CITI-FM re a radio contest (On-air Wedding)

PRAIRIE REGIONAL COUNCIL
(CBSC Decision 98/99-0477)
S. Hall (Chair), D. Braun (Vice-Chair),D. Dobbie, Vic Dubois, R. Gallagher, D. Ish

THE FACTS

On March 12, 1999, CITI-FM created and
broadcast the results of a contest which had stemmed from the station's
invitation on the previous day to listeners to answer the question “What
Would You Do to Win a Trip for Two [to Banff for a snowboarding holiday]?”

While this place in CBSC decisions
generally provides a transcript of relevant portions of any broadcast on which
the Council is rendering a decision, on this occasion, as the result of an error
on the part of the broadcaster, the relevant logger tape had been recycled. In
normal circumstances, this would constitute a breach of the CBSC requirement
that logger tapes be preserved for a period of 28 days following every
broadcast. See, for example, CJSB-AM re the Wendy Daniels Show (CBSC
Decision 92/93-0219, February 15, 1994) and CJCL-AM re Stormin' Norman
(CBSC Decision 93/94-0073, June 22, 1994). In this case, however, the
broadcaster proposed that it provide a statement of the facts associated with
the program, since the events, rather than the precise words, were at issue
here. The complainant had no argument with the proposal and the following set of
agreed facts serves as the basis for the Prairie Regional Council's decision
herein. The Vice-President and General Manager of the station wrote:

Following our telephone conversationon October 26, 1999 I have met with both my Program Director and the twomorning personalities on CITI-FM. We have compiled the following sequence ofevents of the show in question.

We believe this information isaccurate however, should [the complainant] identify other relevant details ofthe show that she believes we have omitted, we would be happy to review themand revise this document where applicable.

In addition, we have includedinformation from the previous day's show in an effort to provide some clarityto the unfolding of events for the show in question.

March 11th. 1999 The day prior to the show in question.

The CITI-FM morning personalities hadjust obtained a trip for two to Banff for a snowboarding holiday and thedecision was made to give the trip away via an “on-air” contest thatmorning. The theme of the contest was: “What Would You Do to Win a Tripfor Two?”. Listeners were invited to phone in to the morning show andenter by describing what they would do.

Jill was one of the listeners whoentered the contest by calling the radio station “live”, on-air, andoffered to marry a total stranger. This was deemed the most unusual stunt forthe contest. She therefore remained on the phone and was invited to screensubsequent calls, from interested listeners in an effort to pick five eligiblebachelors to compete for her hand in marriage on the next day's (March 12,1999) morning show.

She chose five bachelors from all thecallers. These bachelors and [“Jill”] were requested to be at thestation the next morning at 6am. In addition arrangements were made to have aWedding Commissioner for the Province of Manitoba present at that time for theduration of the show.

MARCH 12th, 1999

6:00am

– Jill, the five male contestants andthe Wedding Commissioner arrived at the station and were taken into thestudio.

6:15 – 8:15am

– Between regular music programming,Jill interviewed each “eligible bachelor” for ten minutes “Iive”,on-air, with a view that one of them would become her legally wedded husbandlater that morning. The show was reflective of the old TV show “TheDating Game”. Her most memorable questions included: “What kind ofjob do you have”; “Do you own your own vehicle”; “What areyour favourite hobbies”; “Have you dated a lot”; “Do youown your own home”; “What kind of music do you enjoy”.

8: 15am

– Jill chose one of the fivebachelors, James, for her husband.

8:30am

– Jill and [JM] met separately withCharlene Jones, the Wedding Commissioner for the Province of Manitoba todiscuss marriage, the implications and to sign the appropriate legaldocuments.

8:40am

– Charlene Jones performed thewedding ceremony “live”, on-air. Jill and James were legallymarried. The morning personalities congratulated them and then awarded Jillthe trip for two.

9:00am
– The show ended.

The Letter of Complaint

The following letter of complaint and
petition of 41 names dated March 15, 1999 was sent to the CRTC's Winnipeg
office which forwarded the matter in due course to the CBSC. Since it dealt with
two separate contests, the other of which is the subject of the Prairie Regional
Council's decision in CJKR-FM re a radio contest (Nude Bicycle Riding)
(CBSC Decision 98/99-0476), the letter is edited to reflect only the concerns
relevant to the matter at hand.

The particulars of [the] contest are as
follows;

– two strangers (or so it wasperceived by the listening audience) were wed over the air in exchange for anall expense paid honeymoon/trip to Banff. This contest took place on 92 CITIFM.

We, as individuals and as acollective group of West End Christian Community Church, take serious issuewith each of these poor excuses to boost ratings.

Whether the two young newly weds kneweach other and set up the stunt, or whether 92 CITI FM was part of the set upare both irrelevant points. The root of this issue is that a radio station, inorder to boost ratings, has made a mockery of a centuries old tradition — onethat both Christians and non-Christians hold sacred. To have a couple pledgemarriage vows over the air in exchange for a vacation belittles the sacramentand serious commitment involved in a marriage.

We hope that this letter of complaintwill be the impetus for the CRTC to contact, investigate and reprimand both ofthe above stated radio stations, We also hope that you will consider this notone letter of complaint, but many because of the collection of voices behindit. We write for ourselves, and for the hundreds of other Winnipeggers who donot bother to write because they think it will not make a difference. We hopethey are wrong.

The Broadcaster’s Response

The Vice President and General Manager
of CITI-FM responded to the complainant's letter on April 12th, 1999.

It is correct that 92 CITI-FMparticipated in a promotion that provided the opportunity for two young peopleto marry on air. This was not an attempt to trivialize marriage, nor to make amockery of a century old tradition. In point of fact, although arrangedmarriages are common and accepted in many societies throughout the world, thetwo “apparent strangers” who got married on CITI-FM knew each otherextremely well and had been in a close relationship for a lengthy period oftime.

It should also be noted that the ideawas conceived by the young woman, not the radio station, and both the youngman and woman had the approval of their parents, although not required, to doso.

It is ludicrous to believe that theyoung couple pledged marriage vows over the air purely for the purpose ofobtaining a free vacation, a trip either of the individuals could easily haveafforded to purchase on their own.

Finally, 92CITI-FM believes stronglyin equal and fair treatment for all individuals and I assure you that neitherthe station nor its employees would knowingly participate in or promote anyacts that would breach the law.

The complainant was unsatisfied with
the CITI-FM's response and requested, on April 16, 1999, that the CBSC refer
the matter to the Prairie Regional Council for adjudication. Along with her
signed Ruling Request form, the complainant copied the Council on her letter of
dissatisfaction to CITI-FM's Vice-President and General Manager.

The fact that arranged marriages arecommon in other societies around the world has nothing to do with the factthat 92 CITI FM arranged a contest to be held on the air that includedthe marriage of two supposed strangers who would receive, afterexchanging vows, a trip to Banff. The fact that they knew each other for alengthy period of time beforehand was not made known to the public until afterthe marriage. If this contest was not an attempt to trivialize marriage, thenthe contest was promoted improperly, as this is how it was perceived by thepublic.

We understand that the idea wasconceived by the young woman, but we expect that 92 CITI would takeresponsibility for something the station promoted in order to gain listeners.

Honestly, we as listeners, areextremely disappointed with a radio station that has gained a respectablereputation in comparison to many of the other radio stations in Winnipeg.

We are not satisfied with the mannerin which you have chosen to rectify this complaint, and are therefore seekinga ruling request from the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council.

We believe that an apology is inorder, as numerous listeners have been offended by such a contest, whetherthis offense was intentional or not. We would also appreciate a promise toendeavour to uphold the morals of the society in which we live by not stagingcontests that are “likely to give rise to a public inconvenience ordisturbance” (Clause 11 of CAB Code of Ethics). Thank you for your timeand consideration on this matter.

THE DECISION

The CBSC's Prairie Regional Council
considered the complaint under the Clause 11 of the CAB Code of Ethics.
That clause reads as follows:

CAB Code of Ethics, Clause 11

(a) Broadcasters recognize thatwhereas station contests and promotions are legitimate and useful methods ofattracting audiences, they should be conducted in such a manner that the costof any such contest or promotion is not excessive, particularly in relation tothe station's programming budget.

(b) All station contests andpromotions should be conceived and conducted in good taste, and particularcare should be taken to ensure that they are not likely to give rise to apublic inconvenience or disturbance.

The Regional Council members reviewed
all of the correspondence and, in particular, the agreed set of facts in the
absence of a dub of the logger tape of the program. The Council considers that
the program in question does not violate the Code mentioned above.

The Content of the Program

Even if it might not go as far as the
complainant's characterisation of the program in question as constituting
“a mockery of a centuries old tradition”, the Council does agree with
the complainant and co-petitioners that the contest in question has dealt rather
flippantly with the venerable institution of marriage. It is only a small point
but the Council does not agree that the indications are that the station purposefully
chose to do this to boost ratings. While all stations are, of course, always
trying to keep ratings as positive as they can in terms of their own demographic
goals, this contest appears to have been the simple result of an attempt to give
away a trip, the kind of promotion which stations are always trying to tempt
audiences with on an ongoing basis. The particular idea appears to have been
audience-generated the previous day; the Council has no doubt that it was not
the result of premeditation at the studio. That being said, people at the
station glommed onto the idea when it was presented and did choose to go along
with it. The Council only wishes to make the point that the complainant's
perspective regarding its characterisation appears to be somewhat exaggerated.

Accepting, then, that the station did
choose to broadcast what appeared to be a marriage ceremony between two
strangers, albeit between consenting adults and therefore entirely within the
legal requirements of the Province of Manitoba, the question for the Council is
whether such a broadcast breached any Code of Ethics provisions. In this
consideration, the Council does not feel the least bit assisted by the
broadcaster's characterisation that the broadcast in question “was
reflective of the old TV show 'The Dating Game'.” Marriage is, without
doubt, a more serious state and decision than a date. It is indeed this
attitude which no doubt riled the petitioners. That being said, the Council does
not see how, in a modern secular society, it can take the position that the
on-air marriage, even if between two complete strangers (the Council agrees with
the complainant that it is irrelevant to its assessment of the matter whether
they were, or were not, known to each other), can be understood to be in breach
of the Code. There is not, in this case, as in CJKR-FM
re a radio contest (Nude Bicycle Riding)
(CBSC
Decision 98/99-0476), any “public inconvenience or disturbance.” There
may be offence to some, but, in an age where irreverence has, to others,
become reverent, the field markers have moved. Moreover, they will continue to
do so over time. In this case, at this time, the Prairie Regional Council
considers that public order is not so disturbed or inconvenienced by this
contest that it can find a breach of the Code. It may be that, as a result of
the concerns expressed by the petitioners, this station and others may be
reluctant to conduct another similar contest. That must, however, be their
choice for no Code breach will ensue.

Broadcaster Responsiveness

In addition to assessing the relevance
of the Codes to the complaint, the CBSC always assesses the responsiveness
of the broadcaster to the substance of the complaint. In this case, more than in
most, the broadcaster was called upon to provide an innovative solution to a
problem which had arisen due to circumstances which the Council considered to be
inadvertent and for which, in any event, the broadcaster acknowledged
responsibility. The steps taken to ensure that the complainant and the Council
had a virtually complete ability to assess the situation at hand are a measure
of the broadcaster's commitment to the process. In addition, while the
broadcaster's response did not satisfy the complainant, the Council does
consider that it addressed the issues raised by the complainant and her
co-petitioners fully and fairly. Nothing more is required. Consequently, the
broadcaster has fully complied with the Council's standard of responsiveness.

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 is under no obligation to announce the result.