CHTZ-FM re the Morning Show

(CBSC Decision 92/93-0148)


During the course of the morning show on CHTZ-FM, St. Catharines, on April 21, 1993, the host said, “Listen, gentlemen, if you are trying to impress that secretary at work, today is Secretary’s Day, just make sure you are a gentleman when you ask her to take dictation, you understand.” (On-air host’s emphasis)

The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) received a complaint dated
April 22, 1993 concerning the host's remark, which had been referred to it by the

The listener observed that “As many women do suffer such a sexual harassment
situation at the hands of their bosses, I fail to see the humour in this scenario.” She
called the General Manager of the station that morning, complained about the joke
and requested that the station make an on-air apology. The General Manager
indicated that he would call her back the following morning with his response to that
request. When he did not do so, she assumed “that there would be no apology
made on the air.” In the end, there was none.

The General Manager of the station did, however, respond to the listener in writing
on May 10, 1993. He explained the station's position in the following terms:

Taken in context, it is clear that the statement to which you havereferred was simply a misguided attempt to make a joke in street urbandialect. The station employee who aired the statement states that hedid not intend to make a sexist comment but was simply trying to beracy and hopefully funny.

However, we agree that the statement is capable of being interpretedas sexist. On that ground, we agree with your criticism and wish toexpress our apology for airing it to you and any other listeners that mayhave been offended.

We have issued a reprimand to the station employee involved, and willbe reminding our staff of the station's commitment to Sex-RolePortrayal Guidelines for Television and Radio Programming, asapproved by the CRTC in 1990.

The complainant was nonetheless dissatisfied with the response of the station and
filed her waiver on May 12. Although no reason is solicited by the CBSC in the
waiver form, the complainant had stated in her letter of April 22 that nothing short of
an on-air apology would satisfy her.

As an apology on the air … was the condition I made to resolve mycomplaint with the station, I do not consider this matter closed. [TheGeneral Manager's response on the phone, “he shouldn't have donethat” is not a good enough apology for the personal insult to my dignityI have suffered at the hands of his radio station just because I am awoman and a secretary.

Accordingly, the panel of six members, three representatives of the public and three
representatives of the private broadcasters, convened to consider the file on October
26, 1993.

Code of Ethics, Clause 2:

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

Sex Role Portrayal Code, Clause 4, in pertinent part:

Television and radio programming shall refrain from the exploitation ofwomen, men and children. Negative or degrading comments on therole and nature of women, men or children in society shall be avoided.

Sex Role Portrayal Code, Clause 5:

Equality of the sexes must be recognized and reinforced through theproper use of language and terminology. Broadcasters shall employlanguage of a non-sexist nature in their programming, by avoiding,wherever possible, expressions which relate to only one gender.

The Regional Council reviewed all the correspondence and listened to the tape of
the relevant on-air program.

On the questions of fact in this case, the Regional Council agreed that the tone of
the host's statement was accurately recalled by the listener and that the host's
statement was in extremely poor taste. At the same time, the Council was
unanimous in its view that the bad taste did not amount to a breach of any of the
Code provisions cited above. The Regional Council was of the view that the two
Clauses of the Sex Role Portrayal Code were not applicable in that: the comment
was not exploitative, negative or degrading to women; nor was it an example of the
use of sexist language in the sense in which that term is understood.

With respect to Clause 2 of the Code of Ethics, the Regional Council referred to an
earlier Regional Council decision. As the CBSC stated in its earlier CFOX-FM
decision (British Columbia Regional Council, August 30, 1993),

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

In general terms, the CBSC is conscious of the fact that it must balance the right of
audiences to receive programming which is free of abusive or discriminatory material
based on sex and free of negative or degrading sexist comment, with the
fundamental right of free speech in Canadian society. The sanctioning of bad taste,
unpalatable as it may be, does not fall within the ambit of the CBSC's mandate
under its Codes.

The CBSC also reviews the nature and quality of the broadcaster's response to the
listener. As determined in the CFOX-FM decision to which reference has been
made above,

The CBSC is equally conscious of the further responsibility which it hasbeyond the measurement of on-air programming against the standardsestablished in the three voluntary CAB codes to encourage dialoguebetween the broadcasters and the members of their audiences.

Thus, in the course of complaint resolution, the CBSC considers that itis firmly within its mandate to evaluate not only the complaint itselfagainst the standards established by the various Codes which itadministers but also the responsiveness of the broadcaster in dealingwith the viewer or listener.

In the present case, the Regional Council considers the steps taken by the General
Manager of CHTZ-FM to have been effective, reasonable and responsive to the
listener. By agreeing that the statement was “capable of being interpreted as being
sexist”, issuing a reprimand to the on-air host and reminding staff generally of the
station's commitment to the Sex Role Portrayal Code, the CBSC considers that the
station fulfilled its obligations of effective dialogue with its listener.

This decision is a public document upon its release by the Canadian Broadcast
Standards Council and may be reported, announced or read by the station against
which the complaint had originally been made; however, in the case of a favourable
decision, the station is under no obligation to announce the result.