Government Regulator Cautions Media About Misleading “Animal-Rights” Videos
Fur Council of Canada, June 10, 2000 – The Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has warned broadcasters to ensure the “balance, accuracy and pertinence” of video materials provided by animal-rights groups.
Responding to a complaint by the Fur Council of Canada about videos broadcast by an Ontario television network, the CRTC ruled (June 7th, 2000) that: “Given the stronger impact of visuals than the spoken word, we consider that these videos tipped the balance of fairness and sensationalized an already controversial subject.”
The CRTC determined that one of the of the videos aired on the Rhonda London Live program by Crossroads Television System (CITS-TV) “depicted outdated and illegal traps being used inappropriately. Elsewhere on the program it was indicated that this video was very old and that improved equipment is being used by the fur industry.”
The second video “portrayed the callous treatment of cats and dogs in China and allegations that they are being used in the fur industry.” The CRTC noted that anti-fur advocates could not vouch that these products were being sold in Canada, and that “There is also some question about the credibility of this particular video, even though it was aired on NBC’s Dateline.”
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) investigative program UnderCurrents (January 16th, 2000) revealed that this widely distributed animal-rights video was not produced by any US television program or network, but was circulated by “SweepsFeed”, a commercial “canned news” company that specializes in sensationalized stories intended to boost ratings. SweepsFeed executives could not vouch for the origins or accuracy of this video either – the tape was given to them by a militant animal-rights group and its authenticity was never verified. A SweepsFeed spokesperson admitted: “How do we know that video wasn’t a fake? We don’t, because we didn’t shoot it in that case, and that’s a rare instance [that we don’t produce our own programs.]”
The CBC’s investigative team found that, although SweepsFeed execs now admit they had no way to know whether the story was true, they nonetheless distributed it to television stations which, in turn, broadcast the tape believing that its accuracy had been verified. The dubious origins of this widely publicized “dog fur” story were uncovered as part of an UnderCurrents investigation of how “canned news” is eroding the journalistic ethic that requires media to verify the sources and accuracy of stories they report.
The “Chinese dog fur” story is the latest in a long series of animal-rights videos about which doubts have been raised:
- In the 1960s, international protests were sparked by a film showing seals being “skinned alive”. It was later learned that this film was a fake: the “sealer” admitted under oath to a Canadian Parliamentary Committee that he had been paid by the camera crew to stage these shocking scenes.
- In the 1970s, campaigns against leghold traps were triggered by films that had also been staged: instead of being filmed “on a real trap line”, animals had been released into a compound where they were trapped for the cameras.
- In the 1980s and 1990s, fears that tuna fishing fleets were killing large numbers of dolphins were fueled by videos that were later revealed to have been staged by camera crews.
- A video purporting to show poor conditions on a U.S. fur farm is still being circulated by animal-rights groups, although it has now been shown that the facility is not a fur farm (fur from animals kept in such conditions could not be commercially marketed) and the problems were quickly resolved by state authorities.
In upholding the Fur Council’s complaint, the CRTC has asked the broadcaster “to be more vigilant in ensuring the accuracy of its reporting” and reminded them that “broadcasters are responsible for their programming, regardless of the source.”