CFRA-AM re the Mark Sutcliffe and Lowell Green Shows

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

The Facts

On January 1, 1997, the Ottawa police shot Mr. Francis Nicholls, a member of the blackcommunity, in his Ottawa apartment. On the following morning, Mark Sutcliffe, sitting infor the regular early morning (6:00-9:00 a.m.) host, Steve Madely, on CFRA-AM (Ottawa),dealt with issues relating to the shooting; he continued on the subject on the earlymorning show of January 3. Lowell Green, the host of the mid-morning (9:00 a.m.-12 noon)show, did not raise the subject on his show of January 2 but did deal with it at length onthe show of January 3. Since the complainant raised issues of a substantially similarnature regarding the three shows of hosts Sutcliffe and Green which dealt with theshooting, the CBSC considers it appropriate to address the complaints in a singledecision.

There are so many excerpts from the various shows which bear some relevance to theissues raised in the complainant's letter that the Council believes that the most usefulway of presenting these is in Appendices to this decision, with only brief excerpts in thebody of the decision. To do otherwise would result in an otherwise unavoidably confusedpresentation of the facts. That being said, the Council is of the view that having thelengthier excerpts available to those who wish to review this matter in detail will atleast permit them to have all of the relevant material at hand.

Detailed excerpts from the transcript of the Mark Sutcliffe Show of January 2 areprovided in Appendix A below. The most pertinent excerpts are, however, given here. Thefirst of these is the introduction to the show itself:

It took members of the Jamaican community only 30 minutes to show up outside theapartment of Francis Nicholls after he was shot yesterday by Ottawa-Carleton Police. Hewas2 shot four times in his apartment. Coming up, we're going to get into more of thefacts and start to get reaction from the Jamaican community. Many people are accusingpolice of racism in this case. The police are saying they were just doing their job.

There was another reference to the “Jamaican” origins of Mr. FrancisNicholls, the man shot by police, in Sutcliffe's opening remarks; the host also went on todescribe the community reaction in the following terms:

But within about 30 minutes of the shooting, as news of the shooting spread veryquickly through the Jamaican community, several people showed up outside the apartment onPreston Street and began yelling at police.

Mark Sutcliffe explained the larger relevance of the shooting by placing it in thecontext of problems which had arisen over the past number of years between the blackcommunity and law enforcement officials:

Now, of course, the reason that the Jamaican community and members of Ottawa-Carleton'sblack community are paying very close attention to this case is because there has beenover the course of the last five, six years some tension between the black community andOttawa-Carleton Police, in particular over a couple of incidents.

He then referred to a number of specific situations in which members of the blackcommunity had either been shot or chased by the police but had, in any event, died as aresult. He then concluded his introductory remarks in the following terms:

Of course, that caused tremendous tension between the black community andOttawa-Carleton Police, so we will get reaction from some members of the Jamaicancommunity this morning. They reacted, as I mentioned, very quickly and there was quite abit of tension at the scene of the shooting yesterday at ground level at 118 PrestonStreet, on the street where some members of the black community arrived and were verycritical of police and confronted police right on the scene. So we'll get some reaction.We'll also get the police perspective on this story and go through the facts with them.It's very difficult for them to talk about the story, of course, because the SpecialInvestigations Unit has moved in and they will be conducting the investigation and policedon't like to comment when an investigation is under way, but we'll try to get someperspectives on the facts from Ottawa-Carleton Regional Police this morning as well asreaction from the Jamaican community.

It was very early in the show that the host himself began to question the nationalityof the victim and, before the first 30 minutes had passed, a caller correctly identifiedMr. Nicholls as Saint Lucian and the erroneous “Jamaican” reference disappearedfrom the commentary thereafter.

Issues discussed by callers both with and without the prompting of the host ranged fromracism to police brutality. Many callers identified themselves as blacks and openlydiscussed their own concerns about reactions to them both by police and civilian membersof society. There were also callers who appeared by their own comments to be, if notracist, at least somewhat biased. Mark Sutcliffe did, on many occasions, remind hisaudience that not all the facts were yet known and that, consequently, conclusions on someaspects of the case could not be drawn at that time.

Detailed excerpts from the transcript of the Mark Sutcliffe Show of January 3 areprovided in Appendix B below. As in the case of the previous show, only the most pertinentexcerpts are given here in the body of the decision. The first of the comments cited areexcerpted from the introduction to the show of the 3rd:

I think yesterday's show revealed that certain people are predisposed to have differentthoughts about a topic like racism and about a topic like a police officer shooting ablack person. People are predisposed to have certain thoughts about that. … Certainpeople are predisposed to say police were wrong in that situation. Certain people arepredisposed to say that because the man was black that there must have been racisminvolved on the part of police, if the man was shot. And other people are predisposed tosay the police must have had a reason if they shot the man. … We're going to go throughsome more of the comments from Bill Carroll [the lawyer representing the two policeofficers]. He's very upset — the lawyer for the two police officers — at how quicklysome members of the black community responded yesterday and even on Wednesday when theyshowed up at the scene of the crime… at the scene of the shooting, rather, at the sceneof the shooting just half an hour after the bullets had been fired, very upset that somepeople are predisposed to immediately accuse the police of racism when a black man isshot. We'll talk some more about that coming up this morning.

Much of the first hour and a half of the program had to do with new facts and theprocedures which the police and the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) would be following.At 7:40 Sutcliffe provided another summary of the state of the discussion and the issuesof the day relating to the Nicholls shooting.

But yesterday's calls about what happened on January 1st when we were on the airyesterday morning between 06:00 and 09:00, we took dozens of calls from people with verystrong feelings about the relationship between the police and Ottawa-Carleton's blackcommunity and they revealed some of the problems that the police have to face. Whetherracism is a factor in this case or not, there is a perception problem in the blackcommunity that police have to deal with.

The next guest on the show was Shiv Chopra, the acting President of the NationalCapital Alliance of Race Relations. Some of the Sutcliffe-Chopra dialogue follows.

Mark Sutcliffe: Yesterday on CFRA, we took calls from people who werevery angry with Ottawa-Carleton Police. We took calls from people who were defending thepolice and saying that they have a job to do. We took calls from other people saying theywere very angry with the police and that there was a real problem of racial bias on theOttawa-Carleton Police. There were people who showed up at the scene of the shooting atthe apartment on Preston Street where Francis Nicholls was shot New Year's Day, half anhour after the incident happened, accusing police of racism.

Mark Sutcliffe: Isn't it harmful as well, though, when 30 minutesafter an incident happens, before anybody can really know what was behind the shooting,that there are certain people on the scene who are accusing police and verbally attackingpolice for racism?

Shiv Chopra: Well, you see, if you were a family and your young son orsomebody got shot and those people who are around, they want to know what it is and whathappened and so forth, and of course there is a lot of emotion.

Mark Sutcliffe: Is this the responsibility of the police force toimprove its race relations, to have more training? Is it the responsibility of theprovincial government to provide more funding and more opportunity for that? But is therealso the responsibility of members of the black community to perhaps wait and attempt tobe a little more restrained before they immediately accuse police of racism in every casewhere a black person is involved?

Shiv Chopra: That may be so, but on the other hand, what do we call ablack community? It's not something that's organized, that's standing out there.

As with the Mark Sutcliffe Shows, the bulk of the transcription is found below, in thiscase in Appendix C. The most relevant portions are cited here. Lowell Green covered manyissues during the course of the program. One of the principal ones was the shooting ofFrancis Nicholls. His opening remarks included the following statements:

By the way, when are all the granola-crunchers going to learn, please? We had anotherone of those incidents during the weekend during which police shot a man who turned out tobe black? Holy cats! You know what happened. Immediately, screams of racism reverberatedoff the Peace Tower, mostly from the loony leftists who are convinced that every cop is aracist pig and every person of colour or culture other than white Anglo Saxons is anabsolute saint. As usual, cops hung out to dry. Oh, the press loves to do this, on thetalk shows and in the press, except, except — I pat myself on the back — on the LowellGreen Show. You didn't hear a single word about this yesterday on my show. Do you knowwhy? I absolutely refused to discuss it yesterday until we had some further details. …Let's be honest here, okay? Let's just get honest here once, just for once on this programor any place else. Let's just get honest here, okay? This business of screaming racismevery time a black person gets involved with the law does no one any good, least of allthe black community.

The first caller on the subject of the shooting had the following exchange with LowellGreen:

Brian: I'm sick to my stomach.

Lowell Green: What about?

Brian: Ha!!! This thing about the blacks. It's getting way out of handand it has been for many years and it's getting worse. Here, we have the black communitywithout any information coming in, they're going [inaudible…].

Lowell Green: Well, in fairness, Brian, not the entire blackcommunity. We've got to be fair here, and I'm going to be honest with you, too. I don'tthink it's so much the black community as the loony left.

The following comment is excerpted from an exchange with another caller:

I don't think it serves anybody's purpose, including the black community to every timethere is a black person involved, that racism is screamed. I mean, if a white person isshot or arrested or whatever, we don't scream racism.

The final commentary excerpted here is a part of the dialogue with a white caller (whoidentified himself as such) who was a partner in an interracial marriage.

Lowell Green: I understand that. I think it's a very valid comment andhopefully it might bring about a better understanding of why some of these things happen.My feeling is that screaming racism, et cetera, does no one any good, least of all theblack community.

Michael: Right, but we do have to address it. There is a problem andfor the whites to get mad at blacks for yelling racism or for blacks yelling racism…

Lowell Green: Okay, let's deal with that, but let's deal with anotherissue here. This is a program where we call a spade a spade, okay, where we talk about thereal issues of the day. There is a perception, and I think there's some validity, that weare letting into this country too many people from other races, particularly blacks, whoare causing too many problems, that the blacks are involved in a disproportionate numberof crimes in this country. Now, I think it's more than a perception. Certainly, if you goto the city of Toronto, I'm going to tell you right now that blacks are involved in adisproportionate number of crimes. Now, they're probably going to throw me off the air forsaying this, but it's a fact, okay? So we see this and we also know that the greatmajority of blacks are law-abiding, taxpaying, hardworking citizens like everybody else.So it seems to me that the black community has got to address this as well. There arepeople coming into this country that should not be here and it seems to me that we allhave a problem, but the blacks more so. Do you understand what I'm saying?

Lowell Green: It seems to me that the black community has a specialresponsibility here. Now, this can be argued, okay, but my feeling is because they're theones who are always being tarred with the same brush, it seems to me that this community,the black community has a special problem. They've got to work very hard, work withimmigration officials to keep these bad asses out of here.

Michael: Okay. But what about people of other colour that come inhere, who are creating crime or, you know, getting in the media for…

Lowell Green: They're not a visible minority. It's a special… I'mnot saying that it's right or it's wrong. What I am trying to deal with is fact. If we seeblacks involved in a disproportionate number of crimes, particularly violent crimes, itonly fuels racism. If I am a black man and I see this, I'm going to work especially hardto make sure that some of these known criminals don't come in here from Jamaica, orwherever they're coming.

In a letter of complaint received at the CRTC and subsequently forwarded to the CBSC onJanuary 17, 1997, a listener wrote

On the radio station CFRA 580 AM, Thursday, January 2, 1997, Mr. Mark Sutcliffe,hosting the early morning show from 06:00 to 09:00, in place of Mr. Steve Madeley, claimedthat the 'black community' had charged that the police shooting of Mr. Frank Nicholls wasracially motivated. At no time did they identify the organization or individual who hadclaimed to be speaking on behalf of the 'black community'. No such individual existed. Mr.Sutcliffe also charged that the news of the shooting had spread through the 'Jamaican'community and there were members of that community on the scene, some of whom werecarrying placards. NONE OF THIS WAS TRUE OR SUPPORTED BY ANY EVIDENCE. It turns out thatthe one of the two distraught women on the scene had been on the telephone with Mr.Nicholls at the time of the shooting. Both were personal acquaintances who lived within ablock of the shooting. They carried no placards.

On the following day, Friday, January 3, 1997, these baseless claims were continued byMr. Mark Sutcliffe and then were taken up by Mr. Lowell Green on his 'talk-show' from09:00 to 12 noon.

Mr. Green used these baseless charges to 'tee-off' on the black community. He usedthese unsubstantiated accusations to make an attempt to silence this community. He broughtup stereotypes about 'Jamaicans' and crime and said that they should deal with thatinstead of charging the police with 'racism'. Again, he NEVER substantiated his or hisradio station's claims that the 'black' or 'Jamaican' community had charged the policewith racism. In fact, Mr. Nicholls is not of Jamaican ancestry. Of course, Mr. Green wouldnot let the facts get in the way of his hate-mongering.

With his outrageous 'fabrication of the news' Mr. Green made every effort to slanderand malign the black community. He was, in fact, FOMENTING HATRED against said community.At one point he even admitted that 'he could be taken off the air'. He was and is wellaware of the rules governing broadcasters and yet that did not moderate his inflammatorycomments against the black or Jamaican community. He even went so far as to tell a blackcaller, who made an attempt to answer Mr. Green's groundless charges, that the caller wasnot allowed to defend the black community. He expressed contempt toward the caller and theblack community. He encouraged the same attitude among his listeners.

I would like to know if there is any remedy available to an identifiable group that ismaligned by a rude, grotesque, caricature of a broadcaster/journalist like Mr. Green. If aremedy is available, will it be applied as he, himself expected.

The Broadcaster's Response

In a letter of February 6, 1997, the News Director of CFRA responded to the complaintregarding Mark Sutcliffe.

Thank you for raising a number of issues with regard to CFRA programming on January 2and 3, 1997, regarding the unfortunate incident involving the shooting of Frank Nicholls.To address each of the issues in turn:

After a detailed review of the 3 hour program hosted by Mark Sutcliffe, it is clearthat the host did not try to paint “the black community” as a single entity witha single point of view, as you claim in your letter. Your complaint states: “At notime did they identify the organization or individual who had claimed to be speaking onbehalf of the black community…” In fact, in prime radio time, immediately after the7:30 a.m. news, Sutcliffe made it clear he had been receiving calls from “somemembers” of the black community. Quote: “We have been on the phone to somemembers of Ottawa-Carleton's black community. We talked to Sylmadel Coke, who is with theOttawa Committee against racism. We've talked with Ewart Walters who is with theOttawa-Jamaican community association, and the editor of The Spectrum, a black communitynewspaper…” He went on to open the phone lines to numerous callers, some of whomchose to identify themselves as black callers. He also interviewed a black police officerabout the incident, and previous incidents involving suggestions of racism.

Some of those callers–though not all–pointedly accused the police of racism.”Max” offered an example of how he feels mistreated when stopped in traffic. Hesaid police have stereotypical views that “black men are going to jump them, or dosomething crazy.” Geraldine (7:26 a.m.) says she is afraid of the police when herhusband goes out. “As you open the door, I'm scared that a policeman is just going totake his gun. Because he is, first, afraid of me, because I am black, and he's going toshoot me. I'm not scared of white people walking on the street, but I'm afraid of thepolice…” CFRA also spoke with Mr. Nicholls' friend Joy Talbot off air. Her views ofracism were widely reported: “If he had your skin colour, he would be alive,”wrote the Ottawa Citizen in its front page story.

A caller makes reference to placards being set up at the site of the incident within ahalf hour, though this is not confirmed or refuted by Sutcliffe. He does, however, readpart of the newspaper coverage that morning, clearly attributing the material to thenewspaper. And it is abundantly clear that some black people did show upat the scene shortly after the incident. Some were neighbours, some called the radionewsroom, and some were reported in the Ottawa Citizen that morning: “The news of theshooting spread quickly through the Jamaican community. Only 30 minutes after theincident, several people showed up outside the apartment and yelled at police.”Therefore, Mr. …, your argument that “none of this was true or supported by anyevidence” is absolutely wrong.

In conclusion, Mr. …, CFRA agrees that it would be inappropriate to suggest thatthere is one single voice that represents all black people, just as it would beinappropriate to suggest one voice speaks for all white people, or all police officers forthat matter. Your point is valid. Perhaps you did not hear the full program, and I hopethis letter helps dear up some of the misconceptions you may have held. Over the balanceof the program, there is no lack of objectivity, no information presented by the announcerwhich was “untrue or unsupported by any evidence.”

In a second letter dated February 7, 1997, the News Director addressed the issuessurrounding the Lowell Green broadcast

In response to your complaint letter regarding the Lowell Green show of January 3,1997, and specifically the discussion surrounding the shooting of Frank Nicholls:

Your complaint begins with what you label “baseless claims” about protestamong members of the region's black community. As made abundantly clear in our response toyour previous complaint regarding another program (files 96/97-0083 and 96/97-0084) therewas indeed abundant criticism and charges of racism from some members of the local blackcommunity in the hours after the tragic incident. The first element of your complaint hastherefore been addressed.

Further, from the very outset of his program, Lowell urged people to avoid jumping toconclusions on whether racism was a factor in the shooting by Ottawa-Carleton Police.”You didn't hear a single word about this yesterday on my show, and you know why?I absolutely refused to discuss it yesterday until we got some further details… I meanhow can you comment on any of this until you get some details?” He goes on tosay that getting the facts in the matter is of paramount importance. “Thisbusiness of screaming racism every time a black person gets involved with the law does noone any good–least of all the black community.”

Mr. …, if you heard the program from the start, you likely heard Mr. Green offer hisopinion that in general, in such cases in the past, “We've got to be fair here.I'm going to be honest with you, too. I don't think it's so much the black community(leveling unfounded or premature claims of racism), as the looney left. It's the same oldbunch. The granola-crunchers…. ” He repeated that cautionary statement laterin the program as well.

One caller refers to problems which arise when blacks are too quick to claim racism wasinvolved in such situations, and when whites become angry with black people who make thoseclaims. Far from “fomenting hatred against the black community,” as you suggest,Mr. Green clearly states there is a perception that we are allowing toomany immigrants to Canada from other races, particularly blacks, who are involved in adisproportionate number of crimes. That problem, he says, must be addressed. But “wecan't just shove all the responsibility off on a group of people. We all have aresponsibility to make it a better and safer community.

With regard to your closing argument that Lowell told a black caller that “he wasnot allowed to defend the black community” you are absolutely wrong, Mr. …. Thecaller you refer to (Brian just before 11 a.m.) said he was going to speak onbehalf of the entire black community. Lowell interjected to say “you can'tspeak on behalf of any (entire) community. You speak on behalf of yourself, and I'll letyou.” The caller responded “no,” then agreed, and the [sic]went on to complain about Lowell having too much air time on CFRA. Lowell asked Brian toaddress the issue at hand. Brian continued to complain, and was warned four times toaddress the issue at hand, and not his complaints about Lowell. Brian then went on to askLowell “How old are you?” After numerous chances to stick to the topic,the call was terminated. This is standard practice among open line programs which attemptto keep a focused discussion, and has nothing to do with a caller's colour.

As you know, Mr. …, the Nicholls shooting was a tiny part of the 3 hour program–mostof the show focused on other topics including young children being forced to grow up tooquickly, tires flying off trucks on highways and even the initiation exercises involving afemale in the Canadian military. To suggest that Mr. Green “made every effort toslander and malign the black community” is unfortunate and entirely withoutjustification.

Open line programming is often by its very nature controversial and heated. …

It may be that this issue is close to your heart, and that perhaps you did not hear theprogram in its entirety. I hope that with this more complete evidence now at yourdisposal, your concerns have been thoroughly addressed.

In a letter dated March 27, 1997, the News Director wrote to the CBSC with an update

Further to the detailed response to the complaints from [the complainant], I would drawthe attention of the CBSC Regional Council members to the following:

The official report of the Ontario Special Investigation Unit (SIU) has foundabsolutely no grounds for charges or reprimand after a full and detailed investigation ofthe tragic Nicholls incident. This morning, on CFRA, and in a taped interview, the head ofthe SIU himself, Mr. André Marin, confirmed that there were numerous individuals andorganizations which alleged racism was a factor in the police shooting of Mr. Nicholls,who is black. We are willing to provide this tape if you so desire. The complaint isclearly unfounded.

The facts were widely reported, and confirmed by various media organizations, and arethoroughly backed up by the on-air interviews which formed part of the CFRA broadcasts inthe days following the incident. CFRA has clearly not breached any element of legislationor the Code.

The complainant was unsatisfied with this response and requested, on February 7, 1997,that the CBSC refer the matter to the appropriate Regional Council for adjudication.

The CBSCs Ontario Regional Council considered the complaint under Clauses 2 and 6 ofthe CAB Code of Ethics, and Clauses 2 and 3 of the RTNDA Code of Ethics,which 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 enjoycertain fundamental rights and freedoms, broadcasters shall endeavour to ensure, to thebest of their ability, that their programming contains no abusive or discriminatorymaterial 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 berepresented with accuracy and without bias. The member station shall satisfy itself thatthe arrangements made for obtaining news ensure this result. It shall also ensure thatnews broadcasts are not editorial. News shall not be selected for the purpose offurthering or hindering either side of any controversial public issue, nor shall it bedesigned by the beliefs or opinions or desires of the station management, the editor orothers engaged in its preparation or delivery. The fundamental purpose of newsdissemination in a democracy is to enable people to know what is happening, and tounderstand events so that they may form their own conclusions.

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

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

RTNDA Code of (Journalistic) Ethics, Article Two:

News and public affairs broadcasts will put events into perspective by presentingrelevant background information. Factors such as race, creed, nationality or religion willbe reported only when relevant. Comment and editorial opinion will be identified as such.Errors will be quickly acknowledged and publicly corrected.

RTNDA Code of (Journalistic) Ethics, Article Three:

Broadcast journalists will not sensationalize news items and will resist pressures,whether from inside or outside the broadcasting industry, to do so. They will in no waydistort the news. Broadcast journalists will not edit taped interviews to distort themeaning, intent, or actual words of the interviewee.

The Regional Council members listened to tapes of the program in question and reviewedall of the correspondence. The Council considers that, with respect to the January 2 and 3programs, CFRA has not violated either Code.

The Content of the Program

The Council wishes first to underscore its view that the ultimate outcome of the reviewof the behaviour of the police, on the one hand, and Mr. Nicholls, on the other, both ofwhich have been determined by either the date of the actual decision or its publication,has not been relevant to its conclusions. It should go without saying that the relevantissues always relate to the broadcaster's presentation of the programming complained of asa function of the information available at the time of the broadcast. This case is noexception to that rule.

The “Jamaican” Identity Issue

Of the principal issues raised by the complaint, the first relates to theidentification of Mr. Nicholls as “Jamaican”. This occurred to a much lesssignificant extent than has been suggested in the letter of complaint. Thecharacterization of Mr. Nicholls as “Jamaican” did not last for more than 30minutes of the first of the three programs being reviewed here. It appears to have been anhonest error and one which, in any event, was corrected by Mr. Sutcliffe himself asquickly as the information became available to him. It does not constitute a breach ofeither the CAB or the RTNDA Codes of Ethics.

As to Lowell Green's show, the Council did not discover a single instance in which hehad referred to Jamaican or other nationality. Insofar as his comments revealed any suchidentity, it was of the “black” community. Needless to say, the identificationof the community in question as “black” could not possibly have been morerelevant or germane. The issues discussed on the three programs revolved around questionsof race and such a community description was of the essence of the matter. Consequently,no breach of either Code is therein disclosed.

The Council makes no assumption that there was any broadcaster carelessness in thiscase in the misidentification of nationality but it wishes to underscore the need forgeneral broadcaster vigilance in distinguishing the terms “black” and”Jamaican”. It goes without saying that members of the black community come frommany individual national backgrounds, which include countries withpredominantly black populations and others with minority black populations. Nor should itbe forgotten that Canada is itself privileged to have its own national Canadianblack population. Thus, the Council considers that the use of such national designationsought to be limited to those circumstances in which they are both relevant andlikely, on the basis of known information, to be accurately applied.

The Allegation of a Monolithic Characterization of the Black Community

The Ontario Regional Council considers it necessary to distinguish between the commentsof the host and those of the callers. While there is no doubt that every broadcaster isresponsible for all of the programming which it puts on the air, the allegation here madeis that the host had “claimed that the 'black community' had charged that the policeshooting of Mr. Frank Nicholls was racially motivated.” A careful review of thetranscripts of the January 2 and 3 Steve Madely Show, which were hosted by Mark Sutcliffe,does reveal that a number of the host's comments over the course of the two three-hourprogram refer to “the black community” but the Council does not consider thatany of his comments give rise to the conclusions reached by the complainant. TheCouncil considers, first, that it is only a rigid and uncharitable view of Sutcliffe'scomments which could lead one to the conclusion that the host's view of “the blackcommunity” was that it was a monolith and, second, that such a monolithicgroup was accusing the Ottawa Police Department of racial motivation in the shooting. Thecomplainant further alleged that Mark Sutcliffe said that “there were members of thatcommunity on the scene, some of whom were carrying placards.”

There is no doubt that, on several occasions, the host made observations regarding”the Jamaican community” (soon corrected) and “the black community”but these were interspersed with phrases like “several people”, “members ofOttawa-Carleton's black community”, “some members of the Jamaicancommunity” and the like.

It is, of course, always possible that a host may be confrontational rather thaninquisitive. That was certainly not the case here. Mark Sutcliffe's references werefrequently to a community, to be sure, but they were not accusatory. They were,if anything, sympathetic. Moreover, the Council is at pains to understand why there shouldnot have been references to, and concerns for, the black community. Whether the policewere right or wrong (and they were, in the end, cleared of any wrongdoing in this case),there were appearances which would have given any thoughtful person sufficientconcern about the situation to wish that it be dealt with. And, while allCanadians would have been diminished by any such violent act which might havebeen racist in nature, it can hardly be doubted that an inquiry after the concerns of thepotentially affected community was appropriate.

That morning, the host knew that he was stepping into a delicate and complex area.Racial and ethnic matters tend to be of that nature. Moreover, Ottawa had been exposed toa few apparent conflicts between the law enforcement authorities and members of the blackcommunity in the previous couple of years. This shooting at least appeared to beof a sufficiently similar character that the host felt it reasonable to consider thematter in that context.

The Council believes that Mark Sutcliffe was absolutely entitled to do so. Moreover, byapproaching the subject on that basis, he was raising issues which ought to havebeen considered in the overall Ottawa community. They were important to everyone, blackand white, police and civilian alike. As this Council stated in CKTB-AMre the John Michael Show (CBSC Decision 92/93-0170, February 15, 1994),

[O]pen line programs are a vital part of Canadian broadcasting. They present anopportunity for lively public discussion. They are timely. They are, one might justifiablyobserve, an essential home of public debate in a free democracy. They are also alocus for the expression of conflicting passions, which make for exciting radio.

As the CAB put the matter in the Canadian Association of Broadcasters' Submissionto the CRTC in the Matter of Public Notice CRTC 1988-121 (the Commission's ultimatepolicy regarding open-line programming may be found in Policy Regarding Open LineProgramming, P.N. CRTC 1988-213):

[O]pen line programs have evolved as the most instantaneous forum for free flowingexpressions of views on matters of public concern. In our view they represent an importantexpression and reinforcement of true democracy and as such are characteristic of only themost secure and mature democratic societies.

It is the view of the Council that Mark Sutcliffe broached a thorny issue with greatskill, that he encouraged the free-flowing expression of views on a matter of publicconcern, that he kept remarkable balance in the discussion, despite some unpleasantinterventions, and that he delivered an electronic document of value to the audience. Inthe view of the Council, there was no pervasive view that the black community wasaggressively monolithic at all. Mark Sutcliffe did identify several individuals with whomhe had spoken off air but never left the suggestion that they or any other individual wasspeaking on behalf of the entire community. Nor, it should be added was thereever, in the course of the January 2 program, any reference to placards.

The Fomenting of Hatred

The complainant has alleged that Lowell Green “made every effort to slander andmalign the black community. He was, in fact, FOMENTING HATRED against saidcommunity.” The Council members do not agree. It is undoubted that Green took theposition that the “business of screaming racism every time a black person getsinvolved with the law does no one any good, least of all the black community.”Interestingly, Green does not lay responsibility for that position at the feet of theblack community; to him the responsible people are the “loony left” or, as he iswont to characterize these individuals, the “granola-crunchers”. He encouragedwide-ranging participation in the call-in portion of the show, from callers of differentethnic and racial backgrounds. The Lowell Green Show is, without doubt, an opinionprogram, and the host is, as much as anyone, a person with strong opinions. The Councilalso considers that the presentation of a set of diversified opinions is the role of goodtalk radio and the Lowell Green Show on this occasion accomplished that very purpose. Itis also an essential characteristic of such shows that they contain no abusivelydiscriminatory material. This, too, was the case here.

While it is true that the host observed that “blacks are involved in adisproportionate number of crimes in this country”, he immediately balanced thestatement with the statement that “we also know that the great majority of blacks arelaw-abiding, taxpaying, hardworking citizens like everybody else.” Far from fomentinghatred, Lowell Green was trying to say that everyone in our country has a problem whichflows from certain perceptions regarding the black community and that the greatestresponsibility to ensure that these are corrected lies with the affected community. Hewas, it seems to the Council, sympathetic not antipathetic to the blackcommunity. The Council finds no breach of either the CAB or the RTNDA Codes of Ethicsin CFRA's broadcast of the Lowell Green Show of January 3.

The Broadcaster's Response

The CBSC always recognizes the broadcaster's obligation, as a CBSC member, to beresponsive to complainants. In this case, the Regional Council considers that thebroadcaster took the trouble to provide two separate letters to the complainant to dealwith the issues he had raised with respect to the two radio hosts' respective programs.Both were thoughtful and responded in detail to the issues raised by the complainant.Nothing more could have been expected of CFRA's News Director. Consequently, the stationdid not breach the Council's standard of responsiveness.

This decision is a public document upon its release by the Canadian Broadcast StandardsCouncil. It may be reported, announced or read by the station against which the complainthad originally been made; however, in the case of a favourable decision, the station isunder no obligation to announce the result.

Appendices