CFRA-AM re the Steve Madely Show

ONTARIO REGIONAL COUNCIL
(CBSC Decision 93/94-0295)
M. Barrie (Chair), R. Cohen, P. Fockler, R. Stanbury, M. Ziniak

THE FACTS

On the morning of August 3, 1994, CFRA broadcast the Steve Madely Show, an open-line show during which the host, on this particular day, was encouraging listeners to call in on the subject of drunk driving. Following the 9:00 a.m. news, the host pessimistically introduced the subject as follows:

And I'm trying to get some people excited about drunk driving although,quite frankly, it's the third time I've tried to do it and I, eh, judging by thephone lines, I've failed again.

The host took two calls (from Chris and Diane) and then said:

And that's it. I'm going to close the topic. And I can't tell you how sad I am to do that. But I am going to close this file and I'm going to put thefile away because no-one gives a damn. And that's the way it is, folks. And if I'm ticked off, I've never been so ticked off at an audience as Iam right now. I mean, I can't believe, I don't know what it will ever taketo get you motivated, other than to take you to a funeral or to pull youinto a living room or into an emergency room, cause that file is closed,dammit. And I just, what will it ever take to get people to notice thesuffering that goes on around them? These are 450 families out therea year that someone's been killed, a father or a mother or a daughteror a son or a cousin or an uncle or an aunt. And the kids whose livesare ruined, who, paraplegic and quadriplegic, and brain injury and back,and loss of limbs, and the lives that are put into a state of limbobecause of this crime that has taken place in Ontario.

And no goddam wonder that you can't get politicians involved if youcan't get the people involved. If you can't get angry about it and youcan't get upset about it and you can't demand action on it, no wonderyou have politicians who can't. It's your own damn fault. And don'tblame them. Don't blame the Premier and don't blame the politiciansfor failing to get involved cause you can't give a damn. All right, we'lltalk about whatever you want to talk about. You want to talk about theweather, call.

The next call following this emotional reaction and concluding sarcastic remark
regarding the weather was from Anne.

Madely: Anne, do you want to talk about the rain?

Anne: No, as a matter of fact, I would like to talk about drunk driving.

Madely: Oh, no, no-one wants to talk about it. Let's talk about the rain. It's a cloudy day.

Anne: You mean I'm no-one? Do you mean I'm no-one? So, wouldyou please listen to me?

Madely: Oh, you're the only one. [Over the listener's voice] But listen, I'lltell you something. It's going to get sunny later today and a highof 28.

Anne: Are you going to let me speak about this subject or have youdecided?

Madely: No, I've closed the file. It's closed. The file is closed. I'm notgoing to talk about it.

Anne: You're nuts, stupid.

It was then unclear whether the caller hung up on the host or the host on the caller.
While the former seemed to be the case, the Regional Council did not consider that
the decision would have altered materially on that account.

The complainant's explanation of what happened was put in the following terms:

Prior to 9 am, Mr. Madely gave an introduction to his topic, the fact thatthe issue had been aired before and that it was time something wasdone about it. He invited callers to phone in with their comments. I hadno problems with this part of the broadcast.

However, immediately after the 9 am news, after listening to one or twocallers he suddenly got very angry. He said “Goddammit” and againused profane language. He used the word “Damn” more than once. Byhis tone of voice, there was no question he lost his temper while doinga live broadcast.

I was shocked and couldn't believe what I was hearing. After severalminutes, he said “That's it folks the file is closed and it's going tostay closed!” and continued on speaking angrily. He then said(sarcastically) “OK, let's talk about the weather…” Well, he wouldn'tlisten to her, told her the subject (file) was closed and hung up on her.

My main objection, however, is the way he spoke to us, the listener(sic), his tone of voice, his use of profanity and that he allowed himselfto vent his anger at the general public because we did not respond theway he wanted us to.

The complaint, which had originally been forwarded to the CRTC, was in turn
referred 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 General Manager responded to the complainant on September 2, 1994.
His response stated that:

Mr. Madely's program has been and always will be one that involves agreat deal of controversy and passion. In talk radio, these twoexplosive ingredients are the essence of why listeners tune in. Theywant to hear a divergence of opinions, passionate arguments andpoints of view. When people are passionate about things, they getemotional. Since people are only human, that emotion is bound to spillover, on to the air. What you heard from Mr. Madely was genuinepassion for the subject matter.

The language and approach on the program is part of mainstreamculture. Television programs, newspaper columns, magazine articlesand even computer bulletin boards and networks all share thiscommonality.

Shortly after receiving this response, the complainant wrote a lengthy letter to the
CBSC. In her second letter, the complainant defended her position, stating that:

[The General Manager] does not appear to have any problem withregard to Mr. Madely's behaviour, actions or language used during thatparticular broadcast.

The complainant went to the trouble of referring to several sections of the CAB Code
of Ethics
, a copy of which had been sent her by the CBSC with its initial letter, in
particular emphasizing the general principle established in the second paragraph of
the “Background” at the beginning of the Code:

It is recognized that the most valuable asset of a broadcaster is publicrespect which must be earned and can be maintained only byadherence to the highest possible standards of public service andintegrity.

The complainant admitted that she was a frequent listener to CFRA and the Steve
Madely show for a long time. From her letter, she clearly found this particular day's
program atypical of the show as a whole.

Never before have I heard him so angry at the listeners. Steve has, inthe past, made his points quite clear without getting angry and losinghis temper. Steve has the ability to get people to the point where itsometimes does become an explosive issue. BUT Steve should notallow himself to get so personally involved and the issue to become soexplosive to the point where is gets out of hand (which is whathappened during that broadcast). Steve does not have control overwhat the caller says but he does have control over what he says andthe way he says it.

We cannot and should not condone this type of behaviour on the air. If callers are “beeped” when using “choice” words surely the samerestrictions should apply to the host of the show. Mr. Madely felt thathe had the right to do and say what he pleased. I disagree for tworeasons:

1) As an employee of CFRA, he is bound by the CODE OF ETHICSto conform to “the highest possible standard of public service andintegrity” and according to CLAUSE 16, “the manner in which heconducts himself…”

2) As a professional broadcaster, he “crossed the line” the momenthe became angry and lost control of the situation.

Everyone has the right to an opinion, even Steve Madely, BUT askyourself this. Did he have the right to:

a) refuse to take more calls, on the subject of “drunk driving”

b) refuse to keep the file open

c) cut the last caller off without letting her have her say and hangingup on her.

Ask yourself also, whether Steve Madely had the right to:

a) say whatever he pleased.

b) swear or use profane language.

c) use sarcasm aimed at the public.

She pointed out that she became so upset that she turned off the rest of the show.
Her letter concluded that the host should not become so negative “that people won't
bother to tune in any more.” The complainant requested that the CBSC Ontario
Regional Council review the matter.

The Regional Council considered the complaint under Clauses 2, 6, 7 and 16 of the
Canadian Association of Broadcasters' Code of Ethics. The texts of these clauses
read as follows:

Clause 2, CAB Code of Ethics (Human Rights)

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 (News, etc.)

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.

Clause 7, CAB Code of Ethics (Controversial Public Issues)

Recognizing in a democracy the necessity of presenting all sides of apublic issue, it shall be the responsibility of member stations to treatfairly, all subjects of a controversial nature. Time shall be allotted withdue regard to all the other elements of balanced program schedules,and to the degree of public interest in the questions presented. Recognizing that healthy controversy is essential to the maintenanceof democratic institutions, the broadcast publisher will endeavour toencourage presentation of news and opinion on any controversy whichcontains an element of the public interest.

Clause 16, CAB Code of Ethics (Employees) (in pertinent part)

Each member station shall endeavour to secure the highest possibletype of employees and people who are qualified for and suitable to theduties for which each is hired.

In its unanimous decision, the Regional Council agreed that the station had not
contravened any of the foregoing clauses of the Code of Ethics. While the behaviour
of the on-air host had not been to the liking of the complainant, the members were
not in agreement with her that the host or the station had been in breach of the
Code.

That being said, the Council members felt that the letter of complaint was as
seriously and carefully presented and argued as any which they had previously been
called upon to examine and that they would attempt to individually weigh each of the
arguments presented in this decision. Furthermore, they were conscious of the
complaint decided at this same sitting of the Council against CFRA in an apparently
similar matter and of the need to explain the distinction between the two matters.(CFRA re Lowell Green , CBSC Decision 93/94-0276, November 15, 1994).

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 CKTB-AM re the John Michael Show (CBSC Decision 92/93-0170, February 15, 1994), “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 did
not believe that the host's on-air comportment was in violation of the Code as being
unfair or improper. He did appear to lose his temper, as alleged. He did appear to
be angry, as alleged. He did refuse, temporarily, to keep the file open and to take
more calls on the subject of drunk driving, as alleged. He did use sarcasm aimed
broadly at his audience, as alleged. It was unclear whether the caller Anne had
hung up on him or he on her, as the complainant alleged. He did use the words
“damn” and “Goddammit”, as alleged. The question is whether all or any of the
foregoing acts constitute a Code violation per se. The Council thought not.

Council here refers again to an excerpt of the CRTC Public Notice cited above:

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.

In this case, the host had not insulted any callers nor, it appeared had he even
intimidated any. It was, after all, Anne who had insulted him, not the other way
around. She, it is true, had been frustrated by his refusal to carry on the debate at
that moment
but, as the host of the show, it did not seem unreasonable for him to
take such a decision, particularly since it had not been taken on ideological grounds
or on the basis that others had different views from his own which he would not
countenance. If anything, the source of the problem appeared to be that the
audience had, for a period of time, been unwilling to put forward any views. The
host was clearly being dramatic in order to stir his audience but not, in the Council's
view, on a discriminatory or abusive basis. Consequently, the Regional Council felt
that there was no violation of Clause 2 of the Code of Ethics.

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