CHOI-FM re Dupont le midi (community organizations)

quebec regional panel
D. Meloul (Chair), Y. Bombardier, G. Bonin (ad hoc), A. H. Caron, M. Ille, M.-A. Raulet

THE FACTS

Dupont le midi is a talk show broadcast by CHOI-FM (Radio X, 98.1, Québec) Monday to Friday from 11:30 am to 2:00 pm. The show is hosted by Stéphane Dupont and he is usually joined by Jérôme Landry, Josée Morissette and Vincent “Dess” Dessureault.  The program generally consists of discussions about social and political issues and current events.  On March 10, 2009 at around 11:42 am, the hosts began talking about health care and Dupont suggested that doctors should be blunt with their patients: if a patient has heart or cholesterol problems because he is overweight, the doctor should tell him to lose weight; if a patient has respiratory problems because she smokes, the doctor should insist she stop smoking.  Dupont then compared those situations to those of people who avail themselves of food banks and social assistance, a subject that had apparently been discussed on the previous day’s program.  The most relevant parts of the lengthy dialogue are included here (the full text of that dialogue can be found in Appendix A, available in French only):

[Translation]

Dupont:                        And that brings me to a taboo subject.  A taboo, and I got an earful of nonsense yesterday from a social agency again, that contacted me after the show because yesterday we revisited a report that was published in Sunday’s edition of the Journal de Québec on the, um, the organizations that were, food banks among others, while it appears that the organization in question in that story is not even a, um, a food bank. It’s a bit of everything. It covers parts of all services.  In any case, this community organization in Limoilou, um, that contacted me to inform me they disagree and that they, um, strongly disagree with my comments.  That organization is called the Relais d’espérance.  It has two full-time employees.  How many people do they help?  They told me roughly one hundred.  Go check and check out how they help them.  Um, go check.  So, the Limoilou organization, the Relais d’espérance community organization, helps out the poor. But that organization doesn’t meet them to tell them or those suffering hardship.  First of all, in Quebec this type of problem should only be temporary. You cannot be a victim of a permanent difficulty.  You cannot be a victim of a permanent health problem.  If you’re too fat, you put, if you drink too much, well you lose weight, you lay off the booze, you get into a training program, and then we’ll look at your problem.  And, as if by coincidence, it will disappear. Doctors have an obligation to give that type of advice.  Doctors must be required to, not to let people die, but they must tell a smoker: Well, listen my friend, you have lung problems because you smoke.  There is nothing more I can do.  Keep on smoking and you’ll run into problems.  As far as I am concerned, there is nothing more I can do.  Take yourself in hand.  Why don’t we do the same thing with social assistance? You know, the representative from yesterday from the, from the Relais d’espérance who called me and said: You weren’t very nice with the, you weren’t very nice with Mélanie Fréchette whose photograph appeared in the newspapers. Hey, I don’t have a bone to pick with Mélanie.  She, she seems very devoted; I don’t know her and I don’t want to know her.  She seems devoted to her children, except that yesterday we were raising, we were simply raising, Mélanie is whining in the newspaper, but that, but you’ll see in a few moments that finally she isn’t whining.  But Mélanie has a hard time getting by and needs the, the Relais d’espérance because she only gets one thousand dollars per month, um, in welfare for her and her two children. OK?  By the way, single working mothers earning a gross salary of five hundred dollars per week, that’s less than a thousand on welfare.  And if you’re a single mother and you’re working, I feel like telling you that you are a jerk.

Dessureault:      Because if you’re earning minimum wage, it adds up to less than that.  What does it amount to?

Dupont:                        It amounts to less.

Dessureault:      Eighteen, nineteen, twenty thousand?

Dupont:                        Now, wait, I’m not a demagogue.  I’m not on minimum wage, Dess.  I’m talking about gross earnings of five hundred bucks. I’ll even give you more; I’ll say six hundred dollars gross per week, which means she clears about a thousand bucks.  She needs clothes to go to work.  She needs transportation to get to work.  She has to pay a child care service because the kids can’t stay after school and they can’t go home.

Landry:             She has to pay her mortgage also and that isn’t subsidized.

Dupont:                        Well, it could be that she can get housing at, um, low-cost housing.

Landry:             At one thousand bucks net per week. C’mon.  Never.

Dupont:                        Not at a thousand bucks net per week.

Landry:             Gross, even gross.

Dupont:                        No, no, a thousand bucks per month.  Per month.  She, the girl in the paper, all that, what I want to tell you is that yesterday that organization, that organization that asks you for donations and is known as the Relais de l’espérance in Limoilou and is in such need of help.  Just by coincidence, the help it needs is not food but rather financial aid.  Is that weird or what?  The problem exposed in Sunday’s newspaper is that the food banks are empty.  But, the help they are seeking consists of the funding campaign they are launching, the pledges they want to obtain.  It’s money they want.  Hey, hey, hellooo?  Do you see a problem?  Just what is their game?  And then, in a lengthy discussion, more like a monologue actually, by the people from the Relais de l’espérance in an effort to attack me, the message was, listen you got on Mélanie Fréchette’s case and it wasn’t easy to find someone to feature in the newspaper. She was brave to accept to represent us in the newspaper.  Do you realize that social agencies are fighting to find pitiful people they can put in the paper to suit their objectives?   All I was saying yesterday is that I want to know why she has two children; where is the father?  Couldn’t he give her a five hundred dollar support payment, in other words the monthly minimum?  And that would probably allow that lady to continue to look after her children properly and even perhaps upgrade their standard of living.  That was my point.  So, as far as community organizations are concerned, I can’t do it anymore, I just can’t do it anymore!  I would tear all that down from top to bottom, but that will never happen.  I contacted an MNA in the last few hours in order to get more information on this community organization, and I do say community organization because we’re going to get the figures out. They’re crying, saying the food banks are empty, but they don’t want anything to eat, they want money!  Do you know why?  To pay their damned salaries, OK, that’s what they want to do!  And I was saying why don’t we tear all that down, the, there are 2,200 community organizations in Quebec.  Why don’t we tear all that down, eliminate all that?  He says, jobs, Stéph.  He says the government will, even in the budget tabled on Thursday, create jobs.  Create jobs like that one.  They won’t cancel social programs, even when not one red cent goes to helping people.  Hey, those social workers think they’re so great just for being paid a high salary, or at least a decent salary.  But given that they counsel people, that’s where the government money goes. My point, and here I come back to what Dess was saying, overweight people are told by their doctor: Slim down, stop drinking and get yourself in a training program, then we’ll talk.  Smokers are told: Stop smoking, get yourself in a training program, then we’ll talk.  Why aren’t we telling those on welfare: Come and see me.  Look, things are rough these days.  You’re having trouble making ends meet? Highlights for your hair can wait.  Redoing your nails can wait. The new summer wardrobe can wait.  Do you know what … a person I spoke with this morning who is involved in social welfare, who meets with them but is not allowed to advise them, who is not allowed to say: Hey you, as a welfare recipient, give me your budget and I’m going to review it with you.  Do you know how – I found this brilliant – do you know how they determine if the welfare recipient is using his or her money properly?  The individual who ends up in a food bank on the second of March?  Because, I asked the Relais d’espérance that question yesterday.  Why is it that you are open on March 2?  They all got their cheques.  Why is a food bank, a soup kitchen, serving meals on the second of the month?  Why?  Geez, they just got their cheques!  They’re supposed to have money.  Ah, but he got into debt; they have, it’s not enough to live on, blah-blah, blah-blah, blah.  Oh well.  Do you know what the person with whom I spoke does?  She meets the gentleman in question. Mr. Landry, let’s say you’re on welfare, OK, and maybe you’re a minority; they know the system.  They know they have the right to a rent supplement, that they are entitled to aid in the form of a supplement, um, to, um, a supplement for the children.  That, that, you know?

Landry:             Is thinking of that all they have to do?!

Dupont:                        They think of that and they know it. So, they go meet him and they say, hey help me get a rent supplement; I’m short fifty dollars a month to make ends meet. So, the person working with those people says, OK, perfect Mr. Landry, I will try to help you pay your, to get you into social housing.  I will try to help you reduce your housing cost.  Mr. Landry, at what number can I reach you at home?  Well, um, at, at, 6666 –    that’s shrewd.  He gives a telephone number.  So, the other guy, that is the social worker, is onto him. OK, um, if I call you back and you are not at home, what’s your cell number?  It’s 666-6666. [Dessureault and Landry laugh] Ah yes, OK. And can I contact you by e-mail?  Yes, yes of course, um, jlandry –

Landry:             Of course, of course.  Well, of course.

Dupont:                        – at radiox.com.  So, you’re short fifty-two dollars a month to make ends meet.  You’ve got high speed Internet, you’ve got a cell phone and you have a home phone.  Hey, I work and I earn a very good living, and I’m thinking of cutting out the phone at home because it costs an arm and a leg.  And, we don’t use it.

Dessureault:      And you’ve got a cell.

Dupont:                        And I’ve got a cell.  You know, a residential line is completely useless.  Useless, useless, useless.

Landry:             Yes, it is useful for the kids, you know.  It does serve that purpose.

Dupont:                        You know?  So then, where does that amount come from?  Is that the average, Josée, or what?

Morissette:        Yes, it’s about six to eight hundred.

Dupont:                        The average family allowance is from six to eight hundred bucks.  And that’s in addition to welfare, the family allowance?

Morissette:        Well, yes.

Dupont:                        It’s funny, in the art-, you know yesterday, I hadn’t thought of that.  That means that Madam here, I don’t want to analyse her.  She looks like a good mother.  And, I’m sure that she is, except she was used to finance the salary of the Director General – there’s a fancy title for you – of the Relais de l’espérance.  And they’re telling us in that article – I’m going to read it to you exactly to make sure I am not misquoted by those people who called me at my office yesterday to complain about my comments, comments they didn’t even hear, incidentally.  Um, “I have to run around to various food banks to feed myself and my children”, she says. “I have always been able to get by despite the obstacles.  I am a mother of a ten year-old boy and a twelve year-old girl, on welfare.”  Um, “I must ensure their welfare with only one thousand dollars per month.”  That must be because it’s a thousand bucks in welfare because the base, welfare is almost six hundred bucks.  With two kids, she gets a thousand.  Family allowance is between six and eight hundred.  Oh look, we’re at sixteen hundred per month.  The father pays a minimum of five hundred.  I’m at two thousand one hundred bucks per month!  OK, that’s net.  That means that if she worked for the two thousand one hundred bucks, she would have to earn four thousand two hundred!  Maybe a little less, I’m exaggerating.

Dessureault:      Quite a bit more than I make, and there are lots of people, look.

Dupont:                        You make, you make less than four thousand bucks per month.

Dessureault:      Well, yes.

Dupont:                        And they’re whining.  And she’s not the one whining.  She got screwed by an organization looking to collect, that’s launching a funding campaign.  Help them now.  Go ahead and donate money!  They’re saying to themselves, the food bank is empty.  Well yes, it is empty!  But you’re asking us for money.  We don’t get it.

Dessureault:      Because, you know, where food is concerned, I get the impression that sometimes some advice on how to manage things, could, um, be beneficial.  Because for me, what is costly, it seems to me that in the case of food for people like me and you, people who work and who have heavy schedules.  So, you buy prepared things.  You go out to eat.  When I want to save, I buy carrots, chicken on sale, meats.  A bag of carrots and some broccoli, that goes a long way and, um –

Dupont:                        Very tasty!

Dessureault:      And some chicken and some pasta.  When she made me that huge batch of spaghetti sauce, it lasted me three weeks.  And it amounts to maybe ten bucks, with pasta.

Dupont:                        Can you, can you tell me, Dess or Jérôme, and I’m embarrassed to do it, I know that you, you wouldn’t do it because you live in a social class different from mine, but no, no, and I mean you don’t know about groceries.

Landry:             Well I know about groceries, but I don’t even look at the prices. It’s, I don’t have any, no, I will never economize on that.  I just don’t.

Dupont:                        No, that’s right.

Landry:             I’ll be very honest with you.  I don’t look at the prices.

Dupont:                        Yes, the products I buy, I buy those products I know are good.  For example, the salmon pâté I buy for my children in one of the supermarkets where I go in the morning.  I go in the morning because I want peace and quiet.  I hate that, but I’m in charge of groceries at our house and the dishes and all that.  But I go in the morning, and in the morning there’s a manager; the manager of each section for perishables is going around with fifty percent off fluorescent pink triangular-shaped stickers.  So, everything that reaches, that reaches its best before date the next day, or sometimes in the next two days, gets a fifty percent off pink sticker.  Plus, that happens regularly in the case of pâtés, meats, deli meats, no not deli meats, no not really.

Landry:             But it happens often in the case of meat.

Dupont:                        For meat.

Landry:             It’s on special.  Yes.

Dupont:                        For chicken, often for chicken.

Landry:             But the meat is still very nice.  It’s still –

Dupont:                        Well yes, it’s very nice and it will reach its best before date tomorrow.  Well yes, but hey, I have a freezer.  I pick it up at fifty percent off, I put it in my cart, I get home and I throw it in the freezer!  End of story.  It’s frozen.  No more best before date.  And I won’t poison my children.  How come I can do it?  How come I don’t order my groceries over the Internet?

Dessureault:      And, if you’re on welfare you’ve got time to cook.  No way are you getting home at five in the evening, worn out and you go out to get prepared meals.

[…]

Dupont:                        But we’re organized, we earn a living.  I don’t want to blame anyone.  Take this morning.  You need to realize that organizations that help those on welfare or the have-nots, call them what you will – I have nothing to do with them – called me yesterday to tell me a bunch of nonsense because I wasn’t nice to Mélanie Fréchette.  I did not even name her and I did not even talk about her.  We wondered if Mélanie actually has financial problems, why her nails are done in a way that Josée can’t even afford.

Morissette:        And, highlights in her hair.

Dupont:                        And, highlights in her hair.  I hadn’t even noticed.  Someone else told me about it.  And, I don’t want to judge her on that.  But, couldn’t someone advise her?  Does she have a cell phone?  Does she have Internet?  Does she need Internet?  I have Internet at home and I wouldn’t even need it, no.  Pfff, pptt!  But do we, no?

Morissette:        But, we could have done a great report and I am nevertheless somewhat proud of that girl because she took herself in hand and she seems to at least have some self-respect.

Dupont:                        Yes, absolutely, absolutely.

Morissette:        You see, she isn’t filthy, she doesn’t look poor.  She doesn’t look poor!

Dupont:                        Exactly.

Morissette:        Do you see, she could have been a mother –

Dupont:                        It’s clean.  I find their home looks nice, hm.

Morissette:        Yes, that’s it!  So, at least she’s taken a step in the right direction, but why didn’t they say how to manage on a certain amount per month and give the real figures.

Dupont:                        The only, yes, give the real figures –

Morissette:        Because now I would no longer be inclined to help them.

Dupont:                        Exactly, the real amount she gets with her support payment, her family allowance and her welfare cheque, but at the same time –

Morissette:        But at the same time –

Dupont:            Wait a minute, wait a minute!

Morissette:        Yes?

Dupont:                        You know what Josée?  If they gave the real figure, well now she wants to go back to school to do secretarial studies.  Well, Mélanie, if you can hear us here at CHOI, don’t do it.  Don’t do it because you will never get the money you are currently getting per month if you become a secretary. Never, never, never.  And you will have to work your ass off at school.  You will have to get some clothes, pay for child care even if it’s seven bucks because your children will stay at school because you’re working until five.  You’ll need a car to go pick them up at the child care service and bring them home.  Dinner won’t be ready: what a mess.

Dessureault:      You’ll go out to eat because you will be worn out and it will cost you much more.

Dupont:                        Exactly, that’s exactly right.

Morissette:        That’s right, and the allowance, you know, she gets the family allowance, she gets her welf -, her welfare cheque, but perhaps she could have explained why she doesn’t take her support cheque for example.  Because, apparently, you get cut off if you get a cheque, it’s like income.  So they reduce your welfare payment when that happens.  So, she may have chosen to say I won’t cause trouble for my ex by taking money from him each month and at the same time, well I, do you understand?

Dupont:                        Hm, hm, yes, but he’ll help me out financially.

Morissette:        Because at some point it’s a, yes that’s it.  So, there is some advantage to that.

Dupont:                        But you knew that on top of that, I understand that, people on social welfare say, no, no we won’t take support payments because then we don’t get a cheque.  Well, of course they don’t take the support payment, but what, for example, do they take? OK, you go buy two ski-doo suits.  OK, you pay the school expenses.  OK, you’ll pay such and such.

Morissette:        Well, of course!

Dupont:                        That way, it doesn’t show on the –

Morissette:        I want them to explain that to us.

Dupont:                        Yeah.

Morissette:        Let them explain and let them tell us that they’re changing the rules of the –

Dupont:                        Yes, but if they explain, then it will come out that they are smarter to stay on welfare than to go out to work.  It’s expensive to go to work.  It’s very expensive to go to work!

Morissette:        And she works –

Dupont:                        But, a person has pride.

Morissette:        A person has pride and at least she –

Landry:             You can look at yourself in the mirror.

Morissette:        – she’s headed in the right direction.  Look at her children; they don’t look impoverished.  They look, maybe she took, you know they’re crying over the cat, also about the cat –

Dupont:                        Pfff, I didn’t cry over the cat.

Morissette:        Well, maybe those kids derive some benefit from it.

Dupont:                        The kids have the right to have toys.  Are we going to whine about the fact that the kids have toys in the house?

Morissette:        Well, in my case I did cry over the cat when I was in the car.  When I thought of it again –

Dupont:                        The girl told me on the phone.

Morissette:        But I didn’t cry on the air, I cried in the car.  She didn’t hear me; certainly not!  But, I made the comment because cat food is expensive too.  Unless you give it table scraps.  I have a dog, so I know all about it!  You know?

Dupont:                        But, in any case my fundamental point is this:  Doctors have the right to tell the overweight to lose weight and to lay off the alcohol in order to be treated.  They have a duty to tell smokers to stop smoking if they want to stop wheezing.  Well, social workers who always have their hand out, who are more into soliciting money than anything else, would have a duty to say to people, yeah, we’re not sure about your Internet, we’re not sure about your cell phone, we’re sure that should not be, and the land line at home, we’re not sure about that either.  You know?  I’m not saying they shouldn’t have any phone at all, but could they choose among those three?  Because all three, and then the cable and, um, high definition.  Hey, if I ever find out that a welfare guy has high definition, I’m going to watch the hockey games at his place!

Dessureault:      I know many people who work and who have antennas.

Morissette:        Well stop right there, because the telephone –

Dupont:            What?

Dessureault:      You know, I know many people who work and all they have is an antenna and they watch Radio-Canada with static.

Dupont:                        I have nothing, nothing at all.  Garbage.  It is exactly noon –

Morissette:        You said high definition and look at the phone lines.

Dupont:            Yeah, yeah.

Morissette:        People will say, I know of someone; there are surely some out there.

Dupont:                        Yeah, well don’t tell me, I’ll be too crafty.

Morissette:        You know there are some, look here.

Dupont:                        Don’t tell me there are people on welfare who have high definition cable.  You got it recently –

Landry:             I do have it, but it’s not necessarily high definition, it’s just a bit more, but a person on welfare having cable I think that, um, that just doesn’t fly.

[…]

On April 6, 2009, a complaint about the above segment was sent to the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), which forwarded it to the CBSC in due course.  The complaint came from an organization called the Front commun des personnes assistées sociales du Québec, which outlined its concerns as follows (the full text of all correspondence can be found in Appendix B, available in French only):

[Translation]

I am writing to you in my capacity as Coordinator of the Front commun des personnes assistées sociales du Québec (FCPASQ).  This organization consists of approximately thirty community organizations dedicated to defending the rights of people on social assistance. I wish to file a complaint on behalf of this organization with respect to the comments made between 11:42 am and 12:10 pm on March 10, 2009 during the program Dupont le midi on CHOI Radio X FM.  These comments concerned welfare recipients in Quebec.

The individuals who spoke during this program gave false and misleading information.  They stated, among other things, that “single working mothers earning a gross salary of five hundred dollars per week, that’s less than a thousand on welfare.  And if you’re a single mother and you’re working, I feel like telling you that you are a jerk.”  The host then indicated that the take-home pay of a single mother who earns a gross salary of $600 per week would be less than that of a single mother who must resort to social assistance.  This is false1 and misleading information, just as it is equally false to claim “Welfare recipients know the system; they know they have access to the housing supplement program”, as this allowance applies only to adults over the age of 55 and certain families with children.

The hosts even went as far as to assert that a single mother on welfare would receive a “net” sum equivalent to $2,100 each month while receiving, according to them, an income of $1,000 “just in welfare” and to claim that her income would amount to about $4,000 in work income.  The hosts then went on to claim that welfare recipients can choose not to ask their ex-partner for support payments and ask rather that the partner purchase “two ski-doo suits”.  Here again, this is false and misleading information, given that the Individual and Family Assistance Act clearly stipulates that persons who do not avail themselves of their right to support payments will be denied the right to social assistance.  By conveying such falsehoods on the financial reality of welfare recipients, the hosts are misleading the public and reinforcing the prejudices endured by these people living in poverty and social exclusion.  The hosts even went as far as to address a welfare recipient, naming her and telling her: “you will never get the money you are currently getting per month if you become a secretary. Never, never, never.”

The Radio Regulations, 1986 prohibit the broadcasting of any false or misleading news.  We feel that CHOI-FM also breached Section 6 of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ Code of Ethics, which states 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.”

In addition to providing false and misleading information on the economic situation of welfare recipients, the hosts made offensive remarks that incite contempt for these individuals by asserting that: “if you’re on welfare you’ve got time to cook.”  This statement clearly suggests that since these individuals do not have a paying job they have nothing else to do, as if to say that since welfare recipients do not work, they cannot contribute in another manner to Quebec society.  Welfare recipients have families too: children to look after, loved ones who are ill and need their care; in the vast majority of cases they also perform volunteer work.  The fact that some individuals are excluded from the labour market does not mean that they do not contribute to society, and claiming that they have “all the time in the world” infers the opposite and leads to contempt for these individuals.  “If they [welfare recipients] explain [the amount of their monthly revenue], then it will come out that they are smarter to stay on welfare than to go out to work, because it’s very expensive to go to work, but a person has pride.”  This statement clearly denies the fact that pride can be derived from a non-paid social or civic contribution and suggests that welfare recipients have no reason to be proud.  It is extremely difficult to feel worthy as a welfare recipient when such comments are put forward.

The Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms proclaims the right of every human being to inviolability and of every person to the safeguard of his dignity, honour and reputation.  We received numerous calls and comments from individuals who were angered and humiliated by the comments made during the program that is the subject of this complaint.  How many times will the CHOI-FM station allow its hosts to make comments that are prejudicial to the dignity of welfare recipients and incite contempt?  This is not the first time such comments have been made on this station.  In fact, two CHOI-FM hosts were obliged to apologize after having made contemptuous and discriminatory remarks about welfare recipients and their spokesperson on October 29, 2007.

Broadcasters are granted a licence provided they meet certain conditions involving responsibilities. CHOI management has the responsibility to ensure that comments made by its employees on the air comply with broadcasting regulations.

1 For accurate information on the revenue of single parent families in Quebec, please refer to Familles et fiscalité : des remises en question, published by the Conseil de la famille et de l’enfance.  A comparison of the figures put forward in the program Dupont le midi to those contained in this document reveals that the former are far removed from reality.

The station responded to the complainant on April 14 with a letter in which it offered her the opportunity to appear on air to clarify the information provided on the program and also suggested that the program hosts speak on air with social assistance recipients to get a sense of their reality:

[Translation]

You complained that the information broadcast concerning welfare recipients was false and misleading.  We have listened to the recording of the program and agree with you that the information provided can lead to confusion, even if that was not the intention of the hosts.  We agree with you that generalizing a situation can ultimately trivialize it.

In this case, and as I indicated in our telephone conversation, we offered you three options, namely interviewing you on the air to give you the opportunity to make your point of view known; airing an appropriate apology; or having our hosts spend some time with welfare recipients in order to get a sense of their reality.  Our offer still stands.

It goes without saying that we spoke to our hosts and urged them to use caution.  We regret that the comments may have angered certain individuals.

We therefore await your reply as to how you wish to proceed in this case.

According to the complainant, she engaged in discussions with two members of station management about their offer, but eventually turned them down and filed her CBSC Ruling Request on August 21.  She also provided copies of letters she had sent to two separate individuals at the station, explaining why it was [translation] “difficult” to accept their offer:

[Translation]

This is in fact not the first instance in which CHOI-FM hosts have made contemptuous comments concerning welfare recipients and apologies have followed.  For example, two CHOI-FM hosts were obliged to apologize after having made contemptuous and discriminatory remarks about welfare recipients and their spokesperson on October 29, 2007.  With respect to your interview offer, please be advised that I gave an interview to Stéphane Gasse and Jérôme Landry on January 20, 2009 and that immediately following that interview, the host team used my appearance to make comments that were, once again, ridden with prejudice and contempt for welfare recipients.  Anyone can find themselves in need of social assistance at some point and that does not make that person a human being undeserving of respect and pride.

THE DECISION

The Quebec Regional Panel examined the complaint under the following provisions of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (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.

Clause 9 – Radio Broadcasting

Recognizing that radio is a local medium and, consequently, reflective of local community standards, programming broadcast on a local radio station shall take into consideration the generally recognized access to programming content available in the market, the demographic composition of the station’s audience, and the station’s format.  Within this context, particular care shall be taken by radio broadcasters to ensure that programming on their stations does not contain:

[…]

c)         Unduly coarse and offensive language.

The Panel Adjudicators read all of the correspondence and viewed the broadcast in question.  The Panel concludes that the broadcaster violated both clauses.

Opinion and Facts:  When Do They Intertwine?

It is clear that radio talk shows such as Dupont le midi are not intended to be news shows and are not subject to the rigorous accuracy requirements that are a part of the standards applicable to broadcast journalism.  They are in that sense not forced to adhere to the requirements of Clause 5 of the CAB Code of Ethics and Article 1 of the Radio Television News Directors Association of Canada (RTNDA) Code of (Journalistic) Ethics.  Indeed, as CBSC Panels have long observed, today’s talk shows, when at their best, are the modern equivalent of the Athenian city-state.  They have the potential to provide an interactive forum for the exchange of opinions and points of view on the broadest range of matters of policy, politics, government and so on.  As long ago as 1994, in CKTB-AM re The John Michael Show (CBSC Decision 92/93-0170, February 15, 1994), the Ontario Regional Panel observed that

open line programs are a vital part of Canadian broadcasting.  They present an opportunity for lively public discussion.  They are timely.  They are, one might justifiably observe, an essential home of public debate in a free democracy.  They are also a locus for the expression of conflicting passions, which make for exciting radio.

Depending on the nature and policy of the broadcaster, hosts are permitted to hold and express strong opinions, and to criticize politicians, political parties, entities delivering services to the public, regulatory bodies, NGOs, and so on.  While few holds are barred, there are some limitations.  One of these is the requirement not to mislead the audience regarding the facts on which the opinions are based.  There cannot be “full, fair and proper presentation of news, opinion, comment and editorial”, as required by Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics if the presentation of the host’s opinion is based on faulty information.  In the John Michael decision, the Ontario Panel dealt with a series of inaccurate statements made by the host, all of which are clear in the following quotation from that decision.  As that Panel observed, John Michael’s opinions were fair game; the distortion of the underlying facts was not:

The CBSC is conscious of the importance of free debate and the entitlement of a host to express politically contentious points of view on air.  That liberty does not, however, extend to the expression of gross and multiple misstatements of fact which are calculated to distort the perspective of the listener.  Mr. Michael expressed his opposition to the official government policy of bilingualism and stated “nor could I give a damn if Quebec stays in this country or not.”  He added, among other things, that “We no longer wish to kneel and bow to this one province.”  With these political perspectives, the Council takes no issue.  The host also opined that Quebeckers control the civil service and generally wielded enormous political power within Canada.  These opinions may or may not be sustainable but they are at least legitimately debatable.

The CBSC does, however, not believe that the public debate in Canada is furthered in any way by the broadcast of such accumulated misinformation as was emitted by Mr. Michael on June 1.  To provide an inexhaustive list of such misinformation, it is not true, as Mr. Michael alleged, that:  Canada alternates Prime Ministers from English-speaking Canada to French-speaking Canada; all of Canada’s government buildings are in Quebec; Canada’s civil service is all in Quebec; this country’s headquarters is not in reality in Ottawa;  English is not spoken in Cabinet meetings (much less that it is not spoken “in the inner circles of the [other] governments of this country”); ninety per cent of Cabinet Ministers are French-Canadians; ambassadors of Canada going abroad do not speak English; ambassadors to “important” countries are always French-Canadian;  and so on.

It is the view of the Council that accumulated misinformation, and collective unresearched and inaccurate statements constitute […] a breach of the responsibility of the broadcaster to ensure the “full, fair and proper presentation of news, opinion, comment and editorial”.

In the broadcast dealt with in CILQ-FM re John Derringer’s “Tool of the Day” (CBSC Decision 02/03-1465, February 10, 2004), there was a regular segment, during which the host criticized a specific person, whom he designated as “Derringer’s Tool of the Day”.  On the May 29, 2003 episode, Derringer’s target was a judge of the Ontario Court of Justice and the host based his criticism on the allegedly lax sentence handed down by that judge in a case involving the possession of child pornography.  The CILQ-FM commentator based his justification, at least in part, on the fact that “we don’t have laws similar to those in Britain and the United States where, to the best of my knowledge, what this guy did would be an automatic ten-year sentence in the States or in England.”  On the point of accuracy underlying a broadcast opinion, the Panel found the station in violation of Clause 6.  The Panel’s explanation:

By simply using the phrase “to the best of my knowledge”, he cannot duck responsibility for the bold assertion that “what this guy did would be an automatic ten-year sentence in the States or in England.”  Despite his focussed statement, he did not look at Section 2252 (b)(2) of Title 18 of the (federal) United States Code.  Had he done so, he would have learned that a person convicted under Section 2252(a)(4) “shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 5 years, or both.”  Had he verified the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act, 2000 of the United Kingdom, he would have found that 5 years is also the maximum sentence in that jurisdiction.  The same is true under the Child Trafficking and Pornography Act, 1998 in Ireland, where, like Canada, there is the possibility of conviction either as an indictable offence or as the less punitive offence punishable on summary conviction.  Now, the Ontario Regional Panel has no more sympathy for the criminal offender than the judge or Derringer had but the broadcaster’s approach was not reasoned; it was unduly exaggerated.  Before flailing his verbal arms, he owed it to his listeners to have presented his underlying legal facts with greater accuracy.

In CFRA-AM re an episode of the Lowell Green Show (the Qur’an) (CBSC Decision 05/06-1380, May 18, 2006), the Ontario Regional Panel dealt with an episode of an open-line radio program that discussed issues related to Islam and the Qur’an.  The host talked about a news report relating to the arrest of men linked to Al-Qaeda who were living in Canada.  He also read a letter by a university professor that had appeared in the National Post.  That letter stated that the Qur’an and other Muslim religious texts proclaim that anyone who converts from Islam to another religion should be killed.  The letter was written in light of a case in Afghanistan where a man had been sentenced to death for apostasy.  Green pointed out that there was no such similar advocation of violence in the Christian Bible’s New Testament.  Green suggested that all Muslim immigrants be asked if they believed in that provision of the Qur’an.  Eventually in the course of the program, Green obtained a copy of that Qur’an and claimed that it indeed stated that apostates should be killed.  The Ontario Regional Panel concluded that Green was free to criticize the religious “policies” of Islam but the Panel did find a breach of Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics for Green’s reliance on a misquoted portion of the Qur’an.

The issue is […] that the “quotation” from the Qur’an is incorrect.  The words “Kill him who changes his religion” are simply not in the Qur’an.  The broadcaster had its own obligation to be certain, at material times, of the accuracy of the material on which it was relying.  Its failure to do so resulted in a construct of an argument or position that appeared to be more defensible than it was.  The Qur’an has an authoritative cachet, as it should, as the Bible does.  Building an argument on the apparent content of Islam’s holy book puts callers and listeners in a defensive, behind-the-8-ball position from the get-go.  The host either knew or ought to have known that his position would appear stronger in such reliance.  He or someone on the broadcaster’s staff ought to have verified such an important point before using that provision as the foundation for almost the entire episode.  Their failure to present the audience with accurate information about the content of the Qur’an was misleading and unfair.  They loaded the dice without disclosing the fact that they had done so, even if that choice was unintentional.  In the end, the broadcaster’s constant reliance on misquoted text from the Qur’an and refusal to bend when advised of the error by Muslim callers rendered the presentation neither full, fair nor proper, and consequently in breach of Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics.

Finally, in terms of previous CBSC jurisprudence, the Panel refers to CHRB-AM (AM 1140) re an episode of Freedom Radio Network (CBSC Decision 05/06-1959, January 9, 2007), which dealt with an episode of a right-wing talk show.  The two hosts discussed a complaint that had been brought against them and their sponsor organization, Concerned Christians Canada, at the Canadian Human Rights Commission; the complaint alleged abusive remarks on the basis of sexual orientation.  The complaint received by the CBSC came from the individual who had filed the Human Rights Commission complaint.  He was concerned that the hosts had uttered abusive comments against homosexuals, insulted him on air and made inaccurate statements about the Human Rights Commission case.  For example, the hosts alleged that they had been accused of a “hate crime” and that the courts had given them the right to publish information about the case.  On this point, in finding the broadcaster in breach of Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics, the Prairie Panel said:

Among other things, they distorted the nature of the acts of the complainant in a serious way.  They said that they had been accused of a “hate crime”.  By that, a reasonably informed individual would have understood one of the two crimes under the Hate Propaganda sections of the Criminal Code, likely, that entitled “Public Incitement of Hatred”.  The reality is that complaints were made to the Alberta Human Rights Commission and to the Canadian Human Rights Commission.  Neither complaint, if pursued to its logical conclusion, would be characterized as a crime.

[…]

In the matter at hand, not only was there no assertion of a crime by the complainant, but there was also misinformation provided by the co-hosts regarding the substance of what they had “won” and where.  Leaving aside the ill-informed references to the legitimately constituted federal and provincial Human Rights Commissions, the co-hosts said that they “fought and won in court the right to actually post the information about the ongoing Commission and then the hearings on the website and the courts, the courts, the real courts […] not the kangaroo courts.”  They did not.  Unless there is some other decision to which none of the parties had referred in this dossier, the only decision in question was that rendered by the Human Rights Panels of Alberta and issued by the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission, not a court at all in the sense that the co-hosts had been distinguishing commissions or tribunals from courts.

[…]

It was not, however, a court, as represented by the co-hosts.  Nor was the application related to a hate crime, as intimated.  Nor did the application give the respondent any entitlement to post material other than that of the human rights complainant, as also intimated.

The Panel also found problems with claims by the hosts that medical studies had demonstrated that men who have anal intercourse suffer more medical problems than heterosexuals.  In this respect, the Panel added: “As to AIDS, it has long since been proved to be an affliction of both heterosexual and homosexual individuals.  Anal intercourse is hardly exclusively limited to one of the foregoing communities.  Nor, for that matter, is sexually transmitted disease.”

Applying the foregoing principle regarding accuracy to the matter at hand, the Quebec Panel finds that numerous factual assertions made by the co-hosts of Dupont le midi were incorrect or misleading and made in furtherance of the proposition that working single mothers were less well-off than those on social welfare.  These assertions related, among other things, to the alleged quantum of benefits accruing to persons on social welfare vis-à-vis working single mothers, their right to access social welfare while not availing themselves of judicial recourse for alimentary allowances to which they might be entitled, and so on.  Moreover, the allegations regarding the disparity of revenue between the two groups were repeated at different dollar levels.  To emphasize the inappropriateness of the approach of the welfare recipients, on the one hand, and the foolishness of the serious approach of the working single mother, who was described as a [translation] “jerk”, the distorted figures were also accompanied by exaggerated assertions regarding the nature of the social assistance recipients’ “frivolous” expenditures.

In the end, the Panel is troubled by the allegedly factual observations since they were made frequently and from an apparently authoritative perspective.  They represented a barrage of seemingly trustworthy information.  It is on the basis of such assertions that Mr. Dupont and his colleagues built their structure of opinions.  While they are entitled to hold and broadcast their own derogatory and disparaging opinions regarding social welfare and aid recipients, they owe it to their audience that the basis for their argument be based on sound, rather than misleading, information.  Even the broadcaster acknowledged that point:  [translation] “[We] agree with you that the information provided can lead to confusion, even if that was not the intention of the hosts.”  It is not, of course, the intention of the hosts that matters, but rather what they convey to their audience.  The Panel concludes that the broadcaster was in breach of Clause 6 for broadcasting opinion that, because of the false and misleading underpinnings, was neither full, fair nor proper.

Coarse Language

The Panel has little to add to its numerous prior decisions dealing with the use of words such as “chrisse” and “hostie” during times of the day when children could be listening to the radio.  Those two words (and other similar religious epithets) have been determined to fall into the category of coarse or offensive language under Clause 9(c) of the CAB Code of Ethics.  See, e.g.CJMF-FM re Bouchard en parle (CBSC Decision 05/06-0326, February 3, 2006), CKRB-FM re Prends ça cool … and Deux gars le midi (CBSC Decision 08/09-0689 & -1228, August 11,2009), CKAC-AM re an episode of Doc Mailloux (Money) (CBSC Decision 05/06-1379, December 11, 2006) and CKAC-AM re Doc Mailloux (six episodes) (CBSC Decision 06/07-0168 & -0266, August 23, 2007).  The use of those terms in the matter at hand constitutes a violation of Clause 9(c) of the CAB Code of Ethics.

 

Broadcaster Responsiveness

In all CBSC decisions, the Council’s Panels assess the broadcaster’s responsiveness to the complainant.  In the present instance, the Panel finds that the response of the broadcaster’s President and General Manager was right to the point. It focussed directly on the issue that concerned the complainant and was candid about the station’s failure to avoid the creation of confusion in the listener regarding the subject of the challenged segment of the program.  Moreover, he had evidently (by telephone) previously provided a generous offer to the complainant to appear on the air and ensure that her point of view was provided to the audience.  He repeated that offer in writing:  [translation] “In this case, and as I indicated in our telephone conversation, we offered you three options, namely interviewing you on the air to give you the opportunity to make your point of view known; airing an appropriate apology; or having our hosts spend some time with welfare recipients in order to get a sense of their reality.  Our offer still stands.”  For her own reasons, she did not accept the offer.  That was her right, but it does not diminish the extra level of collaboration manifested by CHOI-FM’s President and General Manager.  The Panel considers that CHOI-FM has more than fully met that membership obligation in this instance.

ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE DECISION

CHOI-FM is required to:  1) announce the decision, in the following terms, once during peak listening hours within three days following the release of this decision and once more within seven days following the release of this decision during the time period in which the Dupont le midi was broadcast, but not on the same day as the first mandated announcement; 2) within the fourteen days following the broadcasts of the announcements, to provide written confirmation of the airing of the statement to the complainant who filed the Ruling Request; and 3) at that time, to provide the CBSC with a copy of that written confirmation and with air check copies of the broadcasts of the two announcements which must be made by CHOI-FM.

The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has found that CHOI-FM breached Clauses 6 and 9(c) of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ Code of Ethics in its broadcast of a segment of Dupont le midi on March 10, 2009.  In that episode of the show, the discussion focussed on women receiving social welfare assistance.  In expressing their opinion that those women fared far better financially than single working mothers, the hosts based their opinions on income statistics and other related information that was incorrect or misleading.  The CBSC considered that the provision of such incorrect factual information breached Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics, which requires the full, fair and proper presentation of opinion, comment or editorial.  The CBSC also decided that the use of religious epithets during hours of the day when children could be listening to the program violated Clause 9(c) of the CAB Code of Ethics.

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