Broadcaster’s Failure to Respond to Complainant Breaches CBSC Membership Responsibilities, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, June 14, 2005 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning a broadcaster’s failure to respond to a listener who had made a complaint to the CBSC.  The CBSC Ontario Regional Panel found CHWO-AM (AM740, Oakville) in violation of its responsibilities of CBSC membership.  All CBSC broadcaster members are required to respond directly to audience members who file complaints with the CBSC. 

It is fundamental to the CBSC process that the Council always forwards complaints it receives from a member of the public to the broadcaster in question.  Because the CBSC considers that direct dialogue between a complainant and a broadcaster is the best means of resolving a concern, it is equally fundamental to the process that the broadcaster reply directly to the complainant.  It is also a cornerstone of the CBSC’s complaints-resolution process.  Nearly 80% of the complaints received by the CBSC are resolved as a result of this dialogue. 

In this case, the CBSC received a complaint from a listener who felt that an episode of the opinion segment Durant’s World was discriminatory against Catholics.  Host Bob Durant stated his position in favour of same-sex marriage and mentioned that he had left the Catholic Church because of its stance on the issue.  The Ontario Regional Panel concluded that the segment did not violate the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics because it was an opinion on a political issue rather than an abusive attack on Catholics. 

CHWO was asked repeatedly to respond to the complainant’s concerns and continually failed to do so.  The Panel, therefore, found the broadcaster in violation of a fundamental membership responsibility. 

Broadcaster responsiveness is always an issue considered in CBSC adjudications.  The CBSC considers that the dialogue between broadcasters and complainants is an extremely positive component of the self-regulatory process, to the point that it is in fact a membership responsibility of all CBSC broadcaster members.  On the issue of broadcaster responsiveness in this instance, the Panel finds that CHWO has violated a fundamental condition of membership in the CBSC.  It also does not understand why this has occurred, given that, on the basis of its past decisions, the substantive determination in the file is so clear.  It has been a very long time since this Panel has rendered a decision against a broadcaster on the grounds of its failure to respond substantively to a complainant; however, that did occur almost 12 years ago. […]In any event, the Panel faces the same situation today.  For reasons of its own, the broadcaster failed, not without some regret, it appears, to respond at all to the complainant and it is, on that account, in breach of its responsibilities of CBSC membership.

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