CFRB-AM re the Ed Needham Show (Harassment)

(CBSC Decision 92/93-0081)
Marianne Barrie (Chair), Al MacKay (Vice-Chair), Susan Fish, Paul Fockler, Don Luzzi, Robert Stanbury


On November 16, 1992, on CFRB's Ed Needham show (a three-hour open-line
show), one of the subjects discussed was sexual harassment.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC)
received a complaint dated November 23, 1993 concerning the program. The CRTC
referred the matter to the CBSC on February 9, 1993.

According to the complainant, some of the comments made by the program host on
the subject of sexual harassment were both “inaccurate” and “potentially harmful.”
More specifically, the complainant indicated that the host

states that if a person is harassed and does not immediately take steps
to either confront the violator or report his/her actions then the victim
'gets exactly what they deserve.'

[The host …] states that in his opinion many females encourage
harassment by dressing in what he considers to be a provocative way.

In response to [the host's] first point, after generations of mistakes
human beings now know that all people do not react the same to this
type of offense …. Second, what, if anything, the victim wears does not
excuse inappropriate behaviour. To suggest that a female wearing a
short skirt is inviting sexual advances is very wrong….”

The broadcaster had also received the complaint directly from the complainant. In
its response, dated December 18, 1992, CFRB explained that,

We find that whenever [the host] takes a strong controversial position,
those individuals in the audience who disagree with the position always
feel that they have been treated rudely, abruptly, or impolitely.

I an assure you that CFRB and all of its talk show hosts are very aware
of the need to present fair and balanced opinions and at no time do we
screen the phone calls to put a slant on a story or opinion.

The station manager added a memorandum from program host, who stated,

There are mechanisms in place to handle genuine harassment
complaints and I urged women to use them. I probably said something
like, “if someone bothers you IN THE WORKPLACE and you don't do
something about it it's your fault if it continues.” The essence of my
argument was that as long as women won't complain directly to the
harasser and to their boss their harassment will continue and they are,
in a way, collaborators in it through their silence…

It has always been my contention that if a woman wears a short skirt or
a tight sweater she is going to get comments and create a particular
impression whether she means to or not….

The complainant was unsatisfied with this response and wrote to the CBSC to have
his complaint considered by the CBSC Ontario Regional Council. The Regional
Council considered the complaint on May 26, 1993.

The CBSC Secretariat determined that the complaint could be considered under the
Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB) Code of Ethics, Clause 15 — Sex-Role
Stereotyping, which reads:

Recognizing that stereotyping images can and do cause negative
influences, it shall be the responsibility of broadcasters to exhibit, to the
best of their ability, a conscious sensitivity to the problems related to
sex role stereotyping, by refraining from exploitation and by the
reflection of the intellectual and emotional equality of both sexes in

The Secretariat also deemed clause 2(c) of the CAB Sex-Role Portrayal Code for
Radio and Television Programming
to be applicable. The clause reads as follows:

Television and radio programming shall respect the principles of
intellectual and emotional equality of both sexes and the dignity of all
individuals. Television and radio programming should portray women
and men as equal beneficiaries of the positive attributes of family or
single-person life. Women and men should perform in a range of
occupations and function as intellectual and emotional equals in all
types of thematic circumstances. This should be the case for both work
and leisure activities requiring varying degrees of intellectual

Guidance: Women and men should be portrayed as working toward a
comfortable existence through mutual support, both economically and
emotionally, and in both public and private spheres. Despite the
problems of societal systemic discrimination, television and radio
programming should reflect an awareness of the need to avoid and
overcome discrimination on the basis of gender.

The Ontario Regional Council reviewed the complaint letter and the broadcaster's response, and listened to a tape of the program, in terms of the provisions of clause
15 of the Code of Ethics and clause 2(c) of the Sex-Role Portrayal Code. The
Regional Council agreed that the responsibility of the broadcaster, according to
clause 15, was to exhibit sensitivity to the problems related to sex-role stereotypes
and to help overcome societal discrimination. Moreover, the council felt that clause
2(c) of the Sex-Role Portrayal Code clearly indicated the broadcaster's role in
overcoming gender-based discrimination. On the basis of this understanding of the
codes, the Regional Council decided that the program host reinforced two
stereotypical images, namely, that women who do not respond immediately to
harassment deserve their situation, and that modes of dress invite comment or
indicate sexual standards. To that effect, Regional Council members noted
comments made by the host, such as “if you allow yourself to be sexually harassed,
so you can keep your job, you deserve it”, “quit … or take action … and quit your
whining”, and “if you wear a skirt with your bum sticking out and somebody makes
a crack and you get upset. Now who's setting who up?”

Thus, the regional council unanimously decided that the broadcaster contravened
both clauses. As a result, the CFRB is required to report this decision during peak
listening time. CFRB is also required to provide written confirmation to the
Secretariat, within thirty days of the publication of this decision, that the decision has
been broadcast.

The decision is also being released to the regional media.