CKAC-AM re a segment on Bonsoir les sportifs

quebec regional panel
CBSC Decision 06/07-0441
D. Meloul (Chair ad hoc), R. Cohen (ad hoc), M. Ille, G. Moisan, J.P. Murdoch

THE FACTS

Bonsoir les sportifs, a sports talk show hosted by Ron Fournier, is broadcast on CKAC (Montreal) each weekday evening at 8:30 pm. The challenged episode was aired on November 30, 2006.  The host was speaking with Danny Dubé about the meagre reaction of the Montreal Canadiens to the interference with their goalie in a recent game.  The full dialogue deals with the issue of protecting the goaltender in his crease and keeping the offensive players honest and respectful of the goalie’s territory.  A transcript of the most relevant parts of the dialogue, dealing with the more aggressive tactics discussed by Fournier and Dubé is provided herewith (the full transcript, in French only, can be accessed in Appendix A).

[translation]

Ron:     Because, I’m glad that you’re talking about it –

Danny:  – early in the game … Right?

Ron:     I’m glad that you’re talking about it.  Sorry, I cut you off, I interrupted you a bit –

Danny:  No, no, go ahead.

Ron:     I, because I was waiting for you to talk about it.  Because, um, um, um, sorry, okay?  And it’s not true that I’m from the old school, because that’s how it should be done.  When I tell you that it is the responsibility of the coach to do things differently, I’m saying that in my opinion their marching orders should be the following:  “Now guys, we see that Cole is over the goalie, the guys are taking liberties, its awful, boys, the new regulations make it tough.  As soon as the first one gets near the goalie, touches the goalie, you immediately go to the referee.  You say to the ref, ‘hey, ref, the goalie is in his crease, those guys are bothering him; they’re interfering with him.’”

Danny:  Hmm.

Ron:     You tell the referee.  The second time it happens, the game stops and you go to the referee.  You stand in front of him and you say “Hey, excuse me, ref, he’s interfering with my goalie, and they’re bothering him, and you’re not handing out a penalty for obstruction.”  Right?  Then, on the third occasion, you break your stick on the back of the player’s neck, and he’s on the ground!

Danny:  Whoa, whoa, whoa!  Watch what you’re saying; there are young people listening!

Ron:     Do you hear me?  You cross-check him in the back of the head, and he ends up –

Danny:  You give him a warm reception.

Ron:     — and he ends up with his face in the glass enclosure or in the ice!  Do you hear me?  That’s how it’s done!  Do you understand?  None of this stick in the air hitting them on the head, you go for the cross-check on the back of the head.  The guy stops in his tracks and then he falls face first.  That’s all done, all done in the first period.  That’s how you organise your hockey clubs, so that during the game.  I’ll tell you something, there was a guy by the name of Billy Smith.  He used to say “This is my territory!  And if the guys touch me before the puck goes in that area, they’re in for, for a stick on the back of the head.”  We got the message; the guys didn’t go there.  News flash.  Let’s listen to the whole story from, um, Guy Carbonneau.

[…]

Ron:     I would darn well like it if people remembered that.  And, on that day I’d like for you and I, Danny, to discuss this, if it isn’t a Saturday, and that it isn’t forgotten this time.  Because, I blamed myself.  I was sitting alone in my office and I said to myself, “Why did I talk about any darn comment made by Kovalev today?”  We’re too defensive, we’re too this … Boring!  Boring, when in very fact I had omitted, I had forgotten to talk about what we ought to have addressed and that is the following:  why is it that Cole has scored 11 goals in 15 games against the Canadiens?  It’s because he’s all over the Canadiens, the, the goalie.  All over him.

[…]

Ron:     Yes.  [Danny laughs] Hey guys, watch out because the team that is going to play against the Canadiens on Saturday is also a team that sometimes allows itself certain, um, you know what I mean?  Toronto, sometimes, sometimes they can beat you in a way –

Danny:  You’re right.  Good point.  Good point.

Ron:     So, I’m anxious to see how, that’s why I was telling you, I don’t want to place the blame on Guy Carbonneau at all, but I want Guy to be aware of what we have been seeing in the past two to three years.  It’s because Carolina is getting to be my pet peeve and I’m starting to hate them, you hear me?

Danny:  Ron?

Ron:     Yes?

Danny:  I’m going to miss my bus.

Ron:     Hey, bye!

Danny:  Bye bye!

Ron:     Bye bye!  Don’t give up, guys.  Bye, good work, good work. Okay, then, that’s that, that’s that.  The Hurricanes beat the Canadiens four to two in a way, you know, that wasn’t too pleasant.  You know, that’s not how I like to lose.  I can lose.  Ah!  We can lose, we can lose.  At two to two, we still had a game, but we could see that Carolina was taking liberties and we could see that with Huet it was stop after stop.  And you’re, when you give him the chance to get going, um Huet, the opportunity to, to advance, to cover all the angles, place himself squarely in front of the puck, no problem.  But, 48 shots!  No, no, there was no overtime.  Forty-eight shots.  Twenty shots in the third period.  And on top of that, I’m telling you, there were six contacts with the Canadiens’ goalie in the third period.  I counted them; I may have missed some because I had to get up a couple of times.  I counted twelve.  I counted 12 contacts with the goalie.  Once, you’d say just only with the blade of the stick, the guy, you know, who gets a little close and he slides the blade under the goalie, just to piss him off?  I counted 12 contacts with Huet.  A reaction, that of Souray’s, is not the right reaction.  And in any case, if he’s going to get a penalty, then break your stick on the back of his head.  You know?  Hurt him.  Or, stab him in the back of the calf.  You know, you’ve got to hurt him.  Not a little hit, that’s a double miss because the guy looks at you and laughs and then the referee raises his arm.  I’m sorry.  I don’t want to offend anyone.  This is not violence, no, no, because violence is when you see the opponent 12 times, over and over 12 times, that’s violence, yes, that’s violence for a goalie.  Invading Huet’s territory, antagonizing Huet, putting their sticks in the wrong place, ramming him, letting themselves fall in when the play is stopped …  That is far more violence, I’m telling you.  Because as a former goalie you feel like coming out of your net and imitating Hextall, almost 18 years ago, with his stick in the air over the head of, of, of Chelios.  That’s what you feel like doing.  So, they can’t deal, especially against teams whose game plan is, my friends:  “Okay, tonight guys, we’re playing the Canadiens, a team, um, a quick little team.  Watch out.  Don’t take too many chances.  Don’t give them two to one or three to one.  Perfect, okay.  Um, listen, no more body checks, especially against um, Markov.  Okay, guys?  We’ll hit him; we’ll hit him all night.  He’ll play a full 20 or 21 minutes, so let’s hit him, eh?  But the target tonight – always the same one, guys.  There have been seven games and we always won, so the target is always the same – Huet, the goalie.  So guys, always go to the net, okay?  Take your time before setting up your shot, let the wing player rush towards Huet and as soon as Huet is aware of the stop, you ram him and boom.  Okay, perfect.  Two things will happen.  Either you’ll have a chance to injure him – it would be great if we could injure him, guys – or if not, um the opponent, um Souray will give you a slight hit with, [laughs] a double miss and he’ll get two minutes.  So, everything is to our advantage.  In any event, we won’t get any penalty and even if we were to get one in the entire game, we’ve hit him 15 times, no big deal.  Okay, guys?  Let’s go, okay, we all understand the game plan?  Lots of moving around and shoving and there’s no danger.  Ah, in any event no one is going to drop their gloves, no one is going to – I don’t know – hit you um, hit you in the face and um, break your nose, because that isn’t done anymore, eh?  There are no more fights.  So, no need to be afraid.  Even the smaller guys, eh?  Even the smaller guys, you go for it too.  You won’t get hurt, and no one is going to take off their gloves.”  Do you understand?  So, that’s it.

On the following day, a listener sent a complaint to the CRTC, which forwarded it to the CBSC in due course.  (The full text of all the correspondence can be found in Appendix B, in French only.)

[translation]

For a long time now, Mr. Ron Fournier has been hosting the program Bonsoir les sportifs on CKAC 730.  Even if despite the sensible arguments put forward by his colleagues or his listeners, Mr. Fournier comes close to incoherence many times with his entrenched and often hare-brained opinions, as far as I know, this individual never said anything particularly nasty until yesterday.

But, following the defeat of the Montreal Canadiens by the Carolina Hurricanes on November 30, 2006, Mr. Fournier literally called for violence and that fact should deprive him of the right to be heard in public.

Here are the facts:

9:50 pm – Ron Fournier explains to Danny Dubé how to respond to the opposing team when it shoves the goalie by listing the following three steps:

1- A player shoves the goalie – you go to the referee.

2- A player shoves the goalie a second time – you go to the referee.

3- A player shoves the goalie a third time – you break your stick on the back of his head!

9:57 pm – Ron Fournier who is now alone on the air revisits the subject by affirming that Canadiens’ player Sheldon Souray, who defended his goalie, did not do what he ought to have done.  Here are the essential parts of his comments:

“I’m telling you, you break your stick on the back of his head … or you stab him in the legs … It has to hurt … That’s not violence because you know what, violence is the other team ganging up on your goalie.”

Given such an aberration, I am asking that you remove this person from the air before a young person of 12 or 15 (I listened to this program at that age) puts his recommendations into practice during a game … we could have a death on the ice.

The Vice President of Corus Radio Montreal and General Manager of CKAC replied to the complainant on January 11.  Here are the material parts of his reply:

[translation]

With respect to the complaint you filed with the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council concerning comments made by Ron Fournier on November 30, 2006 in the program Bonsoir les sportifs, we have listened to the program very carefully, particularly the host’s comments to which you object.

Our answer is limited to the comments made by host Ron Fournier in a sports context that are aimed strictly at presenting a caricature of situations relating to sports competitions.

Our careful examination of Mr. Fournier’s comments lead us to believe that they were far more in the nature of a call for a firm response in the context of a competition than of a call for violence as may be interpreted outside the sports scene.

We therefore analysed your concerns internally and we regularly hold discussions with our on-air staff on the subject of the content broadcast in our programming.  We sincerely believe that the host had no intention whatsoever of inciting listeners to violence according to your meaning.  We are truly sorry if we gave you that impression.

Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, on January 16, the complainant filed the following reaction, which the CBSC considers to be the equivalent of a Ruling Request.

[translation]

My complaint concerned the comments Ron Fournier made on December 1, 2006 [sic] at 9:50 p.m. and reaffirmed at 9:57 p.m., when he explained that the Montreal Canadiens’ players should have responded to the assaults on their goalie by breaking their sticks on the back of an opposing player’s head.

In its reply, CKAC maintains that the host was using caricature as a means to call on the Canadiens to respond firmly within the context of a sports competition and not that of a call to violence as might be interpreted outside the sports scene.

While I see this reply as being entirely reflective of reality, the question is not what the host was really thinking, but rather how many people, and particularly young people, took his comments literally, such as the many youngsters who take part in events in the context of a sports competition.

I remind you that I have been listening to this program since I was 12 years old, and I’m not certain that all those of that age or even older can completely understand the real message behind Ron Fournier’s words.

My son played in a particularly animated hockey game last Saturday where it just so happens the goalies did get harassed.  Luckily, it would appear that none of the young players had heard the host’s advice.  But since there are hundreds of games like that being played in Quebec each week, we may not always be as fortunate.

THE DECISION

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

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:

(a)        Gratuitous violence in any form, or otherwise sanction, promote or glamorize violence;

The Panel Adjudicators read all of the correspondence and reviewed a tape of the program in question.  The Panel concludes that the broadcast in question was in breach of the foregoing provision of the CAB Code of Ethics.

Sanctioning, Encouraging or Promoting Violence

The issue for the Quebec Panel in interpreting the above-cited provision of the CAB Code of Ethics centres on the meaning of the words “sanction” and “promote”.  The Panel understands the verbs to be the equivalent of “endorse”, “encourage”, “approve”, “support” and the like.  It does not consider that there is a need to provide a “how-to” manual, although it does acknowledge that Ron Fournier has come very close to delivering that very formula.  The Panel understands the intention of the codifiers who revised the CAB Code of Ethics in 2002 to have been to capture broadcasts that might include the kind of encouragement that occurred in the program dealt with by the Ontario Regional Panel in CHEX-TV re Sportscast (CBSC Decision 03/04-0926, October 22, 2004).  In that decision, which dealt with a television sportscast, the sportscaster was comparably concerned about the competitive resolve of the Peterborough Petes Junior A hockey team.  He said:

Guys, I love you all, I want you to do well and I know how hard you work and I’m not here to promote violence, but … when somebody takes a cheap shot at the heart and soul of your team, somebody has to and should’ve stepped up and, well, as my good friend Roger Neilson would say, deliver a message, and I think you know what I mean by that.

The Ontario Panel found the broadcaster’s approach improper; it dealt with the sportscaster’s words in the following way.

Whether the commentator meant to say what he did say or not, his words and tone did not leave any sense of equivocation.  He began with the unsubtle rhetorical device of setting up a straw man: “I’m not here to promote violence, but …”.  It is a way of both defining what one is about to say and trying, at the same time, to avoid responsibility for what is to follow.  The sportscaster then said, clearly referring to what had happened to one of the Peterborough Petes hockey players, “somebody has to and should’ve stepped up …”.  Then, to have the effect of ensuring that no-one would misunderstand where he was going, he capped off the advice with “somebody has to […] well, as my good friend Roger Neilson would say, deliver a message, and I think you know what I mean by that.”  The ending is a Monty Pythonesque “nudge, nudge, wink, wink” in nature.  It was, the Panel considers, a poor attempt to say something without saying it.  It did not achieve that goal.

Bottom line, the Panel’s understanding of the exhortation is this.  If Gary Dalliday did not intend his comments to appear to encourage some form of retaliation, he could have chosen a more benign formula. There is no end of less suggestive expressions that he might have selected.  He might, for example, have said something like, “Play harder, guys.  More determination.  More resolution.  Win one for the Gipper.”  He did not do so.  He left a different kind of message.

In the matter at hand, the Quebec Panel considers that the sportscaster’s words exceeded by a considerable measure those of Gary Dalliday in the CHEX-TV decision.  There was nothing subtle or equivocal about his advice.  « Puis la troisième fois tu lui casses ton bâton en arrière du cou! Puis il se retrouve à terre! »  Danny Dubé caught the message straightaway and suggested restraint to his colleague : « Attention à ce que tu dis, il y a des jeunes qui écoutent, là! »  But Fournier did not miss a beat; he carried right on:

[translation]

Do you hear me?  You cross-check him in the back of the head, and he ends up […] he ends up with his face in the glass or in the ice!  Do you hear me?  That’s how it’s done!  Do you understand?  None of this stick in the air hitting them on the head, you go for the cross-check on the back of the head.  The guy stops in his tracks and then he falls face first.  That’s all done, all done in the first period.  That’s how you organise your hockey clubs.

The Quebec Panel considers that the foregoing words not only “endorsed”, “encouraged”, “approved” and “supported” such violent acts, they recommended such a course of action to protect a goaltender.  The Panel concludes that the words sanctioned or promoted violence on radio, contrary to the proscription of Clause 9(a) of the same Code.

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 Panel considers that the response of the General Manager of CKAC to the complainant was focussed closely on the issue the latter raised in his original letter of complaint.  As a result, the Panel considers that the response has successfully fulfilled the broadcaster’s obligation of responsiveness.

Announcement Of The Decision

CKAC 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 Bonsoir les sportifs was broadcast; 2) within the fourteen days following the broadcasts 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 CKAC.

The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has found that CKAC, in its evening sportscast of Bonsoir les sportifs on November 30, 2006, breached Clause 9 of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ Code of Ethics.  By using language that recommended taking violent physical steps to protect a goaltender’s crease, including breaking a hockey stick on an opposing player’s neck, cross-checking the back of an opponent’s head, and driving a player’s face into the ice or the glass, CKAC breached Clause 9 of the Code of Ethics, which prohibits the promotion of violence on the radio.

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