News Interview Breaches Right of Privacy of Wife of Driver in Accident, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, January 26, 2011 - The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning a news report about a vehicle accident that aired on CHCH-TV’s newscast on March 15, 2010.  A collision between a minivan and a motorcycle had left the motorcycle driver in hospital.  The report featured a film clip of the wife of the minivan driver, despite the wife’s request that the clip not be used in the broadcast.  The CBSC concluded that, due to the manner in which the wife’s words were obtained, the broadcast of the clip violated the woman’s right to privacy under the Radio Television News Directors Association of Canada’s (RTNDA – The Association of Electronic Journalists) Code of (Journalistic) Ethics.

The March 15 report was a follow-up to the initial news story about the accident, which had occurred six days earlier.  The newscast included footage of the CHCH reporter speaking to the wife of the minivan driver outside of their house as well as her declaration that her husband had indeed tried to prevent his vehicle from hitting the motorcycle.  The wife was visibly upset during this exchange.  The complaint to the CBSC came from the wife, who explained that the reporter had shown up at her door unannounced and that she had asked him to leave and requested that she not be filmed.  She made that same request to the station’s News Director later that day.  The broadcaster did not dispute that information, but did argue that its reporter had clearly identified himself as such, was accompanied by a cameraman, and that, despite the wife’s protests, she had in fact responded to the reporter’s questions.

The CBSC’s Ontario Regional Panel examined the complaint under the Privacy provision (Article 4) of the RTNDA Code of (Journalistic) Ethics, which requires that journalists ensure that news gathering does not unreasonably infringe individuals’ privacy, except when in the public interest.  The Panel concluded that the broadcast did violate that provision for a combination of reasons:

Above all else, the wife was neither the subject of, nor involved in any way in, the automobile-motorcycle collision that was at the root of the story.  She was entirely peripheral and could offer no comment on the events that amounted to anything more than hearsay.  [...]  The Panel finds it difficult to appreciate that there was significant public interest in the interview snippet obtained from the wife.  [...]  The Panel does appreciate that it would have been logical to seek an interview with the husband, who was involved in the accident, but it was uncontradicted that the station had made no attempt to reach the husband at any time between the accident on March 9 and the date of the interview, six full days later.

The Panel also attaches considerable importance to the fact that there is no indication that any effort was made to obtain the wife’s consent to the interview, that the interview was conducted on private property with a reluctant interviewee, and that she (and her husband on the telephone) requested that the broadcaster’s representatives leave the property.  It is clear that the onus on a broadcaster to respect the privacy of an individual is greater when a broadcaster who is undeniably infringing upon the privacy of that individual is doing so on his or her private property.  [...]  After all, the obligation was on the reporter to leave when asked.  All in all, the Panel considers that the broadcaster did not respect the privacy of the woman, both in terms of the filming and the broadcast, as she had, on a timely basis, registered her request with CHCH-TV that the footage not be used.

Canada’s private broadcasters have themselves created industry standards in the form of Codes on ethics, equitable portrayal, television violence and journalistic independence by which they expect the members of their profession will abide.  In 1990, they also created the CBSC, which is the self-regulatory body with the responsibility of administering those professional broadcast Codes and the pay television Codes, as well as the Code dealing with journalistic ethics created by the RTNDA – Association of Electronic Journalists in 1970.  Nearly 760 radio stations, satellite radio services, 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 CBSC's website at For more information, please contact the CBSC National Chair, Mme Andrée Noël CBSC Executive Director, John MacNab