CFGO-AM re a Jim Rome Commentary

ONTARIO REGIONAL COUNCIL
(CBSC Decision 98/99-0093)
A. MacKay (Chair), R. Stanbury (Vice-Chair), R. Cohen (ad hoc),P. Fockler and M. Hogarth

THE FACTS

On October 6, 1998, an all-sports radio station, CFGO-AM (popularly
known as OSR 1200 in Ottawa) broadcast a report about the current developments in the
ongoing saga of the new baseball stadium projected for the Montreal Expos. That commentary
included some “political” observations; it went as follows:

Bud Selig is getting two mentions today.He has a meeting with Quebec Premier Lucien Bouchard. They're trying to figure out what todo about that new ballpark in Montreal. Now that's important from a couple of standpoints.

Number one, of course keeping baseball in Montreal. And number two,Felipe Alou factors into this. It's much easier for them to get that crib built if they'vegot a stable, consistent figure like Felipe Alou still there.

Bouchard says that no public funds will be used to build that stadium.Kind of nice for Bud Selig to get involved in the middle of that whole thing. Go toCanada, and try to move that process along.

Very forward thinking, however, I was of the impression, that the onlyFrenchies that we had in baseball were the brothers Lache. You know, Marcel and René. NowI have to contend with Lucien. I thought René and Marcel were bad but Lucien. I would notwant some guy named Lucien in my ballpark, much less financing the ballpark and runningthe nation.

Man, now what are you gonna do, Bud? That's brutal, how did the peopleof Quebec elect this guy? I mean, if I see Lucien on the ballot, I'm voting for the otherguy even if it's a Pierre or a Marcel or even a René. I'd vote Communist before I votedfor Lucien.

Good luck Frenchies. Baseball will be leaving Montreal soon the way itshould. Boy, the Frenchies are too much, aren't they? Marcel and René, those guys shouldnot be in big league baseball they should have a bakery. “Marcel, where are theeclairs?” It's kind of an Angel thing slash Frenchie thing.

The Letter of Complaint

On October 21, a viewer wrote to the Secretary General of the CRTC
stating that:

While listening to Ottawa Sports Radio(OSR 1200) the other day, I heard commentary that I found objectionable and insulting. Ittook place between 15:00 and 15:30 on Tuesday, October 6. While reading a wire reportdealing with the state of the Montreal Expos baseball team, the announcer beganeditorializing about the contribution of Francophones to baseball, the Province of Quebecand Lucien Bouchard; all in a very negative manner.

As a native of Montreal, I found this offensive. I request that youinvestigate this matter, as I would like to hear the radio station’s explanation. theprogram director has yet to return the voice mail I left him.

That letter was in due course forwarded to the CBSC to be dealt with by
the Council under its mandate.

The Broadcaster’s Response

The Vice President and General Manager of the station replied to the
complainant on November 9 in the following terms:

Thank you so much for taking the time towrite to us about your concerns with the Jim Rome Show, as heard on CFGO on October 6,1998.

We see your point, and quite frankly were quite surprised to hearpolitical comments on a sports talk show. Usually, sports talk is more innocuous andscore/coach/fan related.

We are new at sports talk, and have learned from this to be morevigilant. We have alerted our producers and hosts to watch for and delete such banter fromon-air broadcasts.

For the live shows, our producers have been given detailed instructionson how to properly screen callers for content. Also, both the producer and host have aseven-second delay button that can delete offensive phrases from airing. A any time duringa call, they will cut the caller off if the subject matter is not suitable – the delaywill prevent this from airing. For the syndicated shows, such as Jim Rome, the operatorshave been instructed to monitor the shows more closely for content. If the content isquestionable, they are able to substitute the program.

Let me assure you that we will continue to take steps to make sure thisdoesn’t happen again, and thank you for your interest in working with us to get itright.

The complainant was unsatisfied with the broadcaster’s response
and requested, on November 23, that the CBSC refer the matter to the appropriate Regional
Council for adjudication.

THE DECISION

The CBSC’s Ontario Regional Council considered the complaint under
the Code of Ethics of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB). The relevant
clauses of that Code reads as follows:

CAB Code of Ethics, Clause 2 (Human Rights)

Recognizing that every person has aright to full and equal recognition and to enjoy certain fundamental rights and freedoms,broadcasters shall endeavour to ensure, to the best of their ability, that theirprogramming contains no abusive or discriminatory material or comment which is based onmatters of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, marital status orphysical or mental handicap.

The Regional Council members listened to a tape of the broadcast in
question and reviewed all of the correspondence. The Council does not consider that the
broadcast in question violated the aforementioned provision of the Code.

Insulting an Identifiable Group vs. Giving an Opinion on Politics and History While the Council finds the tone and wording of the Jim Rome Commentary
distasteful and unpleasant, it does consider that it is politically driven, specifically
driven by the decision of Quebec Premier Lucien Bouchard not to fund a new baseball park
in Montreal. While it clearly smacks of a discriminatory approach to the question, the
combination of a political issue and a discriminatory tone renders this matter, in some
respects, similar to that dealt with in the Council’s decision in CHOM-FM and
CILQ-FM re The Howard Stern Show
(CBSC Decision 97/98-0001+, October 17-18, 1997). In
that decision, the Quebec and Ontario Regional Councils jointly concluded that, on one
level, the September 1997 broadcasts of the Howard Stern Show contravened the Code
of Ethics
and Sex-Role Portrayal Code. On his premier show in Montreal and
Toronto, Stern made several comments about the French in France and in Canada which
outraged both Francophone and Anglophone complainants and were found to breach the CAB Code
of Ethics
. In brief, the Quebec and Ontario Councils concluded as follows:

The CBSC has no hesitation in findingthat, in this case, the expressions “peckerheads”, “pussy-assedjack-offs”, “scumbags”, “pussies”, “Frig the French”and “Screw the French” are … abusive.”

The CBSC differentiated, however, between such abusively discriminatory
comment aimed at identifiable groups and Stern’s political or historical comments.
The Code breaches referred to above did not include those comments which were more aptly
characterised as political or historical in nature.

Those comments relating to the state ofradio in Canada, the use of English in Quebec, the value of French culture, Canada as anappendage of the United States, the role of the vanquished French in Vichy France, theissues relating to separatism, and so on, are the host’s opinions and, unlessutterly and irresponsibly uninformed … they are his to espouse. … It is the view ofthe Regional Councils that these political and historical comments fall squarely withinthe bounds which freedom of expression is meant to protect.

In the Council’s view, the overall
majority of Jim Rome’s comments made in that sports commentary were of a political
nature and, therefore, “fall squarely within the bounds which freedom of expression
is meant to protect.” They related to the new baseball stadium, the role of the
Expos’ coach Felipe Alou, the involvement of de facto baseball commissioner Bud Selig
and the political implications of the involvement of Premier Lucien Bouchard in the
matter. Incidentally, the commentator found it appropriate to inject his own irrelevant
views on “voting for Lucien”, a matter which certainly exceeded the thrust of
his Commentary and, to the Council, an obvious “cheap” and unnecessary shot. He
also went even further in extending his inappropriate and incorrect cheap shots to
“Frenchies” and their entitlement to have a major league baseball club.

Similarly to the Stern case, however, the Council does consider
that some of the comments go beyond the bounds of political commentary. Comments such as
“Boy, the Frenchies are too much, aren’t they?” must be distinguished from
comments such as “I’d vote Communist before I voted for Lucien” because it
is no longer merely expressing a political opinion; it is rather labelling a group on the
basis of its culture or ethnic origin. This constitutes discriminatory comment which must
be weighed against the standards of the human rights provision of the CAB Code of
Ethics.

Abusively Discriminatory Comment

The Council has often stated that, in order for a comment to violate
the human rights provision of the Code, it must not merely be discriminatory but
must be abusively so. As stated in CFUN-AM re The John and JJ Show (Immigration
Policy)
(CBSC Decision 97/98-0422, May 20, 1998):

It could not be every instance ofdiscriminatory comment which would be found to be in breach of the “humanrights” provision of the CAB Code of Ethics for, in a technical sense, everystatement regarding an identifiable group is discriminatory. As this Council putthe point in CFTO-TV re “Tom Clark’s Canada” (CBSC Decision97/98-0009, February 26, 1998):

Early on, the Council recognized that Clause 2 of the CAB Code ofEthics requires a weighing of competing values. In CHTZ-FM re the Morning Show(CBSC Decision 92/93-0148, October 26, 1993) the Council noted that “it must balancethe right of audiences to receive programming which is free of abusive or discriminatorymaterial … with the fundamental right of free speech in Canadian society.” Theapplication of this balancing act in various CBSC decisions evolved into an”abusiveness criteria”; i.e. the establishment of a “test” whereby acomment must not merely be discriminatory to constitute a breach of Clause 2, itmust be abusively so.

The CFUN-AM decision dealt with a discussion on Canada’s
refugee policy in light of a crime committed by a man who, despite an earlier deportation
order, had remained in the country because China had not yet issued the necessary travel
documents. The Council noted that “while John and JJ did not mince words, … they
were also careful not to ‘paint with the same brush’ all refugee claimants or
immigrants.” The Council further stated:

The Council considers that in thecircumstances, John and JJ’s discussion of Canada’s refugee policy, and of thespecific case of Wing Fu Hau, did not cross the line into abusively discriminatorycomment. Specifically, the Council considers that the hosts’ use of an analogy to”garbage” and “refuse” did not constitute a breach of the Codes. Theanalogy was not, in the Council’s view, used to discriminate against all refugees butrather to make the hosts’ point concerning flaws in Canada ’s”open-door” refugee policy. The Council notes that, while freedom of expressionhas its limits in Canada, the freedom to criticize Government policies and practices is acore example of freedom of expression, in some senses the very root of that rightin a democratic system. Unless, therefore, the exploiter of that right to challengeGovernment policies has overstepped another equally basic standard, such as, for example,the right of members of an identifiable group to be free from abuse, that right tochallenge will be sustained. In this case, the Council finds that the exercise of theirfreedom of expression by the hosts, John and JJ, must outweigh any danger, as suggested bythe complainant, that the references “cast suspicion on all immigrants.”

In this case, the Council is of the view that the sports commentator
did paint all “Frenchies” (whether the term was meant to designate Francophones
in general, the Québécois people, or only the Francophone segment of that population)
with the same brush of being “too much”. The Council does not consider, however,
that such a comment is so offensive and demeaning as to be considered abusively
discriminatory. While the statement and, especially, the tone in which it was delivered
left the Council frankly uncomfortable, the Council does not find the offensive comments
so egregious that they amount to a breach of the human rights provision of the Code of
Ethics
.

Broadcaster Responsiveness

In addition to assessing the relevance of the Codes to the complaint,
the CBSC always assesses the responsiveness of the broadcaster to the substance of
the complaint. In this case, the Council considers that the broadcaster’s frank
response fairly admitted both its lack of experience in such matters and willingness to
take steps to ensure that such questionable material would not appear in the future. In
this sense, the Council also considers that the broadcaster addressed fully and fairly the
concerns raised by the complainant. Consequently, the broadcaster has not breached the
Council’s standard of responsiveness. Nothing more is required.

This decision is a public document upon its release by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council. It may be reported, announced or read by the station against which the complaint had originally been made; however, in the case of a favourable decision, the station is under no obligation to announce the result.