Caller’s Hostile Open-Line Show Comments Did Not Promote Violence, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, February 6, 2009 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning a segment on Maritime Morning broadcast on CHNI-FM (News 88.9, Saint John, New Brunswick).  On April 4, 2008, the host of the open-line radio program, Andrew Krystal, had as his guest Paul Watson, the head of the marine conservation lobbying group Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.  One caller to the program suggested that Watson should suffer the same fate as seal pups.  The CBSC concluded that the comment did not go so far as to encourage violence under the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics.

Maritime Morning with Andrew Krystal is broadcast weekday mornings on radio stations owned by Rogers Broadcasting in Halifax, Moncton and Saint John.  The Sea Shepherd Society is well-known for its anti-sealing views and militant conservation tactics.  Paul Watson appeared on Maritime Morning less than a week after four Magdalen Island sealers drowned in the Cabot Strait when their disabled boat capsized while being towed to port by the Canadian Coast Guard.
According to reports, Watson had said that the slaughter of thousands of seal pups each year was more of a tragedy than the deaths of the four men.  Apparently protesting those remarks, a group of fishermen had cut the mooring lines of a Sea Shepherd Society boat.  Radio host Krystal challenged Watson on some of his views, suggesting that Watson had gone too far with his recent comments.  The majority of the callers to the program expressed their support for Watson’s conservation work, but one caller stated “I think you should be put on the ice floe with the seals […] and hopefully someone will come along with a hakapik and put it in your skull.”

A listener complained that the comment was a direct threat on Watson’s life and should not have been broadcast.  The station responded that the remark was just an example of the heated debates that sometimes occur in talk radio and that it did not believe that the caller had truly intended to promote violence.  The Atlantic Regional Panel agreed with the broadcaster.  It examined the complaint under Clause 9(a) of the CAB Code of Ethics which prohibits radio content that promotes or sanctions violence.  The Panel stated

It acknowledges that [the caller] was angry with Paul Watson’s prioritizing the lives of seals in the relative weighing of human and mammalian life.  It considers, though, that caller Joe was merely advocating that Paul Watson be accorded the life of the seals he valued so much, as in, if you like the seals to that extent, go live with them and suffer their fate, including the worst that may befall them.  […]  The Panel does not, however, conclude that the broadcast in any way advocated or sought such an eventuality.  The Panel does not consider that the comment was inciting, sanctioning or glamorizing violence.  It was admittedly harsh, and the Panel does consider that the host had a duty to keep the guest and callers in line, particularly when such intellectual confrontation can be anticipated.  A disavowing comment by host Krystal would have been appropriate, but the absence of one did not, in the Panel’s view, amount to a breach of Clause 9(a).

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