Unique Features of Investigative Journalism
Investigative journalism is a specific genre of reporting which can lead to conclusions and, in some cases, strong editorial judgments. A journalistic investigation is usually based on a premise but we do not broadcast an investigative report until we have ensured that the facts and evidence support the conclusions and judgments.
To achieve fairness, we diligently attempt to present the point of view of the person or institution being investigated.
Our commitment to accuracy and integrity means we try where possible to verify the information with a second source. And there may be times when more than two sources are required.
Our stories are based on information we have verified. Wherever possible, our stories use first-hand, identifiable sources – participants in an event or authenticated documents.
The importance of second sourcing is influenced by the nature and quality of the primary source.
If the primary source is confidential, we will, to the best of our ability, attempt to verify the accuracy of the information through independent corroboration.
We will refer any decision to publish a story based on a single confidential source to the Director.
Payment to Sources
To ensure we maintain our independence, we do not pay for information from a source in a story.
However, payment of fees at recognized rates to specialists for an expert report or a scientific analysis is acceptable. This is not chequebook journalism. In this context the payment of fees need not be reported on air.
Increasingly, audience members are becoming contributors; providing photos or footage of news events. As CBC does pay for freelance content, it may be appropriate, in rare circumstances, to pay for authenticated content. A decision to do so must be referred to the Director.
Recording of Conversation or Pre-interview with a Source
We often record our conversations with information sources or potential guests for note-taking purposes. This is common practice and is generally done openly, but may be done with or without the interviewee’s knowledge.
Whether made with or without the source’s knowledge, recordings of conversations or pre-interviews are generally not published. We are aware that publication of this type of material could undermine a source’s confidence in journalists. It could also have legal or regulatory consequences.
We accordingly take care to explore all alternatives to publication of this type of material, in keeping with our journalistic values, and will refer to senior editorial management. We will publish it only in cases when it is in the public interest and publication is the best way to ensure the accuracy, fairness and balance of our report.
Any proposal to broadcast a recording made without the knowledge of the interviewee is referred to the Director.
Agreements with Sources
Our stories are based on information we have verified. Wherever possible, our stories use first-hand, identifiable sources – participants in an event or authenticated documents.
Before we agree to any conditions that would limit our use of information, we are explicit about what those conditions are. We also come to agreement with the source before the information is shared.
We can agree to talk to a source “off the record”, which means information cannot be used in a published form, nor can the source be named.
We can also agree to publish information from a source, but without identifying that source, in one of two ways:
- A confidential source is when the journalist knows the identity of the person, but agrees to protect their identity;
- An anonymous source is when the identity of the source is not known to the journalist. The use of such sources is exceptional and should be approved by the Managing Editor;
- Information obtained from confidential or anonymous sources should be verified before it is released.
Protection of Sources – Granting Confidentiality
Our ability to protect sources allows people with important information to come forward and expose matters of public interest. If we do not properly protect our confidential sources, potential sources will not trust us. This compromises our ability to expose abuses of power.
We offer protection to sources based on such factors as: the potential impact and importance of the information on the lives of Canadians and its potential influence on public policy.
We also consider the extent of personal or professional hardship and possible danger the source may face if his/her identity becomes known.
We must make efforts to establish the source’s credibility and/or find means to corroborate the information.
Once we have undertaken to protect a source, we ensure no details that could lead to identification are revealed. We are careful in the use of research material. We use the best technical tools to hide an identity for broadcast.
Whenever confidentiality is granted, both the journalist and the source must be fully aware that this commitment extends to CBC as well, and is not merely limited to the journalist granting it.
There may be legal implications in granting protection. Journalists should be familiar with relevant regulation or seek legal guidance.
Before a confidential source is used in a story or a story is published based on the information provided, the Managing Editor must be told who the source is, and what the agreement entails.
Disclosure of sources within the journalistic line of responsibility should not be confused with public disclosure of sources.
Seniority of required approvals will depend upon the scope and scale of the story and its potential impact on people or institutions.
Identification of Interviewees
We are open and straightforward when we present interviewees and their statements. We make every effort to disclose the identity of interviewees and to give the context and explanations necessary for the audience to judge the relevance and credibility of their statements. In exceptional cases and for serious cause, we may decide to withhold such information in whole or in part. In such cases we explain the situation to the audience without disclosing the information that must be kept secret.
Use of Leaked Documents
Leaked documents from known or anonymous sources can provide important research for a story.
When we receive leaked documents, we verify the authenticity, corroborate the information they contain, and carefully assess the motives of the person who leaked them.
There are also times when the content of the documents or the fact of their existence is an important part of the story. If we have agreed to protect the identity of the person who has provided the material, we are careful that the publication of the leaked documents does not inadvertently identify the source.
There may be national security or legal issues attached to the possession and publication of some leaked documents. We will take these issues into account and seek legal advice.
The decision to publish leaked documents raising legal or national security concerns is referred to the General Manager and Editor in Chief.
Persons or organizations preparing to publish the results of research or investigations will often offer us privileged access to the conclusions of their report on condition that we undertake to publish nothing of the shared content before a date set by the report’s author. This is called receiving information under embargo. A commitment to comply with the embargo may also have been made by a news agency that provides us with articles identified as embargoed.
Our policy is to fulfill our embargo commitments. Prior access to a study report allows us to better prepare our reports and to do rigorous reporting work on the results, and is thus a net benefit to the quality of information we publish. Also, we need to keep our word in order to keep information flowing from our sources.
However, if the embargo is violated by another media organization, we may consider publication after consulting editorial management and after informing the organization that asked for the embargo. We will inform them that the embargo has been broken and that we intend in turn to go public with the information.
If we have already obtained information covered by the material under embargo, we will avoid agreeing to an embargo and will publish the information according to our own criteria of newsworthiness and at the time we consider appropriate.
Verification of User Generated Content in News Stories
CBC is responsible for all content on its news sites. This policy covers text, image, video or audio contributions from the public which are incorporated into news coverage on any platform.
Material that originates from a non-CBC source is clearly identified as such.
Before text, image, video or audio is published, we try to verify the information with a second source. There may be times when a third source is required.
We are clear with the audience about what we do and do not know. This could include explaining the user’s relationship to the events.
In exceptional circumstances, it may be difficult to authenticate a contribution. There may be times where because of timeliness or as a matter of public interest, we decide to publish without full verification.The decision to publish material without full authentication must be referred to the Managing Editor. We should disclose such decisions to the audience.
Clandestine Methods: Principles
In journalism, clandestine methods include: recording a scene or statements with hidden technical devices; conducting an interview without first identifying oneself as a journalist; asking someone else to gather information on our behalf using any of these methods; and using concealment techniques when we gather digital information.
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 so 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, or indicating that such activity likely exists within the sector of society or industry being investigated;
- 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 the Director 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. We take into account possible safety issues for the journalist involved.
Before resorting to infiltration 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 allows us to gather the best evidence of the behaviour in question.
Any plan to infiltrate will be submitted to the Director for prior approval.
Many organizations share data with the public through websites and online databases.
Our Journalistic Standards and Practices apply to journalists, developers and programmers who gather, analyze, visualize and report on this data.
Web scrapers can be used as a way to extract publicly available information from websites in a short time frame.
When using web scrapers, we strive to be transparent toward the organization hosting the data.
We also take reasonable steps to minimize any performance impact our web scrapers may have on servers and other public users of a website.
When we judge it to be in the public interest, we may also decide to use clandestine methods to obtain the data (see chapter Principles – Clandestine methods). This may involve legal considerations. Before doing so, we obtain approval from the Director.
Intercepting Conference Calls
We respect the privacy of individuals, groups and organizations when they conduct conversations via conference calls.
As a rule, we do not attempt to hack in, or listen in without being openly invited to participate in a conference call. However, if a participant on the call offers to share the information after the fact, the principles for our treatment of sources would guide our use of the material.
We may consider listening in or recording without the knowledge of all the participants, if all the following conditions have been met :
- We have been given access to the conference call with the consent of at least one participant to the call;
- 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;
- The information sought would be useful evidence for a demonstration of illegal or antisocial activity or abuse of trust; and,
- We have sought prior authorization from the Director.
If the conference call was recorded, the use of the recording on air or online is subject to the conditions set in Hidden Cameras and Microphones – Justification of Publication of Material Gathered.
We exercise our right of access to information and our freedom of expression within the context of individual rights. One of these is the right to privacy.
In situations involving personal suffering and pain, we balance the public’s right to know against individual human dignity.
We disclose information of a private nature only when the subject matter is of public interest.
Without limiting the meaning of public interest, we work in the public interest when we reveal information that helps our audience make decisions about matters of public debate and when we expose illegal activity, anti-social behavior, corruption, abuse of trust, negligence and incompetence, or a situation that poses a risk to the health and safety of others.
Some aspects of privacy are protected in law. It varies from province to province or territory; federal statutes cover some areas.
CBC journalists must be familiar with the legal aspects of privacy or, when unsure, seek legal guidance.
Use of Private Correspondence
We do not reveal the content of private correspondence not addressed to us (e-mails, letters or voice mail) unless it is in the public interest to publish the information. We must make every effort to verify that the information is accurate. We allow the person or institution affected to comment on the information we propose to reveal.
Where there may be legal considerations, journalists should seek legal advice.
A decision to publish private correspondence requires authorization from the Director.
We understand and respect private property. We should be aware of the legal issues of violating private space and seek advice when unsure. The definition of private space is not the same in every province and territory.
We usually do not enter private space without obtaining permission from those with authority to provide it.
This is different from observing or recording events taking place on private property from a public space. But, we weigh the value and importance of doing so against the principles of privacy as laid out in this section.
Sometimes new technologies change the way journalists are able to gather images and information.
Use of these technologies generally does not change the way we interpret our standards and practices.
One such example is the use of drones.
Images captured by cameras attached to drones may violate the principle of respect for privacy. Any capture or dissemination of material involving this principle should be assessed against the public interest in accordance with the provisions of the Privacy standards elsewhere in this document.
Where appropriate, we may also refer to provisions for Clandestine Methods.
We should be aware of legal regulations concerning the use of drones.
Identification of Accident and Crime Victims
If police have not released the identity of a person who has died as a result of an accident or a crime, we refrain from publishing this information until we have confirmed it. If the immediate family has not been notified, we consider the public interest before identifying the victim.
Accompanying a Police Patrol
We sometimes accompany police officers on patrol or in a police operation. Our goal is to inform the public about the way those responsible for law enforcement ensure public safety and administer justice. Law enforcement officers are called upon to intervene in situations where physical violence may occur. They are also required to collect evidence that could incriminate or exonerate an accused at trial.
Our presence on a police patrol carries a risk of confusion between the active roles played by law officers in their work and our role as observers. In our job we gather facts to report to the public, not evidence for the administration of justice.
There are things officers of the law can do in the course of their duties that we cannot. We would run the risk of trespassing on private property or invading privacy. We do not have the same entry privileges as police officers. Unless we have been directly invited or authorized by the owner or occupant of the premises, we will act with respect for their privacy.
Before agreeing to accompany law officers in their work, we ensure that the limits to our involvement are clearly stated. We take care to assess all the risks arising from our presence in the company of law officers and will refer the final decision to take part in this type of operation to the Managing Editor, in consultation with the Law Department.
We clearly advise the audience of the limits imposed on us as observers of the facts and take care to respect the privacy and the presumption of innocence of anyone featured in this kind of police reporting.
Responsibility and Accountability Related to Interviews
CBC takes responsibility for the consequences of its decision to publish a person’s statements in the context it chooses. When we present a person’s statements in support of our reporting of facts, we ensure that the statements have been diligently checked. In the case of comments made by a person expressing an honest opinion, we ensure that the opinion is grounded in facts bearing on a matter of public interest.
The interviewee also takes responsibility for his or her statement. As a general rule, we offer the interviewee no immunity or protection from the consequences of publication of the statements we gather.
Conduct and Use of Interviews
We inform proposed interviewees of the subject of the interview. As a general rule, if the person is scheduled to give an interview for broadcast, we do not provide in advance the questions they will be asked. That could give a false impression of spontaneity in the interviewee’s responses and unduly limit the interviewer’s ability to react to interviewee statements with supplementary questions. However, if the only way to gather information is via emails or social media, this context should be disclosed when the content is used.
We advise the interviewee of how we plan to use the interview. When an interview is recorded, it may be edited before publication for length or to select the relevant passages. At our discretion, we may choose to rebroadcast an interview in whole or in part, post it online or make it accessible in website archives, or not be published at all.
Whatever the context in which we choose to use the content of the interview, we will respect the meaning of an interviewee’s statements. We try to avoid situations where prior restraint would be agreed to or imposed.
If, for serious cause, we do agree to restrict the use that may be made of an interview, we take the necessary measures to comply with this commitment. It may be necessary to explain to the audience that such restrictions have been agreed to, so the public can assess the credibility of the interviewee’s statements.
Remuneration of Interviewees
We do not pay people for interviews used in our reporting. Nor do we pay people for eyewitness accounts or answering our questions about events in which they participated. That would compromise the credibility of our reporting. It may be acceptable to reimburse certain legitimate expenses incurred by the interviewee in order to be available for the interview. If substantial expenses are involved, the proposal is referred to the Director.
Payment of fees at recognized rates to experts or commentators is current practice and acceptable where the person comments on news or current affairs and adds context to our content without being an actor in the event or issue. In this context the payment of fees need not be reported on air.
We may also be required to pay royalties for the broadcast or reproduction of copyrighted work such as photos, video recordings, audio recordings, drawings or other material that may be relevant to an interviewee’s statements. This does not constitute payment to a source.We do not pay politicians, their representatives or other holders of public office for participating in our broadcasts, news bulletins, reporting or online content. In addition, the law governing federal MPs and senators prohibits them from receiving any payment whatever from CBC, including reimbursements of expenses, fees or royalties), because of its status as a federal Crown corporation.
Statements Recorded Outside a Formal Interview
In the period leading up to or following an interview proper, an interviewee may make statements that are recorded and that may be pertinent to report. In such cases we inform the interviewee of our intention to make public the statements he or she made outside the formal interview and we take into account the explanations or context the interviewee may provide to us. If the interviewee objects to publication of this part of the recording, we carefully weigh the public interest of reporting the statements anyway, with consideration for the interviewee’s arguments and the effect of such a decision on the perception of the public and of potential CBC interviewees. The decision should be discussed with the Managing Editor. If we publish statements made outside a formal interview, we explain to the audience the conditions under which they were recorded.
It may happen in connection with a live broadcast that statements are picked up and broadcast without the interviewee’s being aware that he or she is on the air. Depending on the nature of the statements broadcast, it may be appropriate to give the interviewee an opportunity to clarify his or her thought or explain such statements, especially if they could cause prejudice.
Interviews Without Consent
We generally respect a person’s refusal to be interviewed. However, in the public interest we may choose to disregard the refusal, especially in investigative reporting or when a person plays a key role in an event of public interest.
In such cases, we first try to persuade the person to be interviewed. If he or she continues to refuse and we consider it essential to record his or her reaction to our questions, we may confront the person, identify ourselves as CBC journalists, and record for broadcast his or her statements without obtaining consent.
A decision to confront a person who has refused an interview will be discussed in advance with the Managing Editor, as will a decision whether to conceal the camera in such an instance. If the camera is concealed, we ask the Director before broadcasting.
We resort to this form of interview in the public interest, not simply for stylistic effect.
When we suspect a person of criminal activity or of obvious abuse, contacting this person to arrange an interview may cause that person to flee. We may then consider it necessary to confront and record this person without prior contact. This exceptional procedure requires prior authorization by the Director.
In the case of statements made by telephone, regulatory provisions may restrict the conditions under which they may be published. We will ascertain the specific application of these restrictions and consult editorial management before putting them on air.
Informing the Audience of a Refusal to be Interviewed
When a person considered necessary to a story refuses to be interviewed or provide comment, in fairness to all parties, we advise the audience of the refusal. When appropriate, we also provide the reasons given.
Editing of an Interview
Questions and answers can be excerpted from a complete interview for use in a report, intercut with narration, news footage or excerpts from other interviews. Similarly, a longer interview often needs editing to cut unnecessary passages or to fit program timing.
Whatever editing we do, we present what the interviewee said fairly and without distortion.
Request for Non-publication
To preserve our independence, we do not grant veto power to the people we interview.
We may publish any material gathered, provided it complies with our journalistic values and standards.
However, we undertake to seriously consider a request for non-publication. We may decide not to publish the material gathered, for instance where:
1. A person’s personal safety or job security is threatened;
2. The information gathered is no longer accurate or relevant.
Requests for non-publication are referred to the Managing Editor.
A person may consider that he or she has been wronged by one of our reports and request that we publish his or her reply.
Canadian law does not grant right of reply and CBC reserves full editorial authority over the content of all its platforms.
However, if the complaint raises new facts and that we believe these facts would impact the accuracy, fairness or balance of the main points of view featured in our report, we will ensure that this information is brought to the attention of our audiences.
Censorship and Hindrance of Freedom of the Press
We advise our audience if we are required to submit an interview to a government, judicial or military authority for clearance, whether or not the material was censored.
We will do the same if our work is hindered or controlled in whole or in part by an exercise of authority or by threats, violence or intimidation affecting the quality of the information we are able to communicate.
Children and Youth: Interviews
The participation of children (15 and younger) and youth (16 or 17) in our programs and content entails special challenges. Children and youth do not necessarily have the experience to weigh the consequences of publication of their statements. They nevertheless enjoy freedom of expression and the right to information. Their realities and concerns cannot be fully reflected without being heard in our reporting.
Parents or those exercising parental authority are often the guardians of this balance and we generally respect their judgment in this regard. However, in some cases a parent can abuse his or her authority and fail to act in the best interest of the child or youth. There are also other circumstances where it may be appropriate to allow youths to exercise their good judgment about granting an interview or otherwise participating in our programming or content, for instance when no foreseeable inconvenience or detrimental consequences for them or their family could ensue.
We carefully assess the impacts according to the specifics of each situation. We respect the will of the child or youth and we put his or her interests foremost.
Children and Social Media
We take care to protect the privacy of children involved in the use of social media.
We are especially careful to assess the impacts when dealing with those aged 15 and under, who may lack the judgment required to consent to interviews and publication of their information.
We avoid providing information that could identify them because this puts them at risk from online predators.
When contacting children through their Facebook or other public sites, we follow the standards set for children’s participation applicable to all other platforms.
Form is important in information programming. Production techniques contribute to the meaning of our content and its impact. They help focus attention and can facilitate understanding. Our use of production techniques is consistent with factual accuracy and fairness in our reporting. This means we make judicious choices when information content is presented with music or visual effects that could affect perception or impact.
We are clear and open about the production methods we use, so the audience can put our images, sound and statements in their proper context. We advise the audience of the use of certain techniques, for example the reenactment of a scene, the use of archival material in scenes of current events or the use of clandestine methods.
Form of Reporting on Litigious Subjects
Pre-recorded material that has undergone a rigorous editorial process is generally the surest way to avoid errors in reports that could be litigious or could prejudice the reputation of a person or an organization.
We may also use live on-air reporting provided all the following conditions are met:
- A script or detailed scenario is prepared for a live stand-up or other live exchange, including presentation, illustrations, audio and visual clips and headlines;
- All elements of the scenario are submitted for the appropriate approvals;
- The approved scenario is adhered to.
Use of Archival Material
Illustrating a subject often requires the use of visual or audio material that we have not recorded ourselves, such as stock footage. But the use of stock footage and sound in scenes of current events must not give rise to confusion. If there is a risk of misinterpretation, we will advise the audience of the context and/or date of the archives used. The stock footage will not be used in such a way that distorts either the historical or current reality.
Reconstitutions, Simulations and Generic Scenes
A reenactment of an event must match the reality as closely as possible. When a reenactment is necessary for a proper understanding of the subject, we take care to be factually accurate, using transcriptions, minutes or official documents. We may use a transcript word for word or set the reenactment in the location where the actual scene occurred. To eliminate any risk that the audience will confuse the reenactment with the reality, we will ensure that the audience can clearly identify the reenacted scenes.
Other methods of illustrating a subject may attempt to describe a situation in general terms without pretending to be a precisely accurate rendering of reality. Such methods can be used, subject to certain conditions.
A simulated scene aims to evoke or give an impression of an event, its protagonists, their actions and the place where the event occurred. A simulated scene is produced and presented in a way that makes clear it is an evocation rather than a precise depiction of reality. If a risk of confusion remains, we advise the audience that the scene is simulated not real.
Generic scenes are commonly used in audiovisual production. These are often everyday actions like walking, answering the phone, looking at a document, closing a door. These scenes clearly serve as general illustration and in no way pretend to describe real facts precisely.
Explicit Sexual or Violent Content
Violence, nudity and sexuality are never presented without good reason. They may be justified when they are important to an understanding of the world we live in. Where they are necessary, we present them without undue exploitation, voyeurism or sensationalism and without trivializing, encouraging or glorifying.
We treat painful scenes with discretion and restraint and without prolonging them unduly.
When it is necessary to present explicit content that some could find shocking, we provide an audience advisory.
The same principles apply to disturbing video/audio on our digital platforms as on our conventional broadcast platforms.
We strive to notify audiences in advance of them seeing such material, including – if possible – when it is seen on third-party platforms.