CHOI-FM re Dupont le midi (relationship status)

QUEBEC REGIONAL PANEL
CBSC Decision 10/11-1694
March 14, 2012
D. Meloul (Chair), A. H. Caron, V. Dubois, M. Ille, G. Moisan, J. Pennefather (ad hoc)

THE FACTS

Dupont le midi is a talk show broadcast on CHOI-FM (Radio X, 98.1, Quebec City) Monday to Friday from 11:30 am to 2:00 pm. The program is hosted by Stéphane Dupont and, at the time of the broadcast at issue, his team consisted of Vincent “Dess” Dessureault, Minie and Mona. The program generally involves discussions about political and social issues and current events.

On May 17, 2011, at approximately 12:25 pm, Dupont mentioned that he was fed up with the terms people use to describe their relationship status, such as [translations] “my boyfriend”, “my date” and he jokingly included “a good lay” and “my one night stand” (a transcript of the conversation can be found in Appendix A, available in French only). The joking continued as Dupont invented terms one might see on Facebook as a user’s “relationship status”.  He suggested [translations] “I’m horny”, “I’m hot for you”, “I just want sex” and then said that Minie’s status would be “just a blowjob” or “just fellatio”.  Dess responded that [translation] “Facebook doesn’t provide every option” and that “just a blowjob” was not one of the options.

The CBSC received a complaint on May 19 about this segment (the full text of the complaint and all other correspondence can be found in Appendix B, available in French only). The complainant simply wrote that, between 12:25 and 12:35 pm on the date in question, Dupont had made “degrading” remarks.  The complainant also wrote that Dupont is often [translation] “vulgar and uses absurd and immature language to the point of being off-colour”.

CHOI-FM replied to the complainant on June 13. Since the complainant had not described the conversation that had troubled him, the station’s response (erroneously, it turned out) focused on a conversation that had occurred just prior to the one described above.  That conversation had been about an online classified posting which advertised a used prom dress that had been worn by a now-deceased young woman.  The complainant submitted his Ruling Request on June 13, describing CHOI-FM’s response as [translation] “senseless” because it referred to an entirely unrelated discussion.  He insisted that his complaint was about [translation] “words referring to obscene matters, i.e. sex” and that he did not understand why the station had not properly addressed his concerns.

THE DECISION

The Quebec Regional Panel examined the complaint under the following articles of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics and Equitable Portrayal Code, as well as the section of the CBSC Manual regarding responsibilities of members:

CAB Code of Ethics, 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:

[…]

(b)        Unduly sexually explicit material.

CAB Equitable Portrayal Code, Clause 7 – Degrading Material

Broadcasters shall avoid the airing of degrading material, whether reflected in words, sounds, images or by other means, which is based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, marital status or physical or mental disability.

CBSC Manual, Responsibilities of Membership

Broadcaster members which join the CBSC do so voluntarily and, by doing so, agree to:

[…]

  1. g) co-operate fully with complainants by responding quickly and effectively to their concerns […].

The Panel adjudicators read all of the correspondence and listened to the program in question. The Panel concludes that CHOI-FM did not violate any of the aforementioned provisions or obligations.

Sexual Content

After examining the segment at issue in detail pursuant to Clause 9(b) of the CAB Code of Ethics and the CBSC’s jurisprudence, the Panel concluded that the mere mention of sexual acts, either by using actual terms or synonymous popular expressions, without giving a detailed description of those acts does not constitute sexually explicit content, let alone “unduly sexually explicit” content.

To come to a different conclusion the Panel would have had to determine in the first place that the content was sexually explicit, and it does not deem it to be so. Secondly, it would have had to apply an additional criterion, such as the time of the broadcast, to determine if this was in fact unduly sexually explicit content.[i]

The Panel therefore determined that CHOI-FM did not breach the provisions of Clause 9(b) of the CAB Code of Ethics.

One Panel Adjudicator expressed reservations in that regard and suggested that the CBSC should adopt a stricter definition of the concept of “unduly sexually explicit material”.

The majority of the Panel was however of the opinion that this type of case must always be examined in light of the context and must continue to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

Degrading Content

The Panel also examined the comments made by the host and his sidekicks under Clause 7 of the CAB Equitable Portrayal Code.  While this latter Code replaced the CAB Sex-Role Portrayal Code in March 2008, the CBSC’s decisions prior to 2008 continue to apply.  The Panel adjudicators unanimously concluded that the remarks targeted by the complaint did not amount to negative generalizations of either sex and therefore did not violate Clause 7 of the CAB Equitable Portrayal Code.[ii]

Broadcaster Responsiveness

As mentioned earlier, the reply given to the complainant by the broadcaster on June 13, 2011 concerned a different subject that had been discussed in the same time frame immediately prior to the segment the complainant found objectionable.

It must, however, be emphasized that the complainant was vague in his original complaint, saying only that the host [translation] “makes truly degrading comments, an example would be what he said on May 17th between 12:25 and 12:35 pm during his program Dupont le midi” without being more specific as to the nature of those remarks.  He then added some general comments about the host and his often vulgar, absurd and immature language that did not, however, refer specifically to the May 17 broadcast.

The complainant was not satisfied with the broadcaster’s reply and pointed out in his Ruling Request that the reply given by Radio X was completely senseless and that his complaint was about [translation] “words referring to obscene matters, i.e. sex!” and not [translation] “a story about a deceased woman’s prom dress”. The CBSC Secretariat did not ask the broadcaster to reply again to the complainant following that comment on his part.  Nor did the broadcaster choose to do so of its own accord, although it had received a copy of the correspondence with the complainant.

The question for the Panel then, was whether the broadcaster, upon ascertaining the mismatch between the complaint and its reply, should have taken the initiative to reply to the complainant a second time, although the CBSC Secretariat had not raised that possibility, or whether the broadcaster met its obligation to “co-operate fully with [the] complainant by responding quickly and effectively to [his] concerns […]”.

The Panel examined that question pursuant to the CBSC policy to the effect that a broadcaster is not required to send a second reply to a complainant when the latter reacts to the first reply. It also took into consideration the vague nature of the complaint, the close proximity in time of the two program segments at issue and the fact that the segment addressed in the broadcaster’s reply immediately preceded the one that was the subject of the complaint, and unanimously concluded that given the circumstances, the broadcaster met its obligation of responsiveness and complied with paragraph (g) of the CBSC Manual regarding responsibilities of membership.

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

[i] See the following cases for examples of content that was considered unduly sexually explicit: CIKI-FM re a joke on Tout le monde debout (CBSC Decision 02/03-0358, July 17, 2003); CHOI-FM re Le monde parallèle de Jeff Fillion (Sexual comments) (CBSC Decision 03/04-0018, April 22, 2004); and CKOI-FM re comments made on Y’é trop d’bonne heure (CBSC Decision 04/05-0891, September 9, 2005). See the following case for an example of content that was not considered unduly sexually explicit:  CHOI-FM re comments made during a segment of Le Retour de Radio X (CBSC Decision 08/09-0492, March 17, 2009).

[ii] See the following cases in which the CBSC found that discussion of sexual matters was not degrading to either gender: CFMI-FM re Brother Jake Morning Show (CBSC Decision 00/01-0688, January 23, 2002); CFNY-FM re The Show with Dean Blundell (CBSC Decision 01/02-0267, June 7, 2002); CIRK-FM re K-Rock Morning Show (CBSC Decision 01/02-0713 & -1113, February 5, 2003); CIKI-FM re a joke on Tout le monde debout (CBSC Decision 02/03-0358, July 17, 2003); and CFNY-FM re a “Wha’ Happened?” segment on the Dean Blundell Show (CBSC Decision 08/09-1238, September 23, 2009).