CFNY-FM re the Dean Blundell Show (“Edge Files”)

ONTARIO REGIONAL PANEL
CBSC Decision 10/11-2257
May 24, 2012
M. Ziniak (Chair), J. David, M. Oldfield, J. Pungente

THE FACTS

The Dean Blundell Show is the morning show on rock radio station CFNY-FM (102.1 The Edge, Toronto).  It is hosted by Dean Blundell, Todd Shapiro and Derek Welsman and airs weekdays from 5:30 to 10:00 am.  It contains news, traffic and weather updates, songs and banter between the hosts.  A recurring segment on the program is “The Edge Files”.  The segment involves Blundell reading or describing unusual, absurd or disgusting news stories and commenting on them with his co-hosts.

The CBSC received a complaint about the “Edge Files” segments that were broadcast on July 22 and 26, 2011. On those dates, the hosts discussed news stories relating to:  a woman accused of showing her young sons naked photographs; a couple who kept their autistic children in cages; a woman who killed a cat to use its fur for a costume to attend a Lady Gaga concert; a man who exposed himself from a hotel window; and a couple who engaged in a sex-related asphyxiation game.  In each of the cases, Blundell and his co-hosts made jokes or sarcastic comments about the stories (The full transcript of both segments can be found in Appendix A).

The listener indicated in a July 29 letter that he had only heard the content because the station was being broadcast at his gym. He characterized the content as “offensive” and wrote that he was “surprised that this kind of broadcasting can take place in Canada” (the full text of the complaint and all correspondence can be found in Appendix B).  The Edge responded to the complainant on August 17.  The station wrote that it agreed “that the contents of these news stories which were included in the Program were reprehensible; however, it was the Host’s intention – indeed the whole premise of the Program – to make an absurd story even more absurd, by making ridiculous commentary regarding these stories.”  It also pointed out that broadcasters are entitled to treat controversial subject matter.  The complainant filed his Ruling Request on August 24 and argued that the station appeared “to justify virtually any broadcast as long as it can be classified as either ‘humorous’ or ‘controversial’.”  He suggested that “It’s just an excuse to ‘talk dirty’ on air while pretending to have some higher purpose.”

THE DECISION

The CBSC Ontario Regional Panel examined the complaint under the following provisions of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics, Equitable Portrayal Code and Violence Code:

CAB Code of Ethics, Clause 1 – General Programming

Recognizing the varied tastes of the public it shall be the responsibility of broadcasters to so program the various stations, networks and services that, as far as possible, all groups of listeners and viewers shall have from these, some part of the programming devoted to their special likes and desires.

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 6 – Full, Fair and Proper Presentation

It is recognized that the full, fair and proper presentation of news, opinion, comment and editorial is the prime and fundamental responsibility of each broadcaster. This principle shall apply to all radio and television programming, whether it relates to news, public affairs, magazine, talk, call-in, interview or other broadcasting formats in which news, opinion, comment or editorial may be expressed by broadcaster employees, their invited guests or callers.

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.

CAB Equitable Portrayal Code, Clause 8(b) – Exploitation

Broadcasters shall refrain from the sexualisation of children in programming.

CAB Violence Code, Article 8.0 — Violence against Specific Groups

8.1        Broadcasters shall not telecast programming which sanctions, promotes or glamorizes violence based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, or mental or physical disability.

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 challenged segments. The Panel concludes that the conversation regarding the news story about killing the cat violated Clause 9(a) of the CAB Code of Ethics and Article 9.1 of the CAB Violence Code, but none of the other content violated any of the aforementioned Code provisions.

July 22, 2011 Broadcast

In the July 22, 2011 segment, Dean Blundell and his co-hosts Todd Shapiro and Derek Welsman picked out three news items which they commented on in their irreverent style.

The first of these stories concerned the arrest and indictment of a 36-year-old woman who had shown obscene material to her young sons, namely pictures she had stored on her computer of herself engaging in sexual contact with male partners. The father of these boys, who is separated from this woman, had reported her.  According to one of the children, his mother allegedly asked after showing him the pictures, “Do you want to try this when you get older?” while supposedly stroking his inner thigh.  It was alleged that the mother denied the accusations and claimed her ex-husband had asserted that he would ensure that she never saw her children again.

This news item does not raise in and of itself any Code violation issues, as there was neither any explicit description of sexual acts between adults nor any graphic or non-graphic description of sexual acts involving children. However, the lascivious tone used by one of the hosts presumably imitating the mother in describing the incident may have offended some listeners.

The Ontario Panel feels that while the comments, and more specifically the host’s tone of voice, were in extremely poor taste, they were not in breach of Clause 9 (b) of the CAB Code of Ethics[1] or Clause 8 (b) of the CAB Equitable Portrayal Code.[2]

The next item that the three hosts focused and commented on that morning dealt with the arrest of a Vancouver couple who, it was said, had held two of their children captive, namely two young autistic boys aged 5 and 7 respectively, in a room with a barred door and window much like a cage. The hosts guffawed as they sarcastically inferred that was the normal way to treat autistic children to prevent them from running all over the place.  At one point, Blundell said in his own version of what the mother in question might say, “What am I supposed to do?  They’re autistic.  You gotta put ’em in cages”, while his sidekick Shapiro added “They’re like dogs, those people”, before they both burst into laughter. A few moments later, Blundell added in his continued “imitation” of the mother, “What am I supposed to do, let ’em run around and enjoy their life? Are you crazy?”  And Shapiro chimed in with his own imitation of the mother, “I’m way too fat to chase those kids.”

The Ontario Regional Panel concluded that the hosts had demonstrated crass ignorance and abysmal taste toward the young, innocent victims in this sordid story, but that despite their deplorable attitude their sarcasm did not go as far as to violate the provisions of Clause 9 (a) of the CAB Code of Ethics which prohibits, among other things, broadcasters from sanctioning violence on the air against anyone, nor those of Article 8.0 of the CAB Violence Code proscribing the glamorization of violence based on age.[3]

The third item the three hosts commented on the morning of July 22 was about accusations made against a young woman aged 20 who had skinned the 15-year-old family cat alive so she could have a fur accessory to wear to a Lady Gaga concert. The hosts took great pleasure giving a gory description of the young woman’s outfit, sparing no detail as to how she allegedly killed and butchered the unfortunate animal and what she did with the various parts of the cat, while laughing about the incident.

The Ontario Panel concluded that given the tone used by the hosts, the plethora of gratuitous and gory details they provided on the air and the manner in which they sensationalized the event, they breached Clause 9 (a) of the CAB Code of Ethics which prohibits broadcasters from sanctioning violence on the air in any form.[4]  The Panel also concluded that the hosts violated the provisions of Article 9.1 of the CAB Violence Code which prohibits “programming which sanctions, promotes or glamorizes violence against animals”.[5]

July 26, 2011 Broadcast

In the July 26 segment, the three hosts once again commented on three other news items, the first of which concerned a wedding. An individual, aged 43, allegedly appeared completely naked at his fourth story hotel bedroom window overlooking an inner courtyard where a wedding was taking place, and defecated and masturbated in front of the wedding guests.  Through bursts of laughter, the hosts conveyed their theory to the audience as to why the man had behaved in such a manner:  was he drunk?  Had someone forgotten to invite him?

While the Panel felt that this discussion demonstrated the hosts’ total lack of taste, it concluded that the comments they made were not sexually explicit and therefore not in breach of Clause 9 (b) of the CAB Code of Ethics.[6]

The second incident the hosts commented on in the July 26 episode had to do with a 34-year-old individual who had been taken into custody after a teenaged girl awoke one Sunday morning to find him in her bed wearing only his underwear. According to allegations, he had been under the influence of both drugs and alcohol the night before, walked the six miles from the neighbouring town and collapsed half naked in a young woman’s bed thinking he was in his own home.  The hosts wisecracked about the incident, but the Panel determined there had been no violation of any Code provision.

They then moved on to the last story of the day involving the arrest of a homeless man who allegedly celebrated his girlfriend’s release from jail by performing oral sex on her while smothering her with a pillow. When he realized she was no longer breathing, the man in question called 911 himself.  According to allegations, he explained to the police that he and the woman in question were completely wasted after taking a variety of drugs and then decided to try a sexual act involving the partial suffocation of one partner.  Things went badly, but the woman did manage to survive.  Although the hosts condemned the incident in a joking manner and added details of their own, the Panel concluded that there had been no violation of Clause 9 (b) of the CAB Code of Ethics with respect to sexually explicit content.[7]

Broadcaster Responsiveness

In all CBSC decisions, the Panels assess the broadcaster’s response to the complainant. The broadcaster need not agree with the complainant’s position, but it must respond in a courteous, thoughtful and thorough manner.  In this case, CFNY-FM provided a reply to the complainant, with a thorough explanation of its position on the broadcasts.  The broadcaster fulfilled its obligations of responsiveness and nothing further is required in this regard in this instance.

Announcement of the Decision

CFNY-FM is required to: 1) announce the decision, in the following terms, once during peak listening hours within three days following the release of this decision and once more within seven days following the release of this decision during the time period in which the Dean Blundell Show was broadcast, but not on the same day as the first mandated announcement; 2) within the fourteen days following the broadcasts of the announcements, to provide written confirmation of the airing of the statement to the complainant who filed the Ruling Request; and 3) at that time, to provide the CBSC with a copy of that written confirmation and with air check copies of the broadcasts of the two announcements which must be made by CFNY-FM.

The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has found that CFNY-FM The Edge violated the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ Code of Ethics and Violence Code in its broadcast of “The Edge Files” on the Dean Blundell Show.  On July 22, 2011, the program contained a gratuitous description of the murder of a cat.  This violated Clause 9(a) of the Code of Ethics and Article 9.1 of the Violence Code which prohibit gratuitous violence on radio and glamorization of violence against animals.

This decision is a public document upon its release by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council.

[1] See CFWF-FM re comments made on the Big Breakfast Show (CBSC Decision 09/10-0726, October 1, 2010) for another example of a sex-related news story that the CBSC did not consider unduly sexually explicit under Clause 9(b) of the CAB Code of Ethics.

[2] See the following decisions for examples of content that did sexualize children contrary to Clause 8(b) of the CAB Equitable Portrayal CodeCFNY-FM re comments made on the Dean Blundell Show (Justin Bieber fans) (CBSC Decision 09/10-0333, June 22, 2010) and CKIS-FM re comments made on the Roz and Mocha Show (CBSC Decision 09/10-1980, November 12, 2010).

[3] See the following decisions for other examples of joking comments about violence that the CBSC concluded did not violate Clause 9(a) of the CAB Code of EthicsCFNY-FM re the Dean Blundell Show (Culling Cats) (CBSC Decision 10/11-1344, July 12, 2011) and CHTZ-FM re The Biggs & Barr Show (“The Evil that People Do” Contest) (CBSC Decision 11/12-0042, April 3, 2012).

[4] See the following decision for another example of humorous treatment of violence that the CBSC concluded violated Clause 9(a) of the CAB Code of Ethics CFNY-FM re the Dean Blundell Show (Murders in Mexico) (CBSC Decision 11/12-0236, April 19, 2012).

[5] See the following decisions in which the CBSC explains that it will extend the CAB Violence Code to radio when applicable: CIOX-FM re a song entitled “Boyz in the Hood” (CBSC Decision 00/99-0619, October 12, 2000); CFNY-FM re the Dean Blundell Show (Culling Cats) (CBSC Decision 10/11-1344, July 12, 2011); and CHTZ-FM re The Biggs & Barr Show (“The Evil that People Do” Contest) (CBSC Decision 11/12-0042, April 3, 2012).

[6] See endnote 1.

[7] See endnote 1.