CFRA-AM re the Lowell Green Show

ONTARIO REGIONAL COUNCIL
(CBSC Decision 93/94-0276)
M. Barrie (Chair), R. Cohen, P. Fockler, R. Stanbury, M. Ziniak

THE FACTS

On the morning of June 4, 1994, CFRA broadcast the Lowell Green Show, a daily open-line show in which the host and his listeners discussed “What’s Wrong With Canada Today?” During a part of the broadcast, the host spoke with two callers, a woman and a man, in sequence. The following is a transcript of that part of the show:

Mr. Green: [To previous caller]. Okay, thanks for calling,second woman of the day. Here, we're getting the third woman. Canwe have some applause here or something. [Over background soundeffects of audience applause.] Third woman. Way to go. Janet, you'remaking history here.

Female caller: I can't hear you too well.

Mr. Green: You can't hear me too well?

Female caller: Oh, there, now the applause has stopped.

Mr. Green: Yes.

Female caller: Well, I'm a practising Christian, and I know thatCanada…

Mr. Green: Oh, oh. Oh, oh … wait a minute … when you startoff…

Female caller: … We in this country have turned our backs onGod…

Mr. Green: … OK … all right … Get lost. Get lost. Get lost. Apreacher again. Sorry … that … She doesn't count. Paul, you're onCFRA.

Male caller: Hi.

Mr. Green: Yes, Paul.

Male caller: How you doin'? Oh, forget it. I won't ask. I want topoint out…

Mr. Green: After that last call…

Male caller: Yeah.

Mr. Green: When born-again Christians phone me and startpreaching before they even take a breath, I get … time for me to go.

The same day, a listener wrote to the Canadian Radio-television and
Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to protest the host's treatment of the
female caller. According to the complainant,

Mr. Green is well known for his aggressive bullying of callers who dareto disagree with his own facile views, but this time he went “over theline” — away over the line!

He was urging ladies to call and a young lady did, who began by sayingshe was speaking from the perspective of a “born-again Christian.” Iwas stunned by the brutal verbal assault to which she was immediatelysubjected by Mr. Green, who snarled before he cut her off, “Oh no –you born-again Christians are not going to come on my program andpreach to me” or words to that effect. Nor did his assault and invectiveagainst “born-again Christians” end with her truncated call — he madea number of demeaning, defamatory retrospective comments duringsucceeding calls, including “born-again Christians don't count“, i.e.”their opinions are unworthy of consideration.” Mr. Green's impudentarrogance is exceeded only by his ignorance!!! … As an aggrievedmember of the “born-again” community upon which Mr. Green heapedhis calumny, I take umbrage at his words, and his attitude; and atCFRA's … allowing such slander against a marginalized minority…”

The CRTC referred the complaint to the CBSC, of which CFRA-AM is a member.
In accordance with its usual procedures, the CBSC sent the letter to the station for
response.

CFRA-AM's News Director responded to the complainant on June 27, 1994. His
response included an almost verbatim transcript of the contentious segment
(although there were differences between the News Director's transcript and the
CBSC's transcript of the tape, these differences appear to have been unintentional
and do not, in any event, affect the Council's decision regarding the matter). In that
letter the News Director stated that:

In my opinion, [Mr. Green's treatment of the caller] does not constitute”a brutal, verbal assault,” as you suggest. Also, in fairness, the point[Mr. Green] was making was that the program was to deal with “what'swrong with this country,” (meaning the French-English debate)..and thatthe discussion of religion was clearly not related to the subject at hand.

Mr. Green did not snarl at the caller as you suggest, but when he triedto interrupt to get the discussion back on topic, she pressed on. Havingmade reference to the fact that he had a “third woman caller,” Greenthen said “she doesn't count.” I'm sorry that you misunderstood him tomean that “born again Christians don't count,” but if you listen back tothe tape, you will see he doesn't say that at all.

Further, … it is entirely out of context to single out one comment fromone program, without taking our overall programming presentation intoaccount. Lowell has repeatedly allowed people with conservativeChristian views onto his program…. We also broadcast (unedited)”Focus on the Family”, a Christian values program for 30 minutes eachweekday ….

I don't expect that this note will make you happy. I hope that it willpresent the situation from the station's perspective, and perhaps openyour mind to the role of all our various programming elements andtechniques — which foster discussion and debate. The caller youreferred to was not cut off for being Christian, but rather what Mr. Greenperceived to be “preaching” to him in a way not related to the topic athand. When it's germane to the discussion, we always allow Christiansand other groups, the chance to have their say. It's only fair.

Shortly after receiving this response, the complainant wrote back to the station, with
a cover copy to the CBSC. In his second letter, the complainant defended his
position, stating that:

… it is, indeed a brutal assault to be rudely interrupted after only tenintroductory words, simply because one identifies oneself as “apractising Christian,” which Mr. Green identifies as a “born-againChristian,”, who is then told, “get lost!” His interpretive comment to [thenext caller] betrays his anti-Christian mind-set… Mr. Green clearlymisrepresented a simple act of self-identification as “preaching!”

Contrary to [the News Director's] assertion, the show's content was notlimited, for other callers, to “the English-French debate.” But we willnever know what the Christian lady's comment on even that subjectwas, because she started (after Lowell's rude interruption) with theobservation, “we in this country have turned our backs on God.” Mr.Green found this so offensive, he immediately cut her off! What thelady said was not preaching (as Lowell interpreted it to be), but a simplestatement of historical fact, framed in layman's language …. Hisemotional response to a Christian's attempt to contribute to his programclearly constitutes discrimination! Your broadcasting of “Focus on theFamily” is commendable, but hardly evidence of non-discrimination.

The complainant requested that the CBSC Ontario Regional Council review the
matter.

The Regional Council considered the complaint under Clauses 2 and 6 of the
Canadian Association of Broadcasters' Code of Ethics. The texts of these clauses
read as follows:

Clause 2, CAB Code of Ethics

Recognizing that every person has a right to full and equal recognitionand to enjoy certain fundamental rights and freedoms, broadcastersshall endeavour to ensure, to the best of their ability, that theirprogramming contains no abusive or discriminatory material orcomment which is based on matters of race, national or ethnic origin,colour, religion, age, sex, marital status or physical or mental handicap.

Clause 6(3), CAB Code of Ethics

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

In its unanimous decision, the Regional Council agreed that the station had
contravened both clauses of the Code of Ethics. In reviewing the correspondence
and the segment of the program provided on tape by CFRA, the Council members
noted that the complainant's concern was specifically with the host's abusive
treatment of the caller, and with discrimination against Christian people. It was not,
as the station suggested in its response, with balance, which, the News Director
stated and the Council recognizes, is not necessarily ensured within a single
program.

In Public Notice CRTC 1988-121, the CRTC notes that open line programs “offer…
an opportunity for lively public discussion…” by “…[providing] the public with an outlet
for the expression of a wide range of differing views.” Nonetheless, the Commission
identified three areas of concern in this category of programming, namely:

the broadcasting of comments considered abusive on the basis ofremarks about race, colour, religion, national or ethnic origin, age, sex,mental or physical disability; failure to provide reasonable, balancedopportunity for the expression of differing views on matters of publicconcern; and a failure to meet the high standard of programmingrequired of broadcasters. This last issue usually involved personalattacks against individuals or groups, sensationalism, lack of programpreparation, inaccurate statements or overall carelessness in dealingwith controversial issues.

The role of the moderator is often a determining factor in the quality ofopen-line programs. Intimidating and insulting callers, cutting off thosewith different points of view and expressing personal biases are amongthe abuses that some moderators have committed.

The Canadian Association of Broadcasters' Submission regarding the CRTC's Public
Notice underlines the role open line programs can play as a home of public debate
in a democracy, by stating:

… open line programs have evolved as the most instantaneous, themost natural and the most spontaneous forum for free flowingexpressions of views on matters of public concern. In our view theyrepresent an important expression and reinforcement of truedemocracy and as such are characteristic of only the most secure andmature democratic societies.

Given the concerns expressed by the Commission regarding open-line
programming, and the comments raised by the CAB concerning the role such
programming plays in fostering discussion about important public issues, the
Regional Council recognized the requirement of broadcasters to balance freedom
of expression against abuses of that freedom. In Canada, the freedom of expression
as guaranteed in Section 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is
not without limitations (see Section 1 of the Charter). As the CBSC affirmed in its
April 15, 1994 decision concerning CKTB-AM, “it is that delicate weighing of freedom
and restriction which the host must accomplish and which, in the event of a listener
complaint, the CBSC must judge.”

With respect to the program under consideration, the Regional Council members
agreed that the host had been rude and aggressive with the caller. This was a
function not only of the rapidity with which he had cut her off, but also his derisive
tone: “Get lost. Get lost. A preacher again… She doesn't count.” After she had
identified herself as “a practising Christian”, she had only been able to utter ten
words before being unceremoniously cut off. Her prefatory words “We in this country
have turned our backs on God” were quietly stated and were not, in the view of the
Council, a statement of an irresponsible nature which would have entitled a
responsible, even if somewhat theatrical, host to cut her off.

The Regional Council considered that, by cutting her off on such flimsy and
discriminatory grounds, the host had not only infringed her freedom of expression,
but had also precluded the “free flowing expression of views of public concern”
deemed essential to this type of programming. The host of the program had clearly insulted the female caller and silenced her because he believed that she had a point
of view different from his. The Regional Council unanimously agreed that, by limiting
debate in this manner and for this reason, the station breached clause 6 of the CAB
Code of Ethics.

The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has found that CFRA-AMbreached clauses relating to human rights and to the “full, fair andproper presentation” of opinion and comment in the industry's Code ofEthics. During the Lowell Green show aired on June 4, 1994, the hostimmediately cut off a woman who had identified herself as a practisingChristian, and subsequently made abusive comments about herreligious views. The Council decided that the host's aggressivetreatment of the caller was discriminatory, and precluded a “full, fair andproper presentation” of opinion and comment.

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