CFNY-FM re the Dean Blundell Show (Culling Cats)

ontario regional Panel
H. Hassan (Vice-Chair), R. Cohen (ad hoc), M. Hamilton, K. King, J. Pungente

The facts

The Dean Blundell Show is CFNY-FM’s (102.1 The Edge, Toronto) morning show, which airs weekdays from 5:30 to 10:00 am.  The show generally includes music, news and traffic reports, humorous banter between the hosts, and occasional celebrity interviews and in-studio guests.  On the morning of March 25, 2011, the show was hosted by Dean Blundell, Todd Shapiro and Derek Welsman.  They had the following exchange:

Welsman:          That’s a bucket and some water.

Blundell:           Yeah, no kidding.  You know back wh-, you know, you know what he’s saying?

Shapiro:            No.

Welsman:          Bucket.

Blundell:           You don’t?

Shapiro:            I don’t at all.

Blundell:           You know what you do with animals you don’t want on the farm.

Shapiro:            Is that like killing a cat or something?

Welsman:          On the farm.

Blundell:           You take ’em by the neck and you put ’em –

Welsman:          Yeah.

Blundell:           – in a bucket of water and you drown ’em.

Shapiro:            Really?

Blundell:           If it’s an animal you don’t want.  Listen folks, I, I grew up near a farm.

Welsman:          Me too.

Blundell:          My friends had farms. I, I, I’ve done lots of things to, to, uh, barnyard animals that I, yeah, not like that.  Like you didn’t find me behind one with my pants pulled down [laughter].  You found me with my hand on it, uh, in, uh, a bucket or in a, in a dugout, which is like a little man-made lake.

Welsman:       Well you know, fellas, now that we’re in the big city, maybe what happens in the barn stays in the barn.  [Laughter]

Blundell:           Dude, I remember once, ah, I can’t even tell you this story.

Shapiro:            Ah, no, don’t, don’t, dude, don’t be … [laughter]

Blundell:           I have to.

Shapiro:            Nah, you don’t want some under-arm, hairy, uh –

Blundell:           I don’t care.  I don’t, I hate PETA.  I hate those people.

Shapiro:            Ahh, just, is it worth it?

Blundell:          Yeah, totally.  Listen you, you, you talk about humane treat-, I was watching on TV the other day, they had these chicks that are in, in, L.A., and they’re behind this bath curtain and they’re naked and they’re talking about how you shouldn’t eat meat and going veg is the best way to go, and …

Welsman:          I might listen to them if they’re in front of the curtain.

Blundell:           Yeah, they weren’t.  [Laughter]

The hosts discussed their dislike for PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and stated that the “Vice-President of PETA uses insulin, which has got an animal by-pro-, product in it, which is taken from live animals.  So you can suck it.”  They also quickly discussed that women who support PETA often have “‘fur’ […] all over the place.”  Dean Blundell decided he was going to share the experience he had had on the farm:

Blundell:           Anyway, I’ll tell you the story.

Shapiro:            Yeah?

Blundell:           Yeah.

Welsman:          Yeah?  About an animal?

Blundell:             My friend Miles Ernst, his Dad was a doctor, he lived like, uh, not far from where we lived in Saskatchewan and he, and he had a big farm.  And it was time to cull the cats.

Welsman:          Yep.  Cat cullin’ time.

Shapiro:            Oh no!  Unbelievable!

Blundell:           There was like a hundred and twenty cats.

Shapiro:            Really?  I hate cats too but still.

Blundell:           Well, so did I that day.

Shapiro:            Yeah.

Blundell:           It was a cold March morning.

Shapiro:            Oh, you helped out?

Blundell:           Yeah.  [Laughter]

Welsman:          It’s always in the spring after the long winters.

Blundell:             Some of us had buckets, some of us .22s.  I myself had a spade and you know what spade is?

Shapiro:            A spa-, you had a spade?!  Dude, that’s like –

Blundell:           A garden spade, is a little skinny shovel.

Shapiro:            Yeah that’s like, that’s, that’s like, that’s like barbarian styles, man [chuckles].

Blundell:           Yeah.  Anyway, I bat a thousand.

Shapiro:            No!  No!

Welsman:          Ah, well done.

Shapiro:            I don’t even wanna … Ugh!

Welsman:          And the thing is you were –

Blundell:           Dude, I was like fifteen!

Shapiro:            [with a disgusted tone] I don’t know!

Welsman:          And you were envisioning harp seals.  That’s the great thing.  [Laughter]

Shapiro:            Oh wow, here we go.

Welsman:          Just like eggshells those things.

Blundell:              But dude, it’s like in China, you see, the-, these, p-, they got, and you go to the market in China, they got cats and they got dogs in cages you can pick. Oh, I’d like that Chihuahua, uh, medium rare and, uh, gimme that Siamese cat, um, uh, medium.

Shapiro:            What, you ate ’em too? [Laughter]

Blundell:               No, wha-, what I’m saying is, is that you can’t subject, this is a different world.  You can’t, you can’t subject your, uh, your gay PETA city views on country folk, you just can’t.  And, and at the very bottom line, I am a country folk.  So is Derek.

Welsman:          I am, too.

Blundell:           That’s why we have sensibilities and why we’re nice.

Shapiro:            Worst thing I did was, like, eat a corn beef sandwich.

Welsman:          Yeah. [Laughter]

Blundell:           And she said thanks after.  [Laughter]

The CBSC received a complaint from a listener on March 27.  The listener expressed her view that Blundell had glorified violence against animals.  The relevant portions of her complaint were as follows (the full text of the complaint and all other correspondence can be found in the Appendix):

Dean was telling a story about living in Saskatchewan and having to do “population control” on his uncle’s [sic] farm because his uncle had too many cats.

Dean continued to say (with no remorse, in fact he seemed very proud) that he took a shovel and beat several (100's) of cats over the head.  He said that he didn't see what the big deal was …

After I heard this I was so disturbed I went on the Dean Blundell Facebook page because I was very concerned about what his listeners had to say about this issue that he was glorifying.  […]

[There were] many posts from listeners cheering Dean on for his acts of animal cruelty.  I became quite concerned so I sent a letter to the Program Director as well.  Although I have yet to hear a reply, I look forward to it (since I sent the letter all posts on the Facebook page have now been deleted).

What Dean did and said live to air was not only terribly wrong but it was also criminal (it's a shame our country has a statute of limitations for animal cruelty).  I feel that radio personalities are somewhat of a public figure [sic] and it was extremely irresponsible of him to go down this route.  That's all we need, is more people beating stray cats to death.  Because Mr. Blundell did it, it must not be immoral or illegal.

CFNY-FM’s Program Director responded on April 19 in pertinent part as follows:

[W]e note that the co-host had made it clear that his comments were merely his opinion on the subject.  While we agree that the comments may have been in poor taste, and were perhaps unduly harsh, they did not constitute a call for violent action, and therefore, did not contravene the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ Code of Ethics (the “Code”), which is administered by the CBSC and to which we adhere.

As you may be aware, the Code requires radio broadcasters to ensure that their programming does not contain “gratuitous violence in any form, or otherwise sanction, promote or glamorize violence”.  In determining whether or not certain comments constitute a breach of this provision, the CBSC asks whether the statements could be considered a “genuine pre-meditated attempt to encourage the commission of a criminal offence”.  […]  In our view, the comments during the Program were […] juvenile and tasteless, perhaps, but not statements that could be seriously taken to be encourage [sic] violence against a particular individual or group, in this case, animals.

In view of the foregoing, we do not believe that the program violated the Code.  We do regret, however, that you were offended by some of our programming.  We take our responsibilities as broadcasters very seriously, and work hard to make sure all of our programming complies with the Broadcasting Act, the Radio Regulations and the Code and standards required of us as a member of the CBSC.

The complainant wrote back to the broadcaster on April 20.  In that letter, she stated that she supports freedom of speech, but felt that the broadcast in question had violated the codes administered by the CBSC, in particular the provision in the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Violence Code regarding violence against animals.  She noted that Blundell did not bring up the story “to deter others from doing the same or, rather, to admit his mistakes and possibly have a discussion on the rapid growth of unwanted pets in this country.  Which leads me to no other alternative: that he was proud of what he did and obviously found it quite humorous to be brought up in a discussion on his morning show.”  She expressed her concern about the public’s perception of Blundell’s remarks and noted a recent news story about mutilated kittens being found in a Toronto city dumpster.  She also cited various examples of legislation dealing with animal cruelty and reiterated her view that Blundell had glorified violence against animals and had acted immorally and irresponsibly.

On April 21, she submitted her Ruling Request with a copy of her April 20 letter to the station.

 

The Decision

The Ontario Regional Panel examined the complaint under the following provisions of the CAB Code of Ethics and Violence Code:

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:

CAB Violence Code, Article 9.0 – Violence against Animals

9.1        Broadcasters shall not telecast programming which sanctions, promotes or glamorizes violence against animals.

The Panel Adjudicators read all of the correspondence and listened to the broadcast in question.  The majority of the Panel concludes that the broadcast is not in breach of either Clause 9(a) of the CAB Code of Ethics or Article 9.1 of the CAB Violence Code.

 

The CAB Violence Code was originally drafted for television broadcasting.  It thus contains the words “telecast” and “television” throughout.  The CBSC has determined, however, that the Code’s application should not be limited solely to television broadcasts when radio broadcasts can equally raise issues that could be dealt with under the Code.  In the past, the CBSC has thus extended principles established in the CAB Violence Code to radio broadcasting as well.

The first occasion on which the CBSC established the Violence Code’s applicability to radio programming was CIOX-FM re a song entitled “Boyz in the Hood” (CBSC Decision 00/99-0619, October 12, 2000).  That case involved a song which contained some lyrics that referenced violence against women and so warranted the application of Article 7.0 (Violence against Women).  This Panel explained its rationale for extending the Code in the following terms:

While it is clear that the prohibition against sanctioning, promoting or glamorizing any aspect of violence against women is found in the Code dealing with violence on television, the Council does not assume that Canada’s private broadcasters had intended their strong and unequivocal prohibition of such aggressively anti-woman behaviour to extend no further than the television screen.  The Council considers that, while the Violence Code was created to deal with a series of content issues far likelier to be present in that medium than in the different style of programming in the radio sphere, the broadcasters did not believe that the prohibitory principle ought not to benefit women across the broadcast spectrum.  Moreover, the Council understands that the freedom of persons from abusive or discriminatory comment based on their gender in the human rights provision of the Code of Ethics would include an entitlement to be free from the promotion of physical violence in either medium.  Moreover, the recognition of the dangers of “stereotyping images” and the mandating of “conscious sensitivity to the problems related to sex-role stereotyping, by refraining from exploitation” in […] the medium-neutral Code of Ethics would equally intend to provide such protection from physical abusive language content.

In 2002, the CAB Code of Ethics was revised, among other things by the inclusion of Clause 9(a), which is a prohibition against sanctioning, promoting or glamorizing violence on the radio.  Despite the present existence of that sub-clause in the CAB Code of Ethics, the CBSC considers that it is still occasionally useful to apply the CAB Violence Code to radio programming because the Violence Code contains more focussed and detailed provisions relating, for example, to violence in more specific circumstances and with respect to specific groups.  The present case is a pertinent example because the complaint relates clearly to violence against animals rather than just violence in general.  It is for that reason that the Ontario Panel has applied both Clause 9(a) of the CAB Code of Ethics and Article 9.0 of the CAB Violence Code to the matter under consideration here.

 

The Ontario Panel is unanimous in its view that the hosts had the right to discuss the issue of farming practices, including delicate subjects, which the culling of animals certainly is.  The majority and the minority differ with respect to the treatment of the subject.

The majority acknowledges the discomfort listeners, urban listeners in particular (that is, after all, the Toronto station’s principal audience), could feel on hearing the substance and even the tone of the dialogue.  That is not, however, the standard that, in the view of the majority, must be applied.  The question is whether the discussion sanctioned, promoted or glamorized the killing of the cats.  The majority do not consider that it did.  In their view, the discussion, indeed the very topic of the segment, was callous and somewhat harsh but the principal expounder of the subject had grown up on the farm in Saskatchewan and was looking at the subject from that perspective.  In the view of the majority, he sought no converts.  Nor was he encouraging anyone to take a spade or other weapon to any cat or other animal.  He discussed only the practice on the farm.  Nor did he (or they) make any generalized crass comments that would have left a sense of enjoyment at the fear or pain that might have been in evidence on the part of the animals.  It was just, in the view of the majority, the exposition of a rural practice and not one which overstepped the boundaries of the codified standards.  Moreover, to some extent, the interventions of co-host Todd Shapiro had the effect of mitigating whatever impact there was on the part of Dean Blundell.  The majority would find no breach of the above-cited standards.

 

The minority sides with the majority on the right of the hosts to discuss the issue of farming practices, including the discussion of the culling of various farm animals, in this case the apparently superfluous cats.  It differs, however, from the majority on the all-important issue of the actual on-air discussion.

It is the view of the minority that the language and tone of the hosts, particularly Dean Blundell, who was recounting his growing-up in Saskatchewan farm experiences, was excessive.  It was fair enough, albeit unpleasant, indeed displeasing, for Blundell to describe the cat-culling in the following words: “You take ’em by the neck and you … drown ’em.”  The discussion could easily have ended at that point.  The temptation appears to have been too compelling to resist.  Despite the weak attempt by host Shapiro to discourage further discussion, and Blundell’s own possibly feigned self-restraint (“Dude, I remember once, ah, I can’t even tell you this story”), he carried on.  He set the scene, that is, the need to cull some or all of the 120 cats on the Ernst farm, and described the tools to be used: “Some of us had buckets, some of us .22s.  I myself had a spade and you know what spade is?”  Once again, host Shapiro offered an exit strategy – “that’s like barbarian styles” – but host Blundell carried on: “Anyway, I bat a thousand.”  He left the clear impression that this was fun, that he had a perfect batting record (albeit with a spade), the whole predictably accompanied by chortling co-hosts.  The minority considers that the performance was a perfect example of sanctioning, even glamorizing violence against animals.  Consequently, the minority would conclude that CFNY-FM has breached both Clause 9(a) of the CAB Code of Ethics and Article 9.0 of the CAB Violence Code.

 

Broadcaster Responsiveness

In all CBSC decisions, the Council’s Panels assess the broadcaster’s responsiveness to the complainant.  In the present instance, the Panel finds that the response of the broadcaster’s Program Director focussed on the issues that concerned the complainant, which is fundamentally what is required as a component of CBSC membership requirements.  The Panel recognizes that the broadcaster’s viewpoint was not that of the complainant, but that is always the case where a file is brought to a Panel adjudication level.  Nonetheless, it is the thoughtfulness of the response that determines whether the broadcaster has met the CBSC membership responsibility of responsiveness, which the Panel considers CFNY-FM has fully met 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.