POLITICS

Broadcasting dying officer's distress call didn't breach privacy: Council

03/07/2012 03:56 EST | Updated 05/07/2012 05:12 EDT
TORONTO - Broadcasting the distress call of a dying police officer as he lay trapped under a minivan was not a breach of privacy, but required a warning to viewers, the country's private broadcast watchdog has found.

York region police Const. Garrett Styles died after being dragged and then pinned under an overturned minivan on a rural highway north of Toronto last June.

The van's 15-year-old driver was later charged with first-degree murder.

York Regional Police Chief Eric Jolliffe had complained to the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council about Styles' call for help being broadcast on a number of television stations, including Global Toronto, CTV Toronto and City-TV.

In a ruling issued Wednesday, the council released a two-pronged decision.

"The CBSC concluded that the stations did not violate the privacy of the police officer whose voice was heard in the transmissions, but that the stations were required to warn viewers in advance of the disturbing nature of the broadcasts," the council said a statement.

Two broadcasters — City TV and CTV — failed to provide warnings about the call's contents and were found in breach of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters' Violence Code, the council said.

York Regional Police said they were disappointed by the council's decision.

"We do not feel that the broadcasting of his last moments showed appropriate compassion to Const. Styles and his family as victims of crime," Deputy Chief of Police Thomas Carrique said in a statement to The Canadian Press.

"We believe the broadcasting of Const. Styles' dying words did violate the RTDNA Code of Journalist Ethics and that the broadcasters should have paraphrased his last words."

Carrique added that other police services and the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police took the same view.

Several media outlets, including The Canadian Press, published or broadcast parts of Styles' distress call over his police radio.

In the transmission, the 32-year-old married father of two pleaded for someone to get the overturned minivan off him and expressed concern for the occupants, while the dispatcher urged him to keep talking and told him help was on the way.

The stations being scrutinized by the council had argued that Styles' call was accessible on public airwaves and was later available on the Internet.

They also said their reports highlighted the police officer's professionalism and concern for others.

CTV additionally pointed out that it read a transcript of the call on air rather than broadcasting the actual audio of Styles' appeal for help.

The council found the stations' broadcasts didn't infringe on the officer's privacy and didn't require permission from the police force since it was transmitted unencrypted and over accessible airwaves.

It also found that the reports did not sensationalize the incident.

But it found the reports on the incident were "disturbing and required warnings to viewers," which CTV didn't provide, nor did City TV in its initial broadcast.

York Regional Police did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the council's ruling.

In a separate ruling in October, the Ontario Press Council decided that reporting Styles' distress call did not breach journalistic ethics.

That decision came after Jolliffe said three articles published by the Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail were an appalling breach of ethics and trust that could have jeopardized the investigation into Styles' death.

The Press Council said it had considered the impact of the reports on Styles' family and friends and found neither media outlet overstepped the boundaries of journalism ethics.

"The council found the coverage served to highlight the courage and concern Const. Styles exhibited when he asked for emergency aid for those in the van as his life slipped away," the council had said.

Police have said Styles had pulled the van over on a highway east of Newmarket, Ont., and was investigating the driver when the vehicle took off, dragging the officer about 300 metres before rolling over and pinning him beneath it

The van's driver was seriously hurt in the incident while three other teens in the vehicle were not hurt.

Thousands of officers and members of the public turned out for Styles' public funeral in early July.