CHOG-AM re the Jessie and Gene Show

ONTARIO REGIONAL COUNCIL
(CBSC Decision 93/94-0242)
M. Barrie (Chair), A. MacKay (Vice-Chair), R. Cohen, P. Fockler, R. Stanbury, M. Ziniak

THE FACTS

On March 30, 1994, CHOG’s “Jesse and Gene Show” aired a segment that parodied Member of Parliament Jag Bhaduria. It did this in the context of the celebration of the thirtieth anniversary of the Beatles and the parody consisted of a record offer featuring Mr. Bhaduria singing his favourite Beatles melodies. Over the tunes of several famous Beatles’ songs, the voice impersonating Mr. Bhaduria sang lyrics which had been changed to reflect the MP’s then politically controversial situation.

On April 7, 1994, the complainant wrote to the Canadian Radio-television and
Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), stating in part:

I am writing to express my shock at, and complain about, the blatantlyracist broadcasting on the Jessie and Gene Show on Radio StationCHOG AM 640. During the previous few months there have beennumerous incidents when this show has promoted hatred againstpeople from the Indian sub-continent. …

Of late, under the guise of Jag Bhaduria bashing, these attacks haveintensified. I accept that as a public figure Jag Bhaduria is fair game…[h]owever… the show really went overboard in ridiculing, and spreadinghatred about people from the Indian sub-continent. Under the pretextof celebrating the anniversary of the Beatles, the show broadcastparodies of their songs in a stereotypical accent, with lyrics that wereinsulting, offensive, defamatory, and exposed the whole community tocontempt.

The CRTC referred the complaint to the CBSC, of which CHOG-AM is a member.
Following its usual procedures, the CBSC sent the complaint to the station for
response.

The Vice-President of Programming at CHOG-AM responded to the complainant on
April 28, 1994. He began by denying the general allegation made by the
complainant in the following terms: “It has never been, it is not now, nor will it ever
be acceptable procedure to broadcast on AM 640, material of the nature in which
[sic] you describe in your letter.” He continued, with regard to the Jag Bhaduria
parody, in the following terms:

The parody commercial was not aimed as an attack or hate mongeringagainst individuals from the Indian sub-continent. The parody wasdesigned and set up as a record offer that portrayed Mr. Bhaduria asa singer of famous Beatles tunes. His re-written lyrics were of agraphic and sometimes colourful nature, but at no point did the writersand producers ever propose, intend or interpret the piece to somehowcontain an ambiguous message that could be deciphered in the manneryou have comprehended.

However, the piece was intended to be, and I acquiesce, 'missionaccomplished', to be an amusing but admittedly disparaging, commenton the well documented, reported and publicised behaviour of Mr. JagBhaduria – Member of Parliament. It was not racially motivated.

The voice used in the commercial is in fact an impersonation of Mr.Bhaduria, not simply a stereotypical East Indian accent. … [O]ne of theindividuals who works for the morning show is a professional voice overannouncer with dozens of national credits and awards to his name. Heis also an expert impersonator…

I submit to you that there is no difference when we produce parodymaterial from other well known individuals, our Prime Minister JeanChrétien for example, the voice used is not simply a French Canadianaccent, but actually an impersonation of the PM. …

Shortly after receipt of this letter, the complainant declared that he was not satisfied
with the broadcaster's response, and requested that the CBSC's Ontario Regional
Council consider the matter.

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

The Regional Council members reviewed all the correspondence and listened to the
program segment in question. The members agreed that the case raised issues
similar to those raised in the British Columbia Regional Council decision in CFOX-FM (March-April 1993). In that matter, the BC Council stated:

The CBSC is vigilant in its application of Clause 2 to all forms andlevels of programming in the sectors of the industry to which the Codeapplies but it is equally conscious of the countervailing importance tothe public of the fullest expression of the freedom of speech. It is notany reference to “race, national or ethnic origin, religion, age, sex,marital status or physical or mental handicap” but rather those whichcontain “abusive or discriminatory material or comment” based on theforegoing which will be sanctioned.

All members agreed that public figures, such as politicians, are often held up to
criticism and parody. Indeed, it is the most essential component of the principle of
free speech that the fullest criticism of political figures and political positions be
permitted in a free society. Provided that the satire or criticism is levelled at political
persons on the basis of their actions as public figures and not on the basis of their
national or ethnic origin
, it must be permitted, if not encouraged. In this case, the
Council agreed with the station that the parody had been directed toward Mr.
Bhaduria himself, and not toward Indian people as a group.

To some, the humour may have been in poor taste; however, as the Council has
affirmed in many of its decisions, poor taste is not addressed in any of the provisions
of the CAB Code of Ethics and does not full within its purview.

Consequently, the Ontario Regional Council decided that the spot was a parody of
a particular politician, and was not abusive or discriminatory toward people of any
national or ethnic origin. As a result, the Regional Council agreed that CHOG-AM
had not contravened clause 2 of the CAB Code of Ethics.

This decision is a public document upon its release by the Canadian Broadcast
Standards Council and 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.