Announcer’s “Humorous” Comment about Pygmies Is Inappropriate, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, March 16, 2004– The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released a decision concerning “humorous” comments about Pygmies being subject to cannibalism, made by an on-air host on CIGL-FM (Belleville).  The Ontario Regional Panel concluded that the comments were mocking and dehumanizing and thus improper in terms of Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics.  

The afternoon host, Joey Martin, the apparently took a current news report regarding a U.N. investigation about Pygmies being subject to cannibalistic practices in North Eastern Congo and attempted to convert it into a humorous story.  He then opined that Pygmies were perhaps like lobsters, the sweetness of their meet being a function of their size.  A listener found the comments to be offensive and contributing to the desensitization of the public toward serious issues.  In its reply to the complainant, the broadcaster pointed out that it was becoming more difficult to inform and entertain in the “present state of ‘Political Correctness’”.  In examining the issue under the Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics, which requires that the presentation of comments and other material be full, fair and proper, the Ontario Regional Panel dealt with the issue of “political correctness” and the challenged joke of the host in the following terms: 

The problem with “political correctness” is that the phrase suggests an artificial correctness, one that is driven by “political” motivations, a desire to please or to be responsive, without necessarily otherwise supporting the underlying principle.  The issue for the Panel is that there are statements that are, on the one hand, discriminatory but acceptable and those, on the other hand, that are discriminatory and unacceptable.  Not because someone might be “politically” offended but because the statements are themselves inherently offensive.  While there may have been an era in which Canadian society was untroubled by such statements, Canada has evolved.  It is a better place, rich in the ethnocultural multiplicity which is its make-up, proud of the diversity which it reflects, and conscious of its collective merit.

Had it ever been different is not the issue.  It is now.  Statements which are either unduly discriminatory or otherwise constitute improper comment do not meet the standards which Canada’s private broadcasters have seen fit to impose on themselves collectively.  […]  The standards are, from the point of view of the CBSC and its members, honoured in their observance because it is correct to do so.  Period. 

At the end, the Panel explained that the humour used by the host diminished the human tragedy of the Pygmies in a mocking and dehumanizing tone, and thus fell afoul of the codes.  It stated that 

The host of the hour may well have been unaware of the apparent plight of the Pygmies or, if aware, was insensitive to their reported problem.  In any event, the situation which he chose to mock appeared to be a serious one, involving the murder of Pygmies, who were not even implicated in any form of conflict with the alleged perpetrators of the indignities.  The Panel cannot know why the host chose to make light of this reported tragedy.  Was it because he viewed the sufferers as unfamiliar and remote?  Was it because cannibalism is a practice which is to all intents and purposes unknown to him and to Canadians generally?  The underlying reasons matter little.

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 530 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