CBSC rules news interview breached privacy rights

A TV news report that used an interview clip against the source’s wishes was a breach of privacy, The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) has ruled. A story about a motorcyle/mini-van collision was broadcast on March 15 by CHCH-TV in Ontario. The motorcycle driver was hospitalized.

The broadcast included a clip of the wife of the mini-van driver, despite her request for it not to be used. Broadcaster Magazine reports that “The CBSC concluded that, due to the manner in which the wife’s words were obtained, the broadcast of the clip violated the woman’s right to privacy under the Radio Television News Directors Association of Canada’s – The Association of Electronic Journalists) Code of (Journalistic) Ethics.”

The story was actually a follow-up to a story six days prior. The clip showed a visibly upset woman explaining that her husband had done what he could to prevent hitting the motorcycle. A CBSC press release reports that “The complaint to the CBSC came from the wife, who explained that the reporter had shown up at her door unannounced and that she had asked him to leave and requested that she not be filmed. She made that same request to the station’s News Director later that day. The broadcaster did not dispute that information, but did argue that its reporter had clearly identified himself as such, was accompanied by a cameraman, and that, despite the wife’s protests, she had in fact responded to the reporter’s questions.”

The CBSC used RTNDA’s Code of (Journalistic) Ethics, which stipulates that journalists should not unreasonably infringe on a person’s privacy unless it’s in the public interest. The CBSC’s Ontario Regional Panel outlined the broadcast’s numerous violations:

“Above all else, the wife was neither the subject of, nor involved in any way in, the automobile-motorcycle collision that was at the root of the story.  She was entirely peripheral and could offer no comment on the events that amounted to anything more than hearsay.  […]  The Panel finds it difficult to appreciate that there was significant public interest in the interview snippet obtained from the wife.  […]  The Panel does appreciate that it would have been logical to seek an interview with the husband, who was involved in the accident, but it was uncontradicted that the station had made no attempt to reach the husband at any time between the accident on March 9 and the date of the interview, six full days later.

“The Panel also attaches considerable importance to the fact that there is no indication that any effort was made to obtain the wife’s consent to the interview, that the interview was conducted on private property with a reluctant interviewee, and that she (and her husband on the telephone) requested that the broadcaster’s representatives leave the property.  It is clear that the onus on a broadcaster to respect the privacy of an individual is greater when a broadcaster who is undeniably infringing upon the privacy of that individual is doing so on his or her private property.  […]  After all, the obligation was on the reporter to leave when asked.  All in all, the Panel considers that the broadcaster did not respect the privacy of the woman, both in terms of the filming and the broadcast, as she had, on a timely basis, registered her request with CHCH-TV that the footage not be used.”