CFMI-FM re Brother Jake Morning Show (St. Patrick’s Day)

BRITISH COLUMBIA REGIONAL PANEL
(CBSC Decision 02/03-0904)
M. Loh (ad hoc Chair), R. Cohen (ad hoc), P. Gill, G. Leighton, and J. RysavyS

THE FACTS

On March 17, 2003, St. Patrick's Day, CFMI-FM (Vancouver) broadcast an episode of the Brother Jake Show during which some of the content (in the 7:00-8:00 am segment) offended a listener.  It involved a song performed by a group known as the Sons of Indecency, who were in the studio; the banter and the song went as follows:

     

Faith and begorrah.  That was awful nice of the two of ya' to say that.
You guys are nice.
Son #1:    Oh! All right.  I forgot I was seeing double, and speaking of seeing double, here's a little tune about a couple of Irishmen, although I use the term loosely.
I know what's coming up.
Oh, there is a couple of guys and (?)
  Who lived down by the glen
  And every night they go to pubs
  That only let in men.
  Well, these two lads, they are happy, in fact they're downright gay;
  And when the D.J. plays Madonna
  They dance the night away.
  And after last call's over
  They'd go back from where they came
  To their immaculate apartment
  Where they live up to their name.
 

Oh, Michael Fitzpatrick and Patrick Fitzmichael

  Two better friends, you know there's never been
 

Michael Fitzpatrick and Patrick Fitzmichael

  When they go home they fill each other in.
  Oh, Michael Fitzpatrick and Patrick Fitzmichael
  You've never seen two closer guys.
  Michael Fitzpatrick and Patrick Fitzmichael
  Between them they've got just one pair of brown eyes.

 

During a skit that was done to music, about two Irish men named Patrick Fitzmichael and Michael Fitzpatrick and the connotation that they were in search of young men or boys for sexual purposes, and that these men were, if not priests, than [sic] were associated with the Roman Catholic Church.  As I was walking through the park while listening to the program, I could not make proper note of all the lyrics involved, but it was enough to make me believe that it was a deliberate attack on the Catholic faith, given those that I was able to remember, which included the mention of “Madonna” and “immaculate” and several others.  There was also such crude things [sic] as the fact that these two men lived in the same house where they “filled each other in” and the suggestion that they shared “one pair of brown eyes” which was obviously reference to an anal preoccupation.  For several hours thereafter there were made jokes about the alcoholic nature of Irishmen, referring to “puke on their shoes” etc., and many, many references to masturbation fantasies, etc., which is a bit puerile, I would suggest, to a program that attracts teenaged males, and immature adults, as their major audience.

The Program Director responded to the original communication on April 10.  In that letter, he said, among other things:

The parody was about two Irish men celebrating St. Patrick's Day, who visit a pub and dance to the music of Madonna played by the DJ.  The reference to “immaculate” was in relation to the description of their apartment, and not in a religious context, as noted by you.  In a previous decision, the Canadian Association of Broadcasters Code of Ethics (the “Codes”), administered by the CBSC have clarified that “it is not any reference to “race, national or ethnic origin, religion, age, sex, marital status or physical or mental handicap” but rather those which contain “abusive or discriminatory material or comment” based on the foregoing which will be sanctioned.

  ��         [.]

We deeply regret that the Program offended you for that was not our intent.  We have taken the time to thoroughly review the tapes of the Program in an effort to properly respond to your complaint and are of the view that while you may not regard some of the comments made in the parody to have been in good taste, in the comedic context that it was presented, we do not believe that it was not an abusive comment that was discriminatory.   Accordingly, we believe that the Program did not fall afoul of the Codes and was not trying to insult anyone's beliefs.   Please be assured that we do not condone discrimination of any sort on ROCK 101. 

We have however, reviewed your concerns internally and have had discussions with our on-air staff about appropriate on-air content and we will continue to exercise greater diligence on such matters.  Please be assured that we take our responsibilities as a broadcaster very seriously. At ROCK 101, we work to ensure all our programming complies with the Broadcasting Act, the Radio Regulations and the Codes and standards required of us as a member of the CBSC.

The complainant was not satisfied by the response.  He sent in his Ruling Request and wrote again on April 15, saying in part,

Then, (for reasons obvious to me) you proceed to defend the use of same in a religious sense, despite the bad-taste that might suggest, by listing, through precedent, previous council decisions.  However, as I recall, these two words, and others with Catholic connotations, that I don't recall, were heavily stressed so as to remove any doubt as to your intention I begin to wonder whether you think me a total fool, or whether it is the Council's competence that you doubt.  Anyone hearing the tape of this foul ditty could not fail to grasp the inherent anti-Catholic bias in it. 

So now, can you explain to me why it is ok to ridicule Christians, and specifically Catholics?  Is militant anti-Catholic sentiment, the only form of prejudice that remains acceptable?  Are priests not human, are they not vascular, do they not bleed when cut?  Do they not feel the sting and the shame, when one of their own causes scandal?  Is there anything humorous, whatsoever, about the sexual abuse of children?  Is it merely “jeering, silly, unpleasant, blasphemous, mocking, or irreverent” to continue depicting Catholic clergy in this light, or is it in fact, hateful?  This is what the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council must decide if and when it meets to adjudicate this complaint.  The answer for me, and I think any reasonable person who loves justice, is that this was indeed, abusively discriminatory.

 

THE DECISION

The CBSC British Columbia Regional Panel examined the complaint under clauses 2 and 9 of the CAB Code of Ethics, which read as follows:

CAB Code of Ethics, Clause 2 – Human Rights

Recognizing that every person has the right to full and equal recognition and to enjoy certain fundamental rights and freedoms, broadcasters shall ensure that their programming contains no abusive or unduly discriminatory material or comment which is based on matters of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status or physical or mental disability.

CAB Code of Ethics, Clause 9 – Radio Broadcasting

Recognizing that radio is a local medium and, consequently, reflective of local community standards, programming broadcast on a local radio station shall take into consideration the generally recognized access to programming content available in the market, the demographic composition of the station's audience, and the station's format.  Within this context, particular care shall be taken by radio broadcasters to ensure that programming on their stations does not contain:

(a)        Gratuitous violence in any form, or otherwise sanction, promote or glamorize violence;
(b)        Unduly sexually explicit material; and/or
(c)        Unduly coarse and offensive language.

The Panel listened to a recording of the broadcast and reviewed all of the correspondence.  The B.C. Regional Panel concludes that the broadcast does not violate either of the foregoing Code provisions.

The Content of the Episode and Human Rights

As CBSC Panels have pointed out in the past, they are in the best of positions to comment on the content that was actually aired.  They receive tapes of the programs after the fact and can play potentially offending material again and again, in order to hear precisely what was said.  Complainants, on the other hand, are frequently not prepared for any offending material and must pick up the words and their import as they pass by, spoken or sung at a normal pace.  It is not, needless to say, a question of fault, but rather a question of disadvantage.

The present complaint reflects the difficulty faced by a complainant in such circumstances.  First, he alleged in his letter that there was, in the song, “the connotation that they [Fitzpatrick and Fitzmichael] were in search of young men or boys for sexual purposes.”  Second, there was the implication there “that these men were, if not priests, than [sic] were associated with the Roman Catholic Church.”  He did admit, though, that he “could not make proper note of all the lyrics involved, but,” he concluded, “it was enough to make me believe that it was a deliberate attack on the Catholic faith, given those that I was able to remember, which included the mention of 'Madonna' and 'immaculate' and several others.”  In his follow-up correspondence, he summarized his concerns as a human rights issue.  He also asked (as quoted above in greater detail), “So now, can you explain to me why it is ok to ridicule Christians, and specifically Catholics?”

A review of the actual wording of the song, however, reveals no language reflecting any of the concerns which were the underpinning of his two letters.  There simply is not any religious issue in the song.  It refers to two guys who are themselves gay.  They are not looking for anyone else, young or otherwise, since they live together in an apartment.  The word “Madonna” clearly refers to the singer and not, by any stretch of the imagination, to the Virgin Mary.  Nor is that word connected to the use of the word “immaculate”, which describes, to all appearances, the condition of their apartment.  In fact, there is not a single reference, either explicit or implied, to priests or religion anywhere in the song.

It follows from the unequivocal wording of the song that there is not even an issue to treat under Clause 2 of the CAB Code of Ethics.

Sexual References

There is an undeniable reference to sexual matters in the song.  While it is not the major burden of the complainant's letter, it was mentioned there.  The issue then for the B.C. Regional Panel to consider is whether it was sufficiently explicit to fall afoul of the provisions of Clause 9(b) of the CAB Code of Ethics.  The Panel considers that the two comments are quite subtle and far from explicit.  They might, in the view of the Panel, even be sufficiently obscure to pass under the radar of many persons.  In any case, the Panel does not consider that they constitute a description of overt sexual acts of such a nature as to be in breach of Clause 9(b) of the Code.

Broadcaster Responsiveness

The requirement that a broadcaster be responsive to the letter of complaint sent by a member of the public is considered by the Adjudicating Panels to be a significant part of the membership requirements of the CBSC.  Such responsiveness is an essential part of the dialogue by which the CBSC considers that matters that trouble members of the public sufficiently to compel them to write are often successfully resolved.  When accomplished in thorough and sensitive ways, such correspondence is also a way of letting the public know that broadcasters care about their audience's concerns.  The Program Director's letter fulfilled the broadcaster's obligations in this regard in this instance.

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.