The Canadian Broadcasting Corp. and two political reporters, including Ottawa-based anchor Rosemary Barton, are taking the Conservative Party of Canada to court over the use of television excerpts in partisan advertising.
The application in the Federal Court of Canada, which was filed on Thursday, said the contentious material was used in a Conservative ad that was posted on Oct. 4 on a party website and the party’s Facebook and YouTube pages.
According to CBC’s application, the material included a comment from columnist Andrew Coyne during an appearance on a political panel hosted by Ms. Barton, as well as excerpts from an appearance by Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau in a televised town hall. In addition, the material included comments by CBC journalist John Paul Tasker and commentator Rex Murphy.
The court documents state that the material was removed on Oct. 10 after the CBC repeatedly complained to the Conservative Party.
Even though the contentious material has already been removed, the CBC, Ms. Barton and Mr. Tasker are calling on the Conservative Party and its executive director, Dustin Van Vugt, to acknowledge the “unauthorized use of copyright-protected material.” The application also calls on the Conservative Party and Mr. Van Vugt to acknowledge that they have “violated the moral rights” of Ms. Barton and Mr. Tasker.
The application said that the use of television footage in partisan material “may leave a viewer with the impression that the journalists are themselves biased, contrary to their obligations to be ‘fair and balanced.'”
“Through the infringing materials, the respondents [the Conservative Party, the Conservative Fund of Canada and Mr. Van Vugt] have damaged the reputations of the applicants as independent, non-partisan journalists by associating them with partisan causes, exploiting them and their work for the respondents’ own political objectives,” the application said.
The CBC said in its application that it has frequently had to intervene with the Conservative Party to stop the use of its journalistic content in partisan material.
In a statement released on Friday, the Conservative Party said it “has grave concern that this decision was made on the eve of an election that CBC is to be covering fairly and objectively. The Conservative Party considers this a complete distraction in the final days of tightly contested election, and we will dispute this lawsuit fully.”
Ms. Barton and Mr. Tasker did not respond to a request for comment.
Ms. Barton is one of the co-hosts of The National and was one of the moderators at the English-language debate held on Oct. 7. Mr. Tasker is a political journalist in the CBC’s Ottawa bureau.
Paul Adams, a professor of journalism at Carleton University, said there is a real concern in the media industry that the use of journalistic content by political parties can damage the reputation of reporters.
“Taking excerpts out of context to create an impression different from the original article or editing together clips, as the CBC alleges, is inherently dishonest, whatever the legality. It creates an impression that the journalist and journalistic organization was partisan or unbalanced in its coverage. It affects the reputation of the individual journalist, the news organization and the media as a whole, which is wrong,” Prof. Adams said.
The CBC said in its application that it “specifically warned” all political parties before the launch of the election campaign that it would not allow the use of its material during the campaign. The CBC said it also intervened to get the Conservatives to remove some of its material from the party’s Twitter page.
The CBC said that a political party wanting to use its journalistic material could provide a hyperlink to the original material on the CBC’s website.
The Conservative Party statement on Friday said: “When you are funded entirely by taxpayer dollars, taxpayers should be able to use the footage.”
CBC spokesperson Leon Mar said Friday night that, “It is important for the protection of journalistic content, both during the election period and in the future, that we get clarity from the court on these rights now being challenged.”