CJMF-FM re an interview on Bouchard en parle

quebec regional panel
(CBSC Decision 04/05-1852)
M.-A. Murat (Chair ad hoc), L. Baillargeon, R. Cohen (ad hoc), B. Kenemy, G. Moisan, R. Parent

the facts 

CJMF-FM (le 93.3, Quebec City) broadcasts the program Bouchard en parle weekdays from 6:00 am to 9:30 am.  Hosted by Sylvain Bouchard, the show features discussions about current events, opinion segments and interviews.  On July 26, 2005 at approximately 7:30 am, Bouchard conducted a telephone interview with Michael Walsh, the Vice-President of the Quebec Association of Friends of Cuba.  The host introduced the interview with the information that July 26 was Cuban National Day and that the Association was holding festivities in Quebec in celebration thereof.  For practical reasons, a part only of the lengthy interview transcription is included as a part of the decision text but the full transcription, which gives the tone and flavour of the dialogue, can be found in Appendix A (available in French only). 

[translation]

 Bouchard:         This Media Release is about Cuba, a free nation of the Americas.  Forty-five years of revolution in spite of the U.S. embargo, despite everything.  Universal health and education systems that are the envy of wealthy countries.  Today, July 26th, Cuban National Day is being celebrated in Quebec City.  […]  The Vice-President of the Quebec Association of Friends of Cuba is Mr. Michael Walsh.  Mr. Walsh, good morning.

[.]

Bouchard:         So, you’ll be yelling, um, “Viva Fidel!” in the streets of Quebec City, is that right?

Walsh:          Among other things, yes, certainly.

Bouchard:         Can the Cubans, because, you know, in life, all opinions are entitled, from my perspective, to be expressed.  Can the Cubans, today at noon when you’ll be yelling “Viva Fidel” in the streets of Quebec City; can the Cubans who do not agree with Fidel Castro yell out “Down with Fidel” in, um, Havana?

Walsh:          Um, certainly, certainly.

Bouchard:    Is that so?

The host, whose point of view regarding Cuba was clear from the start of the interview, continued putting his challenging, even occasionally sarcastic, questions to the Vice-President of the Quebec branch of the Friends of Cuba, Michael Walsh. 

Bouchard:         Okay, I”ve got one here, Mr. Walsh.  A news item about a Mr. Gomez, Daniel Gomez, who went before the communist headquarters to express his dissatisfaction.  He was beaten by the police and when his wife came to his defence, she was also beaten.

In response to this particular accusation, Michael Walsh raised a theme that was to return in his part of the dialogue on several occasions.

Walsh:              It is making the news – um, a few, 20 or 30 Cubans were stopped, arrested, questioned, released, etc.  It has been making the headlines for the last two or three days.  Now, we know very well that, and we’re not the ones [???].  If you check the Internet, these are people who are paid by the United States, who are directed, guided, and, um, um, in fact.  [Emphasis added]

Walsh also referred on a few occasions to the “criminal embargo” of Cuba by the United States.  There were other challenges to the Cuban regime by the program host.

Bouchard:         [.] You state in your Media Release that Cuba has a, the universal health and education system that is the envy of wealthy countries.  And it is true on that score I think; there is a consensus that the Cuban health system is in fact very effective and efficient.  Each year, I see on TV – tell me if these are genuine – Cubans, women and children, who get on these wretched rafts, at the risk of their lives, to reach the Florida coast.  And I have yet to see a single American attempt to enter Cuba by the same, um, the same means.  How do you account for that?

            [.]

Walsh:              [.] Well, that’s, there have been, there have been surveys on this; 95% of Cubans who leave for the United States do so for economic reasons, not political reasons.  There is supposedly opposition to Cuba.  There is no opposition.  It’s an opposition fabricated by the United States.

The two went back and forth on money, Cuban salaries, what and whom the Americans can buy, and related financial issues.  Sensing the direction of the discussion, which was not toward the substance of his Media Release, namely, Cuba’s National Day (except for the brief reference in the host’s introduction of his guest), Walsh challenged the host regarding his real purpose in calling the Vice-President of the Quebec branch of the Friends of Cuba, Michael Walsh for an interview. 

Walsh:              Why are you calling me then?  Do you want to talk about the Cuban National Day?

Bouchard:   I’m calling you because I find –

Walsh:              . to put down the Cuban system.  You’re calling me to put down the Cuban system.

Bouchard:         You bet I’m calling you for that, and I have the right to do so because I’m not in Cuba.  If I were in Cuba, I couldn’t call you because you would be controlling all the information, but since I’m in Quebec, I find it sick to go celebrate a Cuban day in Youville Square.

Walsh:         No, no.

Bouchard:         I am expressing myself, sir.  I have the right to disagree with you.

Walsh:              You are ignorant of the Cuban situation.  You are totally ignorant of the Cuban situation.

Then, following another sarcastic question by Sylvain Bouchard, Michael Walsh found a way to retaliate.  The host took the bait and became unpleasant.

Bouchard:         Mr. Walsh, Mr. Walsh, the little 14-year-old girl who prostitutes herself in Cuba, is she also paid by the United States?

Walsh:              The little 14-year-old girl who prostitutes herself in Cuba.  You can find prostitution in any country, and Cuba is the place where it is the least prevalent, my dear friend.

Bouchard:    For five bucks?

Walsh:          huh?

Bouchard:         For five bucks, the little girl who sells her body, for five bucks in Cuba?

Walsh:           Is that who you were with?

Bouchard:         [laughs] You are so twisted, you little bastard.  You are such a bastard when you’re on the ropes.  That’s a blow below the belt.  A news report.  A news report.

Bouchard:         Well, I’ll tell you.  You can make all the accusations you want.  You’re acting like a bastard.  It just goes to show that you’ve run out of arguments.  [Walsh laughs]  You are totally down on the ground.

The discussion evolved into a charged exchange over why Michael Walsh was even living in Quebec (rather than Cuba).  After repeating the challenge “Why don’t you live there?” a couple of times, the host reformulated the semi-rhetorical question, leading to the following back-and-forth: 

Bouchard:         No, no, I’ll ask you the question again.  What are you doing in Quebec, in a capitalist environment?  What are you doing here?

Walsh:              I toil for justice, my dear friend.

Bouchard:         Well, no, let me ask the question again.  What are you doing in Quebec?

Walsh:              Well, the same as you.  I eat, I live and, um, I raise my family.

Bouchard:         No, no, your job.

Walsh:              What a question to be asking me.

Bouchard:         What do you do for a living?

Walsh:              Pardon?

Bouchard:         What do you do for a living?

Walsh:              I worked in the government for 35 years.

Bouchard:         You worked in a capitalist government, you’re a traitor, you’re a traitor to the communist concept.  Why didn’t you go to Albania?  Go to Albania or North Korea or Cuba.  If you’re really proud of your communist principles, go there.  What are you doing here?

Walsh:              I do go, I do go.

Bouchard:         Go there and stay there.  Don’t come back here.

 

The dialogue became more personal. 

Bouchard:         The country is being manipulated by Miami terrorists connected to the drug trade.  All those who don’t think the same way as you do are paid by the Americans.

Walsh:              [sarcastically]  That’s right, that’s right.

Bouchard:         That’s some reasoning.  Did you really work in the government?  [Walsh laughs]  Holy cow!  You were actually paid for years? 

The host felt the tables turned on him and asked a couple of times:  “Do you have any more personal attacks to make, Mr. Walsh?”  Sylvain Bouchard then laid down the rules of the game to Walsh:

Bouchard:         Do you decide what will be discussed on the radio, or do I?  Or is it both?  Am I the interviewer, or do you decide the questions I should ask you?  How does it work in your wonderful country of Cuba?  Is that how it works in your communist mind?  Do you decide on the topics that will be addressed?  It doesn’t work that way here, sir.  I’m asking you questions and you are making personal attacks, and well, that’s how it goes.

Walsh:              No, I’m not making personal attacks.

Bouchard:         Well, you act like a fool.  That sums it up.  You act like a fool and a bastard.

Walsh:              I’m not making personal attacks.  Let me answer.  Let me answer.

Bouchard:   No, no, no.

The interviewee was unable to get back into control.  Faced with that prospect, he hung up.  The host had the final word.

Bouchard:         [laughs]  Oh boy, it’s going to be rough!  You know how they turn into bastards as soon as you challenge their fixed ideas a bit.  Those people aren’t accustomed to the confrontation of ideas.  […].

The CBSC received a complaint about the broadcast from a listener on July 26.  The listener disapproved of the host’s treatment of his guest, Michael Walsh, in the following terms (the full text of all correspondence can be found in Appendix B, available in French only): 

[translation]

The interview heats up at the point where the host calls his guest a “Castroite” because he is organising a Cuban celebration in the streets of Quebec City while scores of Cubans are being tortured in Cuba.

Mr. Walsh attempts to defend his point, but he realises that he has fallen into a trap as the host, Mr. Bouchard, did not call him live to discuss the Cuban National Day as anticipated, but to challenge him on the Castro regime.

Mr. Walsh therefore ends the telephone call and as soon as he has hung up, the host Sylvain Bouchard calls him a “dirty bastard” on the air.

Everyone has an opinion and the fact that it differs from that of a radio host does not warrant being called a dirty dog on the air.

Please uphold my complaint so that this station acts accordingly. 

The station responded to the complainant on August 4, explaining the context of the broadcast in the following terms: 

[translation]

After receiving a Media Release concerning a march to celebrate the Cuban National Day, support the Republic of Cuba and demonstrate in front of the American Consulate in Quebec City, and after contacting Michael Walsh, Vice-President of the Quebec Association of the Friends of Cuba, for a live telephone interview, the host called Mr. Walsh.  A long discussion ensued between the host and Mr. Walsh concerning the reasons for supporting the Republic of Cuba and pointing out the merits or shortcomings of the political regime in that country.  Mr. Walsh was free to end the telephone conversation any time he wished.  When the host broached the subject of child prostitution in Cuba, Mr. Walsh suggested that the host was well aware of this problem as he had availed himself of the services of child prostitutes in Cuba.  The host saw a personal attack in that statement and then qualified that insinuation, but not the caller himself, through the use of the popular expressions “you bastard” and “you’re acting like a dirty bastard”.  We regret this sideslip and we apologise for it.  The telephone conversation then continued for several minutes in a more measured fashion and without insult until Mr. Walsh put an end to the conversation.

We regret that the content of the challenged program or its broadcast offended you and we sincerely apologise.  However, following a detailed examination of the issue and given the preceding comments, we believe we have fully complied with the standards that apply in the circumstances.  We also wish to assure you that we have drawn your complaint to the attention of Sylvain Bouchard so that he might keep your concerns in mind in the future. 

The complainant was not satisfied with that response and filed his Ruling Request on August 5, along with the following note: 

[translation]

It appears that the General Manager of 93.3 is suggesting that the guest of the program, Mr. Walsh, was disrespectful toward the host Sylvain Bouchard.  Not once did Mr. Walsh show anything less than complete respect toward the host.  This station’s General Manager has given a deplorable reply which at the same time gives its host the right to be disrespectful and opens the door to the scurrilous treatment of those who do not share his opinions.  Although I do not personally share Mr. Walsh’s philosophy, I am dumbfounded by the fact that a host would call someone who is identified on the radio a “dirty bastard” with total impunity and complete protection from his superior.

I am asking the CBSC to listen to the recording and to issue a decision or an opinion in this file, so that contrary to the contention of the General Manager of 93.3, this manner of speaking and of discussing on the air will not be considered “normal and ordinary”, but incorrect and disrespectful. 

 

the decision

The Quebec Regional Panel examined the complaint under Clause 6 (Full, Fair and Proper Presentation) of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics, which reads as follows: 

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. 

The Quebec Panel Adjudicators reviewed all of the correspondence and listened to a recording of the challenged broadcast.  The Panel concludes that certain parts of the broadcast were in breach of Clause 6. 

 

The Direction and Tone of the Interview 

The interviewee, Michael Walsh, was clearly offended by the direction of the interview.  He, presumably in good faith, if somewhat naïvely, expected that his Media Release on the Cuban National Day would lead to interviews on that subject.  The Panel assumes that, when the CJMF-FM interview did not begin that way (other than with the brief recognition in the host’s introduction), Walsh thought that he should continue since it might lead to the result he sought.  That was not to be.  Sylvain Bouchard saw in the Media Release an opportunity to chasten the Vice-President of the Quebec Association of the Friends of Cuba for the sins (as he saw them) of Cuba itself.  Consequently, that was the theme he pressed and, when he asked Walsh rhetorically, essentially, who gets to decide the course of the interview, you or I, the interviewee or the interviewer, there was only one possible answer.  Bouchard.  At that point, Michael Walsh had two choices, to stay or to go.  He chose the latter.  He hung up the telephone. 

On the issue of the choice of direction of the interview, the Panel agrees with the position of the broadcaster.  The choice of subject to discuss was that of the host, not the interviewee.  As the Ontario Regional Panel said, in CITY-TV re Hard Copy (CBSC Decision 96/97-0055, May 8, 1997): 

The CBSC has frequently decided that it is up to the broadcaster to choose the story it will tell or the “angle” from which it will present a story. 

And, as this Panel said in TVA re J.E. en direct (Alternative Medicine) (CBSC Decision 97/98-0580, September 24, 1998), 

As to what is an “event of importance”, a matter entitled to be treated by a broadcaster, the orientation of the broadcaster’s approach to the subject and so on, the CBSC has been very supportive of broadcaster choices, as it should be.  Barring some dramatically incorrect choices, the CBSC expects that broadcasters, having their feet on the journalistic ground, will make the appropriate determinations regarding the stories to tell.  In furtherance of this expectation, previous CBSC decisions have upheld the general principle that the choice to tell a story and the manner in which it is told remains entirely within the discretion of the broadcaster. 

The Panel can see no reason to interfere with Sylvain Bouchard’s choice of subject matter to pursue in his interview with Michael Walsh.  Moreover, Mr. Walsh and others who seek media coverage for an event must always understand that it is not they who control the topic that may flow from the issuance of a Media Release.  If the seeker is lucky, the media will see the subject the way he or she does.  If less lucky, the event announcer will receive air time but only on an aspect of the event.  It is then that the on-air jockeying for substantive position begins.  The point, though, is that the broadcaster was entitled to make that choice.  The only recourse for the interviewee was to choose to disembark.  Mr. Walsh did, perhaps later than he might have wished, but, on this part of the issue, it was his only option. 

 

Are There Limits to the Language of Criticism? 

There are two other matters to consider, however.  One of these relates to the treatment of the subjects discussed and the other to the method, style, tone and language of the discussion. 

With respect to the first issue, it is clear that the views of the host toward Cuba, its health and education systems, the plight of its people, the political structure and strictures, the lack of broadcast alternatives, the absence of real freedom of expression and so on were, to say the least, sceptical.  Moreover, Bouchard’s questions were frequently more than rhetorical; they were sarcastic, even barbed.  Even so, the guest did have the opportunity to respond to most of these challenges, even if from a disadvantaged position.  In the context of the type of show Bouchard en parle is, the Panel has no difficulty with the host’s personal biased perspective on Cuban policy in those areas.  As this Panel said in CHOM-FM and CILQ-FM re the Howard Stern Show (CBSC Decisions 97/98-0001+, October 17-18, 1997) when dealing with that host’s comments relating to France and Canada, there is great importance in 

differentiating between insults aimed at identifiable groups and comments related to the political or historical environment in Canada and in France.  The breach they find is limited to the comments mentioned in the foregoing section.  Those comments relating to the state of radio in Canada, the use of English in Quebec, the value of French culture, Canada as an appendage of the United States, the role of the vanquished French in Vichy France, the issues relating to separatism, and so on, are the host’s opinions and, unless utterly and irresponsibly uninformed, as in the case of CKTB-AM re the John Michael Show (CBSC Decision 92/93-0170, February 15, 1994), they are his to espouse. [.]  In general, the Council’s review of the first two weeks of the Stern show discloses that the bulk of the commentary relating to Quebec, France and Canada following the September 2 debut was of this nature [.].  It is the view of the [Quebec and Ontario] Regional Councils that these political and historical comments fall squarely within the bounds which freedom of expression is meant to protect. 

It is the second issue that was of concern to the complainant.  It is as well to the Panel.  The host of a show inevitably wields the power of the microphone.  It is a mighty power.  With very rare exception, the broadcaster has a disproportionate advantage over the caller.  Knowing this, skilled and considerate hosts ought not to exercise that advantage unfairly or improperly.  The reasonable outside observer expects that they will be good with words and argument, and experienced enough to maintain their cool despite occasional setbacks with callers.  They ought, in other words, to be deft and relatively unflappable.  They ought to be able to so moderate their method, style, tone and language that they will not succumb to even the poor exercise of those very skills on the part of a caller or callers.  Even if Michael Walsh intended to even the score with the host by his comments relating to the young prostitute, Bouchard overreacted.  He called his interviewee a “dirty bastard” and added variations on that theme on several occasions.  The Panel wishes to make clear that the broadcaster’s reaction to the complaint in its letter of August 4 was not correct.  The General Manager asserted: 

The host saw a personal attack in that statement and then qualified that insinuation, but not the caller himself, through the use of the popular expressions “you bastard” and “you’re acting like a bastard”. 

When, however, he said “but not the caller himself”, that was simply wrong.  Sylvain Bouchard had insulted the caller directly and personally by saying “You are so twisted, you little bastard.  You are such a bastard.”  The subsequent comments cited immediately above were, in a sense, the icing on the cake.  The host had already classified the Vice-President of the Quebec branch of the Friends of Cuba as a “bastard”; he now accorded himself the opportunity of expressing that thought in other ways.  The Panel finds his comments strikingly similar in nature to those of Daniel Séguin, with which it dealt in CJRC-AM re an interview by Daniel Séguin on L’Outaouais ce matin (CBSC Decisions 03/04-2082 and 04/05-0023, April 4, 2005).  Although some of the language used in that broadcast was closer to a technical “swear word”, the Panel’s comments regarding the insults are applicable here. 

Until this point, the Quebec Regional Panel believes that the host was within his rights.  Such, it appears, was also the attitude of the interviewee, who would even have accepted the more contentious statements that are the subject of this decision.  (“[translation] Ah, yes.  You have the right.  As far as we are concerned, we accept that you have the right to do it.”)

Although his attack was harsh, Séguin’s target was both present and a practitioner of the art of giving little or no quarter.  In the match-up, it is clear that Daniel Séguin was faring well and had the upper hand.  It is particularly for this reason that the Quebec Panel does not understand why the host descended from the relatively high road to the level of a personal attack using the expressions “[translation] I was really looking forward to […] telling you literally to fuck off” and “[translation] And it’s my turn to tell you to fuck off Mr. Demers, and I do so with pleasure this morning.”  In the entire dialogue, it is here and only here that the Quebec Panel takes issue with the broadcast of that morning.  The Panel considers that the use of the two foregoing expressions was overkill and, in terms of the broadcaster’s ethical obligations, unduly coarse and offensive, on the one hand, and improper, on the other.  The Panel recognizes fully that Daniel Séguin wished to give Patrice Demers some of his station’s own medicine but this Panel did not find similar language acceptable in CHOI-FM re Le monde parallèle de Jeff Fillion (CBSC Decision 02/03-0115, July 17, 2003) and it does not find it acceptable in the present case.  It considers the use of the coarse and offensive language cited in this paragraph in breach of Clause 9 of the CAB Code of Ethics.  It also considers that the use of such aggressive language to insult his invited guest was improper and in breach of Clause 6 of the Code. 

On the issue of the use of the term “dirty bastard” and its variations, the Panel finds the broadcaster in breach of Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics. 

 

Broadcaster Responsiveness 

It is the practice of all CBSC Adjudicating Panels to assess the broadcaster’s responsiveness to the complainant.  Although it is, of course, the case that the broadcaster need not agree with the complainant, it is expected that its representatives charged with replying to complaints will address the complainant’s concerns in a thorough and respectful manner.  In the matter at hand, although the broadcaster’s response characterized the host’s comments incorrectly in part, the Panel views this as no more than an attempt to tilt the understanding of the host’s language in a favourable way.  In all other respects, the Panel considers that the Directeur général’s response to the complainant was acceptable.  The Panel finds no breach of the broadcaster’s obligation of responsiveness on this occasion. 

 

announcement of the decision 

CJMF-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 Bouchard en parle was broadcast; 2) within the fourteen days following the broadcast 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 CJMF-FM. 

The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has found that CJMF-FM has breached Clause 6 of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ Code of Ethics.  By insulting a guest interviewee on the morning program Bouchard en parle and broadcasting offensive language in response to comments made by that guest, CJMF-FM breached the provisions of the clause of the Code of Ethics which requires the presentation of fair and proper comments and opinions.

 

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