Broadcaster’s Failure to Respond to a Complaint Violates Responsibility of CBSC Membership

Ottawa, May 7, 2002 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning CHIK-FM's (radio énergie, Québec) responsiveness to a complainant. On January 8, 2001, a listener sent a letter to the CBSC regarding remarks allegedly made on the December 4, 2000 episode of Les Grandes Gueules which she considered to be homophobic. The CBSC Quebec Regional Panel found that the broadcaster's failure to respond to the letter that was sent to the CBSC constituted a violation of CBSC membership responsibility.

The complainant contacted CHIK-FM immediately after the broadcast of the remarks and the Program Director sent her a brief response to her concerns. Not satisfied with that response, she filed a formal complaint with the CBSC, which was forwarded to CHIK-FM for its response (a standard procedure). Three months later, in March 2001, the complainant wrote to the CBSC stating that she had not received any response from the broadcaster and wished the CBSC to pursue the matter. Despite the fact that a representative of the broadcaster had informed the CBSC in January that the logger tapes were then available, when the CBSC ordered the tapes in May, it did not receive them. At the time of the Council's second request for the tapes, the broadcaster wrote that it no longer had them, nor, as it turned out, did it have any of the prior correspondence related to this file. The CBSC sent copies of all preceding correspondence and, in January 2002, the broadcaster indicated that it would be doing an internal investigation. In March 2002, when the CBSC still had not had news, it telephoned the broadcaster. It was not until one week before the decision meeting that Astral, CHIK-FM's parent company, finally sent a letter of explanation to the CBSC. Astral also sent a copy of that letter to the complainant.

The Quebec Panel was unable to consider the substantive aspects of the complaint under the Canadian Association of Broadcasters' Codes due to the absence of logger tapes. It did not find that CHIK-FM had violated its obligation to conserve the logger tapes since broadcasters are only required to keep such tapes for 28 days following the program broadcast. The CBSC did not receive the complaint until January 8, 2001, which was 35 days after the broadcast in question of December 4, 2000. The Quebec Panel nevertheless found the broadcaster in breach of its obligation to be responsive to complainants:

In the matter at hand, the broadcaster has, in essence, ignored both the complainant and the CBSC. In its response to the complainant's letter of December 4, 2000 (before the CBSC was involved in the file), the broadcaster sent an excessively brief reply (53 words), which did not address a single point raised by the complainant. From the time of the CBSC's involvement, CHIK-FM never again sent a single word directly to the complainant, despite its CBSC membership requirement to do so. […] That this matter has dragged one year and four months from the date of the radio show until the date of this meeting [April 5, 2002] has been almost singlehandedly due to the consistent failure or refusal by the broadcaster to co-operate in its resolution.

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