What do reporters need to reveal upfront -The case of Marketplace’s Weddings Inc.

The complainant, Catherine Lash, said she would never have let a Marketplace crew into her wedding show if she had known who they were. The crew should have been more intentional in identifying itself. She was concerned that her company is tarnished because shots of the event are in the programme. However, the images are generic and careful to remove any identifying information. She may have envisioned a different outcome, but there is no misuse of the visuals included in the episode.

COMPLAINT

You are the founder and creative director of The Wedding Co. Your venue was used as a filming location in a Marketplace report entitledWeddings Inc. You had two major concerns - one that the crew gained access to your wedding show by false pretences, and that in using your event as a backdrop in the broadcast, it has harmed your reputation as well as those of the vendors present. You asked that any footage shot during your event be removed from any future airings of the programme. You pointed out that you were never told the focus of the episode, and in fact there was no reference to Marketplace in the email request from the producer, Tyana Grundig. You felt “deceived”, and that had you known the true purpose you never would have granted permission:

To be clear, The Wedding Co. Market creates a beautiful atmosphere and fills a room with a carefully selected group of talented and professional small businesses owners. We agreed to allow the CBC film in our show because we were told by your producer that they were planning to shoot some of the exhibits and talk with people at the show. We were under the impression it was for CBC News as that is what is said in the signature.

This type of free publicity is beneficial for our vendors so we agreed. At no time was I made aware of changes to your program. You used my show as a backdrop for a story that highlights the very type of practice my company works hard to eliminate. I was never informed the piece was for Marketplace. If I was told, knowing the show, I would not have allowed you to film at my show, assuming that your target that week was the industry I work so hard to promote.

You did not think it made any difference that neither your Wedding Co. venue nor your vendors are identifiable in the footage that was used. You believe that it is still damaging to your reputation and those of the companies that participated in the wedding show. You rejected the explanation from the Executive Producer that all brands, logos and many of the faces of vendors are either absent or blurred:

Connecting my show to your story has damaged our reputation and the reputation of the businesses who exhibit at my show. Brand recognition goes beyond logos and faces, so the fact you blurred those elements is not an acceptable solution

MANAGEMENT RESPONSE

Caroline Harvey, at the time the Executive Producer of Marketplace, clarified the show’s intention in using your wedding show. She explained that television demands the use of visuals - and in this case there were two wedding shows used - as well as other locations. They chose your show to use as a backdrop to record the comments of Angelique Sobschak, a wedding consultant who provided perspective and commentary. She said “The colour and bustle of a wedding show seemed a fitting location for the interview.” She pointed out that they did not mention your company by name nor identify any of the participating businesses:

I want to be clear that neither your company nor any of the show’s many exhibitors are identified in the Marketplace program. At no point in the program itself does The Wedding Co. name appear, nor does the program show the name of any of the companies exhibiting their products or services at the show.

Indeed, to be certain, following our conversation, we went back to the program and went through it again to ensure that all identifying information had been removed or blurred. We took it a step further. We also deliberately blurred any faces that incidentally appeared in the background of our shots in the event that they would be recognizable as exhibitors or vendors at the show. To my knowledge, no one associated with The Wedding Co., the wedding show or any of the exhibitors appears in any identifiable way in the program. Nor is there any signage, logos or marks that would identify the wedding show, the location or even the city where it was being held.

She also addressed your concern about the way the producer approached you to get permission to attend your show. At the time the email was sent the intention was to talk to some of the vendors as well as to film the wider event, but the story evolved and the plans changed in the two-week interval between seeking permission and the recording:

As I am sure you can imagine, producing television stories is a fluid business. Elements can be added, changed or dropped, scripts cut, edited or re-written and all the parts moved about up to the last minutes before they are broadcast...When Ms. Grundig emailed you, we were planning to shoot some of the exhibits and talk with people at the show, but as the other elements came together, those plans changed. .

We did talk to a few people, but in the end we decided to use the show simply as a backdrop for the expert interview... It was the atmosphere and the colour that we were interested in not your company or any of the vendors.

REVIEW

Your complaint raised two issues - the first deals with what you term as “deception” in the request to allow a crew to film at your wedding show. You provided the initial email from the producer, which did not refer to Marketplace nor spell out the focus of the programme:

I'm with CBC News; wondering if we can get media permission for Sunday Feb 26th to visit the Wedding Co Market?

We'd like to film some of the vendors, speak to some of the wedding couples, talk generally about the wedding season, etc.

I can give you a list of the Media crew who will be coming, as well -

Thank you!

There was subsequent correspondence, both with Tyana Grundig and the overall producer of the segment, Nelisha Vellani. I note that within that correspondence, the team let you know they would be bringing along wedding planner Angelique Sobschak in order to conduct an interview on site. They also told you that Asha Tomlinson would be present as well. Ms. Tomlinson is the host of the programme. I note that Ms. Vellani’s email has the Marketplace logo on it, although it does not spell out the word.

Marketplace is a consumer affairs programme with a mandate to inform and educate consumers about how to protect their rights and interests, as well as alerting them to various practices of different companies and industries; it is essentially investigative journalism. The policy guide provides this comment about the unique features of that type of reporting:

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.

There is also another policy that addresses the process and rationale for using clandestine methods - including interviews without consent and hidden camera recording - and not identifying oneself as a journalist. The principle is that these things are done in the public interest and that revealing more would make it unlikely the journalists would be able to get the full information. The one other pertinent policy is the one regarding interviews, which states that one is obliged to let the interviewee know “the subject of the interview” but not specific questions.

The Marketplace team informed me that at the time they made the request they were intending to conduct more interviews at your location, and to approach couples about their plans and experience. They said that one of the reasons they keep the description at a high level is that stories do evolve. The question is whether the request to be present at your wedding show was so vague as to be deceptive. There is no one specific policy which addresses the situation, but the principles behind the policies I cited are a guide. The producers must tread a line about being forthright and also protecting the need to get at information that is not necessarily the priority or preference of the participants. The producers were open about bringing a wedding planner to do an interview, that Asha Tomlinson, the host of the programme, would be there, and used the programme logo in correspondence. There is no guarantee that you or any other potential participant would recognize the host name or programme logo, but the presence of both mitigates the idea that there was a deliberate attempt to deceive you. It would have been more accurate to say that the focus of the programme was the cost of weddings. The lack of specific mention of Marketplace is more problematic. I think CBC management should review with programme staff the practice of neglecting to specifically mention the programme where the material is destined. There may be times when there is justification to do so, but it should not be the default. The spirit of the policies cited is about openness and clarity. If there is a need to be surreptitious, then the principles of the policies on clandestine methods should be applied.

After the filming, the producer sent you a thank you for allowing them “to film the interview at the event,” making clear that was the purpose. You asked how you and your vendors would be credited. You were told at that point the vendors were not approached in the end, but you were offered a credit at the end of the programme. As the episode evolved, the decision was made that the fairest thing to do would be to be as generic as possible. I note as well that other wedding show organizers were approached with the same information and request as you.

Two other locations were used in the production of this programme. Like your locale, they are used in a generic fashion to provide the visual elements necessary to the production. You told me you think it is apparent where the filming took place because you are the “only show of this nature.”

We only have 70 spaces so our exhibitor list is highly curated to make sure we have a collection of the most professional, one-of-a-kind small businesses in the city. Each exhibitor has a unique, recognizable ascetic which gives our show a distinct and unique atmosphere. As you can see from the episode the space we host the show sets the tone and separates us from other shows. It was chosen to attract a very specific clientele.

As someone outside the industry with no knowledge of your market or any other wedding show, I find the shots to be generic with little clue to who is involved or the precise location. Your expert eye might know, but it is not reasonable to assume the average viewer across the country would. I appreciate that you see this programme as one that tars the wedding industry and that you have a record of strong and ethical practice, but your company is not named, nor are any of your participants singled out.

This programme is consumer-focused. Its aim is to document that others are not as ethical as you are, and that brides and grooms would do well to educate themselves. However, the programme did note those operators who did not increase prices for wedding inquiries, thereby showing there is a range of practice. The outcome was not the one you had hoped for, but you were informed that your participants would not be included and that the producers were using “scene setting” and background shots for your location. The issue you raised about being clear where the material is destined to air is one CBC should address in future practice.

Sincerely,

Esther Enkin
CBC Ombudsman