CHOI-FM re Maurais Live (government agency training)

QUEBEC Regional Panel
G. Moisan (Vice-Chair), Y. Bombardier, A. H. Caron, R. Cohen (ad hoc), V. Dubois

The facts

Maurais Live is a morning talk show broadcast on CHOI-FM (Radio X, 98.1 FM, Quebec City) from 9:30 to noon Monday through Friday.  Hosted by Dominic Maurais (with the participation of co-host) J.-C. Ouellet, they discuss news and different subjects of current interest.  They also take calls from time to time.  On March 23, 2010, they discussed government agency training, as well as other subjects, but they reverted to that principal issue on a number of occasions during that episode of the program.

The full text of the transcript of the program can be found in Appendix A (in French only); however, much shorter pertinent excerpts are included here.

[Translation]

Maurais: It’s done, that’s it.  You heard it.  So, a good leader is someone who knows how to shut his trap, who knows not to speak, who can respect silence.  What an incredible story of crap government spending, yet again, as shown in a superb investigative piece in the Journal de Montréal, Journal de Québec; and, um, in an interview in the morning show they just, um, aired with R. T., a small-time inconsequential conference speaker who organised, um, a symposium. He does offer a service that is duly legal and in good faith.  And civil servants call him up –

Ouellet:             Of course.

Maurais:            – and charge us for the bill in a manner, in a way that is bold as brass, and off they go for a weekend at an inn in a nice quiet spot –

Ouellet:             Of course, in Bromont!

Maurais:            Yeah, what’s the name of the inn?

Ouellet:             It’s called Les jardins intérieurs du lac.

Maurais:            They’re ticked off, by the way; the inn people are ticked off.  You see, it’s a two-star inn that was used, let’s remember, by civil servants from the Québec City Health Agency.  Two days of silence for 1,400 bucks.  When you look at the prices charged by that inn, well it’s 150 bucks per night, you know, so it’s two stars, very basic –

Ouellet:             That’s not what costs so much.

Maurais:            That’s not what costs so much.  You know, I, I didn’t even post the pictures on, um, on Facebook.  Imagine a bed with two arborite tables and a little 15-dollar lamp from Wal-Mart, and there’s your inn.

Ouellet:             When you go there, it isn’t usually for the room; you go there for the outdoor experience I would think –

Maurais:            Yep, that’s right.

Ouellet:             — because you come in to sleep and it’s not bad for its purpose.

Maurais:            Yep, that’s right.

Ouellet:             1,400 bucks per person?

Maurais:            Yeah, so somebody is getting a cut, because you’re talking 400 bucks for two days, that is, two nights at that inn.  So, our pal Rémy gets a cut of 1,000 bucks.

Ouellet:             It was one night.  It was two days, one night.

Maurais:            Two days and one night?  Wow!  So now we’re at 1,200 bucks a pop per                                     employee.

Ouellet:             Per person.  Times 15.

Maurais:            Hey, he must be making money!!  But, I don’t have anything against people who make money!  But once again, where is the judgment?  The judgment shown by the civil servants for having called that guy, for charging that? Ha! They have to use up their budget!  Maybe that’s it?  So, they have to spend the training budget otherwise it won’t be renewed.  That’s more or less the usual racket of the Quebec government.  So, um, excellent interview in the morning show featuring Rémy Tremblay.  We made a little clip of that interview and we’ll listen to it shortly.  But before that, I would be remiss, on this day of silence, at 9:50 a.m., if I did not say hello, ever so softly, and wish a good night, to all the managers at the health agency.  And, I’ll be naming each and every one of them so you know that there are several of them whose salaries you pay and also so you can be sure that if at some point you have the flu, an inner ear infection, cancer, let’s say, it happens, not one of those people I am going to name will heal you.  I can guarantee you that.  There might be someone in the health system, a very good doctor, good nurses, at your side, but I can guarantee you this morning that there is no one among the people I will name in a few moments who can care for you.  It’s not a happy thought and I really hate to tell you this. None of those civil servants can care for you.  It breaks my heart to tell you this.  I really didn’t want to tell you that this morning.  But, it’s the truth, that’s the truth.  If you have polyps, if you have kidney stones, well not one of the individuals I will name can remove your kidney stones.  Is that clear enough?!

Ouellet:             There must be just three or four?  You aren’t going to name them all, are                                     you?

Maurais:            I’ve got a directory full!  I’m referring to the civil servants, the managers of the Quebec City Health Agency. Together, we’ll get together at 9:51 a.m.  I know the weather is crappy out there today and I want to say hello to the, the, the guys and girls who work outside.  Look, you work quite a bit harder than we do, I can guarantee you that.  We salute you!  Respect!  The people working on construction sites; this is a day, this is a shitty day, so, um, keep listening; we like it.  So, I just wanted you to feel good, to know that you pay those people I’m about to name; you pay them well and they are in heated work sites.  Well, I want those people to relax because at the end of the line, as we have seen, silence pays off.

[Music by Kenny G]

            Ouellet:             Hey, not, not too loud!

The host then began the broadcast of the names of each of the individuals he had said he would name on the air.  It goes without saying that the CBSC will not provide those names in either the decision text or in Appendix A.  In addition to the names and, in most cases, the identification of the positions they then held within the agency, the host and co-host made frequent sarcastic references to speaking quietly, to [translation] “beddy bye” and not waking up the bureaucrats Maurais was identifying.  There were further references to the alleged $1,400 program/travel costs and occasional references to the fact that none of the named individuals could do anything with respect to actual personal medical conditions or operations. An example follows:

[Translation]

Ouellet:             Great.  Not one of them works in a hospital, not on the floor in any                                  case.

Maurais:            Do you have kidney stones?

Ouellet:             No, not yet.

Maurais:            O.K.  When you get some, not one of those people will remove them for                                     you.

Ouellet:             O.K., O.K.

[…]

Maurais:            Ten a.m. on Radio X with Maurais Live.  No name has been made up.  I read the directory, so they are employees of the Quebec City Health Agency, just so you know that, um, we are over governed in, um, Quebec, with an increasingly bulky civil service, more and more civil servants in the health system.  But these are people who do not give medical care to anyone.  So, um, there are surely some good people among those I just named.  But I just wanted to tell you that if you have a kidney stone this morning, there is unfortunately no one among them who will remove it for you.  I just wanted to remind you of that.

[…]

Maurais:            Yeah, no, I’m closing my eyes and I’m drifting away.  Silence therapy.  The sound, listen to the sound, the sound, the sound, the sound of silence.

[Music: Birds singing; the song “The Sound of Silence” by Simon & Garfunkel]

Maurais:            [With the music playing] The sound, with the health agency civil servants.  [Music fade out]  So, we salute the civil servants of the health agency.  We named them all a while ago at the beginning of the show.  Um, there are many of them and we pay them, so we should salute them after all.  I remind you that they went off for therapy; two days of silence; 1,400 dollars; a freebie from the king of kings.  This is a gentleman who, um, organises therapy.  He is duly legally entitled to do so.  And this guy organises those things and it has caught on, so, um, there’s a market.  […] [T]he civil servants called him up and with our money, while emergency rooms are overflowing, while people are dying in emergency rooms.  I’m not even engaging in demagoguery.  Um, that’s the reality of the situation. They had a training budget, well they spent it.  That’s how it works.  That’s how it works in the government in any case.  If you don’t spend your budget, it isn’t, it isn’t renewed.  Pretty straightforward.  You have, um, a computer budget and you still have, um, 15,000 bucks and two days left to spend it.  In my opinion, it goes to laptops, it goes to screens.  [Garbled words]That’s how it works in the government.  So, um, if you have a training budget – I’m not saying that’s exactly what happened in this case – but that’s what it looks like.  You have a training budget, well you have to spend it, otherwise you can be absolutely certain that it won’t be renewed.  Is that the good doctor on the line?  Very good; 10:34 a.m.

There was considerable additional dialogue on other subjects, some of which was peripherally related to the subject at hand.  Much was not.  Finally, though, on the principal subject of the day, the host called the agency he had identified as being associated with the government seminars.  His dialogue with the person answering the phone follows:

[Translation]

Maurais:            Ha!  Shall we call, just to finish off?  I’d like to call the health agency.

Ouellet:             O.K.

Maurais:            Just a question of bringing them perhaps a good dose of relaxation.  Just a reminder, this is the story of the day in my opinion – inconsequential training paid for by the government of Quebec.  We have no more money, we are tightening our belts, we have to make cuts, but in the meantime it’s nothing to worry about because the Quebec health agencies are treating themselves to useless training given by conference speakers, given by gurus, including silence therapy for, among others, the Mauricie health agency, the Quebec City one also. There were loads of training sessions [the phone rings] for the, um, in the case of the Capital City Agency.  A course in political skills costs $13,600, so some nice training –

Lady at health agency: Health agency, good morning.

Maurais:            – for everyone.  Good morning Madam!

Lady:                Good morning.

Maurais:            How are you?

Lady:                Fine.

Maurais:            I just want to bring you a bit of relaxation this morning.  A relaxation and training workshop.  So, I just wanted us to relax together, to have a nice day with this music I’m bringing you.

[Music by Kenny G]

Lady:                What’s that?

Maurais:            There is no stress, Madam.  There is no stress.

Lady:                What is the purpose of your call, sir?

Maurais:            To relax.

Lady:                Yeah.  Do you wish to speak with someone at the Agency?

Maurais:            No.

Lady:                No?

Maurais:            Thank you.

Lady:                Fine, goodbye.

The following complaint from the CEO of the [translation] Capital City Health and Social Services Agency was sent to the CBSC on April 19.  It reads in pertinent part as follows (the full text of all correspondence, in French only, can be found in Appendix B:

[Translation]

During this program, host Dominic Maurais made comments specifically targeting the Capital City Health and Social Services Agency, more particularly its employees.  We feel that the content of the program aired on March 23 of this year was prejudicial to the dignity and the respect of our agency’s personnel as well as to the reputation of the organisation itself.  Moreover, the principles of thoroughness and integrity that should govern the profession of journalist or host were not observed, given the erroneous comments made on March 23 on CHOI 98.1 Radio X FM.

Indeed, Mr. Maurais claimed during this program that management personnel from the Capital City Health and Social Services Agency attended a training session on management through silence and that they had been housed at an inn called Les Jardins intérieurs du lac at a cost of $1,400 per person.  The host based those claims on an article in the Journal de Québec giving an account of the training activities for certain employees of the Mauricie and Central Quebec Health and Social Services Agency.

The information to the effect that management personnel from the Capital City Health and Social Services Agency participated in this training session was erroneous.  No training of this type was given by the Capital City Health and Social Services Agency and no member of its staff was housed in that establishment.  The training costs reported in the Journal de Québec with respect to the Capital City Health and Social Services Agency were related to other types of training.

In addition, we deplore the attitude that led to a staff member of the Capital City Health and Social Services Agency being on the air without warning her, and also to individually naming the staff members in such a way as to belittle their work.  The host ridiculed the Agency personnel, arguing that they sleep during work hours and imitating them supposedly sleeping.  We see this attitude, which is at the very least disparaging, as being disrespectful and therefore prejudicial to the dignity and pride of the personnel at the Capital City Health and Social Services Agency.  Several individuals were hurt and angered at hearing themselves belittled in such a fashion on CHOI 98.1 Radio X FM.

Thus, the program of March 23rd and certain other comments made in subsequent programs were deplorable events that we feel we must act upon.  We therefore bring these facts to your attention and hope you will follow up in order to avoid a recurrence. Not acting on this matter on our part would be the equivalent of endorsing Mr. Maurais’ comments, which we strongly condemn, especially coming from someone claiming to inform the public.

On May 18, the CEO of CHOI-FM’s corporate group (RNC Media) replied as follows:

[Translation]

During this program, Mr. Maurais took up the front page of Le Journal de Québec, a daily that was involved at the time in investigating the various forms of training given to management personnel working for Quebec health agencies. The training featured by that daily was silence training, i.e. training given to the employees of a health agency in Quebec. The newspaper also mentioned various paid training sessions for agency employees.  Moreover, that news was taken up by various talk shows.

The Canadian Press took up the news under the title “Quebec health network managers given several thousand dollars’ worth of provincial taxpayer money for training”, adding “Le Journal de Montréal reported on Tuesday that in 2009 health agency personnel were given training courses, namely 48-hour silence experiences, at a cost of $1,404.37 per person”. In taking up this news, Mr. Maurais’ purpose was not to target a single agency, but rather to regionalise that news and take the example of our own agency in Quebec City.

As the complete list of employees was available on the Agency’s website, Mr. Maurais merely read the names in order to show the administrative bulkiness of the health system at a time of glaring need where health services are concerned, of overflowing emergency rooms and of a sore lack of family doctors.

Our host’s intention was to condemn these facts with humour.  At no time did he attack anyone personally or otherwise, and we sincerely regret that this situation angered certain members of your agency.

Please be assured that we regularly take stock with our hosts and that we take our listeners’ comments seriously.  We thank you for taking the time to inform us of your concerns regarding this program.

The complainant expressed his dissatisfaction with the broadcaster’s reply in his correspondence of June 16, in which he said, in pertinent part:

[Translation]

The complaint we filed raised points that were prejudicial to the dignity and the respect of the Capital City Health and Social Services Agency personnel as well as to the reputation of our organisation itself. This complaint is attached, along with the audio excerpts that gave rise to our complaint.

As part of the complaints process, you forwarded our request to the broadcaster concerned, namely RNC Media.  The broadcaster answered us through its CEO, Mr. B., on May 18th.  You will also find attached Mr. B.’s letter in reply to this complaint.

You will recall that the context involved the host discussing silence training given to the personnel of an agency in another region. In his letter, [the CEO], describes the acts of his radio host, Mr. Dominic Maurais, as follows: “…In taking up this news, Mr. Maurais’ purpose was not to target a single agency, but rather to regionalise that news and take the example of our own agency in Quebec City.”  In addition, Mr. B. mentions that the host “…merely read the names in order to show the administrative bulkiness of the health system …” and adds “Our host’s intention was to condemn these facts with humour.”

We feel that none of these explanations is suitable given the breadth of the comments made that day.  In the first place, we detect evident bad faith in the argument to the effect that Mr. Maurais’ intention was not to target a particular agency.  The latter devoted about an hour to naming each employee of the Capital City Health and Social Services Agency, occasionally interrupting his enumeration to inject sounds of snoring, as well as condescending mockery and contemptible comments about them.  Not only did the host target and attack the Capital City Health and Social Services Agency, but every one of its employees by naming them. By acting in this manner, the host only added weight to his attack by personalizing it with names.

Moreover, from our organisation’s perspective, condemning the administration as being bulky does not fit the demagoguery on which the host bases his supposition that the employees of the Capital City Health and Social Services Agency are useless, sleep during office hours and perform inefficiently.  The debate on the public administration is not to be held in the context of the denigrating treatment in which the host persists, and according to which, he even allows the public to believe that the personnel at the Capital City Health and Social Services Agency should give medical care to patients. Such remarks belong more to the realm of insidious cynicism toward the public system and not that of constructive social criticism.

Finally, the humour argument does not suit us any more than the other ones.  There is no need to tell you that we find absolutely nothing funny in his false, belittling and defamatory comments.

All these aspects lead us to reiterate our complaint and request that the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council act in order to correct the facts and take the necessary steps to remedy this situation. [The CEO’s] letter offers no apology or redress for the comments made on March 23, 2010.

The Decision

The Quebec Regional Panel examined the broadcast under the following provisions of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics and the Radio-Television News Directors Association (RTNDA) Code of (Journalistic) Ethics:

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.

RTNDA Code of (Journalistic) Ethics, Article 4 – Privacy

Broadcast journalists will respect the dignity, privacy and well-being of everyone with whom they deal, and will make every effort to ensure that news gathering and reporting does not unreasonably infringe privacy except when necessary in the public interest.  Hidden audio and video recording devices should only be used when it is necessary to the credibility or accuracy of a story in the public interest.

The Panel Adjudicators read all of the correspondence and listened to the challenged broadcast.  The Panel concludes that CHOI-FM violated the foregoing codified standards.

As CBSC Panels have long decided, talk show hosts are entitled to hold and express opinions during their programs.  That said, where those opinions are based on facts, the critic is bound to get the underlying assertions right.  As long ago as CKTB-AM re the John Michael Show (CBSC Decision 92/93-0170, February 15, 1994), the Ontario Regional Panel dealt with this issue in a decision relating to a talk show.  The Panel spoke about the importance of talk radio in the following terms:

[O]pen 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. […]

[…] While the CBSC neither underestimates nor discounts the importance of all of the foregoing, it is acutely conscious of the fact that open line radio does not come to the public without certain countervailing impediments and restrictions.

[…] [In this case, the host’s] comments were riddled with a multiplicity of factual inaccuracies, many of which were of the most elementary nature. […]

[…]

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.

In another example, namely, CILQ-FM re John Derringer’s “Tool of the Day” (CBSC Decision 02/03-1465, February 10, 2004), the Ontario Panel was faced with an editorial criticism of a judge’s decision on a purveyor of child pornography.  In support of his criticism of the decision (which, in the view of the Panel, he was more than entitled to express), the editorialist made asserted 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.”  In finding that Derringer had his facts absolutely wrong, the Panel said:

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.

See also CFRA-AM re an episode of the Lowell Green Show (the Qur’an) (CBSC Decision 05/06-1380, May 18, 2006) and CITS-TV re Word.ca and Word TV (CBSC Decision 08/09-2142 & 09/10-0383+, June 22, 2010) for examples of incorrect factual reference used as the basis for hosts’ opinions.

In the matter at hand, the host and co-host attached their criticisms of the government policy regarding seminars and continuing education programs to the [translation] Capital City Health and Social Services Agency, when that agency had nothing whatsoever to do with the course or the travel expenses to which they referred.  The hosts had even referred on air to an investigative newspaper article that had related to the [translation] Mauricie and Central Quebec Health and Social Services Agency, not the same agency at all.  The CEO of the broadcaster tried to explain away the host’s error by saying that his [translation] “purpose was not to target a single agency, but rather to regionalise that news and take the example of our own agency in Quebec City.”  Although that may have been the host’s intention, he got things wrong.  Not only did he not hesitate to identify the Quebec City-based health agency without any justification, he went so far as to name its employees, thereby cementing his error.  In other words, his commentary was neither fair nor appropriate and the Quebec Regional Panel concludes that the broadcast of March 23 was in violation of Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics.

While the terms of Article 4 and the presence of that codified standard in the code dealing with journalistic ethics seems, at first blush, to restrict the use of that standard to stories involving news and public affairs, this Panel has made it clear that the import of the article is broader.  In CFTM-TV (TVA) re Tôt ou tard (CBSC Decision 00/01-1080, April 5, 2002), which dealt with a comedic news sketch filmed at a drive-in movie theatre, far removed in other words from journalism, this Panel concluded that it “nonetheless considers that the principle of respect for the rights of privacy of individuals should be understood as extending to individuals even though the form of coverage does not, strictly speaking, fall into a journalistic category.”  Applying that principle to the matter at hand, the Panel concludes that there was not the slightest justification or public interest in the revelation of the names of employees of an agency that was itself erroneously targeted in the first place.  The painstaking focus on the names and functions of the agency staff without the slightest justification was careless and invasive.  The Panel concludes that CHOI-FM has breached the requirements of Article 4 of the RTNDA Code of (Journalistic) Ethics.

Broadcaster Responsiveness

In all CBSC decisions, the Council’s Panels assess the broadcaster’s responsiveness to the complainants.  In the present instance, the Panel finds that the response of the broadcaster’s President and General Manager was an honest effort to justify the host’s approach to the subject of the challenged segment of the program.  His reply was thoughtful although it is eminently understandable that it did not did not satisfy the complainant, whose agency had been erroneously identified.  The President and General Manager did his best with a nearly impossible task and the Panel considers that CHOI-FM has 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 Maurais Live 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 Clause 6 of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB) Code of Ethics and Article 4 of the RTNDA-Association of Electronic Journalists Code of (Journalistic) Ethics in its broadcast of a segment of Maurais Live on March 23, 2010.  In that episode of the program, the discussion focussed on the expenses associated with government agency training.  In discussing that issue, by erroneously targeting critical comments at the wrong governmental agency, CHOI-FM breached Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics, which requires that comments and editorials be fair and proper.  By individually identifying each of the employees of the incorrect agency by name and function, CHOI-FM invaded their privacy, in violation of Article 4 of the RTNDA Code of (Journalistic) Ethics.

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