Canadian Broadcast Standards Council Reviews Complaints re Comments Made about American Figure Skater and Olympic Men’s Figure Skating

Ottawa, December 23, 2010 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released two decisions concerning comments that were broadcast about men’s figure skating and an American figure skater in particular during the 2010 Winter Olympics.  The first decision related to the Olympic morning information program Le réveil olympique broadcast on both Réseau des sports (RDS) and V.  The second decision related to comments made on Dupont le midi, a talk show broadcast on CHOI-FM (Radio X, Quebec City).  The CBSC found that the observations made about men’s figure skating on Le réveil olympique were acceptable under the broadcast codes of standards, but that the comments made on Dupont le midi went too far because the hosts used derisive, denigrating terms for homosexuals.

On Le réveil olympique, host Claude Mailhot and guest analyst Alain Goldberg discussed men’s figure skating and commented on the style and costume of American competitor Johnny Weir, who had worn lipstick and a black and pink outfit for his short programme.  They expressed concerns that Weir was perpetuating the stereotype of men’s figure skating as an effeminate sport.  They acknowledged that their statements might not be viewed as “politically correct” and joked that Weir should undergo gender testing.  They also remarked, however, that Weir had the right to dress and act however he wished.  This conversation generated a public outcry and the two men apologized on air two days later for their comments.

The CBSC received 119 complaints about the broadcast, but only the Quebec Council of Gays and Lesbians (QCGL) and one other individual viewer requested that the CBSC investigate further.  The complainants alleged that the comments were discriminatory towards homosexuals.  The CBSC’s Quebec Regional Panel noted that “There would certainly have been better, safer, more tasteful ways for the broadcasters to have had their discussion on that subject [Weir’s costume and performance],” but the Panel concluded that the comments were not particularly negative and certainly not abusive on the basis of sexual orientation, as would be required to breach the Human Rights Clauses of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics and Equitable Portrayal Code.  The Panel also observed that the list of identifiable groups in those clauses does not extend to sports figures or athletes.

The Panel reached a different conclusion with respect to the comments made on Dupont le midi.  On February 19, 2010, host Stéphane Dupont stated that he could not understand why Mailhot and Goldberg’s comments had generated so much controversy because they had merely pointed out that there was [translation] “a queer in a sport for queers” [“un fif dans un sport de fifs”].  Dupont repeatedly used the words “fif” and “tapette” [“queer” and “fag”] to describe homosexuals in a derogatory tone throughout the discussion.  The CBSC again received a complaint from the QCGL and a different individual audience member, both alleging that the comments were discriminatory.

The Quebec Panel found a violation of the Human Rights Clauses in this case because “the words and phrases and the tone of the host in enunciating them were scornful, derisive and denigrating.”

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 and the pay television Codes, as well as the Code dealing with journalistic ethics created by the RTNDA – Association of Electronic Journalists in 1970.  Nearly 760 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