Broadcast of Prank Telephone Call Does Not Breach Broadcaster Standards

Ottawa, April 9, 2002 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council today released its decision concerning a prank telephone call broadcast on CFMI-FM (Rock 101, Vancouver) that the station had obtained from an American source. In the phone call, a man posing as a representative from a company conducting drug testing for employers contacted a woman and told her that her test results indicated very high drug use. The woman insisted that there must be an error and, in desperation, eventually offered to sleep with the “tester” in order to be allowed to re-take the test. A listener felt that this broadcast promoted sexual harassment.

The CBSC British Columbia Regional Panel determined that the segment did not breach the Canadian Association of Broadcasters' (CAB) Sex-Role Portrayal Code or the CAB Code of Ethics. The B.C. Panel noted that the male caller “never directly insulted [the woman], nor even made sexually suggestive remarks to her. Indeed, it was [the woman] herself who offered to sleep with the 'tester' in order to be allowed to re-take the tests.” The Panel commented that “[h]ad the 'tester' been the one to suggest sexual activity, the dialogue might have unfolded differently and the Panel might have reached a different conclusion.” The “tester” in fact revealed the prank as soon as the woman had upped the offer to the level of sexual favours. The Panel found the segment to be in very poor taste, but not exploitative of either sex.

The Panel reiterated the CBSC's position that matters of taste must be left to be regulated by the marketplace. In cases where comments broadcast do not breach any broadcaster Codes, it is the listeners' responsibility to use the on/off switch to address content they may find offensive.

The Panel also examined CFMI-FM's response to the complainant in which it explained that the segment was from an American broadcaster and that the call was in fact instigated by the woman's mother. The Panel reiterated the principle that every broadcaster is responsible for all material aired by it regardless of the content's origin, but it did not find any breach of broadcaster responsibility in this regard. It also reiterated the principle that humourous intent is not justification for airing offensive material, although it did not find that this particular prank phone call crossed the line of acceptability on Canadian airwaves.

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 500 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