, as well as of people gathered on the rooftop terrace with the doors barricaded which were obtained by the station’s helicopter. A team of reporters on the scene tried to gather information from bystanders and one reporter even opened the door of an ambulance to question the people inside. The coverage identified the possible location of people hiding inside the building and the location of a nearby daycare centre. Although the incident was later proven to be a hoax, at the time of LCN’s broadcast, the police were treating it as real.

The CBSC received numerous complaints from viewers who felt that the revelation of employees’ whereabouts, including the images of the group on the roof, had endangered their lives. They also complained about the aggressive behaviour of the journalists when questioning witnesses on the street and the fact that one reporter had opened an ambulance door.

The CBSC’s French-Language Panel examined the complaints under Article 5.2 of the RTDNA Code of Journalistic Ethics which requires sensitivity and restraint when reporting on potentially dangerous situations. The Panel unanimously concluded that reporting the precise location of individuals barricaded inside the building, even though this was unconfirmed, breached the code because that type of information should not be divulged publicly during a dangerous police operation in progress. The majority of the Panel also found a breach for the instance of the reporter opening the ambulance door. They recognized that information-gathering during a live situation sometimes requires aggressive tactics but felt that this act crossed the line.

A majority of the Panel Adjudicators considered that showing the employees confined on the rooftop was acceptable because they were visible to anyone in neighbouring highrises and it informed viewers that these individuals were at the moment safe and sound. Similarly, the majority of the Panel decided that the mention of the daycare’s location was appropriate since it informed people that the centre was secure and that parents should not come at that time.

The CBSC acknowledged that live coverage of this type of dangerous situation is challenging and requires spontaneous decisions on the part of the journalists. Nevertheless, those decisions must take into account the requirements of the broadcast codes. LCN must announce the CBSC’s decision twice on air.

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.

– 30 –

All CBSC decisions, codes, and related information are available on the CBSC’s website. For more information, please visit www.cbsc.ca.