CFRB-AM re Beyond the Mic with Mike Bullard

ONTARIO REGIONAL PANEL

CBSC Decision 11/12-0919

August 15, 2012
H. Hassan (Vice-Chair), M. Harris, J. Medline (ad hoc), D. Ward (ad hoc)

THE FACTS

Beyond the Mic with Mike Bullard is a talk show hosted by comedian Mike Bullard. He discusses current affairs and other topics which might be of interest to his listeners.  He sometimes interviews guests and he frequently accepts calls from listeners.  The program airs on CFRB-AM (NewsTalk 1010, Toronto) weekdays from 12:00 to 1:00 pm.

The CBSC received a complaint on January 6, 2012 from a listener who asserted that CFRB frequently broadcasts “hatred against Germans”. She specifically mentioned comments made on the Beyond the Mic episodes of December 22 and 25 as examples, and provided copies of correspondence she had already sent to the host and station management.

On December 22, 2011, during one segment, Bullard interviewed the director of a research centre that had conducted a study on alcohol consumption behaviour. Bullard made fun of the researcher’s German name and accent.  Bullard said it would be funny if the man’s name were “Jagermeister” and that the man’s real name made him think of proctology; he also affected a German accent for a few sentences.  Bullard then made a joke about giving alcohol to rats, letting them drive through a maze in little cars and having cats in police uniform administer breathalyzer tests to them.

A few minutes later, Bullard took a call from the complainant who told him that she had been listening to his show for over a year and his drunk-driving rats joke was the first time he had made her laugh out loud. Bullard replied “You’re German, it’s the first time in your life you’ve laughed out loud” and “German people are not easy laughers”.

In another segment in the same episode, Bullard invited listeners to phone him and describe the personality traits of their loved ones and Bullard would suggest suitable Christmas gifts for them. One caller said his wife was an “anal compulsive German woman”.  Bullard stated “Anal compulsive … and German.  Why didn’t you just save time by saying ‘German’?”  Bullard also said that a joke book would be an inappropriate gift, but the man could “give her her marching orders”.

The December 25 broadcast was a “best of” episode in which Bullard replayed highlights from the previous year’s programs. One of the clips was an interview Bullard conducted with the owner of a skydiving operation the day before Bullard’s parachute jump.  Bullard asked about the type of training he would receive before the jump and, at one point, asked “Is there a level where you can become, like, a paratrooper?”  After a brief conversation about the different levels and competitions in the sport of skydiving, Bullard and the skydiving instructor had the following exchange:

Bullard:             When I land tomorrow, can I bury my chute and kill some Germans?

instructor:         Uh, that would be an interesting thing to [?].

Bullard:             All right.

instructor:         I’ve got some old parachutes, you could probably get away with that.

Bullard:             All right.  ’Cause I want to do that.  I want to bury my chute and kill some Germans.

instructor:         That’d be cool.  We’ll give you one of the big old round ones.

A more complete transcript of the above-mentioned segments can be found in Appendix A.

The complainant was concerned that the comments were “anti-German” and presented Germans in a stereotypical and derogatory manner. As noted above, the complainant had contacted the broadcaster prior to filing her complaint with the CBSC.  The station’s Brand Director had simply thanked her for her feedback while Bullard himself had written that he would not be apologizing because there was no malicious intent and then asked her to name some famous German comedians, the implication being that she could not and that proved his point about Germans being humourless.  Once the CBSC was involved, station management sent a lengthier reply to the complainant on January 27.  The station argued that it would have been clear to Bullard’s listeners that he “was acting in his capacity as a professional comedian” and that his comments were made in a “humorous, light-hearted manner [which] were in no way meant to be disparaging against any segment of the population.”  The station informed the complainant that, although it did not believe it had violated any Codes, it had nevertheless spoken to the host about the potential negative interpretation of his comments.  The complainant filed her Ruling Request on January 31.  She listed the Code provisions she believed had been violated and reiterated her concerns that Bullard had made both her and the German researcher appear as stereotypical caricatures of German people and that the “killing Germans” comment was highly inappropriate and not “lighthearted”.  She also suggested that her complaint would be taken more seriously if another ethnic group were at issue.  (The full text of all correspondence can be found in Appendix B.)

THE DECISION

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

CAB Code of Ethics, Clause 2 – Human Rights

Recognizing that every person has the right to full and equal recognition and to enjoy certain fundamental rights and freedoms, broadcasters shall ensure that their programming contains no abusive or unduly discriminatory material or comment which is based on matters of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status or physical or mental disability.

CAB Code of Ethics, 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:

  1. Gratuitous violence in any form, or otherwise sanction, promote or glamorize violence;

CAB Equitable Portrayal Code, Clause 2 – Human Rights

Recognizing that every person has the right to the full enjoyment of certain fundamental rights and freedoms, broadcasters shall ensure that their programming contains no abusive or unduly discriminatory material or comment which is based on matters of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, marital status or physical or mental disability.

CAB Equitable Portrayal Code, Clause 3 – Negative Portrayal

In an effort to ensure appropriate depictions of all individuals and groups, broadcasters shall refrain from airing unduly negative portrayals of persons with respect to race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, marital status or physical or mental disability. Negative portrayal can take many different forms, including (but not limited to) stereotyping, stigmatization and victimization, derision of myths, traditions or practices, degrading material, and exploitation.

CAB Equitable Portrayal Code, Clause 4 – Stereotyping

Recognizing that stereotyping is a form of generalization that is frequently simplistic, belittling, hurtful or prejudicial, while being unreflective of the complexity of the group being stereotyped, broadcasters shall ensure that their programming contains no unduly negative stereotypical material or comment which is based on matters of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, marital status or physical or mental disability.

CAB Equitable Portrayal Code, Clause 10 – Contextual Considerations

Broadcasts may fairly include material that would otherwise appear to breach one of the foregoing provisions in the following contextual circumstances:

[…]

(b)        Comedic, humorous or satirical usage:  Although the comedic, humorous or satirical intention or nature of programming is not an absolute defence with respect to the proscriptions of this Code, it is understood that some comedic, humorous or satirical content, although discriminatory or stereotypical, may be light and relatively inoffensive, rather than abusive or unduly discriminatory.

CAB Violence Code, Article 8.0 – Violence against Specific Groups

8.1        Broadcasters shall not telecast programming which sanctions, promotes or glamorizes violence based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, or mental or physical disability.

The Panel Adjudicators read all of the correspondence and listened to the challenged broadcasts. The Panel concludes that CFRB-AM did not breach any of the foregoing Code provisions.

Comments about Germans

Clause 2 of the CAB Code of Ethics and Clause 2 of the CAB Equitable Portrayal Code both prohibit abusive and unduly discriminatory comment on the basis of ethnicity or nationality.  The Equitable Portrayal Code also prohibits unduly negative portrayal of an individual or group on the basis of ethnicity or nationality and lists stereotyping as one possible form of negative portrayal.

In this case, the complainant argued that Bullard’s comments about Germans being humourless and his mocking of the German researcher’s name and accent were anti-German and depicted Germans in a negatively stereotypical manner.

In previous decisions, the CBSC has explained that, in order for comments to violate the Codes, they must reach the level of “abusive” or “unduly” discriminatory or “unduly negative” stereotyping. That is to say, it is not every negative or mocking comment that will violate the Codes.[1]  The CBSC has also recognized that humour frequently involves making fun of a particular group’s supposed characteristics.[2]  The particular nature of comedic programming is recognized in Clause 10 (Contextual Considerations) of the CAB Equitable Portrayal Code.  The CBSC takes these elements into consideration in all cases, regardless of the identifiable group involved.[3]

In the matter at hand, the Ontario Panel finds that the broadcasts contained multiple instances of negative remarks about Germans which some listeners would likely have considered to be in extremely poor taste. These included references to Germans being “anal compulsive”, Bullard’s stated desire to kill some Germans like a paratrooper, and the mocking treatment of the German researcher, particularly since the latter appeared on the program to discuss his centre’s work in a serious manner.  The Panel agrees with the complainant that these comments and Bullard’s tone were not, at all times, “light-hearted”.  At the same time, however, the Panel finds that they did not quite reach the level of harshness required to be considered “abusive” or “unduly” negative under the Codes.  In such cases, the CBSC must err on the side of freedom of expression and find no breaches of Clause 2 of the CAB Code of Ethics or Clauses 2, 3 or 4 of the CAB Equitable Portrayal Code.

Sanction, Promotion or Glamorization of Violence against an Identifiable Group

One of the complainant’s primary concerns was Bullard’s comment about killing Germans. Bullard asked the skydiving instructor if one could train to become a paratrooper and then asked if, when he completed his jump, he could bury his parachute and kill some Germans.  As noted above, the Panel acknowledges that listeners could find these remarks to be in very poor taste.  It was clear, however, from the use of the word “paratrooper” and Bullard’s description that he was alluding to actions that had occurred during World War Two when Germans were the enemy for Allied forces.  The Panel considers that listeners of Beyond the Mic would have readily understood the comments in that specific context and that there was no suggestion that any present-day Germans ought to be killed.  Moreover, the “paratrooper” scenario described by Bullard was highly unrealistic[4] given the location and circumstances of his jump (i.e. in the Toronto area with a group of friends).  The Panel alerts the broadcaster that it should exercise caution when making jokes about “killing” any individual or group, but, in this case, it finds that Bullard did not actually sanction, promote or glamorize violence against Germans under Clause 9(a) of the CAB Code of Ethics or Article 8.0 of the CAB Violence Code.

Broadcaster Responsiveness

In all CBSC decisions, the Panels assess the broadcaster’s response to the complainant. The broadcaster need not agree with the complainant’s position, but it must respond in a courteous, thoughtful and thorough manner.  In this case, the complainant contacted the station and host directly before contacting the CBSC.  The initial responses to her were extremely short and somewhat curt.  The CBSC encourages all of its broadcaster members to make an effort to engage in a productive and respectful dialogue with complainants regardless of whether or not the CBSC itself has been notified of the complaint.  The vast majority of complaints are resolved through the dialogue between broadcaster and complainant.  In any event, once the CBSC was involved in this complaint, CFRB sent a comprehensive and descriptive reply to the complainant.  The broadcaster therefore fulfilled its obligations of responsiveness and nothing further is required in this regard 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.

[1] CFOX-FM re the Larry and Willy Show (CBSC Decision 92/93-0141, August 30, 1993); CITV-TV re “You Paid for It!” (Arts Funding) (CBSC Decision 95/96-0091, December 16, 1997); CFYI-AM re Scruff Connors and John Derringer Morning Show (CBSC Decision 01/02-0279, June 7, 2002); CJAY-FM re Forbes and Friends (Chinese Language “Translations”) (CBSC Decision 02/03-1646, April 16, 2004); CKTF-FM re a parody on Les Grandes Gueules (CBSC Decision 04/05-0763, July 19, 2005); and SRC re Bye Bye 2008 (CBSC Decision 08/09-0620+, March 17, 2009).

[2] CHUM-FM re Sunday Funnies (CBSC Decision 95/96-0064, March 26, 1996); CKVU-TV re an episode of Nightstand (CBSC Decision 96/97-0140, June 19, 1997); and Comedy Network re Open Mike with Mike Bullard (Leah Pinsent Film) (CBSC Decision 99/00-0482, January 31, 2001).

[3] CTV re an episode of Open Mike with Mike Bullard (CBSC Decision 01/02-0783+, January 15, 2003) and CHWO-AM re an episode of Durant’s World (CBSC Decision 04/05-0447, May 24, 2005).

[4] See the following decisions in which the CBSC observed that the suggestions of violence were unrealistic: CKAC re an episode of the Gilles Proulx Show (CBSC Decision 98/99-1108, February 21, 2000) and CFRB-AM re an episode of the Michael Coren Show (CBSC Decision 06/07-1428, April 14, 2008).