Broad, Abusive Criticisms of Islam Violate Code of Ethics, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, February 6, 2009 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning an episode of the Lowell Green Show broadcast on CFRA (Ottawa) on December 3, 2007.  Prompted by the internationally-discussed Muslim reaction to the teddy bear naming incident in Khartoum, which fell afoul of Sudanese law, the topic of the day on the open-line talk show was Islam.  The CBSC concluded that some of the comments that the host made about the religion and its practitioners violated the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics.

The Lowell Green Show is a daily open-line talk show on which the host and callers discuss current events.  The question of the day on December 3 was “Is there something inherent in the Muslim faith that promotes violence and oppression of women?”  The majority of callers answered “yes” to the question, but a few callers disagreed.  Green adamantly expressed his own view that “almost every act of terrorism around the world today […] is carried out in the name of Islam.  […]  Don’t tell me this is the work of a few fanatics.”

Despite the fact that Green said, on a few occasions, that not all Muslims are “like that”, he reacted negatively to any caller who answered no to his question, including those who were Muslim or had personal knowledge of Islam and attempted, on that basis, to clarify some of his points.  In one instance, Green responded to a Muslim caller with the word “Baloney!” and, in another, told the sympathetic, apparently non-Muslim, caller she had “abandoned common sense” and was being “silly”.

The CBSC received a complaint from a listener who was concerned about Green’s depiction of Islam and Muslims.  The Ontario Regional Panel examined the complaint under two clauses of the CAB Code of Ethics: Clause 2 (Human Rights), which prohibits abusive or unduly discriminatory comment on the basis of religion (among other things), and Clause 6, which requires the full, fair and proper presentation of opinion and comment.  The Panel found a violation of both clauses.  As the Panel observed, the extending of the debate from the teddy bear incident to Islam itself bore certain consequences:

The broadened nature of the on-air debate does mean, though, that extra care must be taken by the broadcaster to ensure that sweeping generalizations, which are inherently more risky than pointed, focussed discussions, do not fall afoul of either of the foregoing codified standards.

The Panel pointed out that there was no problem with simply addressing the topic, but rather with the way it was handled.  With respect to Clause 2, the Panel made the following comments:

[T]he host has mounted a sweeping, abusive and unduly discriminatory criticism of Islam.  It was uninformed and unfair.  It conceded none of the diversity that exists in Islam or among its adherents.  […] [H]e consistently made it entirely clear that his issue […] was [that there was a problem with the faith and that it] was not the work of a few fanatics, but rather a reflection of the religion, problems and attitudes that he attributed to the “great, overwhelming majority of Muslims in the world.”  Moreover, he brooked no contradictory observations of persons who were admittedly Muslim, informed about the religion, or of a different viewpoint.

With respect to Clause 6, the Panel observed that

Green did not merely disagree with opposing points of view; he mocked, ridiculed and insulted their interlocutors.  Using terms like “silly” and “baloney”, he denied to callers that which is potentially best in talk radio: fair, interactive dialogue.  Although not all broadcasters admit the appropriateness of anything other than pure objectivity on the part of hosts, the CBSC has long upheld the right of talk show hosts to espouse a point-of-view on air.  The right to express an editorial perspective is one thing; the exclusion of the opinions of those who would express a conflicting perspective is quite another.  […]  Disparaging opposing views with condescending, even childish, words such as those noted above is neither fair nor proper.

Canada’s private broadcasters have themselves created industry standards in the form of Codes on ethics, equitable portrayal, television violence and journalistic independence 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 ethics created by the RTNDA – Association of Electronic Journalists in 1970.  More than 720 radio stations, satellite radio services, 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