Hidden cameras and microphones: CBC standards and practices
CBC journalists bound by stringent rules governing undercover investigations
In the course of some investigations, CBC uses undercover techniques in order to gather information.
When using clandestine methods, CBC journalists are required to follow CBC's Journalist Standards and Practices governing this area.
Some of the relevant principles are outlined below.
Clandestine methods: Principles
In journalism, clandestine methods include recording a scene or statements with a hidden camera or microphone (including the use of consumer electronic devices such as cell phones, pocket computers, digital cameras), conducting an interview without first identifying oneself as a journalist, and asking someone else to gather information on our behalf using any of these methods.
Since we are aware that unwarranted use of clandestine methods could impair the credibility of our reporting, we will ascertain beforehand that the method chosen clearly serves the public interest and is lawful. We will consult appropriate editorial management on the method we propose to use and its purpose, whether material will be gathered mainly for research on the subject or for publication in our report.
Hidden cameras and microphones: Justification for recording
We will hide our recording equipment only in circumstances where we believe it would be difficult or impossible to gather the information by acting more openly. We will consult with the Managing Editor before undertaking clandestine recordings.
We may choose to conceal our recording equipment in a public place – anywhere the public has unrestricted access – to record behavior that is a matter of public interest and that the presence of the camera might alter.
We may also choose to do so where a hostile crowd or individuals threaten the safety of journalists and that our ability to do our work would be hindered.
Before bringing hidden recording equipment into private spaces, to which access is restricted, we will ensure the following:
- We have credible information indicating the likelihood of illegal or antisocial activity or an abuse of trust;
- We are confident that an open attempt to gather the information sought would fail; and,
- The information sought would be useful evidence for a demonstration of illegal or antisocial activity or abuse of trust.
We will consult with the Managing Editor to confirm our assessment of the situation, and will take care to comply with legal restrictions before undertaking clandestine recordings in private places.
Hidden cameras and microphones: Justification of publication of material gathered
Clandestinely recorded material will be carefully evaluated. Any proposed broadcast or online posting of a clandestine recording must be approved by a Director.
The following are examples where clandestine recording and publication of material could be warranted:
Material recorded in a public place:
Material gathered in a public place to illustrate behaviour, attitudes or reactions that would otherwise be impossible to document. We will ensure that the editing of the material results in a faithful representation of the reality being reported.
We will also take into account certain concepts specific to Quebec civil law, such as the right to one's likeness, and ensure, in consultation with the Law Department when in doubt, that we properly understand the scope of these concepts and how they apply in specific cases.
Material illustrating an illegal or antisocial activity or an abuse of trust:
If selected excerpts of the material gathered reveal illegal or antisocial activity or an abuse of trust, we will attempt to confront the person exposed in the clandestine recording and will take his or her reaction into account in our report.
Clandestine recording by a third party:
Sometimes a person outside CBC provides a recording made without the knowledge of one or more of the persons recorded. We first and foremost seek to verify that the recording was made lawfully. We will also seek to verify its authenticity.
We will ensure that the editing of the material results in a faithful representation of the reality being reported on.
If the recording reveals illegal or antisocial activity or an abuse of trust or contains information of public interest, its publication in whole or in part may be warranted, provided we have attempted to confront the persons recorded and have taken their reactions into account in our report. Publication of a clandestine recording provided by a third party requires Director approval.
Concealment of identity as journalist
We generally practice our reporting openly. However, there are times, while investigating a matter of public interest, a reporter will conceal his or her occupation and true purpose and pose as an ordinary citizen. We will consult with senior news management before doing so. Our overriding priority will be sound public service journalism. Whatever the means used to contact a source without identifying oneself as a journalist (in person, by telephone, by email, through social networks), we will attempt to confront the source and take his or her reaction into account in our report.
When the investigation bears on illegal or antisocial behaviour or abuse of trust and the gathering of information of public interest, the journalist may need to infiltrate an organization to get first hand information. There may also be consideration for the journalist's safety. On rare occasions, this might involve taking on a false identity. In such a situation, we will first consider the legal implications of the proposed scheme.
In addition, before resorting to a false identity we will ensure that the following conditions are met:
- We have a credible source that gives us reason to believe a subject of our reporting is behaving illegally or antisocially or abusing a trust.
- An open approach would have little chance of obtaining the information sought or of confirming the behaviour we seek to report.
- Infiltration or the use of a false identity allows us to gather the best evidence of the behaviour in question.
A plan to infiltrate or use a false identity will be submitted for prior approval to the General Manager and Editor in Chief.