False or misleading news soon ok on TV, radio

The CRTC is proposing to loosen some of the only rules we have related to broadcast news content in Canada. The current rules say that broadcasters cannot air “any false or misleading news.” Period. The change, scheduled to come into effect on September 1 of this year, would limit that prohibition to situations where the false or misleading news “endangers or is likely to endanger the lives, health or safety of the public.”

So, presumably broadcasters – who hold a licence to use the public airwaves – will soon be allowed to lie … sorry, mislead … listeners and viewers about, say, what the government or a bank is up to, as long as the audience can’t prove it affected their life, health or safety. Nice loophole. And good timing for Fox News North, aka Sun TV News, which got a licence from the CRTC last November to operate an “all-news” channel on cable and satellite.

Michael Geist has weighed in about the proposed new rules here.

Although it doesn’t appear the Canadian Association of Journalists has commented on the CRTC’s plans, it is worth taking note of their Statement of Principles and Ethics. The preamble states: “It is our privilege and duty to seek and report the truth as we understand it, defend free speech and the right to equal treatment under law, capture the diversity of human experience, speak for the voiceless and encourage civic debate to build our communities and serve the public interest.” And of the pesky concept of fairness:

We respect the rights of people involved in the news and will be accountable to the public for the fairness and reliability of our reporting.
We will not allow our own biases to influence fair and accurate reporting.
We respect each person’s right to a fair trial.
We will identify sources of information, except when there is a clear and pressing reason to protect anonymity. When this happens, we will explain the need for anonymity.
We will independently corroborate facts if we get them from a source we do not name.
We will not allow anonymous sources to take cheap shots at individuals or organizations.
We will avoid pseudonyms and not use composites. If either is essential, we will tell our readers, listeners or viewers.
Reporters will not conceal their identities, except in rare cases.
When, on rare occasions, a reporter needs to go “under cover” in the public interest, we will clearly explain the extent of the deception to the reader or listener or viewer.
We will not commit illegal or improper acts.
We will give people, companies or organizations that are publicly accused or criticized prompt opportunity to respond. We will make a genuine and exhaustive effort to contact them. If they decline to comment we will say so.
We will report all relevant facts in coverage of controversies or disputes.
We will clearly identify news and opinion so that readers, viewers and listeners know which is which.
We will be wary of informants who want to be paid for information. The quality of their information and their motives should be questioned.

If you feel so inclined, please send your views about the proposed change to the CRTC. The Commission is accepting comment until February 9. You can find out how by reading the notice, which also involves other regulatory changes, here.

Posted on January 18, 2011 at 11:43 am by editor · · Tagged with: , , , , ,

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