On June 25, 2023 at 4:30 pm, CTV News Channel aired a report about Bell’s Gigabit Fibe internet service. The caption at the bottom of the screen was “Toronto residents will get the fastest internet”. The news anchor informed viewers that Bell customers in Toronto would soon have access to internet speeds of 1000 megabits per second due to a $20 billion infrastructure investment by Bell. The report featured video clips from a press conference announcing the initiative where both Bell president George Cope and Toronto mayor John Tory commented on the positive impact this investment would have on Toronto’s jobs and economy. The anchor also stated that Bell would donate Gigabit Fibe to United Way community hubs. She concluded the report by noting that Bell is the parent company of CTV News Channel. (A full transcript of the whole report can be found in Appendix A.)
A viewer complained that both of these reports were effectively “free advertising” for other services owned by the same parent companies as the television stations. He suggested that broadcasters should not be allowed to air reports that could potentially lead to financial benefits for the parent company. He acknowledged that both reports declared that the station was owned by the same parent company, but he argued that it did not alleviate the conflict of interest, it only made viewers aware of the conflict.
Global Ontario and CTV News Channel each responded to the complainant. Both broadcasters argued that the reports’ respective topics (shomi’s wider availability and Bell’s faster internet service) were legitimate stories to cover because they were of relevance and interest to the public. The broadcasters also stated that the decisions to cover the stories had been made by the stations’ news staff, without any involvement or interference by management of the larger corporations. The complainant was not satisfied with these explanations and filed his Ruling Requests for both complaints.
The English-Language Panel examined the complaints under the following provisions of the Radio Television Digital News Directors Association of Canada’s (RTDNA) Code of Ethics and the Canadian Association of Broadcaster’s (CAB) Code of Ethics:
RTDNA Code of Ethics, Article 5 – Independence
Independence is a fundamental value and we will resist any attempts at censorship that would erode it. Electronic journalists will resist pressures to change or alter the news. Intrusion into content, real or apparent, should be resisted.
RTDNA Code of Ethics, Article 6 – Conflict of Interest
Electronic journalists will govern themselves on and off the job in such a way as to avoid conflict of interest, real or apparent.
CAB Code of Ethics, Clause 5 – News
(2) 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 Panel Adjudicators read all of the correspondence and viewed the reports. The Panel concludes that neither broadcast violated any of the aforementioned Code provisions.
The Panel finds that the notion of “independence” provided for in Article 5 of the RTDNA Code of Ethics does not mean, for a newscast or a newsroom, ignoring a news story because it is in some way related to the station’s owners. On the contrary, the Panel considers that broadcasters would be remiss in their duty to inform the public of matters of importance by failing to report on a newsworthy item because of such a relationship. The Panel also found that the news reports in question were presented in a balanced way to inform, and not as vehicles to attract new customers for the respective services. Moreover, the Panel finds that there was no censorship, no pressures to alter the news and no intrusion in the content when comparing the content to what was reported in other media.
The Panel finds that, for each of the two broadcasts, the on-air disclosure of the relationship between the news organizations and the organizations which were the subjects of the reports is sufficient notice of the relationship between the organizations. The Panel is of the view that, in such situations, news organizations have to be careful and disclose their relationship. Moreover the Panel finds that this kind of disclaimer is good practice and should be followed in similar cases.
Finally, the Panel finds that nothing in those two news reports indicated that they were “selected for the purpose of furthering or hindering either side of any controversial public issue”, nor that they were “formulated on the basis of the beliefs, opinions or desires of management, the editor or others engaged in” their preparation or delivery. The Panel notes that the two stories were reported by a number of other outlets, which had no relationship to either Shaw, Rogers, or Bell. The Panel finds that the two news reports were informative and meant “to enable people to know what is happening, and to understand events so that they may form their own conclusions.”
In all CBSC decisions, the Panels assess the broadcaster’s response to the complainant. The broadcaster need not agree with the complainant’s position, but it must respond in a courteous, thoughtful and thorough manner. In this case, both Global Ontario and CTV News Channel provided replies to the complainant, offering information about their internal journalistic policies, the reasons they chose to cover those stories and how the reports were prepared. The broadcasters fulfilled their obligations of responsiveness and nothing further is required in this regard in this instance.