Using Unidentified Images of People to Illustrate a News Story Does Not Breach Privacy Provision of RTNDA’s Journalistic Code of Ethics

Ottawa, August 22, 1998 -- The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision regarding a news report on a murder investigation by CKCO-TV (Kitchener). A viewer complained that the report had wrongly exposed a young girl not involved in the news story by airing video footage containing her image as part of the report.

The CBSC’s Ontario Regional Council considered the complaint under the Code of Ethics of the Radio Television News Directors Association (RTNDA), which provides that

Broadcast journalists will always display respect for the dignity, privacy and well-being of everyone with whom they deal, and make every effort to ensure that the privacy of public persons is infringed only to the extent necessary to satisfy the public interest and accurately report the news.

The Council relied on previous decisions in which it had dealt with the conflict arising from time to time between the right of the individual to privacy and the right of the public to know. The Council agreed with CKCO-TV’s use of the footage in this case. It concluded that the news report did not breach the privacy provision of the Code of Ethics, stating that

the report in question does not mention the name of either the accused or, for that matter, the victim of the assault, and no other indicators were given in the report which would permit the identification of the two persons portrayed by persons other than those who already knew them. The Ontario Regional Council also finds ... that there was a justifiable interest in using the unidentified but relevant images to illustrate a story about which the public had an interest in learning. This principle is not altered by the age of the individual in the bit of videotape used in the story. The same privacy principles apply whether the image used is that of a child or an adult.

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