CJAY-FM re Forbes and Friends (Chinese Language “Translations”)

PRAIRIE REGIONAL PANEL
(CBSC Decision 02/03-1646)
D. Ish (Chair), V. Cownden, D. Dobbie, V. Dubois, J. Fong and R. Gallagher

THE FACTS

The following segment aired on the morning show Forbes and Friends on CJAY-FM (Calgary) on August 11, 2003.  In it, the hosts took a fake call from a Mr. Wong who offered to help the hosts learn some phrases in Chinese.  The ensuing “translations” provided by Mr. Wong were in English but made to sound Chinese. 

On August 12, the complainant sent the CRTC a complaint that covered a number of issues.  That complaint was forwarded to the CBSC in due course.  That part of the correspondence which related to this show was the following (the full text of all correspondence in this file can be found in the Appendix): 

August 11th 2003

 

Forbes and Friends morning show

Forbes, Hughes, Wicks and Malone broadcast a dialogue that demeans ethnic language (Chinese) 

On August 13, the complainant added “a few brief points” to his complaint.  Among these, he said:

1)                   I am disgusted that CJAY 92.1 has targeted a specific ethnic group (Chinese and Asians) for ridicule and contempt.  On August 11th alone, I count three instances when demeaning remarks were made against Chinese people and Chinese language.  This is not the only time CJAY has targeted Asians.  In the past CJAY 92.1 has made other unflattering remarks about Chinese people and Asians in general.

 

2)                   I complained to CJAY 92.1 directly before I contacted the CRTC.  They ignored my request to stop demeaning Asians and continued to broadcast their racist and demeaning humour throughout the day.  (August 11 Forbes and Friends Morning Show, Zman – Zack Hewitt 3:00 pm, Mel Risdon 9:20 pm)

 

 

3)                   CJAY 92.1 has made comments that will validate anti-Asian sentiments in those individuals that already feel prejudiced against this group of people. 

The station's Vice President and General Manager replied to the complainant on August 27.  He said in part: 

I am sorry that you found the banter aired between Jody Hughes and Gerry Forbes on August 11th as “most inappropriate”.

 

I am sure you can understand that humour is a very subjective issue.  The humour on this program was based on the use of dialect voices.  This is a common staple of comedy shows, dating back to Sid Caesar in the 1950's and now found in such popular television programs such as the Simpsons, Saturday Night Live and the Just For Laughs Comedy Show carried by CBC.

 

You can also see the Subjectivity of certain kinds of humour in popular television commercials such as the most recent Alexander Keith's campaign starring an outspoken Scottish individual in a role that some may feel is stereotypical.

 

I can assure you that CJAY 92 does not “promote racism and prejudice”, nor have we “singled out and targeted one ethnic group for ridicule and bigotry”. 

On September 5, the complainant replied with a brief covering note; however, on September 8, he sent a longer explanation of his views to the broadcaster's Vice President and Station Manager.  In that e-mail, he said, in part: 

As you know, I am offended by the content aired by CJAY on August 11th during its morning show.  Your reply to my original message was thoughtful and it is obvious you took some time to put the message together.  However, after reading your message, I feel your ultimate goal is to protect CJAY and its radio announcers and not to address my concerns.  This is the reason I have asked the CBSC to adjudicate my complaint.

 

To be blunt, I feel your comments about subjective humour and humour based on dialect voices are nonsense.  There is nothing funny or acceptable about what was aired on August 11th, 2003.  The banter between Jody, Forbes and another unknown voice actor was crude, disgusting and brings to mind some of the most offensive stereotypes imaginable.  I would argue that CJAY 92.1's habit of broadcasting skits like the one broadcast on August 11th that it does promote racism and prejudice among its listening public.  The ethnic comedy routine broadcast on August 11th, 2003 was only the latest of a whole array of ethnic skits designed to mock and ridicule Asians in general.  [.]

I have been really patient with CJAY and, in the past have tried to accept CJAY's offensive comments as SNL or Simpson's [sic] type “humour”.  But now, after hearing all the degrading comments they have made against Asians, I see that CJAY seems to be more malicious than I thought they were in the past.  My theory is that your radio station is has [sic] singled out and targeted one ethnic group for ridicule and bigotry.  Unfortunately Mr. Peacock, your last letter has not convinced me this is not the case. 

 

THE DECISION 

The CBSC's Prairie Regional Panel considered the complaint under the Canadian Association of Broadcasters' (CAB) Code of Ethics.  The relevant provisions of this Code read as follows: 

CAB Code of Ethics, Clause 2 – Human Rights  

CAB Code of Ethics, Clause 9 – Radio Broadcasting 

(c)     Unduly coarse and offensive language. 

The Prairie Regional Panel Adjudicators reviewed all of the correspondence as well as a recording of the challenged broadcast.  The Panel finds that the CJAY-FM broadcast in question did not breach the Human Rights Clause but did breach the Code provision relating to the use of coarse or offensive language. 

Discriminatory Humour 

The CBSC has long established the principle that it is not the mere mention of race, national or ethnic origin, skin colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status or physical or mental disability which will be sanctioned, but rather only those which contain abusive or unduly discriminatory material or comment on the basis of the foregoing which fall afoul of this provision.  Various CBSC Panels have also explained that there may be discriminatory comments made that do not rise to the level of a Code violation but may nonetheless be distasteful.  In such cases, the principle of freedom of expression will protect the broadcast.  It is only when comment is either abusive or unduly discriminatory that it will overcome the “sanctity” of freedom of expression to be considered as a Code violation.  The line-drawing in which a CBSC Panel must engage to make such a determination is delicate.  Moreover, it can be expected that such evaluations as favour freedom of expression are unlikely to salve the sensibilities of those who have complained about unpleasant or distasteful comments.  Nonetheless, it is the responsibility of the Panels to draw such distinctions. 

In the present instance, the Panel concludes that the humour is neither deep nor cutting.  It depends principally on the relatively light-hearted technique frequently applied in cases of ethnically-oriented humour, namely, the use of accents.  While these are generally employed so as to leave the impression that the person or group that is the brunt of the “joke” is inferior, occasionally the issue is simply that the person or group is different.  The Panel believes that this is the case in the matter at hand.  The Panel considers that the Chinese community is not belittled, mocked or marginalized.  It is the object of humour, to be sure, but not on the grounds of any alleged or even implied inadequacy, weakness or failure.  In a somewhat similar circumstance, in CFYI-AM re Scruff Connors and John Derringer Morning Show (CBSC Decision C01/02-279, June 7, 2002), the Ontario Regional Panel added that the “use of an alien accent will require ancillary demeaning, degrading, harsh, nasty or negative commentary or association in order to be found in breach of the Code.” 

The Use of the F-Word 

The CBSC position regarding the use of the f-word is far more cut and dried.  Its use in songs has been ruled in breach of the Code in CIOX-FM re the songs “Livin' It Up” by Limp Bizkit and “Outside” by Aaron Lewis and Fred Durst (CBSC Decision 00/01-0670, June 28, 2001), CJKR-FM re the song “Highway Girl (Live)” by The Tragically Hip (CBSC Decision 00/01-0832, January 14, 2002) and CFNY-FM re the song “Cubically Contained” by the Headstones (CBSC Decision 01/02-0456, June 7, 2002).  In CKNW-AM re Warren on the Weekend (CBSC Decision 01/02-0721, January 14, 2003), the BC Regional Panel dealt with the use of the F-word by a caller to talk-show. In a discussion on “celibacy in the priesthood”, host Peter Warren took a call from Bob, who said “Oh, dear.  Peter, I don't want you to hear this but Jesus was anti-religious.  And I'm married to a queer and you can tell these religious bastards to fuck off.”  Warren responded with some exasperation, “All right.  Thank you very much.”  The program continued without anyone making any further reference to Bob's call.   On the issue of the use of the F-word (other issues raised by the caller's intervention were also dealt with in the decision), the Panel stated: 

The use of the expression “fucking super” constitutes a breach of Clause 9 of the CAB Code of Ethics. 

Broadcaster Responsiveness 

Since one of the responsibilities of membership in the CBSC is, according to the CBSC Manual, to “ co-operate fully with complainants by responding quickly and effectively to their concerns,” CBSC Panels always take the time, in the course of their deliberations, to review the broadcaster's responsiveness to the complainant.  Compliance with this undertaking is a matter required in all files under consideration by the CBSC's Panels.  The fact that the Vice President and General Manager's letter did not deal successfully with the complainant's issues from the complainant's perspective presents no problem; it is, of course, always the case in matters that reach Panel adjudication.  The obligation of the broadcaster is to state its position by responding thoughtfully and fully.  The broadcaster has done that.  Nothing more is required in this instance. 

CONTENT OF THE ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE DECISION

CJAY-FM is required to: 1) announce this decision, in the following terms, once during prime time 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 the morning show Forbes and Friends is broadcast; 2) within fourteen days following the broadcast of the announcements, to provide written confirmation of the airing of the announcements to the complainant who filed the Ruling Request; and 3) at that time, to provide the CBSC with that written confirmation and with air check copies of the broadcasts of the two announcements which must be made by CJAY-FM. 

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