News Report on Mall Santa Firing Not in Breach of Broadcast Standards

Ottawa, August 28, 1998 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning a news story which was aired by CHEK-TV (Victoria) on December 15, 1997 regarding the inappropriate actions of a shopping mall Santa. The CBSC received complaints from the mall Santa featured in the story and from a disinterested member of the viewing public. Both considered CHEK-TV’s report to be biased and maliciously fabricated by the broadcaster/reporter.

The B.C. Regional Council considered the complaint under the Code of (Journalistic) Ethics of the Radio and Television News Directors Association (RTNDA). It concluded that the broadcaster has not breached any of provisions of that Code. Having also had the unusual opportunity to view the raw footage for the report, the Council found that “[t]here is no question whatsoever that the video portions of the ultimate newscast were not ‘doctored’ to leave an impression which did not reflect the actual occurrences.” The Council concluded:

While the reporter might have chosen to steer the story in a direction which would not have shown the Mall Santa covering his groin, she was not obliged, by any set of standards, to do so. It was, after all, Mr. Turner who chose to cover his crotch; there is no allegation that anyone else invited him to do so. In his letter of December 23, he acknowledges his own naïveté in doing so. His decision to do so in the presence of news cameras was certainly injudicious since he alone opened himself to the risk that such footage could be recorded and used. While the reporter might have been ungenerous in building the story this way, it is perfectly clear that Mr. Turner created the opportunity for her to do so and, indeed, in some respects asked, if not taunted, her to do so. The seguë from the earlier story, which became a national tale and apparently involved a kick to the groin, to a second story with a groin-related aspect, is obvious. It is regrettable that Turner created that situation because the other footage of him playing the role of Santa left a clear sense that he was good at his job as a Mall Santa. Moreover, as stated by the Complainant, Mr. Turner probably did not fall into the category of individuals who deal more frequently with the media and “are obviously more circumspect in their actions.” The Council finds, however, that the direction of this story did not, in the end, depend on “skilful editing”. It was an obvious direction, given the circumstances, which were not of the broadcaster’s making.

Canada’s private broadcasters have created industry standards in the form of Codes on ethics, gender portrayal and television violence by which they expect their members will abide. They also created the CBSC, which is the self-regulatory body with the responsibility of administering those Codes, as well as the Code dealing with journalistic practices created by the Radio Television News Directors Association Canada (RTNDA). More than 430 radio and television stations and specialty services from across Canada are members of the Council.

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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 (###) ###-####.