Abusive Comments about Homosexuals in Breach of Broadcast Code of Ethics, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, June 14, 2005 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning OMNI.1 Television’s broadcast of an episode of the Jimmy Swaggart Telecast on September 12, 2004.  The CBSC Ontario Regional Panel concluded that comments made by televangelist Jimmy Swaggart about homosexuals violated both the Human Rights and the Religious Programming clauses of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics

The Jimmy Swaggart Telecast is a religious program featuring the sermons of American preacher Jimmy Swaggart.  In his sermon on the broadcast date in question, which dealt principally with a young drug addict, Swaggart segued briefly to the subject of same-sex marriage.  He spoke strongly against non-heterosexual marriage and complained about politicians who dance around the issue.  He then went on to say that “if one [a man] ever looks at me like that [with romantic affection], I’m gonna kill him and tell God he died.”  Swaggart followed that statement with the remark that the undecided politicians and law-makers “all oughta have to marry a pig and live with him forever.” 

The CBSC received a complaint about the broadcast, which was examined by the Ontario Panel under the Human Rights clause of the CAB Code of Ethics, which requires that broadcasters ensure that their programming does not contain “abusive or unduly discriminatory material or comment which is based on matters of […] sexual orientation […].”  The Panel also examined the issue under the Religious Programming clause which requires broadcasters to ensure that their religious programs are not used to convey attacks on identifiable groups.  The Panel noted that OMNI.1 was entitled to broadcast Swaggart’s views against same-sex marriage and his criticism of law-makers who fail to take a stand on the issue.  It did, however, find the television station in breach of the two aforementioned Code provisions on the basis of Swaggart’s suggestion that killing someone would be the proper way for one to respond to homosexuality.  The Panel made the following comments: 

[T]he debate itself is more than legitimate, it is democratically essential, and raising the arguments that either favour or counter the notion of same-sex marriage is as salubrious a discussion under the umbrella of freedom of expression as one could imagine.

That the Panel agrees with the importance of attacking the political issue should not, however, be interpreted as opening the door to attacking the practitioners of same-sex marriage or those who aspire to become a partner in such a form of union.

[…] The negativity was so visceral that Swaggart asserted that, despite his own religiosity, he would feel justified in killing the man and in lying to his God that the victim had simply died.

 […]

 The problem of Swaggart’s language is, in a sense, exacerbated by the fact that he, as a religious figure, can be presumed to set an example for his community.  It would, therefore, be easy for someone to infer that this might be the proper way for a Christian of this sect (or possibly of any sect) to respond to homosexuality.  Repeating such terminology also contributes to the desensitization of the public with respect to gays and lesbians and even provides the audience with regrettable and negative terms with which to deal with this identifiable part of the community. 

OMNI.1 was not required to announce the CBSC’s finding on-air because the station had already issued an on-air apology shortly after the broadcast.

Canada’s private broadcasters have themselves created industry standards in the form of Codes on ethics, gender portrayal and television violence by which they expect the members of their profession will abide.  In 1990, they also created the CBSC, which is the self-regulatory body with the responsibility of administering those professional broadcast Codes, as well as the Code dealing with journalistic practices first created by the Radio Television News Directors Association of Canada (RTNDA) in 1970.  More than 550 radio and television stations and specialty services from across Canada are members of the Council. 

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All CBSC decisions, Codes, links to members' and other web sites, and related information are available on the CBSC's website at www.cbsc.ca. For more information, please contact the CBSC National Chair, Mme Andrée Noël CBSC Executive Director, John MacNab