The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) has released two decisions upholding viewer complaints about incomplete and inaccurate information broadcast on CTV investigative program, W5, and CFRA Ottawa talk show, The Vassy Kapelos Show.
In both cases, the CBSC determined the broadcaster had not provided a full, fair and accurate presentation of facts, and had not corrected the errors, contrary to the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics and Radio Television Digital News Association of Canada’s (RTDNA) Code of Journalistic Ethics.
The W5 segment entitled “Dog Fight,” which aired in March, explored pet custody disputes, including an interview with a woman who initiated court proceedings against her ex-boyfriend to get custody of the dog they had shared. The program stated that the dispute “began the day she broke up with her boyfriend and he took the dog with him.” The CBSC received a complaint from the ex-boyfriend who maintained W5 had misrepresented and omitted important facts of the case, objecting to the statement he had taken the dog. According to his version of events, the woman had originally taken the dog when they broke up, had eventually signed a legal agreement granting him possession of the dog, but then initiated legal proceedings to dispute that agreement’s validity. W5 had neglected to obtain or broadcast his side of the story.
CTV argued it had intentionally avoided details of the legal case as it was still before the courts, with it serving only to illustrate the complexities of pet custody disputes.
The CBSC’s English-Language Panel concluded that certain statements made in the segment and CTV’s failure to acknowledge the nuances of the case constituted an incomplete, unfair, biased and inaccurate presentation of the story and that CTV should have provided some clarification.
The complaint surrounding The Vassy Kapelos Show, concerned an April 3 segment, discussing the indictment of U.S. President Donald Trump. Guest commentator Tom Mulcair suggested that Trump could face more serious charges at a later date, since “There were police officers killed on January 6th,” referencing the attack by Trump supporters on the Capital Building in Washington, DC on Jan. 6, 2021 to protest the outcome of the 2020 U.S. presidential election.
The CBSC received a complaint from a listener who stated that Mulcair’s statement was inaccurate because no police officers died on Jan. 6 at the U.S. Capitol. CFRA explained that one police officer had died the following day and, although the medical examiner eventually ruled that his death was “natural,” some people, including the Capitol police chief, attributed the officer’s death to what he had endured confronting the protesters.
The majority of the Panel agreed with the complainant that it was inaccurate to state that police officers had been killed on Jan. 6, breaching the CAB Code of Ethics for inaccuracy. Two adjudicators dissented, finding it was not possible to definitively conclude whether or not the events contributed to the officer’s death, which allowed for some latitude in interpretation.
The Panel unanimously concluded that the broadcaster ought to have provided clarification under the RTDNA Code’s requirement to correct errors. The Panel found that lack of clarification was especially problematic given that Kapelos stated during the program that she would “fact check” the information, but then made no mention of Mulcair’s debatable statement.
Both CTV and CFRA will be required to announce the CBSC findings on-air.
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