The lead story on the 6:00 pm CFTO-TV (CTV Toronto) CTV News broadcast of June 3, 2006 reported the arrest of a group
of men for suspected terrorist activities.
The newscast began with a teaser for the several upcoming reports that
together constituted that lead story. Under
the caption "Terror Plot Foiled", the broadcast showed scenes of men being
led out of a building by police officers.
The voice-over stated, "A plan to detonate a bomb".
Reporter John Musselman, standing outside the
The voice-over introduction to the newscast stated, "This is CTV News. Terror strikes close to home. That story right now." Under the caption "Terror in
Seventeen people were arrested
in a series of lightning police raids. Twelve
of them made court appearances today amid unprecedented security.
Here they are this morning at the
The caption "Terrorism Charges" appeared on screen as reporter John Mussleman
described the day's events at the
Good evening, Tom. I've covered a lot of cases out here in
That comment was accompanied by scenes of articles in plastic bags and
a cell phone in a black box with wires attached to it. That footage was followed by a clip from a press
conference at which an RCMP spokesperson explained what the force had seized:
This group took steps to acquire
components necessary to create explosive devices using ammonium nitrate, which
is a commonly used fertilizer. Three
tons of ammonium nitrate was ordered by these individuals and delivered to
them. It was their intent to use it
for a terrorist attack.
Accompanied by scenes of a damaged building and people running in
That's three times the amount
of ammonium nitrate that was used in the
Another clip from the press conference showed a member of the Canadian
Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) saying, "The men arrested yesterday are
Canadian residents from a variety, variety of backgrounds. For various reasons, they appear to have become
adherents of a violent ideology inspired by, by al-qaeda."
Musselman described the activities that had occurred at the courthouse:
The accuseds appeared in three
groups. They were all handcuffed together
and stood quietly in the prisoners' box. Meanwhile, security at the courthouse was very
tight. You had to pass through three
separate checks just to get into the courtroom. People had to take off their shoes, hand over
their cellphones. And inside the courtroom,
there was also heavily armed tactical officers stationed at the door.
[Camera zooms in on officers outside courthouse.]
Investigators say the TTC was not targeted and dismissed early reports
as rumour. [Scene of subway.]
Another clip from the press conference revealed a police officer saying,
"That and, and other matters are not, has, have been reported, are not in
any way related to what we're here to speak of this morning."
More scenes were shown of an officer wearing a raincoat and carrying a
gun outside; a helicopter; the officer on the roof; a police van. Musselman then concluded his portion of the
report with the following:
Intelligence officials say
Andria Case then provided the lead-in to the second portion of the report.
As she spoke, the caption "Terrorism Charges" appeared, along with
a map of the area surrounding
Thanks, John. Well as we told you, the RCMP arrested and charged
twelve men and five teenagers. Six
of the adults are from
Tom Hayes then added details about the individual accuseds. As he spoke, their names, ages and precise civic
addresses appeared on the screen in words:
They may live in your neighbourhood
or on your street and for some of our viewers watching tonight, the terror
suspects are literally the people next door. Here is what we know about them and where they're
from. They are: 30-year-old Shareef Abdelhaleen of [.] Mississauga;
20-year-old Zakaria Amara of [.] Mississauga; 21-year-old Asad Ansari of [.]
Mississauga; 21-year-old Ahmad Mustafa Ghany of [.] Mississauga; 19-year-old
Saad Khalid of [.] Mississauga; 43-year-old Qayyum Abdul Jamal of [.] Mississauga;
21-year-old Fahim Ahmad of [.] Toronto; 23-year-old Jahmaal James of [.] Toronto;
25-year-old Steven Vikash Chand also known as Abdul Shakur of [.] Toronto;
19-year-old Amin Mohamed Durrani of [.] Toronto; 22-year-old Mohammed Dirie
of Kingston; and finally 24-year-old Yasim Abdi Mohamed of Kingston.
Case followed that information with a lead-in to the report by Chris Eby,
which carried the caption "Who Are They?":
According to CSIS, the accuseds
adhere to a violent ideology inspired by al-qaeda. CTV's Chris Eby joins us now. Chris, tell us more about these people.
Chris Eby replied:
That was followed by a scene of reporters attempting to obtain an interview
with three females, all of whom were wearing black niqabs, walking in the
courthouse parking lot. The women ignored
the reporters and got into a van. There
was then an interview with the father of one of the accuseds, who indicated
that he was shocked by the charges and that all further questions should be
addressed to his lawyer. There were
also separate interviews with two of the defence lawyers. The first stated that
My clients come from very respectable,
long-standing residents [sic] of
They should. Uh, certainly, um, as long as we're able to
satisfy the court with respect to the allegations. I mean, again, we don't know the nature of the
allegations yet. Uh, but I don't think
there should be a problem satisfying, uh, the courts with respect to getting
bail. But it will take some time, obviously.
Eby concluded his report with the following:
And as John mentioned, the 17
suspects will be back here in court on Tuesday.
We're expected to, uh, learn, uh, far more then and, uh, you can also
expect that based on the security today, which was extraordinary, that the
Crown will strongly oppose any of these men getting bail. Live in
CTV News then broadcast other reports on related topics,
such as reactions to the arrests on the part of the Prime Minister, the Toronto
Mayor and Toronto residents; police reports about what the possible terrorist
targets were; allegations about a terrorist training camp in Bracebridge,
Ontario; an interview with a security specialist from the Mackenzie Institute;
and possible links to terrorist suspects in the United States.
The CBSC received a complaint on June 3 from a viewer who was concerned
about the revelation of the suspects' personal information in the CTV News report (the full text of all correspondence
can be found in the Appendix):
At approximately 6:10 pm, I noticed
that this news station displayed the names and full addresses of the individuals
involved in the "terror" raids by the RCMP and CSIS. I believe that practice of displaying the full
names and addresses of suspected individuals is contrary to media ethics and
provincial and federal privacy legislation.
I understand the need to display the name and city of the accused;
however displaying the specific addresses of these individuals is entirely
inappropriate. In previous broadcasts
involving rapists, child molestors [sic]
and pedophiles etc., I don't believe the personal information, such as home
address, was displayed in that fashion. I
immediately called the station to complain, however they dismissed my concerns.
These suspected individuals have only been charged and not convicted,
and are still awaiting their day in court.
I believe that CFTO acted in an irresponsible manner by displaying
that personal information.
The complainant sent additional information on June 4:
I just wanted to add something
to my initial complaint using the Complaint Form on your website regarding
the June 3rd, 2006, 6:00 pm news broadcast of CFTO-TV. I wanted to add that Article 4 of the RTNDA Code of Ethics should apply to this
case. I felt that the display of the
full home addresses of the accused individuals was unreasonable because it
infringed on their privacy. I would
agree that displaying the name and city of the individuals is reasonable for
public interest, however, the display of the entire home address of all these
individuals was irresponsible and held no public value except to create fear
and paranoia among local residents. Not
to mention the possible public safety threat from individuals who might threaten
or harm the residents of those homes. Clearly
I believe that the display of the personal home addresses of these individuals
on the CFTO news broadcast was unreasonable, unprofessional and violated Article
4 of the RTNDA Code of Ethics.
CTV Toronto replied to the complainant on July 7:
You raise a number of concerns in your letter, and I am pleased to respond and explain our reasons for publishing the addresses of the men accused of plotting a terrorist attack.
The charges against the accused [sic] are extremely serious, and while those under arrest have yet to have their day in court, it is CTV's position that the public has the right to know certain information, including where the accused [sic] lived. The information about the addresses, which is available in telephone directories and the internet, aired only on June 3rd, three days prior to the first court appearance on Tuesday June 6th, when a publication ban was imposed on evidence in the case.
Broadcasting the addresses of the terrorism suspects did not contravene any laws concerning privacy, but our editorial staff did consider the journalistic and ethical issues before airing the information. CTV News adheres to the RTNDA's Code of Ethics. [...] In the opinion of senior staff, the addresses of the accused men were in the public interest, and any issues relating to privacy were outweighed by the public's right to know.
While this case is extraordinary, it is not without precedent. CTV News, and other news organizations in the city, have on occasion aired the addresses of individuals in the past, when we believed the information was in the public interest.
I sincerely hope this answers your questions.
I appreciate your position, and while I have no doubt that there are
others who share your opinion, this was an editorial decision that was made
after careful consideration.
The complainant filed his Ruling Request on July 7 with the following letter:
Firstly, in the broadcaster's letter they claim that it is CTV's position that the public has the right to know certain information, including where the accused [sic] lived. However, I question why the public needs to know the address of a person merely suspected of an offence. If these individuals were actually convicted of terrorism related offences, then I would agree that revealing the full addresses would be in the public interest. However, since these individuals did not receive their day in court, the airing of the addresses prejudiced their right to a fair trial. This violated Article 9 of the RTNDA [...]. The reporting of the addresses held no public value except to create fear and paranoia from local residents, which might have threatened the public safety of the residents residing in the homes of those aired addresses.
Secondly, in the letter from the broadcaster, [the Vice-President] claims that CTV News "have [sic] on occasion aired the addresses of individuals in the past, when we believed the information was in the public interest." As a viewer of CFTO News since 1991, I have never seen this news station display the addresses of suspected individuals of crime offences in that fashion. Therefore, [the Vice-President's] claim is disingenuous because I believe that CTV News only aired the addresses of convicted individuals, such as convicted rapists and/or pedophiles, to warn the public about their present location.
Displaying the addresses of these individuals in this unprecedented fashion on the June 3rd, 2006 broadcast violated Article 4 of the RTNDA Code of Ethics [...].
[The Vice-President] also attempts to under-emphasize the seriousness of airing the addresses by stating that the address information: "is available in telephone directories and the internet." Although this is technically true, a number of the individuals have rather common last names which would make it difficult to locate in either the telephone directories and/or the internet. Additionally, some of these individuals might have had their names removed from the public directories. Therefore, [the Vice-President's] claim is not accurate.
Since the airing of the full addresses of the suspected individuals held no public value, it infringed on their privacy and their right to a fair trial. The act was premature, unprofessional and unprecedented. I also find it strange that on the 11:30 pm CFTO News broadcast on the same day, the numbers of the addresses were omitted, to reveal the street name only. If [the Vice-President] claims that they acted in the public interest, why were the street addresses modified on the 11:30 pm news broadcast?
This incident has left me disturbed
because of the lack of equality in reporting similar past events from this
news station. Although the accused
individuals are suspected of serious offenses [sic], the broadcaster has to ensure that they are adhering to the
Codes of Ethics that govern their profession
in an unbiased and professional manner.
The Ontario Regional Panel examined the complaint under the following provisions
of the Radio Television News Directors Association of Canada's (RTNDA) Code of (Journalistic) Ethics:
Article 1 (Accuracy)
journalists will inform the public in an accurate, comprehensive and fair
manner about events and issues of importance.
Article 4 (Privacy)
will respect the dignity, privacy and well-being of everyone with whom they
deal, and will make every effort to ensure that news gathering and reporting
does not unreasonably infringe privacy except when necessary in the public
interest. Hidden audio and video recording
devices should only be used when it is necessary to the credibility or accuracy
of a story in the public interest.
Article 10 (Fair Trial) [formerly Article 9, prior to the 2006 revision]
matters that are or may be before the courts, broadcast journalists will ensure
that their reporting does not interfere with the rights of an individual to
a fair trial.
The Ontario Regional Panel Adjudicators reviewed all of the correspondence
and viewed a tape of the challenged news report. The Panel concludes that the broadcast was in
violation of Article 4; however, two Panel Adjudicators would also have found
a breach with respect to Article 10. The
opinion of those dissenting Adjudicators (K. King and L. Levinson) can be
News Reporting: A Balancing Act
News reporting is frequently a balancing act.
The purpose of news reporting, particularly in a democratic context, is
to inform the people, so that they may be in a position to develop their own
perspective on the issues of the day and to reach conclusions about the stance
of those who govern them on those issues.
This is the basis for the requirement in the RTNDA
Code of (Journalistic) Ethics that broadcasters "will inform the public
in an accurate, comprehensive and fair
manner about events and issues of importance [emphasis added]." Accuracy, comprehensiveness and fairness are
not, however, the sole applicable criteria determining the acceptability of
a given news report. While those are
the primordial, or essentially immutable, criteria, there are other crucial,
but relative, criteria or considerations.
The media are constantly called upon to decide not only what is newsworthy,
but also what is appropriate to report to their audiences. Appropriateness may be a function of the tasteful
or distasteful nature of the content, or the suitability of the material for
the audience likely to see or hear the report. There may be news matter that would, in terms
of the codified standards, be acceptable fare but which broadcasters may choose
not to air for reasons such as those that follow: issues involving violence,
sexual content, coarse language, disturbing or shocking themes, frightening
content and so on. Even when newscasts
include such matter, broadcasters' editorial judgment may need to be brought
to bear on the content of those newscasts as a function of the time of day
or evening when the news will be reported.
In other words, neither the principle of freedom of expression nor
the fundamental duty of broadcasters to bring newsworthy matter to the attention
of their audiences can justify absolutely any
content in a news report. To adapt
the famous motto of the New York Times,
what is acceptable from an audience perspective is essentially all the news
that is fit to broadcast, not only on the basis of rules, but also on the basis of sensibilities. The reporting of such issues may be better understood
as relative, rather than absolute (as in the case of the criteria noted in
the previous paragraph).
News Reporting: The Conflict of
Public and Private Interests
In addition to the balancing considerations relating to the sensibilities
of audience members noted in the preceding paragraph, there is that category
of information found at another point on the spectrum, namely, that which
is very personal and relates to
the privacy of the individual who is the subject of the news report. The
pertinent principle is that broadcasters "will make every effort to ensure
that news gathering and reporting does not unreasonably infringe privacy." As the Code article provides, an individual's
privacy cannot be infringed "except when necessary
in the public interest [emphasis
added]." There are, in other words,
two elements to satisfy, namely, the necessity of the information, on the
one hand, and the public interest in the disclosure, on the other. As to the latter point, the public's interest
must be serious, not merely prurient. Gossip
would not, for example, be a justification for an invasion of privacy (in
the case of individuals who are not public figures). In other terms, while the public may be "interested"
in information of a private nature, the RTNDA Code requires that their interest
must be reasonable. (The former point, relating to necessity, will
be discussed below.)
Is Publicly Accessible Information
Suitable for Public Dissemination?
the matter at hand, the broadcaster referred to the 17 individuals who had
been apprehended in southern
The Panel disagrees with the merit of the broadcaster's position that:
a) it had previously broadcast such information without consequence; and b)
the information was publicly available. As
to the first point, the Panel concludes simply that no complaint about CTV
or its affiliates had previously been registered with the CBSC in a comparable
circumstance. That being said, it should
be noted that similar complaints registered against other broadcasters have
consistently been found in breach of Article 4.
That CTV escaped scrutiny in the past does not constitute a justification
of those broadcasts or of that which has been challenged on this occasion.
As to the second point, the Ontario Panel relies on the finding of the
Quebec Regional Panel in CKYK-FM re broadcast
of a civic address (CBSC Decision 05/06-0710, June 30, 2006) (released
after the broadcast in the matter at hand). In that case, the morning and afternoon radio
show hosts discussed the fact that they had been informed that a convicted
pedophile lived in the area and that his house had been decorated for Halloween
(the challenged programs were broadcast on October 31). The afternoon hosts then announced the street
name and number of the house and warned parents that their trick-or-treating
children ought to avoid the identified house or at least be cautious when
visiting it. On November 1, the morning
show hosts returned to the subject. They
repeated the address and clarified that the pedophile was not the individual
who lived in the basement of the residence, which had a different number.
CBSC received a complaint signed by three individuals who lived at that house,
who complained that the broadcasts had violated their privacy and caused them
to endure harassment (clearly, no more than one of those three, if even one, was a convicted pedophile). In that case, the broadcaster explained the
pains to which it had gone to, in its view, minimize the invasion of the privacy
of the residents at the civic address in question.
We nevertheless decided to minimize the violation of privacy by broadcasting only the residential address and not the name of the person found guilty of pedophilia. We believe that in doing so we limited the information to the only pertinent aspect, i.e. the address, thereby fulfilling our duty to provide information while limiting the invasion.
Nonetheless, the Quebec Panel concluded that even such a cautious revelation of information was excessive. The Panel said:
[T]here may be public information about private individuals that is inappropriate for broadcast. [.]
The first issue for the Panel is whether the disclosure of the address of the complainants even constituted an invasion of privacy. Of this the Panel has no doubt. Indeed, it has been admitted by the broadcaster, which has claimed that it did its best to minimize the infringement of privacy by broadcasting only the address, and not the name, of the convicted pedophile. (It is not without importance to note in this context that there were three persons living at that address, at least two of whom would apparently not fall within the category of the station's designated target yet they were also made to suffer the consequences of the disclosure.) The broadcaster does, however, contend that it was in effect disclosing public, not private, information. In its next step, the broadcaster's President justifies the station's disclosure in part "given its public nature" [...].
should be noted that not all publicly accessible information is public for
broadcast purposes. A prime example
is, of course, the telephone and address co-ordinates of private individuals. Although these are among the most publicly accessible
pieces of information, they cannot be broadcast on the basis of that rationale
Nor is there any justification for the revelation
of civic addresses or telephone numbers of private individuals on the grounds
that someone can locate such information in phone directories, on the Internet,
or elsewhere. Article 4 refers only
to the unreasonable infringement of privacy. The issue is related to the entitlement of the
individual not to be the subject
of public enquiry and not to the existence of information about him or her
that may be located by a diligent search in a public or quasi-public database.
In the light of the complaint and the broadcaster's
response, the Panel must also observe that it makes no comment regarding any
Canadian privacy laws. Its comments and conclusions relate solely to
the private broadcaster codes which it has the responsibility to administer.
Necessity and Public
In the present matter, the Panel considers that there was even less justification for the pinpointing
of the addresses of the adults charged than there may have been in the CKYK
decision. There were no children likely
to be exposed to a person already convicted of interference with other young
persons. Moreover, no-one had yet been convicted, and
the reports made it clear that members of the accuseds' families were present
in the courtroom. There was, in other
words, every likelihood that, in addition to the presumed-to-be innocent accuseds, there were other persons
living at the disclosed addresses who had not a scintilla of connection with
the (unproved) offences. Moreover,
there was no indication of any issue of public safety or security associated
with the revelation of such personal details, which might constitute a matter
of public necessity. The fact that
the charges were "extremely serious", to use the words employed by the broadcaster's
representative in his reply, does not affect the question of public safety
It is the nature of the threat to the public, not the consequences
of the crime or conspiracy, if carried
out, that would be compelling. In the
matter at hand, there was no indication that the public were any safer, more
secure, or better protected by receiving those civic addresses than they would
have been without them. If anything,
the disclosure of that information, coupled with co-anchor Hayes's comment
that, "for some of our viewers [.], the terror suspects are literally the
people next door," might reasonably be expected to raise fear, perhaps even
paranoia, on the part of viewers. In
the view of the Panel, there was an unsupportable invasion of privacy of the
accused individuals, not to mention their families or others living at the
same addresses, by the revelation of those civic addresses. In conclusion, therefore, the Panel finds that
the publication of the home addresses of the individual accuseds is in breach
of Article 4 of the RTNDA Code of (Journalistic)
Prejudicing the Right
of the Accuseds to a Fair Trial?
This is the first occasion when the CBSC has been called upon to adjudicate
a complaint regarding a possible interference by a broadcaster with the right
of the accused (in this case, accuseds) to a fair trial. All of the Panel Adjudicators are agreed that
it is of the essence of Article 10 of the RTNDA
Code of (Journalistic) Ethics that a broadcast must not be so prejudicial
that it may interfere with the right of an individual to a fair hearing, to
which he or she would be constitutionally entitled in most Western democracies.
All of the Adjudicators also acknowledge that, in the post-9/11 environment,
it would be reasonable to expect that the subject of terrorism would be at
once both sensational and threatening to audiences.
That being said, the majority and minority Adjudicators differ only
in their assessment of the effect of the language used in the news broadcasts
of June 3.
While the view of the majority is that the sensational nature of the language
used by the broadcaster mirrored to a considerable extent the sensational
nature of the charges, it rubbed up against the edge of acceptability.
While, as noted above, in the post-9/11 era, it is understandable that
the prospect of repetition of terrorist incidents is viewed as a serious and
frightening matter, there is little purpose served by fanning the flames of
fear. Headlines such as "Terror strikes close to home"
and "Terror in
The assertion that "
Turning to other aspects of the broadcast, whether the position taken by
the RCMP spokesperson was or was not sufficiently presumptive of innocence,
all CTV did was to broadcast it. As
to the reporter's stronger assertion regarding the CSIS statement, it was
balanced to some extent by the CSIS representative's used of the word "appear". Even the opening statement of co-host Tom Hayes
described the individuals as being "accused of" the offences. Moreover, the individuals were consistently
referred to as "accuseds", "suspects" or "terror suspects". Not once were they even referred to as "terrorists"
or an equivalent term. Finally, interviews
with two of the defence lawyers were included and these, needless to say,
pointed only in the direction of the innocence of their clients.
The majority would find no breach of Article 10 of the RTNDA
Code of (Journalistic) Ethics.
The Dissenting View (of Adjudicators
King and Levinson)
The minority considers that the language of the headlines and the reports
themselves was excessive and prejudicial. Terminology such as "Terror strikes close to
home", "Terror in
In all CBSC decisions, the Council's Panels assess the broadcaster's responsiveness
to the complainant. In the present
instance, the Panel finds that the response of CTV Toronto's Vice President
was, in this regard, thoughtful and responsive. It focussed on the precise elements of the broadcast
and dealt with them in a helpful manner. Although it was not a satisfactory reply from
the complainant's perspective, the broadcaster is never under any obligation
to agree with the complainant. Not
only is there no fault in the difference of perspectives, it is the case that
every matter that goes to a Panel for adjudication begins with just such a
disagreement between the complainant and the broadcaster. The Panel considers that CTV Toronto has fully
met its CBSC membership responsiveness responsibilities.
of the decision
CFTO-TV is required to: 1) announce
the decision, in the following terms, once during prime time within three
days following the release of this decision and once more within seven days
following the release of this decision during the time period in which this
CTV News report was broadcast; 2)
within the fourteen days following the broadcasts of the announcements, to
provide written confirmation of the airing of the statement to the complainant
who filed the Ruling Request; and 3) at that time, to provide the CBSC with
a copy of that written confirmation and with air check copies of the broadcasts
of the two announcements which must be made by CFTO-TV.
The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has found
that CTV Toronto violated the Radio Television News Directors Association's
Code of Ethics in a series of news
reports broadcast on June 3, 2006 on the subject of 17
This decision is a public document upon its release by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council.