CHCH-TV re Life Today with James Robison

ONTARIO REGIONAL COUNCIL
(CBSC Decision 95/96-0128)
A. MacKay (Chair), R. Stanbury (Vice-Chair), R. Cohen (ad hoc), P. Fockler, M. Hogarth, M. Ziniak

The Facts

Life Today is a religious program hosted by James Robison which airs on CHCH-TV
(Hamilton) at 5:30 a.m. On February 6, 1996, the episode entitled “Looking for Love”
dealt with homosexuality. The host introduced his topic in the following way:

Welcome. We do welcome you to Life Today. I'm James Robison. Betty is here with me
and we really have a very serious subject this week: Looking for Love. But we're going to
be dealing in particular with homosexuality, with the gay life and we're going to be talking
to homosexuals, those who have been trapped, or at least, in the lifestyle – some would not
consider it being trapped at all, some would consider it acceptable and normal and some
would say “Well it's just the way I was born and the way I was made and so forth.”

We're going to be talking about it all week and I would really like you to understand that we
are not speaking from a point of criticism. Betty and I both happen to be professing
Christians; that means we say we are Christians. A lot of people say they are Christians but
they are anything but Christ-like. We profess to be Christian, whether we are Christ-like can
be determined by our life, as Jesus himself has said “By the fruit of the life you know the
individual.” Hopefully our lifestyle communicates some of the attributes – and I hope, I know
Betty does anyway – communicate many of the attributes of Jesus.

But we are speaking of this issue and dealing directly with it out of love and concern. We'll
be speaking to people who are in this audience, who have family living the gay lifestyle,
some who have lost family members to AIDS because of a gay lifestyle, by their own
acknowledgment. We will be talking to some who are right now dealing with the stark news
– just as far as they are concerned – if they have children who are in this lifestyle. And I
want to say to all of you. We are talking about it today for just one reason: because we
really care.

For the most part, the program consisted of an interview with a man referred to as “John
Doe” who admitted to having once been a homosexual but who now proclaimed “to have
found Jesus” and left “the gay lifestyle”. The host questioned him on a range of topics
from what led him to “the gay lifestyle” in the first place to how he reacted to preachers
saying that “homosexuality is a 'most despicable lifestyle'.” Mr. Robison also discussed
the perceptions the gay community had of the religious community:

James Robison: We in the Christian community, we hear the word homophobia a lot. It
seems that if anyone says that we don't believe that homosexuality is an acceptable lifestyle
(we believe it is in fact a sin, like heterosexual adulterous lifestyle), well, you're homophobic.
Doesn't that seem a little extreme, coming from the gay community back toward the
religious community, when someone simply says “I don't think that's right”. I don't think that
makes a person homophobic, do you?

John Doe: I don't either and, if you look at the word phobia, it means extreme fear. If I
were homophobic, I'd be completely schizophrenic because I wouldn't be able to deal with
myself and … extreme fear means … it's like your claustrophobia. They will die to go into
an elevator, but phobia … homophobia is an extreme word but we need to get to conviction.
I have a conviction that homosexuality is sexual sin.

James Robison: You say this as someone who has lived in the gay lifestyle.

John Doe: Right.

The Letter of Complaint

On January 16, 1996, the complainant wrote to the CRTC and this letter was in turn
forwarded to the CBSC. The letter stated, in part,

This episode was blatantly anti-homosexual and was in the poorest of taste.

Our host went for the opposite of the fire and brimstone approach so many TV evangelists
use. Instead we are given a mystery man who claims to be an ex-gay who changed his
lifestyle for God. Yet this guest had to have his face blacked out on TV. However, the real
disgusting part was at the end of the interview. Mr. Robison implied that a hardline
approach against homosexuals was not the same as a similar approach against other
minorities (gender, religion, race, etc.). He went as far as to state that the latter was not
warranted. This can only mean that the bigoted Mr. Robison thinks Gays and Lesbians
should not be treated fairly as human beings too. Hate should not be protected under the
guise of religious broadcasting.

The complainant sent another letter to the CBSC five days later, on January 21, adding
three more episodes of this program to his complaint, thereby including the remainder of
the week in which Robison dealt with homosexuality. While the Council acknowledges that
the complainant sought to broaden his complaint, the Council finds that this additional
letter again only focussed on the episode of Tuesday, January 16 (the letters were virtually
identical), and therefore considers it appropriate to limit its adjudication to the specific
complaint relating to the January 16 episode.

The Broadcaster's Response

The station's Executive Vice-President and General Manager responded to the complaint
by letter dated February 6. The station took the position that it was Clause 14 (which
deals with the treatment of religious programs) of the Code of Ethics of the Canadian
Association of Broadcasters (CAB) which applied in this case and tailored its response
accordingly. The letter read in part as follows:

Broadcasters have the requirement to “…make available to the community adequate
opportunity for presentation of religious messages…” and the responsibility that these
broadcasts “…shall not be used to convey attacks upon another race or religion”. I believe
there is no fundamental inconsistency in widening the description of those to whom there
should be no attack to include the gay community, among others.

We convened our internal screening committee to address the specifics of your comments.
Your comments begin with your statement that the program in question was “blatantly anti-homosexual”. Several of us have reviewed the program many times, and do not come to
that opinion. James Robison began the program and continued throughout to espouse the
view that he was reaching out to those “in a homosexual lifestyle.” Robison was very direct
in stating his beliefs that gays could be aided if their aim was to no longer be a practising
homosexual, and that aid would come in the form of a relationship with God. This is a belief
that he, as a minister of a Christian faith, has the right to disseminate.

You also stated that Robison “…implied that a hardline approach against homosexuals was
not the same as a similar approach against other minorities. In this section of the program
it appeared to us that Robison was very inclusive in his comments so that it would not be
perceived as being anti-gay. In this context, Robison stated he believes that a homosexual
lifestyle is a sin to the same extent that it is a sin for a heterosexual man to have extra-marital sex. In both instances he declared that he believes God does not agree with him
saying it's all right for someone to do whatever he wants. As a minister of a Christian faith,
it is his responsibility to preach the fundamentals of that faith, and a belief that all humans
have choices to make regarding their lifestyles is one of those articles of faith. It is not
necessary that either you or I agree with his position, only that it be presented so that it does
not convey hate upon another group.

The complainant was not satisfied with the broadcaster's response and requested that the
matter be referred to the appropriate Regional Council for adjudication.

Although the broadcaster considered Clause 14 of the CAB Code of Ethics to apply to the
complaint, relying for the most part on the prohibition against using religious programming
to “convey attacks upon another race or religion”, which it was applying by analogy, the
CBSC believes that the more appropriate provision, particularly in light of its interpretation
of the human rights clause as including sexual orientation, would beClauses 2 and 6 of
the CAB Code ot Ethics, which read as follows:

Clause 2 (Human Rights):

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

Clause 6 (News):

It shall be the responsibility of member stations to ensure that news shall be represented
with accuracy and without bias. The member station shall satisfy itself that the
arrangements made for obtaining news ensure this result. It shall also ensure that news
broadcasts are not editorial. News shall not be selected for the purpose of furthering or
hindering either side of any controversial public issue, nor shall it be designed by the beliefs
or opinions or desires of the station management, the editor or others engaged in its
preparation or delivery. The fundamental purpose of news dissemination in a democracy
is to enable people to know what is happening, and to understand events so that they may
form their own conclusions.

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

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

The Regional Council members viewed a tape of the program in question and reviewed
all of the correspondence. The Council considers that program in question does not
violate any of the provisions of the Code of Ethics.

Sexual Orientation and Clause 2 of the Code of Ethics

At the outset, the Council notes that sexual orientation does not appear in the text of
clause 2 of the Code of Ethics; however, previous interpretation of this provision has led
to its inclusion as a protected ground of discrimination. In CHQR-AM re Forbes and
Friends
(CBSC Decision 92/93-0187, August 8, 1994), the CBSC stated that

Although Clause 2 does not contain a specific reference to “sexual orientation”, the Regional
Council considered that the term “sex” could reasonably be understood as being broad
enough to include “sexual orientation”.

More recently in CJRQ-FM re Opinion Poll (CBSC Decision 94/95-0135, March 26, 1996),
the Council confirmed that sexual orientation is a protected ground under Clause 2 of theCode of Ethics.

It should be borne in mind that the CAB Code of Ethics was created in 1988. When, two
years later, the private broadcaster codifiers created the Sex Role Portrayal Code, with the
approval of the CRTC, they provided, in Article 3, for “fair and equitable demographic
diversity” in the following terms:

(3) Demographic Spectrum:

Television and radio programming shall portray the wide spectrum of
Canadian life. Women and men shall be portrayed with fair and equitable
demographic diversity taking into account age, civil status, race,
ethnocultural origin, physical appearance, sexual orientation, background,
religion, occupation, socio-economic condition and leisure activities, while
actively pursuing a wide range of interests. Portrayals should also take into
account the roles and contributions of the mentally, physically and socially
challenged.

Similarly, in creating the 1993 CAB Violence Code, the private broadcaster codifiers, again
with the approval of the CRTC, provided a corresponding protection on the basis of sexual
orientation in Article 8:

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

Furthermore, Section 3(b) of the Radio Regulations, 1986 provides that “A licensee shall not
broadcast any abusive comment that, when taken in context, tends or is likely to expose an
individual … to hatred or contempt on the basis of race, national or ethnic origin, colour,
religion, sex, sexual orientation, age or mental or physical disability.”

In all, the Ontario Regional Council considers that, until such time as the Code is formally
amended, the only appropriate application of the human rights provision of the CAB Code
of Ethics
is to include “sexual orientation” within the Council's understanding of “sex”.

The Council further notes that the CRTC amended all of its regulations dealing with
broadcasting content in 1991 to include sexual orientation as one of the bases on which
abusive comment is prohibited. While the CAB has not yet amended its Code of Ethics,
which was drafted in 1988, the Council does not find this situation problematic. The
Council notes that the Supreme Court of Canada has read sexual orientation into section
15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in Egan v. Canada [1995] 2 S.C.R.
513. In that decision, Mr. Justice La Forest stated:

I have no difficulty accepting the appellants' contention that whether or not sexual
orientation is based on biological or physiological factors, which may be a matter of some
controversy, it is a deeply personal characteristic that is either unchangeable or changeable
only at unacceptable personal costs, and so falls within the amibit of s. 15 protection as
being analogous to the enumerated grounds.
[Emphasis added.]

The Content of the Program

The Regional Council finds that Life Today hosted by James Robison is a program which,
by its very nature, involves the presentation of opinions and presupposes a moral bias.
It does not purport to be objective, as is made clear by the introduction reproduced above.
Accordingly, such a program should not, indeed, cannot be judged using the criteria of
accuracy and fairness that would be applied to news or public affairs programming.
Rather, when dealing with the expression of opinions, the Council must merely determine
whether these opinions are expressed in a manner that is abusive or discriminatory.

The requirement for an abusive or hateful element in finding a breach of Clause 2 of the
Code of Ethics was recognized in CFOX-FM re the Larry and Willie Show (CBSC Decision
92/93-0141, August 30, 1993), where the Council concluded that

It is not any reference to “race, national or ethnic origin, religion, age, sex, marital status or
physical or mental handicap” but rather those which contain “abusive or discriminatory
material or comment” based on the foregoing which will be sanctioned.

In this case, it appears to the Council that is was the host's point of view with which the
complainant took issue. The host's message was that monogamous heterosexuality was
the “right” lifestyle. He expressed the view that a proper interpretation of the Bible leads
to the conclusion that homosexuality is an unacceptable lifestyle (as is also the case with
adulterous heterosexuality, according to his interpretation). It is not the Council's mandate
to determine the correctness of the views presented, but only whether the views were
presented in a non-abusive, legitimate manner. In a contrary circumstance, they would be
in breach of the Code; however, in this case, the Council finds that the host's statements
were expressed as his moral position, presented in a legitimate manner and not at all as
hateful commentary.

In CJRQ-FM re Opinion Poll (CBSC Decision 94/95-0135, March 26, 1996), the Council
determined that statements made on air were “blatantly homophobic,” abusive and
discriminatory, contrary to Clause 2 of the CAB Code of Ethics. In that case, the on-air
host asked the question “Should taxpayers pick up the tab for sex-change operations that
are deemed medically necessary?” A selection of listeners' views were later broadcast.
One of the selected calls contained the following phraseology: “some sick demented
obviously mentally disturbed homosexual”, “minces into a hospital or clinic” and “this misfit
of the natural order”. No such language or tone was used by the host, his guest or the
audience of Life Today.

In his letter, the complainant alleges that “Mr. Robison implied that a hardline approach
against homosexuals was not the same as a similar approach against other minorities
(gender, religion, race, etc.)” The Council finds that this is not a fair characterization of
what was actually said. As is always the case, the CBSC members have the benefit of a
tape of the broadcast which they can watch or listen to more than once to ensure they
have the precise words and tone, a disadvantage for any viewer or listener who generally
has only fleeting initial contact with the program as it goes by. In the circumstances, the
Council bases its determination on the following statement which it takes to be the
implication referred to by the complainant:

James Robison: …Recently, we've done this great scientific discovery where our
scientists, biologically now, they've told us there really is a difference between men and
women. … I mean, I'm asking you to keep calm because some people would like to laugh
right now, and I understand there's a little smile, even in my face. There really is a
difference physically, by nature, naturally. There really is a difference and it is for us to
reach a point – I mean, this is where I wish you could understand it – you see, I think
depravity is where we really are apart from the way God is, and a point of depravity is to
where you can cruelly put people down just because they have a lifestyle or a tendency and
you just brand them, “despicable”. Put yourself up at the [inaudible]. You don't mean to be
doing that, but in the religious community, we tend to do that. That's depravity. That is not
the way Jesus is. Jesus would not even run around closing down houses of prostitution and
throwing rocks through every beer joint or tavern he could come in contact with. Actually
he spent most of his time tearing up synagogues and church places. To be very honest with
you, that's where he spent most of his time. Because he said “This is not like my father.
This is nothing like my father.”

So that's a point of depravity where we get so cruel that we look at people, we look down
at them because of the colour of their skin, or the way they live. Well, that's depravity. But
it's also depravity to so twist our thinking to say that we can fit together that which is simply
physically not even made to come together. Nature knows this. The plant life knows this.
I mean, birds and bees know this. Animals know this. It's only people who can twist truth
until they become either cruel, until they'll say anything extreme to justify their lifestyle.

The Council finds that this statement was an expression of faith in the power of conversion
and that by saying this he was not advocating that “Gays and Lesbians should not be
treated fairly as human beings”, as contended by the complainant.

Broadcaster Responsiveness

In addition to assessing the relevance of the Codes to the complaint, the CBSC always
assesses the responsiveness of the broadcaster to the substance of the complaint. It is
a responsibility of membership in the CBSC to be responsive to audience complaints. The
Council has a wide experience of broadcaster responses and found this letter admirably
thoughtful with respect to the issues raised by the complainant. The Council notes that the
letter acknowledged the importance of responding to viewers when it stated that “It is only
through dialogue with our viewers that we can understand their concerns regarding the
programming we offer on our station.” The Council finds that the broadcaster has fulfilled
its responsibilities with respect to responding to complaints. Nothing more is required.

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.