Live Reporting: Principles
When news breaks, whether a political development, natural or man-made disaster, accident or an important police operation, we report as quickly as we can as events unfold.
Our commitment is to give people the information they need to understand the true risk and dangers in a fluid situation.
We undertake to act responsibly in the circumstances and to give people information we have reasonably verified, and to stay away from rumour and speculation.
We will sometimes receive conflicting information from credible sources. We may choose to report this, making clear the circumstances of the situation and citing the sources while we work to reconcile the information in light of the reality on the ground.
Riots and demonstrations
Protests and demonstrations, and the right to conduct them, are part of the democratic process. By definition, they are organized to attract the public and the media’s attention. But these situations may evolve and result in confrontation, violence or acts of vandalism.
In covering these events, the information we provide is as accurate and as timely as possible under the circumstances. In such a fluid situation, there is a commitment on our part to be open about what we know and how we know it. We will sometimes receive conflicting information from credible sources. We may choose to report this, making clear the circumstances of the situation and citing the sources while we work to reconcile the information in light of the reality on the ground. The information we provide helps the audience understand a fluid and chaotic situation, so that it can assess the impact and potential danger.
If reporters on one side of a confrontation cannot provide an overview, we ensure the audience receives a broader context in the course of our coverage.
Our journalistic independence and credibility is paramount, so our reporting should avoid inflaming or aiding in any way the various sides in a confrontation.
A decision to go live during a riot or demonstration should take into account the possibility of showing scenes of extreme violence. We are also aware that our presence can sometimes in and of itself create a focal point of activity.
If CBC staff has exclusive access to a sit-in or demonstration by advance knowledge, a decision to accompany the organizers should be referred to the Managing Editor.
Acts of protest
Individuals or small groups sometimes act in ways that cause disruptions or are potentially dangerous – to bystanders and/or themselves. Hunger strikes and sit-ins are examples. Hijacking and hostage-taking are more extreme, and are covered elsewhere.
Before providing live coverage of the event, or making direct contact with the principal participants on air, we assess the potential harm and the newsworthiness of the event, including the level of disruption it is causing in the community. The coverage plan flows from that assessment.
We take into account that the presence of a camera or microphone can alter the behaviour of the participants. By its nature, an event is being staged to bring attention to someone’s plight or to a matter of public interest.
If CBC staff has exclusive access to a sit in or demonstration by advanced knowledge, a decision to accompany the organizers should be referred to the Managing Editor.
Hijacking and hostage taking
The issues around hijacking, hostage-taking and sieges are similar to kidnapping.
We are balancing the need to report on the event with the need to prevent harm to innocent people. When we are reporting these events, the potential harm to innocent people is an important consideration.
Guided by our concern for their safety, there are many aspects of coverage, especially live coverage, that require careful consideration:
• Interviewing a perpetrator or hostage live on air.
• Broadcasting any video and/or audio provided by a perpetrator or by hostages.
• If we are doing live coverage of a potentially violent event, for example a school siege or plane hijacking, we plan for the ability to quickly alter our coverage to avoid graphic images.
• If police or other authorities request a news blackout, we will give it careful consideration. If authorities ask us to include some information in a broadcast, we will consider a reasonable request, but will never knowingly broadcast something that is untrue.
• To the best of our ability, we will ensure next of kin do not hear of serious injury or death from our publications.
There are several situations that may arise in covering hijacking and hostage-taking which require referral to the General Manager and Editor in Chief:
• Decisions to broadcast an interview or material provided by perpetrators.
• The decision to comply with requests for news blackouts, or to broadcast material provided by the police or other authorities involved in the incident.
Use of material from racist, violent or illegal organizations
Our work sometimes brings us in contact with groups or organizations that are racist or promote violence. In deciding to air offensive material of this kind, we weigh the value of this information to our audience against the offence it might give and the fact that it might provide a platform for its proponents. A decision to air the material should be referred to the Managing Editor.
Depiction of violence
We reflect the reality of the situations we report. We also respect the sensibilities of our viewers, listeners and readers.
Scenes of violence and suffering are part of our coverage of wars, disaster, crime and conflict.
We respect our audience by assessing the impact of our images according to time of day and the context of the program where such material is appearing.
Programmers and journalists must be familiar with CRTC regulations about the depiction of violence and adhere to those guidelines.
If it is necessary to use graphic images, we will put a warning ahead of their use.
Respect for the suffering of victims and their family
In approaching victims or witnesses of tragic events, we carefully weigh both the public interest of full reporting and the need to show compassion and restraint. In such situations we are considerate and we use judgment.
We take care not to exert undue pressure on a distressed person for an interview.
When images or audio clips could upset part of the audience, we choose them carefully. We limit their use to what is necessary for an understanding of the subject and we provide an audience advisory before use on any of our platforms.
We are sensitive in our handling of suicides, suicide attempts and desperate acts. In particular, we avoid describing the act in detail or illustrating the method, and we consider the risk of glorifying this behaviour or of influencing vulnerable people.
We generally refrain from publishing threats to individuals except where there is significant public interest.
We generally refrain from publishing threats to institutions unless the threats or the security measures that ensue involve consequences for the public.
A threat of violence received by CBC, such as a bomb threat, must be immediately reported to the police.
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 and ensured that the members of the immediate family have been notified.
Disappearances, especially disappearances of children, capture media attention. In these circumstances we play a role by publishing information to facilitate the search for and return of the missing person - notably under the Amber Alert protocol. At the same time, we keep a critical distance and report the facts while treating those involved with consideration.
In many Canadian municipalities and regions, CBC has adhered to an Amber Alert protocol for quick, regular and continuing broadcast and publication of information facilitating the search for a missing child who police believe has been abducted and who could be in danger. This information generally includes details identifying the missing child and can be broadcast or posted online while the Amber Alert is in effect. To determine the conditions under which this information is published and the point at which its publication should cease, we refer to the procedures put in place by CBC for deployment of an Amber Alert.
If the person is found and charges are laid in connection with the disappearance, we follow the usual rules and practices concerning identification of accused persons, witnesses and victims regardless of their prior identification in broadcasts of publications while the search was ongoing.
See also When CBC Acts as an Emergency Broadcaster – Amber Alerts.
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.
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.
Quality and precision
CBC is a language model for its audiences. Good usage and accuracy are essential to high quality journalism. Our language should be simple, clear and concrete.
Journalistic style is accurate, concise and accessible. Our purpose is to make complex subjects understandable. When specialized or technical vocabulary needs to be used, it is explained and put in a context that makes it easy to understand.
The description of facts, however concise, must provide the nuances necessary to ensure that the account is faithful and easy to understand.
Clarity is also essential when numbers and statistics are involved. It is essential to avoid confusion and to take care to properly grasp the numbers used.
The use of certain highly charged words can undermine credibility and merits special consideration. Language is constantly evolving. We will be attentive to shifts in the meaning of words. We consult language resources and editorial management as needed to grasp the impact of expressions that are open to multiple interpretations and capable of offending some audience members.
Language level and good taste
We use the language of accessible, articulate everyday speech.
We respect and reflect the generally accepted values of society. We are aware that the audiences we address do not all have the same definition of good taste. We choose a tone that will not gratuitously offend audience sensitivities. In particular we avoid swearing and coarse, vulgar, offensive or violent language except where its omission would alter the nature and meaning of the information reported.
Respect and absence of prejudice
Our vocabulary choices are consistent with equal rights.
Our language reflects equality of the sexes and we prefer inclusive forms where they are not prohibitively cumbersome.
We are aware of our influence on how minorities or vulnerable groups are perceived. We do not mention national or ethnic origin, colour, religious affiliation, physical characteristics or disabilities, mental illness, sexual orientation or age except when important to an understanding of the subject or when a person is the object of a search and such personal characteristics will facilitate identification.
We avoid generalizations, stereotypes and any degrading or offensive words or images that could feed prejudice or expose people to hatred or contempt. Criminal matters require special care and precision.
When a minority group is referred to, the vocabulary is chosen with care and with consideration for changes in the language.
Words that shock: usage and audience advisories
To describe certain realities or report adequately on certain situations, it is sometimes necessary to use expressions or quotations that may be shocking to part of the audience. In these circumstances, we limit ourselves to what is necessary for understanding, we attribute the statements where applicable and we take care to present them in proper context.
We ensure that, taking into account the context in which the words are published, they are not likely to expose anyone to hatred or contempt on the basis of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age or physical or mental disability. We refer to senior editorial management in case of doubt.
We respect the audience’s degree of tolerance, with due regard for society’s generally shared values.
When we find it necessary to use words that could shock part of the public, we give a clear audience advisory.
Form of reporting on controversial 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.