It shall be the responsibility of broadcasters to ensure that news shall be represented with accuracy and without bias. Broadcasters shall satisfy themselves that the arrangements made for obtaining news ensure this result. They shall also ensure that news broadcasts are not editorial.
News shall not be selected for the purpose of furthering or hindering either side of any controversial public issue, nor shall it be formulated on the basis of the beliefs, opinions or desires of management, the editor or others engaged in its preparation or delivery. The fundamental purpose of news dissemination in a democracy is to enable people to know what is happening, and to understand events so that they may form their own conclusions.
The RTNDA (Radio and Television News Directors) code includes:
Journalism is distinguished from other forms of content by these guiding principles:
— Truth and accuracy above all
- Deception in newsgathering, including surreptitious recording, conflicts with journalism’s commitment to truth. Similarly, anonymity of sources deprives the audience of important, relevant information. Staging, dramatization and other alterations – even when labeled as such – can confuse or fool viewers, listeners and readers. These tactics are justified only when stories of great significance cannot be adequately told without distortion, and when any creative liberties taken are clearly explained.
The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) ruled in the past that insertion of misleading footage, even if the broadcaster didn’t intend to mislead is a breach of standards.
I raised the issue about Global TV carelessly or deliberately spicing its national news report about G20 demonstrators with video showing Vancouver Olympics vandals in action because I see it as part of a pattern. Sometimes through carelessness, other times through intention to shape the message, the news is distorted. Neither is tolerable. Democracy depends upon a free and accurate, unbiased press.
In British Columbia, Global TV News and Corus Radio are frequently partisan in favor of BC Liberals, as are Postmedia newspapers. The companies have squeezed reporting resources so completely that broadcast staff now read press releases to fill their newscasts.
As I write this, Corus radio reported Health Minister Kevin Falcon’s self-congratulation about congestion reducing as much as 25% in hospitals because of revised “patient focused funding.” The truth is that congestion is less because surgery schedules have been slashed and patient care staff laid off because of financing shortfalls since the last fiscal year.
That reminds me of the BBC-TV Yes Minister episode ‘The Compassionate Society’ that depicts a hospital with five hundred administrative staff but no doctors, nurses or patients. The series creator recalls:
…after inventing this absurdity, we discovered there were six such hospitals (or very large empty wings of hospitals) exactly as we had described them in our episode.
Those six places were also not congested.
Because broadcasters use exclusive licenses to the airwaves, they have a particular responsibility for fairness and accuracy. That means giving voice to a spectrum of ideas, not simply the single interpretation favored by corporate owners.
As consumers and as citizens, we have a right, perhaps a duty, to hold the news media to account when they fail to meet the standards stated above. We need to use the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council to voice our concerns and, if that is fruitless, demand better oversight from the CRTC.