心滿意屋 or Home Sweet Home is a Cantonese-language radio program which focuses on real estate and household design. It airs Sundays at 1:00 pm on CHKT AM1430 (Fairchild Radio, Toronto). The host is Christopher Ko.
An episode of the program aired on April 8, 2012, which was also Easter Sunday. In recognition of the day, Ko briefly commented about Easter at the beginning of the program. The comments were originally made in Cantonese, but the English translation is as follows:
For those, as was mentioned in the news, Christians and Catholics, Easter is really a special holiday. In fact, if we think more deeply, compared to Christmas, Easter is more meaningful. Why do I say so? Because it is more than the birth of Jesus. When Jesus was 33, he was nailed on a cross. Besides, he was stabbed a few times by the soldiers who wanted to make sure that he was dead. Then he was buried. Three days later, his body was gone. But then he appeared before his disciples and students. If I was there, I would be scared, if not to death, right? The Bible also recorded that more than 500 people witnessed that Jesus flew to the sky. I think if Jesus did not resurrect, there would not be today’s long weekend. There would be no Easter and Christmas would not appear to be so important. By the way, do you know that vehicles with the cross, that is the ambulances, have the implication of saving people because they have something to do with Jesus? That was because the cross was a mark of shame and the cruelest penalty was to nail the most evil guy on the cross to death. Then the mark of shame was adopted and used to mean saving people. Do you know this? It is OK if you don’t. I knew this only after I arrived in Canada …
The content of the rest of the program focused on its primary subject matter, namely real estate and home design, and neither Easter nor ambulances were mentioned again.
The CBSC received a complaint from a listener on April 8. He was concerned that the host had broadcast inaccurate statements about the origin of the red cross on ambulances and as a symbol of medicine. The complainant pointed out that the medical red cross has no connection to Jesus or the Christian cross at all. Its origin, rather, comes from the symbol of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement (ICRC) which was chosen at the 1864 Geneva Convention to be the symbol used to identify medical equipment and facilities during wartime and was eventually extended to non-wartime medical activities. The complainant argued that the host’s statement was offensive on the basis of religion in the sense that it provided false information about a Christian symbol, which would be offensive to Christians and it incorrectly credited Christianity as the source of the medical cross symbol, which would be offensive to other religions who also contributed to “a combined effort of people from all different religions and cultural backgrounds.” The complainant was also concerned that the host “is in a position of power due to the fact that his voice reaches many people through the medium of radio. His word is often taken at face value by older members of the Cantonese community.”
The station responded to the complainant on April 27. It simply noted that the host had mentioned the crucifixion, Jesus’ resurrection and ambulances but had not mentioned the Red Cross at all. It indicated that it did not believe that it had violated any broadcast codes. The complainant filed his Ruling Request on April 27. He expressed concern that the broadcaster seemingly denied that anything had been said about crosses on ambulances and again reiterated his concern about the inaccurate statement made about the origin of crosses on ambulances. (The full text of all correspondence can be found in the Appendix.)
The CBSC’s Ontario Regional Panel examined the complaint under the following provisions of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics and Equitable Portrayal Code:
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.
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 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 6 – Derision of Myths, Traditions or Practices
Broadcasters shall avoid the airing of content that has the effect of unduly deriding the myths, traditions or practices of groups on the basis of their race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, marital status or physical or mental disability.
The Panel Adjudicators read all of the correspondence, listened to a recording of the program and read the English translation of the transcript of the challenged segment. The Panel concludes that CHKT-AM did not breach any of the aforementioned Code provisions.
Accuracy of Information in Talk Shows
Because talk and information programs, such as Home Sweet Home, are not actual news programs, they are not directly subject to the news accuracy provisions in the CAB Code of Ethics and Radio Television Digital News Association of Canada’s (RTDNA) Code of Ethics. When faced with complaints about accuracy in the talk/information genre of programming, the CBSC applies the more generally-worded Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics regarding the “full, fair and proper presentation” of comment and editorial. Even though talk and information programs are not straightforward news, the CBSC still expects them to present full and accurate facts.[i]
According to the online and print sources that the CBSC consulted in this matter, it appears that the complainant’s contention about the cross is accurate. The cross was not chosen to be a symbol of medicine because of its connection to Jesus’ crucifixion and his healing message. Rather it was chosen as a symbol of medicine, and thus to appear on ambulances and other medical-related objects, because it was the symbol of the ICRC. The red equilateral cross on white background was chosen as a protective emblem at the 1864 Geneva Convention. The emblem is the reverse of Switzerland’s national flag and, according to the ICRC, this design was chosen to honour the host country of the first Geneva Convention.[ii] Although there is no explicit mention of the Red Cross being chosen due to its links with Christianity, some non-Christian countries were concerned that it would be viewed as a Christian symbol, so in 1878, the ICRC acknowledged that non-Christian countries could adopt other symbols for the same purpose. This led to the adoption of other equivalent symbols, such as the Red Crescent in most Muslim countries, Red Shield of David in Israel and the Red Crystal which is intended to be a neutral symbol.
All of that research suggests that Ko’s statement to the effect that the Christian cross was adapted to represent saving people and that is why is appears on ambulances was a simplistic, incomplete and largely inaccurate statement.
That being said, it is not every inadvertent error that will constitute a breach of the Code.[iii] This inaccuracy appears to have been a honest mistake or misunderstanding about the history of the cross. Moreover, this topic did not form the substance of the program; it was merely introductory commentary in relation to Easter and was intended to provide the audience with some light information or trivia about the day. It did not constitute an egregious misrepresentation of a vitally important fact in the context of this program.
Broadcasters must exhibit care and diligence in their presentation of all facts, particularly those which are easily verifiable. The Panel agrees with the complainant that program hosts are often viewed by their audiences as authoritative sources of information. It would have been useful had CHKT AM1430 provided a more accurate, comprehensive and fuller explanation of the origin of the cross on ambulances, but the error or misinterpretation in this case did not reach the level of code breach.
Representation of Religion
In light of the Panel’s assessment of the accuracy issue above, the Panel also finds no Code violation with respect to the representation of religion in Ko’s comments. Even if the comments about the origin of the medical cross were incorrect, they did not denigrate, deride or abuse any religion. There is, therefore, no breach of Clause 2 of the CAB Code of Ethics or Clauses 2 or 6 of the CAB Equitable Portrayal Code.
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, CHKT simply paraphrased and summarized Ko’s words and wrote that Ko had not mentioned the emblem of the ICRC at all. The host had indeed talked about the cross on ambulances, even using the word which can be translated into English as “car with the cross”, and clearly made the statement about its Christian origins that the complainant described in his initial complaint. The broadcaster’s letter seemed to miss the complainant’s primary point, which was that the ICRC indeed should have been mentioned because it was the true source of the medical cross, not the Christian cross. The Panel considers that the broadcaster could have taken more care to respond to the specific concerns of the complainant, but its letter was adequate for the purposes of its obligations of responsiveness. 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
[i] See the following decisions in which the CBSC addressed the issue of accuracy in talk shows: CKTB-AM re The John Michael Show (CBSC Decision 92/93-0170, February 15, 1994); CILQ-FM re John Derringer’s “Tool of the Day” (CBSC Decision 02/03-1465, February 10, 2004); CFRA-AM re an episode of the Lowell Green Show (the Qur’an) (CBSC Decision 05/06-1380, May 18, 2006); CHRB-AM (AM 1140) re an episode of Freedom Radio Network (CBSC Decision 05/06-1959, January 9, 2007); CHOI-FM re Dupont le midi (community organizations) (CBSC Decision 08/09-1506, September 23, 2010); CHOI-FM re Maurais Live (government agency training) (CBSC Decision 09/10-1564, January 25, 2011); Sun News Network re The Source (Edmonton Artists’ Housing) (CBSC Decision 10/11-2102 & -2124, March 28, 2012); and CITS-TV re It’s Your Call (CBSC Decision 10/11-2217 & 11/12-0442+, August 29, 2012).
[ii] There is some debate about this point since some sources allege that there is no evidence that the conveners were in fact trying to honour the host country.
[iii] See the following decisions in which the CBSC found certain inaccuracies (in the context of both talk shows and news programs) did not violate the Codes: CFRA-AM re the Mark Sutcliffe and Lowell Green Shows (CBSC Decisions 96/97-0083+, May 7, 1997); CITY-TV re CityPulse (Neighbourhood Drug Bust) (CBSC Decision 96/97-0216, February 20, 1998); CITY-TV re CityPulse (Tenant Relocation) (CBSC Decision 96/97-0252, February 20, 1998); and TQS re an episode of L’Avocat et le diable (accommodations) (CBSC Decision 05/06-1605+, December 11, 2006).