CFRB-AM re an episode of the Michael Coren Show

ontario regional Panel
R. Stanbury (Chair), M. Ziniak (Vice-Chair), R. Cohen (ad hoc), K. King,

THE FACTS

The Michael Coren Show is an open-line talk show that airs on CFRB NewsTalk 1010 (Toronto) on Sunday evenings from 7:00 to 9:00 pm.  The program is hosted by Michael Coren, who discusses current events and related topics with his callers.  During the first hour of the episode that aired on August 12, 2007, Coren talked about the problems associated with pit-bulls.  The discussion was inspired by an incident in Whitby, Ontario, where a retired couple had been badly bitten by a pit-bull and were likely to need rabies shots.  Coren began the discussion by setting out his opinion on the subject of pit-bulls; he asserted that they were an extremely dangerous breed of dog and therefore should be eliminated entirely.  He also made negative comments about pit-bull owners.  Some examples of his remarks follow, but a complete transcript of the segment is available in Appendix A.  Coren introduced the segment by recounting the story of the Whitby couple:

Uh, this is a couple in Whitby, couple in Whitby, Ontario with their dog.  They’re a retired couple, a nice couple, going out for a walk and, um, suddenly this pit-bull rushes out to their, the side of a, a park and the owner, the cretin owner, because everyone who owns a pit-bull is a cretin.  Like a moron, slightly less intelligent, says “pick up your dog!”  And they try and save their dog.  Their dog does survive.  The dog is badly bitten, um, but, uh, so are they.  And then the cretin owner gives them a phone number, which turns out to be a fake phone number, and leaves.  Because people who own pit-bulls are not going to have any sympathy for someone who’s hurt.  They’re just going to go out and, you know, get their cheap beer and play bingo, whatever they do.  Now these, this couple, unless they’re, unless they find the guy, they have to have a series of rabies shots, which are very, very painful.  They really aren’t very pleasant.  I think you’ve got to take them for about a month.  It’s not just one shot in the arm; it goes on and on and on and it’s actually rather sensitive parts of the body, the stomach and elsewhere.  Very unpleasant.  But I, I just, see, every time this happens, and I’d say twice a year we do this as a story, because every time another pit-bull attacks someone, you get the usual idiots who say “oh no, no, no, it’s the owner’s fault.  The animals are fine.”  Well, people who own pit-bulls are moronic by nature.  I’ve never in my life seen anyone with a pit-bull who, who was, uh, you know, worth a moment of my time.  I saw a guy with three of them.  I was driving here.  And I drive through an area where there’s quite a few pit-bull owners.  And, and there were three of them dragging this guy along.  And was he someone who seemed to be a really interesting fellow?  You know what he was like.  You know what he was like.  I mean, Rottweilers:  similar.  Slightly less, uh, bizarre and perverse and obviously violent.  But, but the same type.  Of all the breeds of dog you can own, of all the breeds of dog you can own, if you buy a pit-bull, you’re trying to make a statement.  Which is normally quite obvious:  “I’m some white trash, semi-criminal who wants you to be frightened of me.”  I mean, that’s generally the statement that’s being made.  The government tried with pit-bulls.  It has to go further.  It just, I mean, get rid of them all now.  Round them up, put ’em all to sleep.  Make ’em watch Little Mosque on the Prairie or something.  No, just round them up, get rid of them.  There isn’t, there’s so much damage caused by them and there is no point in them being here.  I don’t think we have to be humane; they’re not human, are they?  They’re animals and they do cause a great deal of damage and there is nothing positive about them.  And the owners, you know, I’ve, at this point, anyone who tried to purchase one, I’d make that a, a criminal offence and punish them.  […]  I, I work with a guy in TV and, who got an award in, uh, in Hamilton for saving a child.  He’s a big, strong guy.  And he took on a pit-bull.  And he said it was extraordinary because, as I think most of us would do, you know, you put your forearm around its throat.  You think maybe that’s the best way not to be bitten and, and, this, and he was hold-, he was trying to strangle it.  And he couldn’t.  He said it was like just pure muscle, the neck.  And it was coughing blood.  It was coughing up blood, but still, it was going crazy.  Every time it would relax, every time he – you know, ’cause it’s tiring – every time he relaxed his grip at all, it went wild again.  […]  And the owners, of course, they were the same.  You know, the trash couple.  Kids running around, dogs running around, whatever.  “Not our fault.”  Other convictions, nothing really happened to them.  And he saved a child.  416-872-1010.  To expunge the, the, the breed from the face of the earth would be the best thing for everyone concerned.  And I’ve never, ever even seen a pit-bull owner who was anything other than, than a moron.  And I will get e-mails from people, Rottweiler owners in particular – less than pit-bull owners, ’cause I don’t think they’ve mastered literacy yet – “These are wonderful dogs.  They’re just marvellous.  We take them to hospitals.”  Do you?  [laughs]  Not when I’m there, you won’t.  Lines are open.  Michael Coren, NewsTalk 1010, CFRB.

Following a commercial break, Coren elaborated:

We can have a public hunt, I suppose, of pit-bulls.  We can charge.  Re-, reduce the financial problems of the City of Toronto.  ’Cause other people want to hunt.  Charge ’em, say, twenty bucks.  Lot of pit-bulls around; we can raise some money.  See, you gotta think outside the box here.  This is how we’re gonna solve the issue.  I understand there are people who are obsessed with, with animals and they think animals matter more than people.  Um, animals can be lovely and, and do a great deal of good.  There is nothing positive that pit-bulls do.  Another attack has taken place in Whitby.  Not such a bad one this time.  It goes over and over and over and over again and if you can really present me a picture of someone who wants a pit-bull, uh, because they’re a model citizen, fine.  Ask the cops.  Uh, the pit-bull is the, uh, really the, the dog of choice, the weapon of choice, of the criminal class.  Dobermans and Rottweilers, slightly less so.  But they’re in the same league as well.

While some of Coren’s callers disagreed with him and offered their justifications for owning those types of dogs, others told their own stories of being attacked by pit-bulls and agreed with Coren’s characterizations of the dogs and their owners.  For example, caller Ryan offered the following thoughts

Ryan:    I don’t remember whether it was yourself or a caller who coined the excellent phrase “They are nothing more than accessories to thuggery.”  […]  “Accessories to thuggery”.  And when you speak of their owners, Michael, you’re absolutely right.  They’re a bunch of tattooed, white trash losers who look like they’re on their way to a Sex Pistols concert or maybe the Dead Kennedys.

Coren:   No, hold on, that’s unfair.  That’s unfair.  I, I, I, I’m a great Johnny Rotten fan.  They wouldn’t, [Ryan laughs] they would never have the wit to go to a punk concert.  That, that, I mean, there’s something almost, uh, ironic about New Wave music.  No, no.  They wouldn’t do that.  I mean, I don’t know what music they listen to, really.  I’m not sure if they do listen to music.

Coren then suggested that harm should also be done to pit-bull owners:

Coren:   Not only […] should we take the pit-bulls away – and I’m not, I’m serious about this – and not hurt them, but kill them.  I mean, that is hurting, I suppose, but don’t inflict pain on them, but kill them.  Uh, and the owners, kill them, but do inflict pain.  No, obviously you can’t do that.  Bugger.  Uh, but, uh, you should punish them by making them walk around with miniature poodles or something then.  They’d eat them, I’m sure.

He repeated a similar sentiment later in the program:

Coren:   And, you know, you, you’d like to get rid of the pit-bull and the owner, frankly; if you possibly could.  Just whoop, disappear.  Foom, foom, they’re gone.  They’re not going to contribute anything to soc-, oh, “everyone’s equal”.  No, they’re not.  No, they’re not.  Rubbish.  These people aren’t.  They’re buying these animals, they’re not going to take care of these animals.  They have them in their homes because it’s an attitude, it’s a schtick, it’s what they do.  Rottweilers, Dobermans less so, but there’s, I mean, some of the people who have those dogs too are neurotic.  And I always get e-mails from Rottweiler own-, owners associations and Doberman owners associations and associations of people who don’t own, but do associate with them and it’s always “You don’t know!  These are wonderful animals and wonderful creatures!”  Oh no, they’re not.  And pit-bulls are even worse.  Get rid of them all.  Kill ’em.

Caller Christine recounted an incident she had had with a pit-bull that was running around loose outside a house in her small town.  Coren suggested that she telephone the police to report it:

Coren:   […].  Um, you know, you should call the police.  You really should.  Because there’s a very good ch-, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if, uh, the people in this house were known to them.

Christine:          I wouldn’t doubt it by looking at them.  I mean, that’s really, really judgmental to say but.

Coren:   No, hey, forget judgmental.  You, you just, it’s an informed opinion.  It’s, it’s very likely they’re known to the police and if this attack has taken place.  Of course, there’s the problem, I mean, are you worried about being identified, but there’s no reason why that would happen.

[…]

Christine:          And I just don’t want to live somewhere where I can’t even feel free to walk my dog where I want.  It’s just …

Coren:   Um, do you know anyone involved in organized crime in Toronto who could kill them for you?

Christine:          [she & Coren laugh]  I won’t answer that.  No.

Coren:   No, you know, I would think about it.  And you know what?  I would, I would just speak to friends, pause a little, I would speak to the police, just for advice.  Because in a small town, the cops are probably going to give you some time.

[…]

Christine:          Thank you.

Coren:   Thanks a lot.  Bye-bye.  It is disturbing because, and it’s a fairly, relatively young woman, obviously, it’s your home and it’s your, the place where you go to be safe.  And, um, you know, for most of us, of course, we’d be totally distraught if anything like this happened, any sort of confrontation to a normal person, whatever it happened, you know, it has an effect.  These people don’t care.  Um, judgmental?  They’re probably going in, they’re probably gonna get high on something or other.  They probably couldn’t care less.  If it’s not cheap beer, it’s cannabis, it’s cheap cannabis.  And, and, uh, there’s some, likely, some sort of criminal activity.  Well, there is, because they have a pit-bull, not on a leash that’s attacked someone.  They couldn’t care less.  And what sort of person does that?  Sorry to hear about that, really am.  Uh, Lou on CFRB.  Go ahead, Lou.

[…]

Lou:      Hi, um, pit-bulls, if you look at the breed itself, the breed was built, uh, was made specifically to fight.

Coren:   Yeah.

Lou:      So anybody who would want this dog, it doesn’t make any rational sense to have a pet like that.  I witnessed a dog fight about four years ago, uh, with my kids in a park.  And a pit-bull, uh, off the leash did a, owned by a, you know, owned by a teenager, did a beeline right for a, a Doberman who was being walked by his, his master.  Uh, fortunately the Doberman took him down.

Coren:   Mm.

Lou:      It was, it was trained to, um, you know, hand-command trained, it knew what it was doing.  But, you know, you don’t need dogs like that.  You don’t need dogs like, um.  Pit-bull, to me, is a useless breed.  Uh, it’s a breed that’s made, uh, for criminal activity.

Coren:   Yeah, no, that’s exactly what it is.

[…]

Coren:   Ooh, what was that?  Last, last call I just spent on, uh, killing pit-bulls.  Wouldn’t it be fun?

After caller Nick described a pit-bull attack he had witnessed, Coren stated:

Coren:   Nick, I’m sorry you had to see that.  And, uh, thank you for the call.  Yeah, but, of course, there, it’s not the dogs, it’s the owners.  Said this many times.  The owners generally are of a sort, but even if you think you’re a responsible person, once you buy a dog like this – and it’s not just pit-bulls, other animals too – uh, then you’re no longer a responsible person.  And I realize that Dobermans and, uh, Rottweilers are not quite as severe, but they have a similar purpose.  They have more of a history and more of a tradition, but their purpose is still to, to kill.  And if you really do need protection, I mean, if, if you happen to, you know, live in a, in a small house surrounded by neo-Nazis, uh, Klansmen, uh, and black Muslim separatists and, and general thugs, okay, maybe there’s a, but do you really need a dog like that?  No, generally people do not need such an animal.  Do they?  And they have it because of their own insecurity or lack of self-esteem or probably ’cause mommy, I don’t know, didn’t hug them enough.

Just before a commercial break towards the end of the hour-long segment, Coren said “Uh, would it be more fun to shoot pit-bulls or their owners?  No, I’m only joking.”  Then, coming out of that commercial break towards the end of the segment, Coren suggested the topic of the day was “Pit-bulls, would it be fun to kill ’em?” before taking more calls.  He also reiterated some of his views of the pit-bull owners:

Coren:   And I’ve never in my life seen one and “Oh look, um, there’s the Reverend Carruthers, you know, the man who works at the food bank.  There he is with a pit-bull.  Oh, who would have thought it?  Oh, it’s Jenny Wilkins, the social worker who’s always trying to help people.  She’s got a pit-bull.  Oh, I didn’t know that.  Isn’t that marvellous?  It’s, it’s Doctor Jenkins.  He delivered our child.  Here he is with a pit-bull!”  No, no.  It’s, it’s Tommy Trash.  It’s Tommy Trash and his tattoos.  And his ugly fat wife.  No.  But you know the sort of people who they are.  I mean, why do we pretend?  They have them because they want to make a statement to you.  They want to say “get out of my way, I’m intimidating.”

Caller Robin continued along a similar line and played along with Coren’s sarcastic responses:

Robin:   Um, I am surprised that you would actually think that a pit-bull owner would call you up because they’re probably right now sitting outside, um, in their lawn chairs, opening up bottles of beer with, uh, bottle openers that are attached to their key-chain [Coren laughs] because they haven’t figured out how to twist the cap yet.

Coren:   Oh, that’s so judgmental, Robin.

Robin:   Oh, I’m sorry.

Coren:   They, they’re people too.

Robin:   [laughs] I am sorry.

Coren:   I mean, not real people, obviously, but.

Robin:   [laughs] I’m sorry.

Coren:   Also, they would have to dial, uh, several digits in order.  Which is –

Robin:   [laughs] Yes, exactly.  Maybe more than three.

Coren:   […]  [laughs]  Shouldn’t be judgmental.  Oh, come on.  It’s wonderful being judgmental.  It’s such fun.  No, it’s not being judgmental.  I mean, being judgmental is being hypocritical.  That’s what the term really means, isn’t it?  It’s, you know, if I was a pit-bull owner judging other pit-bull owners.  You get that a lot into it really [sic].  It’s very judgmental.  No, it’s, you’ve just called me judgmental, well, obviously then you’re being judgmental.  Judgmental is, is different from judging.  […]  To have an informed opinion about something is not judgmental; it’s an informed opinion to say that, because every pit-bull owner I’ve ever seen has been trashy, that the vast majority of pit-bull….  And the guy the other week in, um, in Parkdale who locked the dog in the car, it was a couple of weeks ago and everyone went crazy about it.  And I said, I, I, I bet you he’s a real trashy guy and people said “How could you be so judgmental?”  And then they saw him on TV [laughs].  I didn’t get any calls after that.

The CBSC received a complaint about the broadcast, dated August 14.  The listener was concerned about Coren’s suggestion that all pit-bulls and their owners be killed.  He expressed his complaint in the following terms (the full text of all correspondence can be found in Appendix B):

On Sunday August 12, 2007, on CFRB, I heard Michael Coren, on his evening show, advocate to his listeners the killing of all pit-bull dogs, and the killing of their owners.  Proposing that people be shot is totally unacceptable.  The station and the announcer need to be disciplined.  These comments were at 15 minutes to the hour, and continued for at least 15 minutes.  I believe the time was 7:45 pm, but I may be one hour off […].

CFRB’s Operations Manager sent a letter of response to the complainant on August 26:

I listened to the entire hour of the show between 7:00 pm and 8:00 pm to get the entire context of the broadcast.  To hear what Michael Coren was saying about pit-bulls and their owners.

The topic began with a description of what happened to the Whitby couple.  A pit-bull attacked them and their dog resulting in serious injury to the dog and the couple being bitten.  The owner called off his pit-bull and gave them a phone number to contact him — the phone number turned out to be false.  Authorities are trying to track down the owner and the dog to determine if it has rabbis [sic].  If they can’t find the owner or the dog the Whitby couple will have to undergo painful rabbi [sic] shots.

Michael referred to pit-bull owners like this as morons:

[…]

“Ask the cops … the pit-bull is really the dog of choice … the weapon of choice of the criminal class … not only should we take the pit-bulls away … I’m serious about this … not hurt them but kill them … don’t inflict pain on them … and the owners … kill them … but inflict pain … no, no, no obviously you can’t do do that …”

It is obvious with his last statement quoted above that he was being sarcastic … making a point he immediately says would be wrong.  This is a comment that when taken in the context of what was being discussed … a reasonably intelligent person would know right away that Michael wasn’t serious about killing owners of pit-bulls.

This was further emphasized when Michael added:  ” … but punish them by forcing them to walk around with mini poodles or something …”

Later around 7:49 pm which is probably around the time you heard the show … Michael said just before going to a commercial:  “would it be more fun to shoot pit-bulls or their owners … no … I’m only joking …”

[…]

We don’t believe anyone listening to the entire show would come away with the conclusion that Michael Coren was serious about the urging of pit-bull owners to be shot.  For those who tuned in like you did at 7:49 he made it very clear that he was just joking.

If Michael had made those comments and not added that he was joking or earlier telling listeners “obviously you can’t do that” … then I believe the complaint would be justified.  But this isn’t the case … the host is exaggerating a point to make a stand and generate phone calls, but at the same time he is informing listeners that it was a joke or that they shouldn’t act on his suggestion.  […].

That said, we will raise your complaint with Michael Coren so that he understands that even comments labelled as a joke could be misinterpreted by the listener.

The complainant was dissatisfied with that response and filed his Ruling Request on August 27.  He elaborated on his concerns:

I am not satisfied with the response, and shall address some of the points below.  Where I have quotation marks around text, I will be quoting from the body of the letter from [the Operations Manager].

[…]

Mr. Coren went way beyond limiting his comments to only pit-bulls who have attacked, and the owners of those dogs.  My complaint addresses the owners of pit-bulls who have dogs who are not trained to be aggressive, but are indeed good, safe family pets.

[…]

Had Mr. Coren said, “Kill all the Jews.  No wait I’m joking”, his words would not be negated.  […]  He has tarred all owners of all pit-bulls.

I have a dear friend who owns 3 lovely dogs, eleven, nine and two years old.  They were purchased from responsible breeders, and have never in their lives harmed a human or another dog.  They are as loving as any pet dogs could be. And they are pit-bulls.

Michael Coren would have these dogs shot for bounty and proposes shooting the owner too, on his CFRB radio show of August 12, 2007.  I see these remarks as a hate crime.

The man has suggested killing all the owners of pit-bulls, regardless of their pet’s behaviour.  This is an identifiable group of people.  It is irresponsible of CFRB to have allowed this to take place.  The station and its announcer should be sanctioned.

A public apology should be made.  Mr. Coren should educate himself on the facts.

It is not the breed that is a problem; it is some of the owners.  […]

These are the folks that need to be punished.  And any dogs trained to do harm should be properly dealt with regardless of breed.

[…]

I propose that Mr. Coren be told to devote an hour of radio time to discussion of pit-bulls who are not a problem.

Let him interview my friend, and meet her dogs, and then dare to say that she is a moron, and should be beaten or killed, and that her dogs should be hunted for bounty.  Let him speak to an expert on dogs […].

I request that the CBSC conduct a proper inquiry into this event.

THE DECISION

The Ontario Regional Panel examined the complaint under the following provisions of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics:

Clause 6 – Full, Fair and Proper Presentation

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

Clause 9 – Radio Broadcasting

Recognizing that radio is a local medium and, consequently, reflective of local community standards, programming broadcast on a local radio station shall take into consideration the generally recognized access to programming content available in the market, the demographic composition of the station’s audience, and the station’s format. Within this context, particular care shall be taken by radio broadcasters to ensure that programming on their stations does not contain:

(a)        Gratuitous violence in any form, or otherwise sanction, promote or glamorize violence;

The Panel Adjudicators read all of the correspondence and reviewed a recording of the broadcast.  The Panel concludes that the station did not violate either Clause.

What Was the Host Saying?

The Panel does agree with the complainant that “Proposing that people be shot is totally unacceptable.”  (The Panel does not consider that the advocacy of euthanizing pit-bulls falls into the same category as killing human beings.  Accordingly, it will deal with this subject in the following section.)  Other CBSC Panels have twice made the point about encouraging the killing of people. [See CKTB-AM re the John Michael Show (Middle East Commentary) (CBSC Decision 01/02-0651, June 7, 2002) and CJKR-FM re the song “Kill All the White Man” by NOFX (CBSC Decision 04/05-0612, June 2, 2005).]  It is, however, essential, in order to reach the conclusion that the proposal to kill an individual or group of persons was the seriously intended point, to determine whether that was an accurate assessment of what was said.  Indeed, in the bulk of cases the CBSC has been called upon to assess, the adjudicating Panels have concluded that the message of murder or even lesser violence was humorous or sarcastic.  [See, for example, CIWW-AM re The Geoff Franklin Show (CBSC Decision 92/93-0181, October 26, 1993), CIQC-AM re Galganov in the Morning (CBSC Decision 97/98-0473, August 14, 1998), CKAC re an episode of the Gilles Proulx Show (CBSC Decision 98/99-1108, February 21, 2000), Comedy Network re Open Mike with Mike Bullard (Leah Pinsent Film) (CBSC Decision 99/00-0482, January 31, 2001).]

While the Panel agrees with the complainant’s underlying proposition, namely, the inappropriateness of the advocacy of violence toward individuals, in the matter at hand, it does not agree with the complainant’s assertion that the host was in fact “advocat[ing] to his listeners […] the killing of their owners [i.e. the owners of pit bulls].”  To understand the host’s position, it should be noted that, contextually speaking, he referred to the owners of pit-bulls uniformly as “cretins” or by the application of other equally derogatory designations.  And it is fair to add that he used words that, in isolation, or on their face, might have left an individual with a sense that he was advocating death to them, as well as their pets. On the first occasion, for example, after recommending that the dogs be put to death, but not in such a way as to cause them pain, he added, “Uh, and the owners, kill them, but do inflict pain.”  He followed that “suggestion” with the words, “No, obviously you can’t do that.  Bugger.”  On the second occasion when a similar opportunity for an owner-focussed comment arose, Coren said, “Uh, would it be more fun to shoot pit-bulls or their owners?”  And he followed that with a similar concluding comment, “No, I’m only joking.”  The Panel understands clearly the disrespect manifested by the host for pit-bull owners, but nothing in what it has reviewed leads them to believe in the slightest that he had any intention of advocating violence of any kind toward the owners of pit-bulls.  It finds no breach of Clause 9(a) of the CAB Code of Ethics.

Improper Comments

There are two issues the Panel wishes to deal with in terms of “improper” comment under Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics: first, the advocacy of euthanizing pit-bulls; and second, the uniformly degrading characterization of pit-bull owners.

In the first case, the Panel has no doubt regarding the host’s perception of the proper fate of the pit-bull “breed” of dogs.  Coren made it unequivocally clear that he favoured the disappearance of pit-bulls.  He considered them extremely dangerous and, in his words, “they do cause a great deal of damage and there is nothing positive about them.”  His recommendation was that they be “expunge[d] […] from the face of the earth.”  It should, however, be noted that he was very careful about causing them pain.  He was clearly against that prospect.  He favoured their being put to sleep, a euphemism he used once, or, stated straightforwardly, being killed.  In the view of the Panel, that was an opinion that Coren was entitled to air.  Nor was there any requirement that his view be balanced by a contrary perspective in that Sunday night discussion.  Although some callers did express the contrary point-of-view, the hour was dominated by Coren’s position.  It was not a malevolent perspective.  It was not a sadistic perspective.  It reflected no desire to inflict pain on any animal.  It reflected only the host’s belief that the breed was harmful and dangerous to humans, a view not inconsistent with that of the Ontario Legislature, although the solutions proposed by the legislators and Coren are leagues apart.

In the second case, there can be no doubt about Coren’s view of pit-bull owners.  He referred to them variously as cretins, morons, consumers of cheap beer, cheap cannabis and bingo, not “worth a moment of my time”, “white trash, semi-criminal”, insecure, “Tommy Trash”, and the like.  Undeniably negative comments.  The Panel cannot disagree with the complainant’s assertion that the host “tarred all owners of pit-bulls.”  The issue, though, is not whether Coren made such comments, but whether he was entitled to be as critical as he was.

In CJMF-FM re the program “L’heure de vérité avec André Arthur” (CBSC Decision 99/00-0240, August 29, 2000), host Arthur criticized welfare recipients for being lazy and putting themselves in debt.  Notwithstanding that, the Quebec Regional Panel concluded that the “aggressive, mocking, arrogant style of the host does no justice to the medium of radio,” but that “there is no violation and […] freedom of speech must prevail.”  In CKNW-AM re an episode of Adler on Line (CBSC Decision 05/06-0539, May 9, 2006), the B.C. Regional Panel dealt with a complaint about an open-line talk show during which the host took an aggressive position with callers who were sympathetic to the teachers strike then on in British Columbia.  He called two of them “stupid” and told another to “get a life”.  The Panel questioned the choice of language but found no breach of Clause 6 of the Code.

The Panel is […] at a loss to understand why he descended to the level of personal insult, using words like “stupid” to characterize Brent and Braeden.  […]  Adler could have characterized ideas as stupid but people?  No need.  Not right.  It was, in the Panel’s view, unnecessary to pander to the bleachers.  It is fine to disagree with the callers and to argue with them but to be rude and insulting to them to that extent was unnecessary.  The deft gave way to the blunt.  On balance, the Panel concludes that the broadcast came close to the edge but did not, on this occasion, go over it.  While the Panel does not find that those insults constituted a breach of Clause 6 of the Code, it does regret that they were used.

In CKNW-AM re an episode of Bruce Allen’s Reality Check (CBSC Decision 05/06-0651, May 9, 2006), the British Columbia Regional Panel was again called upon to assess a Bruce Allen editorial that criticized a government-funded program set up to help drug addicts.  In that case, the Panel observed:

His view is that the addicts do not contribute to society; they are net takers.  If their illegal habit results in their death, he considers that no societal loss.  “Too bad,” he concludes.  “Kind of like driving around a car at a hundred kilometres an hour when the sign says fifty.  You take your chances, you reap the consequences.”  It is true that he is also critical of the addicts themselves, referring to them as “human vermin […] who have nothing to do but eat up public money and turn our city into a pig sty.”  His view: much cost, no reward.

The Panel finds the opinion piece tough but entirely fair.  Were the addicts and their guardian angels a fair target?  Yes.  Were they a proper target?  Yes.  Was the criticism over the top?  Perhaps, but only on the level of taste.  It may be that Bruce Allen used a medieval mace when stepping on the bug would have sufficed; however, the criticism of the program of benevolence did not constitute a breach of Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics.

In the matter at hand, the Panel concludes similarly.  Bad taste perhaps, but fundamentally reflective of an opinion that goes to the dog owners’ lifestyle choice, not to an innate human characteristic, such as gender, the colour of one’s skin or the like.  In the view of the Panel, the characterization was harsh but defensible (in terms of the Code).  Neither the comments about the dogs nor those about their owners were improper under Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics.

Broadcaster Responsiveness

In all CBSC decisions, the Council’s Panels assess the broadcaster’s responsiveness to the complainant.  In the present instance, the Panel finds that the reply from the Operations Manager was lengthy and detailed.  It reflected the issues raised by the complainant and referred to specific sections of the transcript in order to illustrate the broadcaster’s response on the issues.  While it did not constitute a satisfactory reply from the complainant’s perspective, the Panel must underscore that the broadcaster is never under any obligation to agree with the complainant.  It is the commitment to dialogue with a complainant who has made the effort to register a concern that is the issue.  Not only is there no fault in the difference of perspectives, it is the case that every matter that goes to a Panel for adjudication begins with just such a disagreement between the complainant and the broadcaster.  The Panel considers that CFRB has fully met its CBSC membership responsiveness responsibilities in this instance.

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.