CJMS-AM re comments on two episodes of Le p’tit monde à Frenchie

Quebec regional panel
(CBSC Decision 04/05-0939)
T. Rajan (Vice-Chair), L. Baillargeon, B. Kenemy, M.-A. Murat

THE FACTS

On January 6, 2005, CJMS-AM (Montreal) broadcast its morning episode of Le p’tit monde à Frenchie.  One of the callers, using the name “Johnny”, entered into the following dialogue with the show’s hosts (the essential part of the dialogue is here; the full dialogue can be found in Appendix A, in French only):

[translation]

Gary:                Mr. Johnny.

Frenchie:           Johnny, hello.

Johnny:             Good morning, sir.

Frenchie:           We’re listening.

Johnny:             Aren’t you whining at a distance?

Frenchie:           Huh?

Johnny:             Aren’t you whining at a distance?

Frenchie:           Why?

Johnny:              Well, where were you when we had child prostitution here in Quebec?  It’s a lot easier to speak out against other countries than to come here finding fault in Quebec, eh? Where were you when that was going on here in Quebec?  You tore down Arthur.  You did everything to discredit him when he was deploring that, and now, well now, the ball is in your court sir.  As for Gary.

Frenchie:             Oh the ball is not in my court sir. The ball is in your court, not mine; not personally.

Johnny:               As for Gary, he’s a lot better at folklore than public opinion.

Frenchie:            Well you’re; when it comes to absurdities; you’d be better off sir, why, why, why don’t you come and see us here from time to time, and talk to us?

Johnny:             I don’t wanna knock your cane over.

Frenchie:           Huh?

Johnny:             I don’t wanna knock your cane over.

Frenchie:           Sir, you are a pain in the neck. [Someone hangs up.] Is that clear?  Okay, moving right along.  It’s, well it’s, some day, I’d like to meet that guy.

Gary:                448-[xxxx], Frenchie.

Frenchie:           448-[xxxx].

Frenchie:           Yes.

Gary:                So, 450-448-[xxxx]. So I’ll just.

Frenchie:           Four fifty.

Gary:                Yes.

The dialogue continued as the co-hosts figured out how they could call “Johnny” back.  They did not succeed in reaching him. 

Four days later, on January 10, another caller revealed the real name of the individual who had described himself as “Johnny” on the 6th.  That dialogue went as follows:

[translation]

Gary:                So back to the phone.  We have Jeannine on the line.

Frenchie:           Hello, Jeannine.

Jeannine:          Good morning to you both.

Frenchie:           We’re listening, Jeannine.

Jeannine:           Yes, Gary, it’s about, um, I’m calling to answer – you know that shit disturber who bugged you last week?  His name is [real name is given – hereinafter Mr. G].

Frenchie:           Oh, Madam, please.

Gary:                  Madam, that’s not, that doesn’t interest us, please.  Talk to us about something else, okay, please?

Jeannine:          Well, it was just to tell you that.

Frenchie:           Okay. Thank you very much Jeannine, thanks. We’ve got enough headaches with that.

Gary:                We’re not talking about it; we’re not talking about it.  There.

On February 4, Mr. G sent a complaint to the CBSC, which stated in part (the full text of all the correspondence, in French, can be found in Appendix B): 

[translation]

On reading the complaint and listening to the cassette, you will appreciate the amateurish and disreputable fashion in which two experienced hosts of this station (CJMS) acted, specifically Lucien « Frenchie » Jarraud, who has more than fifty years of radio experience.

In addition, I deplore the radio station’s irresponsible attitude.  Not only does it allow its hosts to insult and offend its listeners, but it also did not use the necessary control mechanisms to prevent the broadcast of the offending comments and the revelation of information such as my personal identity on the public airwaves. 

With that letter, he enclosed a copy of a letter he had sent to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) on January 29.  That letter said in part:

[translation]

My name is [Mr. G] and I occasionally participate in some open line radio programs in the Montréal area.

As you will see from listening to the enclosed audio tape (included in the priority package), I called in to an open line program aired on CJMS-AM (St-Constant, Quebec), owned by 3553230 Canada Inc.  The program is hosted by Mr. Lucien “Frenchie” Jarraud (a host with nearly 50 years’ experience in radio) and Mr. Gary Daigneault (who has been working in the field of radio for at least 15 years).  During that call, I was insulted, threatened and the two hosts had the nerve to divulge my personal phone number on the air several times in order to induce their listeners to harass me.  They also made hateful and offensive remarks to me on the air, and all because I expressed an opinion that M. Jarraud did not share and that he disliked.

Moreover, on Monday January 10, 2005 around 12:32 p.m., CJMS aired a conversation with a person supposedly named Jeannine who, not only clearly identified my name on the air, but also made offensive comments about me.

Needless to say, I have been threatened and insulted since those events took place.  I am a Canadian citizen and am physically challenged due to paralysis, and I should not have to endure such treatment, especially from a host like Mr. Jarraud.

CJMS and its two hosts have clearly breached the laws, regulations and policies of the CRTC (Radio Regulations, 1986), the Commission’s policy on commercial radio (CRTC-1998-41) and especially the Commission’s policy regarding open-line programming (CRTC-1988-213) by not allowing me to finish what I had to say and by allowing the hosts to express only their point of view.  They did not honour their obligation to present balanced comments and topics, especially in broadcasting a public interest program.

During the Monday, January 10, 2005 program, CJMS did not take the necessary steps to prevent either those offensive comments, or the revelation of my personal identity by the alleged Jeannine.

On March 24, the General Manager of the station replied in part as follows: 

[translation]

We received a copy of your complaint through the CRTC and wish to inform you that following the programs aired on the 6th and the 10th of January, we have given the two hosts concerned a letter of reprimand, that has been put on their respective files, since we also consider that revealing your phone number on the air breaches CRTC regulations.

On the other hand, we wish to point out that you initiated this situation, since you made offensive comments to our hosts and hung up the phone before they could answer you.

We wish to inform you, however, that after listening to the logger tapes of the challenged programs, we identified no other violation of the laws and regulations that apply to our two hosts.  In fact, we do not believe that our hosts made hateful or offensive remarks to you.

As for the call from the alleged Jeannine on January 10, 2005 at 12:32 pm, the hosts cut her short for the very purpose of preventing you from being inconvenienced following your offensive comments. 

On April 15, the complainant sent a Ruling Request to the CBSC, accompanied by a letter in which he stated in part:

[translation]

First of all, allow me to doubt your good faith and professional integrity, as divulging a listener’s telephone number on the air endangers that person’s personal safety, as it did in my case.

While reprimanding the hosts is a step in the right direction, CRTC Public Notice 1988-213 on open-line programming sates that broadcasters must put in place control mechanisms to prevent such situations.  This should have applied to the incident on January 10, 2005 when an individual calling herself Jeannine revealed my identity on the air, thereby endangering my safety yet again. 

CRTC Public Notice 1988-213 also applies in this case and clearly indicates that broadcasters must have the required technical means to comply with this policy. A time delay would have avoided the revelation of my identity by “Jeannine” and a more quick thinking producer than your two hosts would have avoided broadcasting my personal phone number, the offensive comments that were made to me by the hosts and encouraging them to harass me [.]

I totally refute your allegations to the effect that I initiated this situation and that I hung up. First of all, your hosts hung up on me while they were making their offensive comments to me.  With respect to the fact that I allegedly initiated the situation, may I ask: Does giving one’s opinion and opening a dialogue with one or several hosts amount to provocation?

[.]

THE DECISION

The Quebec Regional Panel examined the complaint under the following provisions of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics and the Radio Television News Directors Association of Canada (RTNDA) Code of (Journalistic) Ethics:

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.

The Quebec Panel also considered it pertinent to take into account the principles enunciated in the following Code provision, despite the fact that, in the narrowest sense, it applies to journalistic broadcasts.  It considers, as have other CBSC Panels in the past, that the spirit, rather than simply the letter, of the provision is one espoused by broadcasters on a generalized basis.

RTNDA Code of (Journalistic) Ethics, Article Four (Privacy) 

Broadcast journalists will always display respect for the dignity, privacy and well-being of everyone with whom they deal [.]

The Quebec Panel Adjudicators reviewed all of the correspondence and listened to a recording of the segments of Le p’tit monde à Frenchie of January 6 and 10.  It concludes that the broadcasts were in breach of both of the foregoing standards.

 Provocative Statements: Who’s at Fault?

While this decision does not turn on the issue of provocation, the Panel considers that a few words of clarification are in order in this regard.  The issue was raised by the broadcaster’s General Manager, who wrote, “[translation] you made offensive comments to our hosts and hung up the phone before they could answer you.”  The complainant’s response indicated considerable surprise on his part:  “[translation] Does giving one’s opinion and opening a dialogue with one or several hosts amount to provocation?”  The hosts, after all, control the microphone and have the power to cut off callers who may become abusive and inappropriate; they do have an obligation to ensure responsibility on their part and that of callers.  Even if the caller had been particularly unpleasant during his call, and the Panel finds that that was not the case, that would not have given rise to the tit-for-tat actions that Jarraud and Daigneault took.  As the complainant asked in his letter, rather simply and dispassionately, is the expression of one’s opinion and the opening of a dialogue with open-line show hosts the equivalent of a provocation?  In the view of the Quebec Panel, it is not, in general, a provocation and was decidedly not in this case.  The bottom line is that those possessed of the power of the microphone have the responsibility to use that power with discretion and responsibility. 

 Invasion of Privacy

The CBSC has developed a line of jurisprudence dealing with the issue of the revelation of the name or co-ordinates of an individual on air.  In the first such decision, namely, CKAC-AM re The Gilles Proulx Show (CBSC Decision 94/95-0136, December 6, 1995), this Panel dealt first with the personally-directed, nasty, insulting, abusive comments of Gilles Proulx and then with the on-air announcement of the complainant’s name and co-ordinates.  The Panel said that it

considers that, other than for reasons of personal vindictiveness, there was no reason for Gilles Proulx to reveal the listener’s name and location (city) on air.  Although she wrote a letter of complaint directly to the station management and to the host, the complainant did not consent to being identified on the public airwaves.  A simple communication with a broadcaster, and even with the host of a talk show, is not tantamount to a waiver of the listener’s right to privacy.  Had the host genuinely wished to answer the charges which his critic had levelled against him, he could have done so by dealing with those issues which had been raised.  Instead, he ignored the issues and tore after the messenger.  By revealing the complainant’s full name and location, the host made it a simple task for any listener to identify her.  It is clear to the Regional Council that the host infringed the complainant’s fundamental right to privacy in circumstances where there was no public interest, much less an overriding public interest, in revealing her identity on the airwaves. 

Similarly, in CIQC-AM re Galganov in the Morning (Invasion of Privacy) (CBSC Decision 97/98-0509, August 14, 1998), this Panel faced the broadcast of an ugly, nasty, personal attack.  After commenting on that, the Panel concluded that

revealing the complainant’s full name, and the repetition of this information throughout the December 9 broadcast of Galganov in the Morning, was merely vindictive and served no public interest whatsoever.  By violating the complainant’s overriding right to privacy in this case, the broadcaster has breached Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics as well as the spirit of Article 4 of the RTNDA Code of Ethics. 

For another example of an on-air disclosure of this nature, see also TQS re Gilles Proulx comments on Journal du midi (transportation strike) (CBSC Decision 03/04-0334, April 22, 2004).

Applying these principles to the matter at hand is straightforward.  There was no justification whatsoever for co-hosts Jarraud and Daigneault to permit the telephone number of the complainant to be revealed on the airwaves.  While they would have been responsible had the revelation come from the lips of a third party, their decision to broadcast the information was entirely their own.  The publicly-licensed airwaves are not available for privately-vindictive comments.  That usage in the matter at hand is in breach of both Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics and the spirit of Article 4 of the RTNDA Code of Ethics.

The Panel considers it useful to also comment on the broadcast of January 10, during which the name of the complainant was announced by caller Jeannine.  It does not consider that the broadcast of a name, without other identifying information, is necessarily problematic and in breach of any of the private broadcasters’ codified standards.  After all, it is frequently the case that individual callers to an open-line program or to a recording device on which they are invited to leave opinions or comments on an issue for later broadcast leave precisely that information.  This is not, of course, dissimilar from the requirements of newspapers in the case of persons who send letters to the editors of those organs.  The issue becomes a problem when the purpose is not benign, as was the case in the broadcast of January 10.  The name was not broadcast in connection with the complainant’s call.  It was aired four days later by what can only be characterized as a gratuitous or malevolent gesture (and could have been connected with the telephone number given on the January 6 broadcast by anyone inclined to make that connection).  There was absolutely no purpose for the on-air identification of the complainant.  Whether “Jeannine” revealed the purpose of her call to the program producer or screener or deceived them in that regard, the hosts ought not to have permitted that information to go to air.  Whether they were sloppy or did not have the technical means to apply is not the problem of the complainant.  It is the problem of the station.  The failure to prevent the broadcast of the complainant’s name in the circumstances herein described constitutes a part of the breach of both Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics and the spirit of Article 4 of the RTNDA Code of Ethics described in the preceding paragraph.

Broadcaster Responsiveness

In all CBSC decisions, the Adjudicating Panels assess the broadcaster’s responsiveness to the complainant(s).  Broadcasters need not share the complainant’s view of the broadcast but it is expected that the station will provide a thoughtful, considerate reply.  In this case, the broadcaster not only disagreed with the complainant’s position on the facts but also with the source of the “provocation”.  For reasons discussed above, the Panel does not agree with CJMS’s point-of-view on the latter issue but it does consider that the station was trying to satisfy the complainant.  Moreover, it thought that its disclosure of the reprimand of the hosts would accomplish that purpose.  The Panel does consider that it made an effort regarding the dialogue and fulfilled its membership obligations regarding responsiveness to complainants on this occasion.

announcement of the decision 

CJMS-AM 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 Le p’tit monde à Frenchie 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 that written confirmation and with air check copies of the broadcasts of the two announcements which must be made by CJMS-AM.

The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has found that, in its broadcast of Le p’tit monde à Frenchie on January 6 and 10, CJMS breached certain standards established in the Canadian Association of Broadcasters Code of Ethics and the Radio Television News Directors Association Code of (Journalistic) Ethics.  By announcing the home telephone number and name of a caller to that talk show in order to invite other callers to harass him, CJMS invaded the privacy of the caller and broadcast improper comment in contravention of Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics and the spirit of Article 4 of the RTNDA Code of (Journalistic) Ethics.

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