CFRA-AM and CHRO-TV re The Lowell Green Show

ONTARIO REGIONAL COUNCIL
A. MacKay (Chair), R. Stanbury (Vice-Chair), R. Cohen (ad hoc),P. Fockler and M. Hogarth

THE FACTS

On November 12, 1998, one of the topics discussed on CFRA-AM’s
(Ottawa) Lowell Green Show, which is reprised the next day without editing in a
videotaped format on CHRO-TV, was the controversial sentencing decision in the Lilian
Getkate case. Getkate had shot her husband in the back while he was sleeping but pleaded
self-defence based on the fact that she had suffered through years of abuse and lived in
fear that he would kill her. She was sentenced to two years less a day of house arrest.

Host Lowell Green was very critical in his comments on this sentencing
decision. He alleged that there were no police records, hospital files or other form of
corroboration even by friends or family to support the wife’s accusation of abuse.
Sarcastically, he congratulated women for having been granted the leisure of killing men
at will without fear of any harsh sentencing.

His commentary on the case included the following monologue (with brief
intervention from a caller):

Here’s my advice for thiswonderful Thursday morning. First of all, you take out a huge insurance policy on yourhusband, then, as he lay sleeping, you plug him full of brain holes. Then, when they cometo arrest you, you tell everyone what a beast the guy was and presto, you’ve gotyourself one rich widow. A slight warning, this doesn’t work in reverse. If you are aman, don’ t try this. But if you are a woman, no problem. Don’t worry yourpretty little head about any kind of proof. Don’t concern yourself that no one hasever heard of the terrible abuse that this bozo has been hitting on you. Don’t worryfor a moment if you’ve never told anyone about this. That you’ve never showed upat a hospital with all the wounds, that you’ve never called the cops. Don’tworry about that, your word is all you need. Just ask Lilian Getkate. In fact you couldask anyone of dozens of women in this country. Evidence shmevidence. Your word is all ittakes. If you tell the judge and jury that your ex was abusing you, nothing else isrequired. After all, you’re a woman. We all know women never lie, not even to keepthemselves out of prison. In a rare moment indeed, the Ottawa Citizen, the OttawaSun and Lowell Green are in perfect agreement. Men are sluggos, women divine.

Ah, “Venting Thursday”. A chance to get it off your chest.

What the hell is the matter with you? If none of this is getting youpumped up, check your pulse, you don’t have one.

[commercial break]

Mr. Green does everything on his show topromote the hatred of women, immigrants, transsexuals and gays and lesbians. Here areexamples from the program of Nov. 12198. (That show was rebroadcast on RO televisionFriday, November 13, 1998 and I videotaped it to get the quotes as accurately aspossible.) Here is some of the venom from that broadcast:

“Today is Venting Thursday – anything you want to get off yourchest, or, in your case what might pass for a chest. What a great country we have – everstop to think about that? Throwing open our arms to some of the truly outstanding worldcitizens – this is a lefties paradise – the granola-crunching, cappuccino-sucking,Birkenstock-clad, bicycle-riding, goateed socialists have created a great and wonderfulopen armed country here. As I have told you before, we post up posters on fence postsaround the world, primarily third-world countries and we say to those people – 'Send usyour murderers, your torturers, your rapists, your drug lords and we will welcome themwith open arms. …'

Then Green plays a piece of music called “Men Bashing Time”.”It’s men bashing time, it's men bashing time, men are ridiculous, womensublime. We're wife-beating deadbeats, we're scum sucking slim, whoopee, it's men bashingtime.” Then there is a rant and rage about women who kill their abusive partners.

“…….oh but this way (caller) not only does she get to plug herhubby but she gets the sympathy of all the femi-Nazis. She is the poster girl for all thefeminists across Canada….

Here is an example of blatant lying about the facts in the Dorothy [sic]Getkate case. (See letter to the editor in the Ottawa Citizen dated November 16,1998 by Patrick F.D. McCann, the criminal lawyer in the case.) “What you have tounderstand (caller) is there was absolutely no corroborating evidence whatsoever of anyabuse – no history from relatives, from the police, from hospitals – she had nevercomplained to a single person, including friends and relatives – there was neverindication whatsoever – all of this was simply what she said and of course her hubby isnow dead so can't defend himself……. Open season on men (caller) you can just do itanytime, just claim the bozo was slugging you and that's it.” He plays another pieceof music “I am strong, I am invincible, I am woman……” Ladies and Gentlemenonce again we are way out on the cutting edge here on the Lowell Green show. We have justlet you hear an ongoing celebration – this is plug the slug and walk celebration byfeminists across Canada. Ladies and gentlemen it is now safe for women to plug theirhusbands in the bedroom and walk. What a joyous, joyous day for the femi-Nazis. Greenspeaking to another caller: “We now, but you must understand that what happens inthis country is there used to be a couple of reasons that would allow you to killsomebody, self-defense being the primary one – we now have introduced the concept of abattered wife syndrome and a dissociative syndrome……” You can now kill yourhusband while he sleeps and claim you were a battered wife or in the case of DorothyJoudrie, claim that you were in a dissociative state and you will get absolutely nothing.Dorothy Joudrie spent about four months in a mental institution…… She doesn't evenhave a criminal record….. Lilian Getkate shoots her husband in the back while he issleeping, with absolutely no evidence whatsoever that there was any abuse and will spendless than two years in her home on the west coast….. Men, I mean men, to hell with women- you should be marching in the streets – you're lives are not safe anymore. We're fairgame now….. On to another topic:….. in fact, there is now a movement afoot to declarethis guy a habitual criminal…. Do you hear any movement to get any of these women whoare shooting their husbands to be declared a habitual criminal? No cotton pickingway.” (Caller) “We would be hung from the lamppost by the nazi feminists and allthat for trying to voice an opinion.”

Conversation with another caller:

…..Green:…… As you know there is now a review of all thesentences handed out to women who have been convicted of killing their husbands. Some ofthese women will soon be getting out, I understand, under the defense of battered wifesyndrome. So even those women who were convicted and sentenced many of them are going toget off. Caller talking about the Getkate case asks if there is going to be an appeal”I'd be happy to contribute financially to whatever” he says.

Green: I have no idea. All I know is that the crown isabsolutely beside herself over this. Says, what did she say? You can kill your husband,murder your husband and walk….

The next caller talked about the breakup of Canada. Said he was goingback to British Columbia to fight for that province's independence – he was going to manthe barricades when that province splits from Canada. Here is Green's vitriolic reply:”Well I must tell you with all the druggies and hookers and prostitutes and bums andwinos you got there you'd better put up some barricades….”

You might be on the plane with Lilian Getkate. Say hello to her – justdon't turn your back.”

There is no value in this type of radio program in 1998. On December 6,1998 we will hold vigils all over this country to remember the Victims of the MontrealMassacre. Surely we have earned something from those senseless deaths. Inciting hatred ofwomen under the guise of broadcasting must end if we want to evolve into a caring,nurturing, nation.

A copy of this letter was sent to CHRO-TV which aired a reprise of this episode of The Lowell Green Show the next day.

A second complainant wrote to the Secretary General of the CRTC on November 26, regarding the same broadcast of the Lowell Green Show on CFRA. This letter, which was forwarded to the CBSC in due course, read as follows:

By this letter I wish to file a broadcast complaint against Lowell Green of “The Lowell Green Show”, 580 CFRA, Ottawa, for remarks made on this show on Thursday November 12, 1998.

It is my concern that Mr. Green, by his attitudes and comments, is promoting hatred of women, thereby increasing the risk of violence towards women. I will refer to comments he made on this particular show, although it would be true to say that his attitudes about women and his ignorance about violence against women permeates many of his broadcasts.

Mr. Green was furious that Mrs. Lilian Getkate had received a conditional sentence of two years less a day for the killing of her husband. He spoke without knowing the facts of the case, stating repeatedly that there was no evidence to support her claim that she was a battered woman.

Mr. Green spoke contemptuously about the women’s movement in this country, which is a legitimate and long-standing movement for social change.

The abuse of women in their homes by their partners is serious and very often life-threatening. It is a human rights issue. It is no joking matter. Mr. Green distorts the meaning of the Getkate sentence, claiming that women can now shoot men, claim abuse, and walk. This is patently untrue. His allegations trivialize our efforts to help society understand the state of mind and the very complex factors that drives some women to kill their abusive partner.

Progress is slow to end violence against women in part because we must expend so much energy deconstructing lies and distortions about this epidemic which are perpetuated by people such as Mr. Green.

Here are some comments made by Lowell Green on November 12, 1998. All quotes from Lowell Green except where otherwise indicated.

“Lilian Getkate has the sympathy of ‘feminazis’.”

“This is the ‘plug-the-slug-and-walk’ celebration by feminists across Canada. Ladies and gentlemen, it is now safe for women to plug their husbands in the bedroom and walk. What a joyous day for the ‘feminazis’. What a joyous, joyous day for the feminazis’.

Caller: “We would be hung from the lampposts by the ‘nazi feminists’ for trying to voice any opinion.”

“I tell you, when I got up off the microphone here and walked into the lunch room, there were three women there. Gave me the willies. I was afraid to turn my back. All they have to do is plug me and say, “He was an abusive co-worker”. Is it safe to turn your back on woman any more today?”

The epidemic of violence that exists is perpetrated by men against women. Obscuring and falsifying this fact, either through ignorance or with malicious intent, can only incite men to more acts of violence against women.

The Broadcasters’ Responses

The News Director of 580 CFRA replied to the first complainant on December 10, with the following letter:

Further to your complaint letter regarding “The Lowell Green Show” of November 17, 1998, I have now had the opportunity to review a tape of the program segment in question. Your assertion that Mr. Green promotes hatred of women, immigrants, transsexuals, lesbians and gays is absolutely without foundation. As your letter makes no references whatsoever to transsexuals, lesbians or gays, I will attempt to respond to the elements to which you do make reference.

In fact, the tapes clearly illustrate that Mr. Green’s criticism was leveled directly and specifically toward what he considers to be unreasonable immigration laws, and an unreasonable ruling by a criminal court.

You point out a number of comments made by the host, but other than your clear objection to his point of view, you do not explain how any of his comments promote hatred. The fact that Lowell Green had concerns about the precedents the court ruling may be setting, and the fact that he voiced his concerns about the so-called Battered Wife Syndrome defence in murder cases is a matter of public commentary. The opinion and commentary which appears on radio programs, in newspapers, magazines, open letters, and television are an integral part of keeping our institutions in check. They cannot be held immune from public scrutiny.

You may be aware that Lowell Green has often spoken about the failings of a justice system that would release a convicted man to return and abuse his ex-wife yet again. The issue of abusive men in one which Mr. Green has addressed firmly and repeatedly. His record in support of abused women speaks for itself. But that doesn’t mean every single claim of “battered wife syndrome” must go unchallenged.

Mr. Green’s established track record of using satire and of being facetious on matters which irk him is clear. The song “men bashing time” is obviously satirical. The term “femi-nazis” has grown into common usage in American radio.

The Lowell Green Show on November 12 was “Venting Thursday,” a regular weekly feature which allows callers to phone in and voice their frustration on any topic. The host expressed his own frustration on a number of matters of public concern. Specifically, while Mr. Green supports immigration as a way to continue building Canada, he is strongly opposed to lax immigration rules which permit thugs and criminals from slipping in among the legitimate and welcomed immigrants. Hence, his cynical observation that ‘we put up posters… around the world… (saying)… send us your murderers, your torturers… drug lords… and we will welcome them with open arms.’

In closing, Ms. …, you call for a more caring, nurturing nation. CFRA couldn’t agree more. I’m sure you’ll agree that building a fair and accountable court system, a more protective parole and correctional service, and filtering out criminals who prey on the most vulnerable women and children in our communities isn’t a bad start.

He replied to the second complainant with the following letter dated December 17:

Further to your complaint letter regarding “The Lowell Green Show” of November 12, 1998, I have now had the opportunity to review a tape of the program segment in question. Your assertion that Mr. Green promotes hatred of women is absolutely without foundation. The host clearly and specifically criticized a court sentence handed down in a specific criminal case. Mr. Green was clearly upset with the sentence of two years less a day at home. So were many others. His facetious reference to walking into the lunch room and getting “the willies” when he saw three women there, and his rhetorical question “Is it safe to turn your back on a woman any more today?” were exaggerations used to illustrate his criticism of the sentence.

This is not unlike the Ottawa Sun editorial which was also highly critical of the ruling, nor the Ottawa Citizen piece headlined “An insult to our sense of Justice.” Radio, television, and editorial pieces by respected publications echoed the same sentiments, and raise the same concerns. You may not like their views, but it’s frightening to envision a society which would censor all public scrutiny of it’s judicial or political systems.

Ms. …, your letter includes a photocopy of the defence lawyer’s point of view. Understandably, Mr. McCann would highlight the evidence which supports his case. In his letter, he explains that “there was persuasive psychiatric evidence that she fit the battered spouse criteria,” and that she “was in a depersonalized state” at the time of the shooting. While some of her profiles may indeed have paralleled a woman in an abusive situation, the crown (prosecutor) has pointed out that there was no corroborating evidence. Quote: “No one could corroborate it. Not a bruise, not a hospital record, not a police report. Nothing.” The crown – a woman, incidentally — calls the sentence an “appalling message to send to the public.” For your information, I have enclosed copies of Ottawa Citizen articles, and editorial, and two letters to the editor.

The fact that some of Lilian Getkate’s claims of spousal abuse were not corroborated and friends was widely reported throughout the media. That Lowell Green had concerns about the precedents the court ruling may be setting, and the fact that he voiced his concerns about the so-called Battered Wife Syndrome defence in murder cases is a matter of public commentary. Justice must be done, and must be seen to be done. The opinion and commentary which appears on radio programs, in newspapers, magazines, open letters, and television are an integral part of keeping our institutions in check. They cannot be held immune from public scrutiny.

You may be aware that Lowell Green has often spoken about the failings of a justice system that would release a convicted man to return and abuse his ex-wife yet again…

It is indeed a tragic situation when women fear for their lives. It is a sad commentary on our society that we require shelters for these women and their children. There is no question about the validity of programs which help victims of any crime. There is no question about CFRA’s continued support for such programs. But it is important that we not stifle legitimate commentary, analysis and exchange of views on matters of such great importance. Ignoring them won’t make them go away.

Building a fair and accountable court system, a more protective parole and correctional service, and promoting legitimate dialogue from all points of view is a good start. We may no all agree on every point. But making sure every voice is heard, every option considered, makes us a better community.

The Program Manager at CHRO-TV responded December 14 to the complainant who also targeted it as part of her complaint regarding the November 12 edition of The Lowell Green Show:

I have reviewed the program and feel that the commentary by the host for the most part is a statement of Mr. Green’s position on the justice system and presented with the use of satire to evoke response from the audience. The program aired as part of the weekly “Venting Thursday” format that encourages viewers along with the host to speak about whatever is bothering them or vent their frustrations. Taken in this context, the host’s comments and choice support material clearly reveal that the opinions were not be taken verbatim and understood as a statement of fact. When viewed in the context of a Venting Thursday program it is clear that the opinions were expressed to evoke a response while entertaining the public.

Mr. Green is an avid supporter of women’s rights and supports immigration as a way to build a better Canada. We believe the opportunity to have all points of view expressed is important in a democratic society. Like yourself, The New RO does not promote hatred, but raise awareness. Mr. Green’s call for a more accountable judicial and immigration system can only improve the quality of life for all Canadians.

I would invite you to call in to Mr. Green’s program and express your views to the host engage in an informed discussion.

Both complainants were unsatisfied with the broadcasters’ responses. The first complainant submitted her requests for rulings relating to both CFRA and CHRO-TV on December 21, 1998 and January 3, 1999, respectively. Each of these requests was accompanied by a letter reply to the broadcaster’s responses. A lengthy dialogue by correspondence ensued between this complainant and CFRA, all of which was copied to the Council. Much of this correspondence merely reiterates the position of each party and the Council does not consider it necessary to include this correspondence in this decision.

The second complainant requested on December 31 that the CBSC rule on her complaint.

THE DECISION

The CBSC’s Ontario Regional Council considered the complaint under the Code of Ethics of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB) and the Code of (Journalistic) Ethics of the Radio and Television News Directors Association (RTNDA). The relevant clauses of those Codes read as follows:

CAB Code of Ethics, Clause 2 (Human Rights)

Recognizing that every person has a right 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 their programming contains no abusive or discriminatory material or comment which is based on matters of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, marital status or physical or mental handicap.

CAB Code of Ethics, Clause 6 (News)

It shall be the responsibility of member stations to ensure that news shall be represented with accuracy and without bias. The member station shall satisfy itself that the arrangements made for obtaining news ensure this result. It shall also ensure that news broadcasts are not editorial. News shall not be selected for the purpose of furthering or hindering either side of any controversial public issue, nor shall it be designed by the beliefs or opinions or desires of the station management, the editor or others engaged in its preparation or delivery. The fundamental purpose of news dissemination in a democracy is to enable people to know what is happening, and to understand events so that they may form their own conclusions.

Therefore, nothing in the foregoing shall be understood as preventing news broadcasters from analysing and elucidating news so long as such analysis or comment is clearly labeled as such and kept distinct from regular news presentations. Member stations will, insofar as practical, endeavour to provide editorial opinion which shall be clearly labeled as such and kept entirely distinct from regular broadcasts of news or analysis and opinion.

It is recognized that the full, fair and proper presentation of news, opinion, comment and editorial is the prime and fundamental responsibility of the broadcast publisher.

The Regional Council members listened to a tape of the program in question and reviewed all of the correspondence. The Council considers that the program in question does not violate either of the Codes mentioned above.

Green’s Commentary on the Getkate Case

The main concerns raised by the complainants in this case relate to Lowell Green’s comments regarding the precedent that was set by a highly controversial sentencing decision of a local criminal court. Mr. Green’s comments on the case are highly critical of the decision and he used, as he often does, rhetorical tools such as irony, sarcasm and facetiousness to make his point.

While this is not the first time that the Council has had to consider complaints relating to Mr. Green’s use of rhetoric, the circumstances are entirely different from those present in the previous broadcast. In that earlier decision, namely, CFRA-AM re The Lowell Green Show (Somalia Commission Report) (CBSC Decision 96/97-0238, February 20, 1998), the Council considered a complaint relating to Mr. Green’s attempt to criticize and ridicule the decision of the Federal Government to disband the Somalia Inquiry. While, as in this case, the host’s goal was straightforward political commentary, in the earlier broadcast, Mr. Green used language which was, in the Council’s view, unnecessary and, worse, abusively discriminatory, to achieve his satirical goal. By using the unacceptable term “wogs” to describe persons of Somali origin and making comments disparaging the value of the Somali lives destroyed by Canadian military personnel, the host threw “the baby out with the bathwater.” In the Somalia Commission case, the Council concluded that “his attempt to achieve his goal was [not] poorly conceived but … it was poorly executed.”

This is not the case here. In dealing with Justice Chadwick’s decision in the Getkate matter, the Council does not find that there are any discriminatory comments about an identifiable group. There was no misstep in the direction of Lowell Green’s barbs as there was in the earlier case. Here, there is no doubt that Green is attacking the criminal court in question, if not the justice system as a whole, for making the controversial decision and, in at least equal measure, the feminist political activists, to whom he refers as “femi-Nazis”, for having lobbied for it. There can be no doubt that he is critical of that political position of certain feminists, not on the grounds that they are women, but on the grounds of the political view which they hold. The former would not be fair game. The latter is. The Council thus finds no discriminatory material, much less abusively discriminatory material, based on any of the enumerated grounds in Clause 2 of the CAB Code of Ethics, the human rights provision.

The Commentary on Canada’s Immigration/Refugee Policy

Moreover, the Council has not found any commentary in this episode of The Lowell Green Show relating to the topic of immigration or refugee policy which could be considered abusively discriminatory. The Council considers that its position on the freedom to broadcast political commentary, including commentary on Canada’s immigration and refugee policies in particular, is sufficiently clear that it need not reiterate those principles here. See, among others, its decisions in CITV-TV re “You Paid For It” (Immigration) (CBSC Decision 95/96-0088, December 16, 1997), CFUN-AM re The John and JJ Show (Immigration Policy) (CBSC Decision 97/98-0422, May 20, 1998) and CFTO-TV re “Tom Clark’s Canada” (CBSC Decision 97/98-0009, February 26, 1998).

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 both broadcasters’ responses addressed fully and fairly all the issues raised by the complainants. The Council specifically lauds CFRA for its extensive dialogue with one of the complainants. Nothing more is required. Consequently, neither broadcaster has breached the Council’s standard of responsiveness.

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.