CHOI-FM re Le show du matin (cyclists)

Quebec Regional Panel
CBSC Decision 14/15-0563+
2015 CBSC 5
V. Dubois, A. Noël, T. Porrello, D. Proctor

The Facts

Hosted by Denis Gravel and his co-host, Jérôme Landry, Monday to Friday from 5:30 to 9:30 am, Le show du matin is a radio program broadcast on CHOI-FM (Radio X, Quebec City).  On December 10, 2014, the hosts were discussing a new trend among smokers attempting to quit known as “vaping”, i.e. smoking electronic cigarettes.  More specifically, their discussion focused on “vaping” in public and how “vapers” inconvenience those around them by blowing their smoke into other people’s faces.  Then, the conversation turned to cyclists, at which point the hosts tried to compare the behaviour of “vapers” to that of cyclists:

[Translation]

Landry: […] It’s exactly the same principle as cyclists who do everything they can to annoy motorists.

[…]

Gravel:  You know, I, I, I vape, so I’m better.  No, no, no you aren’t better.

Landry: That’s it.

Gravel:  You vape.  Good for you, but don’t annoy people with it.

Landry: Don’t annoy me with that.  Don’t come and make a statement in my face while I’m eating.

Gravel:  Yes.  That’s right.  [laughter]

Landry: Get out of the way.  That’s when I …

Gravel:  You’re biking in a row of eight, eh, because oh you think you’re Lance Armstrong.  You put on your yellow biking shorts and, well now, you have to show that to the motorists.  Fuck you!  You have no manners.  You may be healthy, you may have calves the size of my head, I don’t give a damn!  No manners!  You big oaf!  You big idiot!  Stay home.  You deserve to be run over by a car.

Landry: [laughter]

Gravel:  It’s the same for vapers.  You shouldn’t give imbeciles too many opportunities.  And yes, there are imbeciles peddling out there.  And yes, there are imbeciles driving cars.  And yes, there are imbeciles.  Ah, I have a hybrid car; I can drive more slowly so people will see me. [Using an old lady voice] “I drive a hybrid.  I’m saving the environment.”

The CBSC received 145 complaints regarding this program, 26 of which contained enough information to proceed with the file.  The complainants expressed their discontent regarding the statements made by Gravel and were mainly concerned with the promotion of violence against cyclists.  The host also used coarse language, and more specifically, the expression “fuck you”.

CHOI-FM sent all the complainants the same reply at the end of December 2014 and the beginning of January 2015.  In its reply, the broadcaster argued that the statements at issue taken from [translation] “the discussion constitute an excerpt that is out of context” and that “respectfully, to arrive at your interpretation, not only is it necessary to eliminate the context, but also to take those statements at face value.”  It also added that “in the program aired on December 19, 2014, Denis Gravel and Jérôme Landry clearly indicated, in an entirely different context, the great respect they obviously have for human beings and cyclists.”  (A transcription of the segment that was the subject of the complaints as well as the segment of the December 19 broadcast can be found in Appendix A, available in French only).

Seven of the complainants were dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s reply and decided to file Ruling Requests.  (The full text of the complaints and the broadcaster response can be found in Appendix B, available in French only).

 

The Decision

The Quebec Regional Panel examined the complaint under Clause 9 (Radio Broadcasting) of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics:

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:

a)         Gratuitous violence in any form, or otherwise sanction, promote or glamorize violence;

[…]

c)         Unduly coarse and offensive language.

The Panel Adjudicators read all of the correspondence and listened to the broadcast in question.  The Panel concludes that CHOI-FM did not breach Clause 9(a) regarding the comments made about cyclists, but the broadcaster breached Clause 9(c) regarding coarse language.

 

It is clear to all the Panel adjudicators that CHOI-FM is a populist station catering to a target audience whose concerns are a thousand miles removed from the linguistic orthodoxy standards of the Académie française.  Accordingly, the level of language used by the hosts reflects that of the intended audience.  The tone is colourful and the hosts do not sugar-coat the message they want to convey.

That morning, the discussion concerned public nuisances, more specifically the inconvenience caused by “vapers” to those in their vicinity.  The comparison with cyclists who ride “in a row of eight” (meaning in this case eight across and not eight in single file) is clumsy to say the least.  Crude aspersions, which all things considered are not very different from those found in the sketches of many popular comedians, abound.  And it is in that context that the Panel analyzed this segment of the program:

[Translation]

You’re biking in a row of eight, eh, because oh you think you’re Lance Armstrong.  You put on your yellow biking shorts and, well now, you have to show that to the motorists.  Fuck you!  You have no manners.  You may be healthy, you may have calves the size of my head, I don’t give a damn!  No manners!  You big oaf!  You big idiot!  Stay home.  You deserve to be run over by a car.

Clearly, not all cyclists ride the roads in phalanxes, just as it is unfortunately clear that some do and that, beyond the issue of sharing the road, there are problems when some cyclists do not abide by the Highway Safety Code and risk causing accidents.  From this perspective, the Panel is of the opinion that the sentence [translation] “You deserve to be run over by a car” does not constitute the sanction, promotion or glamorization of violence under Clause   (a) of the CAB Code of Ethics 1 , but rather an exaggeration denoting a certain level of frustration with situations such as vaping in public or the lack of civility on the part of some cyclists. The Panel Adjudicators also referred to the decisions cited below. 2

In concluding that the hosts did not violate the provisions of Clause 9 (a) of the CAB Code of Ethics during the December 10, 2014 program, the Panel also considered the clarifications made by the hosts in their show nine days later (that transcript can also be found in Appendix A, available in French only) when they expressed their respect for human life.

 

That, however, is the not the case with the issue of language.  The CBSC has ruled on many occasions that the use of coarse language, more specifically the expression “fuck you” in the daytime when children could be listening, breaches the provisions of Clause 9 (c) of the CAB Code of Ethics. 3  CHOI-FM has therefore clearly contravened the provisions of Clause 9 (c) of the CAB Code of Ethics by expressing himself so crudely in the early morning period.

 

The Panel notes that this is the third time that this radio station has breached Clause 9(c) of the CAB Code of Ethics within the reference period with respect to coarse language. CHOI-FM breached this very provision in the following decisions : CHOI-FM re Dupont le midi (police) (CBSC Decision 13/14-1582, May 14, 2014), CHOI-FM re Dupont le midi (figure skating) (CBSC Decision 09/10-1257 & -1260, September 23, 2010), CHOI-FM re Dupont le midi (suicide) (CBSC Decision 08/09-2041 & 09/10-1462, September 23, 2010), CHOI-FM re Dupont le midi (community organizations) (CBSC Decision 08/09-1506, September 23, 2010), CHOI-FM re Dupont le midi (Haiti) (CBSC Decision 09/10-0854, September 23, 2010), contrary to the long-standing CBSC policy as outlined in the CBSC Manual for broadcaster members under the heading “Responsibilities of Membership”:  “Broadcaster members which join the CBSC do so voluntarily and, by doing so, agree to:  […] (b) avoid the recurrence of any breach of the Codes which has previously been decided against them with respect to a particular program or series.”

It should be noted that the latter three decisions in the above list regarding the program Dupont le midi were taken at the same time and had not yet been issued when the Dupont le midi (figure skating) broadcast was aired, so it did not constitute a third breach of the CBSC-administered regulations.

Consequently, the broadcaster is required to provide, within 30 days of the release of this decision, a plan to the CBSC indicating how it will ensure that no other breaches of the provisions of the above-mentioned clauses occur at CHOI-FM.  This plan must be acceptable to the CBSC and if the latter does not receive an acceptable plan by the given deadline, it will determine whether there is any reason for which CHOI-FM should be entitled to remain a member of the CBSC benefiting from the operation of the self-regulatory mechanism. 4

 

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, CHOI-FM provided an adequate reply outlining its view to the complainants.  Aside from announcing the result of this decision in the terms set out below and submitting to the CBSC a course of action for rectifying its repetitive breaches as explained above, nothing further is required with respect to responsiveness in this file.

 

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 Le show du matin 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 complainants 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 the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics in Le show du matin broadcast on December 10, 2014.  CHOI-FM broadcast coarse language contrary to Clause 9(c) of the Code.

 

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

1 See, in this regard, CFRB-AM re an episode of the Michael Coren Show (CBSC Decision 06/07-1428, April 14, 2008) where the host advocated the painless euthanasia of all pit-bulls and declared that all their owners are morons and cretins who should also be killed, adding in a jocular tone that unlike their humanely euthanized dogs, they should suffer in the process.

 

2 See also CIQC-AM re Galganov in the Morning (CBSC Decision 97/98-0473, August 14, 1998) and CKAC re an episode of Gilles Proulx (CBSC Decision 98/99-1108, February 21, 2000).

 

3 See the following decisions dealing with the same issue:  CHMP-FM re a segment on Le Journal du midi (CBSC Decision 07/08-0553, April 7, 2008); CHOI-FM re Dupont le midi (figure skating) (CBSC Decision 09/10-1257 & -1260, September 23, 2010); CHOI-FM re Dupont le midi (suicide) (CBSC Decision 08/09-2041 & 09/10-1462, September 23, 2010); CHOI-FM re Dupont le midi (community organizations) (CBSC Decision 08/09-1506, September 23, 2010); CHOI-FM re Dupont le midi (Haiti) (CBSC Decision 09/10-0854, September 23, 2010); and CHOI-FM re Dupont le midi (police) (CBSC Decision 13/14-1582, May 14, 2014).

 

4 The CBSC has taken this measure in some other previous cases.  See:  TQS re Faut le voir pour le croire (CBSC Decisions 99/00-0460 & 00/01-0123, August 29, 2000); Showcase Television re the movie Frankie Starlight (CBSC Decision 02/03-0682, January 30, 2004); CJAY-FM re Forbes and Friends (graphic discussion) (CBSC Decision 03/04-0157, April 16, 2004); TQS re the film Film de peur (CBSC Decision 02/03-0940, April 22, 2004); CKAC-AM re an episode of Doc Mailloux (Childless by Choice) (CBSC Decision 05/06-1671, December 11, 2006); and CFNY-FM re the Dean Blundell Show (Wrestling) (CBSC Decision 12/13-0791 & -0818, August 14, 2013).