CJMF-FM re comments made on an episode of Le trio de l’enfer

Quebec regional panel
(CBSC Decision 04/05-0761)
T. Rajan (Vice-Chair), L. Baillargeon, B. Kenemy, M.-A. Murat

THE FACTS

Le trio de l’enfer is a program broadcast between 3:00 and 6:00 pm each weekday on CJMF-FM (93.3, Quebec City).  Hosted by Robert Ross, Christian Riverin and Josée Guimond, current events are discussed and classic rock is played.  Each day there is also a commentary by Alain Laforest.  During the broadcast of December 17, 2004, there was discussion of the state of radio in Quebec City, in the context of which the resignation of Robert Gillet and the Bureau of Broadcast Measurement (BBM) methodology were discussed.  Reference was also made to controversial Quebec City radio hosts André Arthur and Jeff Fillion, who were called “trous de cul” [translation: “assholes”].  The following exchange, in which host Louis Lacroix also participated, took place between 4:00 and 5:00 pm (the part of the dialogue that is most pertinent to this decision follows; the full dialogue can be found in Appendix A, in the original French only):

[translation]

Lacroix:             We’re going to, I’m going to read a, a Media Release, that, um, has just been issued by the management of 93.3.  Um, “The management of 93.3 and host Robert Gillet announced today by mutual consent that the host is resigning his position. Since launching its new format, 93.3 first sought to demonstrate to Robert Gillet’s audience that he could resume his duties behind the microphone.  With a 10.6 market share and a morning show that ranks number two, our first survey produced satisfactory results”, stated the General Manager of 93.3, Jean-Paul Lemire.  “The second step was to demonstrate to advertisers the advantages of advertising on the second most popular morning show.  Despite these results, the interest was not there. ‘I want to thank my team, my listeners and the management of 93.3 for the confidence they showed in me’, said Robert Gillet.  ‘In spite of all the pitfalls and the burden of the past, I attempted a comeback with a team that I value and an energy level that was a pleasure to rediscover.  The rules between 93.3 and I were clear from the outset. The response to the first survey would decide my fate.  I had hoped to return to radio, but Quebec market conditions clearly will not allow that.  Thanks again to those who tuned in.  I hope they will remain faithful to 93.3.  The important thing for me now is to take a step back and gain some perspective.’ ”  That is what Robert Gillet concluded.  “Robert Gillet had returned to the new 93.3 last September 7th. Host Alain Laforest will take his place at the 93.3 morning microphone as of January.  Since he came on the air on 93.3 in September, Laforest has obtained a lively reaction and a marked interest in the quality of his opinion format programs.” That is the full text of the Media Release that was just issued by 93.3.  I can also tell you that there will obviously be a transition period prior to Alain’ arrival as, um, morning host.  That will take place, um, on, I think it’s the 4th of January.

[.]

Ross:                Yes. … Um, it’s, um, we’re turning a new page in radio at this time, and what is unfolding is quite special.  And, Alain, it’s true – your question –

Laforest:            No, no, but you know, you tell yourself, and I understand, what, what Robert did is condemnable, it’s, it’s immoral, it plays on people’s feelings.  He was convicted by a court; a court that was criticized.  Some people totally challenged the judicial system.  And, let’s be, let’s be clear on this. As far as Robert Gillet goes, I said from the outset that I don’t agree with what he did, but he didn’t rape anyone.  He had no authority, no power, over an individual.  You know?  And, somewhere today, given all the bashing he got, eh?  And now, and now he’s through.  He’s done like dinner.  Not just for a year or two.  I think Robert attempted a comeback and now it’s over.  It won’t be easy to recover.  A year, two years, three years.  And there are others, artists in the, in the arts world who slipped up; they were forgiven.  But because of the bashing, and you’ll need to forgive me because I’m going to use some language here, because of two assholes, he’s through!

Ross:                Mm.

Laforest:            You know?  And those people have, have –

Lacroix:             All the earmarks of assholes, Alain?

Laforest:            Huh?

Lacroix:             The earmarks of assholes, as you call them – those who suck the life out of people.

Laforest:            That’s it entirely!

Lacroix:             People listen to them and –

Laforest:            Is there anyone anywhere who will understand?  And I’m telling you.  Once again, I always have to repeat myself and be careful, because, because we use language, I do not endorse what Robert did.  It’s condemnable.  But somewhere, all the bashing done by André Arthur and Jean-François Fillion, that I have no compunction in naming today –

Ross:                Even if they [??]

Laforest:            [?] even implicated individuals.  Cogeco was implicated because André Arthur decided to get even at one time.  I doubt Cogeco because he got himself thrown out, eh?  By implicating Michel Carter, but that’s the outcome today.  Is there anyone anywhere in Quebec City who will realize that?  Who will clue in at some point?  That terrorism on the air cannot be allowed?  It can’t work.  You know, somewhere, what do we want as a society?  And I don’t claim to be a great defender of Robert Gillet, let me make that perfectly clear.  But somewhere, what we are experiencing today, what we just said at 4:25 pm, and I wasn’t at all involved in what happened to Robert today, you can confirm that.  I didn’t know that would be announced this afternoon.  I was completely taken by surprise and now my emotions are coming out.  I find this, look, somewhere [??] who’s next?  Who is the next one in Quebec City to get a beating?  For reasons, yes, sometimes the reasons are justified, but it’s often unjustified.  Talk to Gérard Deltel from TQS who lost his job as a news reader at TQS because he was totally discredited by those two guys.  Because one day Gérard Deltel decided to do four reports on André Arthur, eh?  And those four reports depicted the guy exactly as he is.  But he went on a campaign to denigrate him for a year.  Just as he is now doing to Martin [?] at TVA.  Is there anyone anywhere who will understand that things can’t work this way in a society?  That yes, you can denounce situations, but you don’t denounce situations when you’re not, when it’s not true?!

Lacroix:             Yes, Alain.

Ross:                I can show some heart.

Lacroix:             But, you know what?  And I agree with you.  You know what I mean.  There are, there are, um, there are, how do I, how, I can’t find the words. It, um, Arthur and Fillion’s fondest wish is not getting at the truth.  It’s not to avenge wrongs and see that justice is done.  It’s ratings.  They put on radio spectacles.  That’s always been the case.  It’s all about having power on the air to get the most rated fifteen minute segments possible in order to sell spots at the highest possible price and get the most bucks possible.  As for me, what I find disturbing in connection with Quebec City radio at the present time, is that in the name of the truth, they clamour and shout.  In the name of the truth, of rectitude, in the name of righteousness, they raise a great din.  Fuck off!  It’s all about the money for cripes sake.  And it has always been the case.  Now they’ve gotten Robert’s hide.  They’ve gotten Robert’s hide.

Laforest:            Yes [?] they got his hide.  It’s true.  They also got Jacques Tétrault’s hide.

Ross:    They’re not there, but that’s another matter.  BBM diaries are one thing.  The actual ratings are another.

Laforest:            That’s right.

Ross:    I would say what I have said and what I think after the survey results.  The strongest in a market, the one that is extremely strong, is in fact not as strong as that.  And the weakest in a market, taking into account all the markets and all the BBM results, the one at the bottom of the list, is stronger than that.  And the one at the top of the list is a bit weaker than that.  Because the people from the BBM diaries don’t see it as a survey, but as a popularity contest.  In any case, that’s another story.  But that is where we find ourselves at the moment.

On December 22, a listener sent the following complaint to the CRTC, which forwarded it to the CBSC, in accordance with its general practice (the full text of all correspondence can be found in Appendix B hereto, in French only):

[translation]

Alain Laforest calls his competitors (André Arthur and Jean-François Fillion) “assholes”.

Alain Laforest and the host question the BBM results…. They say they’re not the real results… because they lost…

Alain Laforest reduces the acts committed by Gillet to nothing by saying that he was not in a position of authority, that it wasn’t rape… What does he know about it?  Did he read the sentence handed down by Judge Martin?  He punished Gillet because child prostitution is a form of exploitation … exploitation encompasses the idea of authority, does it not?  He lies, he is trite and he insults the people out there and his competitors.

There has been talk of high quality in Quebec City for the past several months.

Is the term “asshole” of high quality?

Is commenting on proceedings pending before the courts (proceedings to which 93.3 is a party) quality… Should he be using the public airwaves to plead his own case?

Is making light of sexual crimes involving the exploitation of female minors high quality?

Is ridiculing and reducing the BBM surveys to a banality when you lose high quality?

It is one thing for 93.3 to reap what it sows, but it is quite another for the station to sully others in the process and to break all the rules in order to regain its footing.

This farce has gone on long enough.

On March 7, the General Manager of the station responded in part as follows:

[translation]

Station 93.3 in no way endorses this level of attack that upsets our listeners.  Please be assured that we have notified our host of that fact.

While we have been the victims of unsavoury verbal attacks by Fillion and Arthur, we do not encourage this level of comment.  We strive, rather, to air radio programming that is in good taste and that provides a solid base for discussion and classic rock.

Please be assured that we will take all the required steps to avoid that level of comment on our airwaves.

The complainant indicated his dissatisfaction with the broadcaster’s response on March 19.

THE DECISION

The Quebec Regional Panel examined the complaint under the following provisions of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics:

Clause 6 (Full, Fair and Proper Presentation)

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.

Clause 9 (Radio Broadcasting)

Recognizing that radio is a local medium and, consequently, reflective of local community standards, programming broadcast on a local radio station shall take into consideration the generally recognized access to programming content available in the market, the demographic composition of the station’s audience, and the station’s format.  Within this context, particular care shall be taken by radio broadcasters to ensure that programming on their stations does not contain:

[…]

(c)        Unduly coarse and offensive language.

The Quebec Panel Adjudicators reviewed all of the correspondence and listened to a recording of the challenged broadcast.  They conclude that, while certain of the comments were only expressions of opinion made in accordance with the requirements of Clause 6, the coarse language used was in violation of Clauses 6 and 9(c) of the CAB Code of Ethics.

Coarse Language

It is curious, and perhaps even interesting, that the targets of the comments in the currently challenged broadcast were two announcers, namely, Jeff Fillion and André Arthur, who had themselves been accused in the past of making personally directed, nasty and insulting remarks about other individuals who were called “trous de cul” [“assholes”] by the hosts of Trio d’enfer.  In one such case, namely, CJMF-FM re L’heure de vérité avec André Arthur (CBSC Decision 99/00-0240, August 29 2000), this Panel said:

The inflammatory unjustifiable language of the host is a travesty and the worst type of journalistic excess to which talk radio can succumb.  It adds absolutely nothing remotely worthwhile to public discourse.  It is petty, scurrilous and hateful.  It is not full, but empty; not fair, but the most unfair use of a one-way microphone; and not proper, but improper and inappropriate.

In another decision of this Panel involving the other of the two radio figures who were the object of the CJMF-FM barbs in the present matter, namely, CHOI-FM re Le monde parallèle de Jeff Fillion (CBSC Decision 02/03-0115, July 17, 2003), this Panel’s criticism of the language used there was expressed in the following terms:

The Quebec Panel considers that host Fillion was anything but deft.  He was crude and offensive.  He spouted ugly and generalized epithets, comprehensible only in their flailing nastiness and not because a serious listener might have actually understood what his competitor did, if anything, to merit criticism.  Thus, for example, the Quebec Panel finds that “conceited asshole”, “that worthless piece of trash”, a “loser”, a “piece of vomit”, a “shit disturber” and a “tree with rotten roots” fall into this category, whereas focussed comments such as the accusation that Tétrault was “a poor communicator” who had lost most of his listeners are fair game.

Fillion demonstrated an utter lack of respect, not only for the competitive host, but also, more important, for the audience he ought to serve.  The public interest is in no way served by such shallow grandstanding from the safe side of the microphone.  [.]  All audiences are diminished by the broadcast of unfair and improper material.

It goes without saying that the fact that those hosts used insulting, nasty, crude and offensive comments about other persons in no way justifies any broadcaster in airing such language about them.

On the only occasion when the precise expression “trou de cul” was dealt with by a CBSC Panel, it was with respect to an alleged attempt at humour.  In CKTF-FM re Voix d’Accès (CBSC Decision 93/94-0213, December 6, 1995), when the host targeted “Newfies”, using that label as a part of the humour, this Panel considered that the station had breached the CAB Code of Ethics.  While admittedly, this Panel was dealing there with the Human Rights clause, it found the language harsh.  In the present matter, the Panel would add that it finds the epithet personally directed, nasty and insulting.  It is in breach of both of the Code provisions cited above.

The Panel also finds that the use of the English expression “Fuck off!” by host Louis Lacroix was, on this occasion, also in breach of the same Code provisions, although not for the same reason.  The language was unduly coarse and offensive and was used at a time of day (the after-school period) when children could be expected to be listening to the radio.

The Other Comments

Insofar as the comments about the Bureau of Broadcast Measurement’s method of measuring audience tuning, the Panel considers that these were simply expressions of opinion regarding a matter relating to the profession (and livelihood) of the hosts.  There was nothing inappropriate about the comments and no breach of any codified standards on that account.

The other challenged comments, namely, those relating to the sexual offences of Robert Gillet with regard to a minor, were of considerably greater interest to the general public.  As with the previous comments, the Panel finds nothing inappropriate in the observations of the hosts on this subject.  Alain Laforest was very clear in saying that he did not approve of what Gillet had done; however, he was equally unequivocal in saying that he disagreed with the outcome of the court decision.  What is particularly important, though, is that he did not do so in a disrespectful way; he rather explained dispassionately that he considered that the accused was not in a position of authority vis-à-vis the victim, a material issue from his perspective.  Whether or not he was right in law is not the issue.  He provided his justification for his point-of-view and was neither inflammatory nor sarcastic in his expression of disagreement.  Moreover, it was not even the principal thrust of his extensive comments on the subject of Gillet, which were directed at the latter’s attempted comeback in the broadcasting area.  There is no breach of Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics as a result of the comments discussed in this section of the decision.

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, the broadcaster’s response to the complainant was rather short but it did agree with the complainant’s concerns and indicate the steps it had taken to avoid a recurrence of a comparable broadcast.  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 this 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 Le trio de l’enfer is 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 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 Clauses 6 and 9 of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ Code of Ethics.  By broadcasting certain nasty insults and epithets about two rival broadcasters, as well as another coarse and offensive expression, on December 17, 2004, CJMF-FM breached the provisions of Clause 6 of the Code of Ethics, which requires the presentation of fair and proper comments and opinions.  By broadcasting those words, CJMF-FM has also breached the provisions of Clause 9(c) of the Code of Ethics which prohibits the broadcast of unduly coarse and offensive language.

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