CTV broke ethics code in Dion interview: standards council

The arbiter of ethics on the airwaves ruled Wednesday that CTV violated industry codes when it included three false starts in a broadcast of an election interview with then Liberal leader Stéphane Dion.

The arbiter of ethics on the airwaves ruled Wednesday that CTV violated industry codes when it included three false starts in a broadcast of an election interview with then Liberal leader Stéphane Dion.

The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council found CTV Atlantic's 6 p.m. newscast was "discourteous and inconsiderate" when it ran the awkward false starts after the anchor promised Dion they wouldn't be broadcast.

It also found the question that was put to Dion "confusing."

At the beginning of the interview, anchor Steve Murphy asked Dion: "If you were prime minister now, what would you have done about the economy and this crisis that Mr. Harper has not done?"

Dion began to respond, and then stopped and asked Murphy if they could restart because he didn't understand the meaning — whether Murphy meant if he had been prime minister since 2006, or going forward.

Murphy restated the question in a similar fashion, and Dion asked for two more restarts, which Murphy agreed to.

Afterward, the entire tape — including the restarts — was broadcast.

The council, an independent organization for private Canadian broadcasters, said in its decision that the question was confusing to begin with, even to someone whose mother tongue is English. 

And it took issue with the fact Murphy had agreed to Dion's request to restart, and then broadcast the entire exchange. It noted that restarts and out-takes are common in television news media.

Murphy was in a position to make the commitment he did make on behalf of the broadcaster, a commitment that could be relied upon," the CBSC's Atlantic regional panel wrote.

"In the view of the panel, if Mr. Murphy did not have the authority to make such an agreement, he ought not to have made it. Having made it, the broadcaster ought to have stood behind him."

Decision rankles CTV

CTV News president Robert Hurst expressed disappointment with the decision.

"We are deeply concerned by the tone and content of the council's decision as it is not the CBSC's role to police the nature of the questions any news organization chooses to pose to a public official," Hurst said in a written statement.

"CTV News also stands by the conduct of Atlantic Canada's most-watched news anchor Steve Murphy, one of the region's longest-serving and most respected journalists, who has been unfairly criticized throughout this process."

A spokesman for Dion said the former leader had read the decision, and said "it speaks for itself."

CTV will run a statement saying it violated the Radio Television News Directors Code of Ethics within the next three days during the supper hour newscast, and then again within the next week.

Mike Duffy comments went 'too far'

The standards council also studied complaints lodged against CTV Newsnet's Mike Duffy Live program. The show rebroadcast Dion's false starts and discussed it with a panel of politicians and later with journalists.

During the discussion, Liberal MP Geoff Regan suggested Dion might not have understood the question because of a hearing impairment, but then said it was not a subject worth discussing.

Duffy then repeatedly said that Regan was accusing the network of ridiculing a handicap.

The CBSC's national specialty services panel said Duffy "went too far."

"He was not fair, balanced or even-handed," the panel said, also agreeing the rebroadcasts of the restarts were in breach of industry code.

CTV Newsnet will run a statement saying it violated the Canadian Association of Broadcasters code of ethics within the next three days at the same time as the Mike Duffy Live program used to air, and again within a week.

Two members of the national specialty services panel dissented with the Duffy Live opinion, saying that media outlets should err on the side of providing more information — not less — to the public. 

They argued that Dion's ability to react to stressful situations could have constituted valuable information during an election campaign.

The dissenters said they agreed with the assessment of Duffy's show, but didn't find it constituted a breach of code.

Hurst's statement did not include a specific mention of Mike Duffy Live.

Duffy was appointed a Conservative senator last January. He declined comment Wednesday.

Regan said he was pleased with the ruling. 

"I hope it'll lead to stronger journalistic practices," Regan said.

"I respect the media and they have an important role to play, but this decision clearly shows that in this case CTV crossed the line."