Misrepresentation of Trump Comment Constitutes Inaccuracy but Not Bias, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, January 27, 2021 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning a news report about United States President Donald Trump on CTV National News on September 9, 2020. The CBSC concluded that the report misrepresented a comment made by Trump. This rendered the report inaccurate under the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics and the Radio Television Digital News Association of Canada’s (RTDNA) Code of Journalistic Ethics.

The report was about a recorded interview between Trump and the journalist Bob Woodward in which Trump acknowledged that the COVID-19 pandemic was serious, but that he wanted to downplay it so as not to instill panic in the American population. The report included the sentence, “Calling the virus a hoax, Trump continued to hold packed rallies, minimizing the danger to young people when he knew better.” A viewer who had seen the report on CTV Ottawa pointed out that Trump had never called the virus itself a hoax; rather, what he had characterized as a hoax was the Democrats’ efforts to politicize Trump’s approach to the pandemic. The viewer also suggested that CTV frequently demonstrated disdain for Trump.

CTV acknowledged that the “hoax” comment had been taken out of context, but felt that it did not affect the main message of the report. CTV also emphasized that it did not demonstrate any pattern of “disdain” for the American president.

The CBSC English-Language Panel examined the complaint under Clause 5 of the CAB Code of Ethics and Articles 1.0 and 2.0 of the RTDNA Code of Journalistic Ethics, which require news to be presented with accuracy and without bias. The majority of the Panel concluded that the mischaracterization of what Trump had actually called a “hoax” was a material error that constituted a breach of those code provisions. Trump had made the hoax comment months before this broadcast, so there was ample time for CTV to verify and clarify its context. The Panel also unanimously concluded that the failure to correct the error constituted a violation of Article 1.3 of the RTDNA Code of Journalistic Ethics.

With respect to bias, the Panel unanimously concluded that there was no breach of the codes because the overall subject was a legitimate story to cover and did not contain any inherent bias.

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.