CHKG-FM re Lac Viet Radio

BRITISH COLUMBIA REGIONAL PANEL
M. Loh (Chair ad hoc), G. Leighton, F. Riahi, J. Rysavy, M. Singh, S. Warren

THE FACTS

CHGK-FM (Fairchild Radio, Vancouver) broadcasts a Vietnamese program entitled Lac Viet Radio [Lac Viet Public Education Society (Ðài Phát Thanh Lac Viêt)] every Saturday morning.  During their broadcasts of April 23 and April 30, 2005, there were announcements made which troubled a listener, who was identified in those broadcasts and soon thereafter complained about them.  The show is broadcast in Vietnamese and tapes, transcripts and translations of excerpts of episodes of the shows of November 27, 2004, April 23 and April 30, 2005, June 11 and August 20 were furnished by the complainant.  While the translated excerpts in the hands of the CBSC are all included in Appendix A, only brief illustrative extracts are included here.  (It should also be noted that some of the translations were provided by the complainant and some by the broadcaster but there seems to be common acceptance of the accuracy of these by both parties.)

woman’s voice:  […] serving the Vietnamese settlers in BC, regardless of their origin in the North, Central or South [region of Vietnam].  It is Lac Viet‘s policy not to interfere [or be affiliated] with any other organizations’ activities, especially those with political affiliations.  Lac Viet has never provoked hostility with any individual or any organization, but we will not hesitate to speak out in defense when our policies are being slandered.  An illustrative example of this [slandering act] is the surfacing of anonymous letters. In that spirit [of speaking out in defense], we would like to announce that from now on, we will not accept any phone calls to the radio station from [people or organizations] that has been and still is displaying destructive intentions, slandering, accusatively labeling Lac Viet as communist-friendly.  We do not view them as our listeners; specifically, we will not receive phone calls from Mr. Nguyen The Tien due to the following reasons:

1                     Mr. Tien has used “un-educated” language to speak about the policy makers of Lac Viet‘s station. [translator note:  the literal meaning was “uneducated language”, however, this term is a polite way of saying that the speaker, i.e. Mr. Tien had spoken using less courteous languages, but not quite “cursing” yet].  Several seniors, who were witnesses, have told us about what was being said.

2                     Mr. Tien had publicly accused the Lac Viet station as “communist-friendly” at a meeting of the “Vietnamese Community in the Greater Vancouver Area”, on this past April 17, in the presence of more than 100 people.

3                     Mr. Tien has offended Mr. [N. A. Q.] — also known as Mr. [R. C.], a Canadian professor who can speak Vietnamese because he had resided in Vietnam for a few years — when he was ON AIR.  Not enough, Mr. Tien has even made several personal phone calls directly to Mr. [A. Q.] to insist and deter Mr. [A. Q.] [from co-operating with Lac Viet].  This resulted in Mr. [A. Q.] backing out from his promise to contribute regularly to the Lac Viet Station.

We regret having to publicize this announcement and that with the sole intention of protecting the safe environment of the Lac Viet station and the reputation of the policy maker group, as well as our volunteers and collaborators.  We hope to continue to receive the active support from our loyal listeners.  This will conclude our section on community news.

There was a second statement broadcast one week later, which was sufficiently similar to the one cited here that it is only quoted in full in Appendix A.

Additional Material Information

Based on the correspondence and documents provided by the complainant and the station, it appears that the complainant, Mr. Tien The Nguyen, wrote directly to the station in March and April 2004 to complain that the programLac Viet Radio should begin its broadcasts with the Vietnamese national anthem and that it should deal with particular controversial political issues identified by Mr. Tien, in order to better fulfill the program’s self-proclaimed mandate of promoting a sense of community.  The station also apparently received a number of anonymous letters containing similar suggestions.  It appears that these anonymous letters generated some discussion within the Vietnamese community and were discussed at a community meeting held in October 2004.  Mr. Tien also wrote at least two open letters in October and November 2004 (which are found in Appendix B) about the matter, which appeared in a Vietnamese periodical.  By way of response, Lac Viet Radio then made their own statements about the issue and about Mr. Tien on air on April 23 and 30, 2005 (as already mentioned above).  Mr. Tien complained about those April broadcasts on the basis that they contained inaccurate and unfair information about him personally.

The Complaint and Ensuing Correspondence

Despite the age of the challenged program content, the initial complaint was only filed on September 6, 2005 with the CRTC, which forwarded it to the CBSC in due course.  While this was well beyond the 28-day period during which broadcasters are obliged to retain logger tapes, the complainant furnished his own recordings of the challenged episodes and the broadcaster did not object to their use by the CBSC.  The letter of complaint read as follows (complete copies of all correspondence are included in Appendix C):

In their two broadcasts (7:00-10:00 am), on April 23/2005 and on April 30/2005, Lac Viet Public Education Society broadcasted [sic] a “special announcement”.  This announcement was repeatedly read three times: two consecutive times on 23/04/2005 – by Ms. Tamy Dao first (not recorded) and then by Ms. Hong Tuoi (recorded) – and once more on 30/04/2005 by Ms. David Nhung [sic] (recorded).  In the announcement, they flagrantly violated the listeners’ rights of speak [sic] and made serious lies and slanders concerning me (Tien The Nguyen).

 (a)        They unfoundedly announced that:  “From now on, we will not allow a group of distorters and destroyers against Lac Viet Radio to telephone in for discussing and urging.  We do not consider them as our listeners (meaning that we exclude them from our audience).  Concretely (meaning actually), we will not allow Mr. Tien The Nguyen to telephone in for discussing or arguing ….

(b)        They blatantly lied that:  “Mr. Tien used uncultured words about Lac Viet Radio board in his talks with other Vietnamese seniors“;

(c)        They blatantly lied that:  “In the general meeting of the Vietnamese Community in GreaterVancouver (17/04/2005), Mr. Tien attributed the unfounded pro-communist tendency to Lac Viet Radio“;

(d)        They blatantly lied that:  “Mr. Tien hurt Mr. G. [R.] – a UBC lecturer – while Mr. G. [R.] ([N., A. Q.) talked in a Lac Viet Radio broadcast“;

(e)        They blatantly lied that:  “Mr. Tien personally called Mr. G. [R.] many times in order to find fault with him, to admonish him and to deter him“.

I think that Lac Viet Public Education Society obviously slandered me and they flauntingly violated the right of speak [sic] and the Radio Regulations, Part 1.1, Broadcasting Content, 3(a), (b), (  ) [sic], (d), (e), page 8 of 19.

 [.]

The broadcaster’s Director of International Programs responded on November 10.  She said, in part:

[.]Although there was no indication from the hosts’ words the exact broadcast dates of the programming, we trust the information you have provided and shall call them the programming broadcast on April 23 and April 30 of 2005.

The relevant content of the taped programming is only about 3 minutes in length and it is mainly about an announcement made by the program hosts that you found non-agreeable.  Apparently the same announcement was broadcast on April 23 as well as April 30 of 2005 and you have taped both broadcasts of the announcement in the cassette.

On your September 6, 2005 letter to the CRTC, you believe the Lac Viet radio programming has slandered you, and violated your right to speech as well as the Radio Regulations Part 1.1, Broadcasting Content, 3 (a), (b), (d) and (e) [.]  After a thorough study of the transcript of the segments you have taped, we cannot find the Lac Viet radio programming has violated any of the above regulations.

We do admit, however, it is very rare for our programs to issue a statement on air defending their ethics and principles.  Nevertheless, I shall point out the fact that, on top of the numerous phoned-in comments you had made on air during the Lac Viet program before the April 23 & 30, 2005 incidents, you have sent letters to Lac Viet on March 20, 2004 and April 21, 2004, and you have published two full-page open letters on the Phóng Sự magazine in October (Enclosure 2) and November 2004 (Enclosure 3) respectively.  Strong accusations were made against Lac Viet in those phoned-in comments, letters and announcements.  Statements and accusations like, “On the morning of March 20, … Your Program spoke about the ‘yellow flag’ using the same lines as the government of the communist party in Hanoi” (1), “… you insisted on ‘asking the opinions of the majority’ in the style of the Hanoi regime, ‘provocative and unfair’ …” (2), “I hope the Producer and all of Lac Viet staffs will change and choose the correct mission for your Radio program in the near future” (3), “the 7 of you have sat on the head of the motherland and the people” (4), are slanderous and have seriously damaged the goodwill and reputation of Lac Viet and their producers, hosts, guests and supporters.  It was only as the last resort that Lac Viet has decided to issue a statement on air.

The nature of the problem in this case, we believe, is the difference in perception of what kind of program Lac Viet should be.  Due to the training and expertise of the producers and program hosts, the target audience at that particular time slot (early Saturday morning) and the format of the program, we have decided from the very beginning that this radio program be informative but non-political and non-religious.  Naturally our decision would not please everyone in the Vietnamese community and we have received anonymous complaint letters against Lac Viet for not displaying the Vietnamese nationalist flag (former South Vietnam national flag) at its functions and not playing the South Vietnam nationalist anthem at the beginning of the radio program.  Those anonymous letters even jumped to the conclusion that Lac Viet is pro-Communist.  However, we still believe the Lac Viet radio program is more beneficial to the Vietnamese Community if the program remains neutral of political standing and put the emphasis on education, community network and, for new immigrants, on how to adjust to life in Canada.

Although Lac Viet has an open-line segment that welcomes listeners to phone in, we also have very strict regulations on how to handle phone-ins and who to put on air.  We advise our producers to screen all incoming calls, be especially cautious when dealing with controversial topics and know when to move on from overly heated arguments or possibly abusive comments.  Lac Viet is a live program and we as the licence holder of this radio station is [sic] ultimately responsible for all comments made on air, whether they are from the hosts, the guests or the callers.  We can’t help but to stay on the conservative side.

Nevertheless, it is not our intention to upset anyone with our programming.  Should you feel deprived of your freedom to speak on air, that you were never given a chance to defend yourself, or you feel you are not allowed the opportunity to express your points of view, we invite you to give us a written statement to address the issue on hand and we shall broadcast your statement on the Lac Viet program.

When reading your statement on air, we will make it clear that the statement is supplied by you and that it only reflects your belief and points of view, not of the radio station.

Please limit the length of your statement to 500 words, content of which should be fair and truthful.  It should also be free of personal attacks and abusive comments.  Please submit your statement to the undersigned in Vietnamese and English and we shall forward it to the CBSC for reference and advice.  Should any part of the statement appear to be unsuitable for broadcasting on air, we shall inform you and work out the changes together.  When the statement is announced on air, we will tape it for record.

Please make use of this opportunity to let your opinions be known to our audience.

 [.]

The complainant was not satisfied with the response and sent his ruling request to the CBSC on November 22.  The broadcaster’s representative sent additional information regarding Mr. Tien’s letters to Lac Viet Radio on December 2 (noted above as being in Appendix B).    On January 13, the complainant sent another letter to the CBSC, in which he made the following additional points.  He also included an additional tape, the transcript of which is a part of Appendix A.

First, I would like to emphasize that I am complaining about LAC VIET PUBLIC EDUCATION SOCIETY’s violations in their broadcasts such as the following.

  1. LVPES/DPTLV has eliminated a large group of Vietnamese British Columbians listeners (VBCLs) to their broadcasts and has not allowed these VBCLs (to call in) to participate in the discussions on numerous controversial issues presented.Therefore, LVPES/DPTLV has violated the right of getting information as well as the right of expressing opinions.
  2. LVPES/DPTLV lied blatantly about the relationship between Mr. [C. R.] and Mr. Tien The Nguyen (Mr. Tien has not known Mr. [C.]’s telephone number).Being on air, Mr. [C.] only gave Mr. Nguyen the email address [.].  You can check the fact with Mr. [R.].
  3. LVPES/DPTLV presented unfairly many public controversial issues in Vietnamese British Columbians community; LVPES/DPTLV were frequently allotting more time and allowing more expressing-turns in the discussions on controversial issues to get more support for LVPES/DPTLV’s point of view and to suppress the con side.
  4. LVPES/DPTLV frequently used and broadcasted coarse, aggressive and abusive languages in their broadcasts criticizing and attacking the opponents.
  5. LVPES/DPTLV frequently encouraged anonymous callers-in (no names cited, no phone numbers cited) to criticize and to attack its opponents in almost all discussions on controversial issues presented.

Secondly, I would like to inform you that I sent to you by post one more audio tape, containing recorded witnesses supporting my above-stated points.  [.]

Thirdly, [.] I would like also to advise that you need not dealing [sic] with the controversial issues in the Vietnamese Canadian community contained in the taped broadcasts, although they really are the main causes of the conflicts in the Vietnamese British Columbians community.

Fourthly, based on their behaviour, I think no one of the LVPES/ DPTLV’s staffs/members (including the president/the director) has the relevant qualification requested by the standards of CRTC and of CBSC.  Probably, they committed mistakes because they did not read even did not understand the CRTC’s Radio Regulations and the CBSC Codes.  [.] 

 

THE DECISION

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

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. 

The Adjudicators examined all of the correspondence and reviewed the translation of the transcriptions of the relevant episodes.  The Panel has concluded that the broadcaster was not in breach of the foregoing clause.

On-Air Comments about Complainants

The CBSC has had several opportunities to deal with the issue of comments made by on-air personalities regarding persons complaining about them.  In CKAC-AM re the Gilles Proulx Show (CBSC Decision 94/95-0136, December 6, 1995), a listener sent two letters commenting on the treatment of listeners and the use of the French language by one of the station’s talk show hosts.  Reacting with hostility to those complaints, the host broadcast, several times, the listener’s full name and city of residence, and added some outrageous and unwarranted personal attacks.  The Panel found that this violated the Code and stated that, 

other than for reasons of personal vindictiveness, there was no reason for Gilles Proulx to reveal the listener’s name and location (city) on air.  Although she wrote a letter of complaint directly to the station management and to the host, the complainant did not consent to being identified on the public airwaves.  A simple communication with a broadcaster, and even with the host of a talk show, is not tantamount to a waiver of the listener’s right to privacy.  Had the host genuinely wished to answer the charges which his critic had levelled against him, he could have done so by dealing with those issues which had been raised.  Instead, he ignored the issues and tore after the messenger.  By revealing the complainant’s full name and location, the host made it a simple task for any listener to identify her.  It is clear to the Regional Council that the host infringed the complainant’s fundamental right to privacy in circumstances where there was no public interest, much less an overriding public interest, in revealing her identity on the airwaves.

CIQC-AM re Galganov in the Morning (Invasion of Privacy) (CBSC Decision 97/98-0509, August 14, 1998), the host of a call-in show gave the complainant’s name on air, and insulted her for making her complaint to the CBSC.  In this instance, the Quebec Panel also found the broadcaster in breach and made the point about the disproportionate position of the member of the audience

who does not benefit from the same access to the airwaves.  The Council is of the opinion that the considerable power generated by the broadcast medium dictates that the person entrusted to wield this power will not abuse it by using it against relatively “defenceless” individuals. 

The same situation arose in TQS re Gilles Proulx comments on Journal du midi (transportation strike) (CBSC Decision 03/04-0334, April 22, 2004), in which the Quebec Regional Panel dealt with a news broadcast in which the host had commented on a complaint that had been made against him regarding his views on an on-going strike.  Proulx’s comments on the complaint began with the divulgation of the full name of the complainant and the identification of both the city where the complainant worked and that where he lived.  Once again, the Quebec Panel found that the disclosures constituted 

an unjustifiable exercise of the power of the microphone for petty and vindictive reasons.  There was no conceivable justification for Gilles Proulx to mention [the complainant’s] name, much less to identify the city where he lives and that where he works, on the air.  The host’s actions were taken in an atmosphere of nastiness and insult.  That the complainant had written Proulx directly was a private matter, that he filed a complaint with the CRTC was also a non-public act.  [.]

 It should also be remembered that those who complain to the CRTC or the CBSC are not persons who have access to the power of a microphone and a broadcast licence.  Those who receive such complaints and do have the power of a microphone and a licence must be conscious that those powerful tools have not been provided for personal retributive purposes.  [.] 

And finally, there is the other example of a decision of the Quebec Panel in CJMS-AM re comments on two episodes of Le p’tit monde à Frenchie (CBSC Decision 04/05-0939, October 24, 2005), in which the Panel added that “The issue becomes a problem when the purpose is not benign,” which it was not in that decision. 

The Application of the Foregoing Principles to the Present File

In the matter at hand, the Panel finds that the broadcaster operated with great care and sensitivity.  It was not brash in its statements.  It was not condemnatory.  It explained with considerable care its rationale for no longer permitting Mr. Tien to have access to its airwaves.  In so doing, it explained its own policy of wishing to stay above the political fray on Vietnam-sensitive issues such as the broadcast of the Vietnamese national anthem and the display of the flag.  Arguably, the statements were not even about the complainant but rather about the issues he raised.  They were, in the Panel’s view, an excellent example of the principle of benign usage referred to by the Quebec Panel in the CJMS decision above.

Most material of all, though, from the Panel’s perspective, is that it was Mr. Tien himself who rendered the entire matter public by publishing two open letters in Vietnamese-Canadian periodicals.  He focused on the matters of concern to him and criticized Lac Viet Radio to essentially the same audience that would be potential listeners of the weekly radio program.  Moreover, it was he who first chose to make these issues public.  While the Panel concedes that the specific sensitivities of the Vietnamese cultural issues are beyond their knowledge, it is not those disputes that are at issue.  It is the question of access.  Mr. Tien had his.  It is only fair for Lac Viet Radio to be able to respond.  Not only did they do so but they did so temperately and even generously by inviting Mr. Tien back on their airwaves after they had decided not to do so.  The Panel finds their fairness exemplary and considers that they have breached neither of the foregoing Code provisions by their broadcasts. 

Broadcaster Responsiveness 

The CBSC always assesses the broadcaster’s responsiveness to the complainant, which is a responsibility of membership in the Council.  It expects that response to be thoughtful and focussed on the substance of the complaint.  In the matter at hand, the broadcaster was exemplary.  Not only was the first letter long, thorough and thoughtful, but the broadcaster responded more than once and also agreed to provide further air time to the individual who had been so critical of it.  The Panel considers that the response of the Director of International Programs constitutes an excellent acquittal of CHKG-FM’s obligation of responsiveness on this occasion.

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.