CKAC-AM re Newscast

QUEBEC REGIONAL COUNCIL
(CBSC Decision 93/94-0191)
J. Deschênes (Chair), P. Audet, Y. Chouinard, R. Cohen (ad hoc), L. Harvey

THE FACTS

At 8:45 a.m. February 16, 1994, the CKAC-AM (Montreal) newscaster began his reading of the news with the following report:

Good morning everyone, this is Pierre Jubinville. A “Québécois pure laine” has just won Canada's first gold medal at the Lillehammer Olympic Games. Jean-Luc Brassard took first place in the acrobatic skiing moguls event, beating out competitors from Russia and France. In an interview with TVA, Brassard said he has waited a long time for this victory (interview with athlete then aired. Brassard had a perfect run, with an impressive jump.

I strongly object to the use of the term “pure laine” in this context. I feel it is racist. It is my understanding that most reputable news organizations have a policy of not mentioning race, colour or ethnic background unless germane to the story. I believe that the important part of the story is that Brassard is a Quebecer – what is NOT important or germane is the fact that he is “pure laine”. This unnecessary distinction only encourages listeners to differentiate among people based on their ethnic origins.

As a Québécoise who happens to be anglophone, I was hurt and insulted by the comment. The implication of the “pure laine” reference is that Quebecers were supposed to be prouder of this Olympic medal win because the skier was not a black-Quebecer, or an aboriginal-Quebecer, or a Chinese-Quebecer, but a white francophone Quebecer, a “true” Quebecer.

Your understanding that most reputable news organizations have a policy of not mentioning race, colour or ethnic background unless germane to the story is absolutely correct and our news organization abides by it.

Nevertheless, in this instance, the words “pure laine” were not used to stress or mention race, colour or ethnic background. They merely are a colloquial expression and were used as such in the news bulletin.

We are sorry if you were hurt and insulted by the used of such words but I reiterate that it was not our intention to hurt or insult anyone.

The viewer was unsatisfied with this response and requested, on April 19, that the CBSC refer the matter to the appropriate Regional Council for adjudication.

CAB Code of Ethics, Clause 2 (Human Rights):

Recognizing that every person has a right to full and equal recognition and to enjoy certain fundamental rights and freedoms, broadcasters shall endeavour to ensure, to the best of their ability, that their programming contains no abusive or discriminatory material or comment which is based on matters of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, marital status or physical or mental handicap.

CAB Code of Ethics, Clause 6 (News), in pertinent part:

It shall be the responsibility of member stations to ensure that news shall be represented with accuracy and without bias. The member station shall satisfy itself that the arrangements made for obtaining news ensure this result. It shall also ensure that news broadcasts are not editorial. News shall not be selected for the purpose of furthering or hindering either side of any controversial public issue, nor shall it be designed by the beliefs or opinions or desires of the station management, the editor or others engaged in its preparation or delivery. The fundamental purpose of news dissemination in a democracy is to enable people to know what is happening, and to understand events so that they may form their own conclusions.

It is recognized that the full, fair and proper presentation of news, opinion, comment and editorial is the prime and fundamental responsibility of the broadcast publisher.

RTNDA Code of Ethics, Article 2:

News and public affairs broadcasts will put events into perspective by presenting relevant background information. Factors such as race, creed, nationality or religion will be reported only when relevant. Comment and editorial opinion will be identified as such. Errors will be quickly acknowledged and publicly corrected.

The Regional Council members listened to a tape of the program in question and reviewed all of the correspondence. Although not without some discomfort, which is discussed below, the Quebec Regional Council considers that none of the foregoing Code provisions have been breached by the newscast in question.

The Council considers it absolutely appropriate to re-quote the words of the complainant here for they provide what Council members consider to be a bona fide concern about the effect of the expression on persons not of French Roman Catholic origin with their Quebec roots extending back hundreds of years.

As a Québécoise who happens to be anglophone, I was hurt and insulted by the comment. The implication of the “pure laine” reference is that Quebecers were supposed to be prouder of this Olympic medal win because the skier was not a black-Quebecer, or an aboriginal-Quebecer, or a Chinese-Quebecer, but a white francophone Quebecer, a “true” Quebecer.

The complainant's list of groups who might have felt excluded was limited to visible minorities but it is clear that members of the Quebec Anglophone community or members of the other Quebec linguistic, ethnic or religious communities might also be expected to share the complainant's sentiments. It is the view of the Quebec Regional Council that the use of the expression “Québécois pure laine” or similar expressions meant to convey the same idea, such as “Québécois de vraie souche” can, in a pluralistic society such as Quebec's, create an unwelcome or negative, if not discriminatory, sense among those who do not fall within the ambit of the term. The Council believes that radio and television stations ought to be particularly vigilant in avoiding the use of such expressions on the airwaves which are, after all, publicly owned.

Despite the Council's obvious discomfort relating to the use of the expression “Québécois pure laine”, it does not believe that, in this instance, the station has breached any of the Codes. Exclusion of individuals or groups alone is not necessarily the equivalent of abuse or attack upon those groups. While the complainant's understanding of the policy of “most reputable news organizations … of not mentioning race, colour or ethnic background unless germane to the story”, as affirmed by CKAC's News Director is correct, this was a case where the mention of background was not for the purpose of casting aspersions upon anyone, which is the customary cause of CBSC concern. This was a case in which a positive sentiment was associated with the use of a description of origin. For all of the reasons given above, the Council considers that such usage ought to be avoided; however, the national indication does not point the finger in such a way as to fall afoul of Clause 2 of either the CAB or RTNDA Codes of Ethics.

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.