CJKR-FM re “Psychedelic Sunday”

ONTARIO REGIONAL COUNCIL
(CBSC Decision 98/99-1126)
S. Hall (Chair), D. Braun (Vice-Chair), R. Cohen (ad hoc), D. Dobbie, P. Fockler,Vic Dubois, D. Ish

THE FACTS

“Psychedelic Sunday” is a radio show broadcast on CJKR-FM
(Winnipeg) between the hours of noon and 3:00 p.m. every Sunday. It is dedicated to hits
from the “psychedelic” era of the ‘60s and ‘70s. On April 12, 1998, at
approximately 2:10 p.m., the host referred to smoking marijuana during a conversation with
a caller.

Host:
Power 97, Winnipeg’s number one rock station. A little Zeppelin ona Psychedelic Sunday, also the Byrds “Mr. Spaceman”. It’s  2:07. Theguy on the line here, a big Psychedelic Sunday fan. How does the show make you feel, man?

Caller:
Pretty good. Just picked up some papers at Mohawk and …

Host:
What? Zigzags?

Caller:
Oh, yeah.

Host:
Not Acme? Zigzags, man?

Caller:
Zigzag blue baby [both laughing]. I’m about to roll a big one forya.

Host:
Okay, in honour of Easter?

Caller:
Okay.

Host:
All right. Thanks, man.

Caller:
See you later.

The Letter of Complaint

On April 16, a listener faxed a short letter to the CBSC stating:

On April 12 (Easter Sunday) at approximately 2:10 p.m.,on CJKR-FM 97.5 in Winnipeg I was offended by the following comment made by the announcerknown as “Cosmo”. “Roll up a big fat one in honour of Easter.” Thiscomment was made to a listener who had called in. It was one of many references to smokingdrugs during his program. I found that implication that religious holidays be”honoured” by getting high offensive.

The Broadcaster’s Response

The President and General Manager of CJOB-FM replied to the complainant
on May 13, 1998 with the following:

I am sorry that you were offended by a comment you heardon Power 97 on Sunday, April 12, 1998.

I have reviewed the air segment in question, and feel confident thatthe comment, “Roll up a big fat one in honour of Easter” was made in the contextof that program “Psychedelic Sunday” which airs from 12:00 noon to 3:00 p.m.every Sunday.

This show, and versions of it across Canada, play music from thepsychedelic era of the 60's and 70's. For example, the song immediately preceding thesecomments was “Mr. Spaceman” by the Byrds, while the song following was”White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane. Both songs contain drug references. Ibelieve that the comments made by our announcer, Cosmo (Robin Grant), were not offensivegiven their context within the program. Nor do I believe that he was suggesting thatanyone one should “get high” on a religious holiday, or any other day. I canassure you that Mr. Grant did not make these comments to offend our audience or condonethe use of drugs.

Once again, I am sorry that you found these comments offensive, andhope that you will find this explanation satisfactory.

The complainant was unsatisfied with the broadcaster’s response
and requested, on June 8, that the CBSC refer the matter to the appropriate Regional
Council for adjudication.

THE DECISION

The CBSC’s Prairie Regional Council considered the complaint under
the Clause 2 of the Code of Ethics of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters
(CAB) The relevant clause reads as follows:

CAB Code of Ethics, Clause 2 (Human Rights)

Recognizing that every person has a right to full andequal recognition and to enjoy certain fundamental rights and freedoms, broadcasters shallendeavour to ensure, to the best of their ability, that their programming contains noabusive or discriminatory material or comment which is based on matters of race, nationalor ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, marital status or physical or mentalhandicap.

The Regional Council members listened to a tape of the program in
question and reviewed all of the correspondence. The Council considers that the program in
question does not violate the Code mentioned above.

The Content of the Program

The comments complained of and the circumstances of this case are so
similar to those involved in the Ontario Regional Council’s decision in CFNY-FM re
Humble & Fred (“Danger Boy on a Cross”)
(CBSC Decision 97/98-0644,
February 3, 1999) with which the Prairie Regional Council agrees fully that the Prairie
Council considers that only a few separate comments are necessary before quoting lengthy
excerpts from that decision. If anything, the broadcaster’s comments in this case are
considerably less religiously oriented here than in the CFNY decision. There, the pun was
related to a fundamental icon of Christian religions, namely, the Cross and the
Crucifixion. In this case, there is only a relatively oblique reference to Easter. In the
CFNY decision, the proposed event, it appeared to any listener, had to do with the Cross.
Here, the suggestion is that pot be smoked “in honour of” the holiday. In the
result, the broadcaster was found not to be in breach of any Code provision in the CFNY-FM
decision, although the Council did allow that there might have been a question of bad
taste involved, and that, as always, was a matter for the listener to deal with, not the
CBSC. The Prairie Regional Council has no difficulty in concluding here that, at worst,
there is a question of bad taste in drawing any association between drugs and Easter and
that this is a matter only for the on/off personal regulatory approach.

As to the reasoning of the Ontario Regional Council with which it
agrees, the Prairie Regional Council believes that it is instructive to cite the Ontario
Council’s reasoning at length here:

The CBSC has faced situations similar to this on severalprevious occasions. They occasionally involve serious material (as in the case of the filmThe Last Temptation of Christ) but more often comedically intended situations, veryoften involving the parodying of religious practices or icons, if not religion itself. Inalmost all cases which have come before the CBSC as the result of a public complaint, thereligion in question has been a Christian religion, whether Protestant or Catholic. Thismay result from the case that Christianity in its broadest sense is the dominant religionin Canada, therefore, the religion best known to the population and the one which would belikeliest to be publicly parodied. Quite simply, the parodying of less representativereligions may not reach the lowest familiarity level of a broad enough segment of thepopulation to “work” with the target audience.

It does not in the end matter why this is the case since theprinciples established in the various CBSC decisions on the subject would be as applicableto any religious group. What matters ultimately relates to the clash of the rightof freedom of speech and the right of broadcast audiences to be free from abusivelydiscriminatory comment on the basis of religion, as well as other grounds enumerated inClause 2 of the CAB Code of Ethics. Religion is not, after all, immune from farce,sarcasm or parody. The issue to determine is whether the barb has become a poison arrow,and whether, in other words, the humoristic device has stepped over the farcical thresholdand into the bitter and nasty territory of abusively discriminatory comment. Disrespectfuland even apparently harsh words may be on the safe side of that threshold despitethe sensitivity of the listener of the same religious persuasion or even the listener whois sympathetically inclined. The Council considers that, broadly speaking, gibes andparodies which are directed ad religionem are likelier to pass the test than thosewhich are ad personam on the basis of religion although, even in the latter case,they must amount to abusively discriminatory comment on that account to fail thetest.

In an earlier Ontario Regional Council decision, namely, ComedyNetwork re Bill Maher Special (CBSC Decision 97/98-0560, July 28, 1998), whichinvolved irreverent comments about Jesus, the Council held:

When, in fact, the jokes are analyzed one-by-one, theydo not, in the view of the Council, even attain a level which could be characterized asdisdainful, much less hateful. There is undeniably a level of irreverence but it islight-hearted, not heavy-handed. It is flippant and casual but not disrespectful. …

In any event, irreverence vis-à- vis the Church and clergy isnot unacceptable, provided it does not rise to the level of abusive or discriminatorycomment on the basis of religion. [Emphasis added.]

In a similar vein, in CKVR-TV re “Just forLaughs” (CBSC Decision 94/95-0005, August 23, 1995), the Ontario Regional Councilwas called upon to deal with a stand-up comedy routine featuring a fictional “SisterMary Immaculate”, played by a comedienne in the role of an Irish nun, who made anumber of jokes about religious matters. The Council concluded

While “Sister Mary”ÿs routine might not havebeen humorous to the complainant, none of her jokes — including the reference tohomosexuality highlighted by the complainant — could be construed as abusive ordiscriminatory to Christians or Catholics.

Similarly, in CHAN-TV re Last Temptation of Christ (CBSC Decision 95/96-0011, December 18, 1996), in response to a complaint filed by anothermember of the clergy, the B.C. Regional Council decided, albeit in the context of aserious motion picture, that “they [do not] find in the film any negative attitudetoward either Christians or Christianity itself.” Referring again to the CBSCdecision in Comedy Network re Bill Maher Special (CBSC Decision 97/98-0560, July28, 1998), the Ontario Regional Council believes that its comments there provide a fairperspective of the CBSC on the issues of blasphemy and excessive statements alleged to bein breach of the human rights provision of the CAB Code of Ethics.

Just as the B.C. Regional Council understood that, inthat case, “the complainant found the depiction of Christ questioning his faith andsuccumbing to temptation utterly unacceptable, even hateful”, the Ontario RegionalCouncil understands that, in this case, the complainant considers the stand-upcomic’s remarks irreverent, impious, irreligious, in short, blasphemous. For itspurposes, however, the CBSC considers that blasphemy alone would not be sufficient toconstitute a violation of the CAB Code of Ethics. It would need to be hateful,not merely irreverent, comment, abusively discriminatory, not merely impious orirreligious. At this point in the 20th century, the CBSC expects that comedians areentitled to question tradition and to tickle formal and possibly outdated values withoutfinding themselves, for that reason alone, exceeding Canadian broadcast standards.

Applying these principles to the matter at hand, theCouncil believes that the entire concept was irreverent and possibly even in badtaste.  If the latter, it is not an issue with which the Council will deal as mattersof taste in private broadcasting are generally left by the CBSC to the discretion of theindividual either to listen to or turn off.  It is only when issues rise beyond meretaste that the Council becomes involved.  The principle of freedom of speech would betoo compromised by the overlay by the CBSC of, in effect, a micro-managed imposition ofits view of mere questions of taste.  If the former, the irreverence alone of theplanned event could not reasonably be interpreted as anything more nefarious thansomeone’s idea of how to turn humour into a public attention-getter.  TheCouncil finds no breach of the Code in this case.

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, the Council considers that the broadcaster’s response
addressed fully and fairly all the issues raised by the complainant. Nothing more is
required. Consequently, the broadcaster has not breached 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.