CBSC rules reporting crash victim would “likely die” not misleading

The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) has published its decision about a story about a fatal highway head-on collision broadcast by CTV British Columbia. The CBSC ruled that the reporter did not mislead the audience when she reported that the sole survivor of the four-person crash would also “likely die.”

“Fatal Highway Crash” was a live broadcast on February 19, 2010 during the 11 p.m. newscast. The reporter, who was on the scene, noted that two vehicles had crashed after one began driving the wrong way down Highway 17 in Delta, BC. Three occupants were declared dead on impact, while the fourth was being airlifted to hospital. She said “it’s not really looking good for him” and he “will most likely die”, Broadcaster Magazine reports.

Using the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ Code of Ethics and the Radio Television News Directors Association of Canada’s Code of (Journalistic) Ethics, the CBSC’s BC Regional Panel found the report fair and accurate as it was based on information available at the time.

Broadcaster Magazine reports:

“The Panel noted that the crash victim’s identity was not revealed and that the reporter was careful to use the word “likely” in suggesting the outcome rather than drawing a definitive conclusion.  The Panel also pointed out that the reporter was not obligated to mention who her source was, particularly as she did not reveal a source for any of the other crash details (type of vehicles, speed, status of other passengers).  The Panel explained its reasoning in the following terms:

“‘While the Panel fully appreciates that the reporter was speculating as to the probable result, it does not consider that she in any way misled her audience.  First, she was on the scene and, in terms of the viewers, who were not, she was in the best position to provide them with useful information that would enable them to assess the severity of the event.  Second, […] she was careful to use the tempering conditional adverb “likely”.  In other words, she was not baselessly predicting the outcome, she was conditionally assessing the prospect for the sole survivor of the collision.  […] [T]he reporter’s words indicated that “it’s really not looking good for him” and that “the fourth person will most likely die.”  Likelihood, yes.  Certainty, no.  Of course she was speculating as to the likely, if not then apparent, outcome.  On occasion, that is precisely what a reporter needs to do to benefit the audience.'”