CKAC re an episode of the Gilles Proulx Show

QUEBEC REGIONAL COUNCIL
(CBSC Decision 98/99-1108)
P. Audet (Chair), G. Bachand, R. Cohen (ad hoc) and S. Gouin

THE FACTS

On June 9, 1999, CKAC (Montréal)’s broadcast of the Gilles Proulx Show included a segment in which the host interviewed Raymond Villeneuve, the President of the Mouvement de libération nationale du Québec (a new separatist organization which included as members some former militants of the terrorist FLQ organization), on the subject of a recent graffiti spray-painting incident. Apparently, the letters “FLQ” had been painted on the homes of Quebecers alleged to be federalists. One of the spray-painted homes was that of Proulx’s rival radio show host, André Arthur. Villeneuve, the President of the Mouvement, had been sentenced to 12 years in prison in 1963 for planting a number of bombs, one of which killed a security guard. An excerpt of the interview is provided below (the complete transcript of the interview can be found in Appendix A). Proulx: Pour

Pourquoi est-ce qu’on appelleça un Front de Libération du Québec? Quand on disait FLQ, ça voulait dire synonyme debombe et là, c’est rien que de la peinture. Alors ça fait pas très sérieux, maismême si c’était des bombes dégueulasses…

Villeneuve: Vous savez que ça servit de méthode,de mode d’entraînement aussi au FLQ.

Proulx: Les badigeonnages. Villeneuve: Les badigeonnages. Oui, parcequ’une cellule qui fait un badigeonnage, après ça, c’est facile d’allerposer une bombe sur la maison d’une ordure, d’un André ordure.

Proulx: Oui, mais c’est une bombe atomique queça prendrait, dans le cas de ce puant, c’est une bombe atomique qu’il auraitfallut, M. Villeneuve, pas une cannette de peinture .

Villeneuve: Un cocktail Molotov serait suffisant. Proulx: Oui, une bombe à neutron, par exemple.Mais M. Villeneuve, c’est très dangereux ce que vous dites-là, somme toute, non?Vous engagez pas à recevoir la visite de la police après cette entrevue?

A listener wrote to the Secretary General of the CRTC (whichforwarded the correspondence in due course), stating, in part (the full text of thecorrespondence is included in Appendix B):

I am writing this letter to complain about Gilles Proulx’s noontalk show on CKAC Radio in Montreal. On June 9, 1999, he interviewed Mr. RaymondVilleneuve, a convicted murderer, in regards to a recent attack by vandals on the home ofMr. André Arthur. He made strong references to Mr. Villeneuve that it would have beenbetter if they had bombed Mr. Arthur’s home instead of just spray painting”FLQ” on it. This is totally unacceptable behaviour on the part of Mr. Proulx,Mr. Villeneuve and CKAC Radio.

The Vice-President and Director General of CKAC replied, in part, inthe following terms (the full text of this letter is included in Appendix B):

L’entrevue de Gilles Proulx avec monsieur Raymond Villeneuveavait comme objectif de vérifier si ce dernier endossait les actes de vandalisme commissur des maisons de citoyens. Endossement que Gilles Proulx qualifie dès le départ detrès dangereux.

Nous croyons que l’auditoire aura saisi là toute la portée dupropos. Le traitement nettement excessif et caricatural de la suite de l’entrevuenous apparaît tellement évident que nous ne pouvons comprendre qu’il y ait euinterprétation d’incitation à la violence. D’aucune façon, ni notre station,ni notre animateur ne peuvent tolérer ou sanctionner des actes de violences. Aucontraire, nous les condamnons.

The complainant was unsatisfied by the broadcaster’s responseand requested, on July 24, that the CBSC refer the matter to the appropriate RegionalCouncil for adjudication. With his formal request for a ruling, the complainant added anote elaborating on his position. The text of this note is also included in Appendix B.

THE DECISION

The CBSC’s Quebec Regional Council considered the complaintunder Clause 6(3) of the CAB Code of Ethics, which reads as follows:

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

The Regional Council members listened to a tape of the program inquestion and reviewed all of the correspondence. The Council considers that the program inquestion is not in breach of the above-mentioned Code provision.

The Issues

The complaint raises two concerns. The first relates to thehost’s comments regarding the use of “atomic bombs” and “neutronbombs”; the question for the Council is whether the host was merely being sarcasticor was actually advocating the use of violence against his rival. The second concernrelates to whether or not the interviewing of a convicted criminal, the head of a militantorganization renowned for the use of bombs to further its political agenda in the 1960sand 1970s, was appropriate.

The Use of Sarcasm: The CBSC Jurisprudence

The Ontario Regional Council has previously dealt with the issue ofthe use of sarcasm in CFRA-AM re The Lowell Green Show (Somalia CommissionReport) (CBSC Decision 96/97-0238, February 20, 1998). In that case, the host took atongue-in-cheek approach in dealing with the controversy surrounding the findings of theSomalia Inquiry Commission. In adopting a facetious “Who cares?” attitude duringhis show, the host rhetorically disparaged the lives of the two Somali victims, callingthem “wogs” and “flip flops”. A listener complained that thisbroadcast was racist and incited hatred against people of Somali origin. The Council notedthat, although the issue in question may “on the surface … appearstraightforward” as it involves “the use of terminology which has everyappearance of being abusively discriminatory”, it was rendered “necessarily morecomplex” by the broadcaster’s contention that Lowell Green was “merelybeing facetious and cynical, characteristics of the host which … are well-known to hislisteners.” Regarding the pertinence of this argument, the Council stated that

the rhetorical tools of sarcasm, parody, facetiousness, irony,hyperbole and the like may be an effective means of expressing an editorial perspective,[but] the use of these devices does not … render the user impervious to any claim thatthe host has, in a particular instance, overstepped the bounds of Canada’s broadcaststandards.

The Council found that, in that case, the host’s use of sarcasmhad been poorly executed and did constitute a breach of the Code.

The Ontario Regional Council understands perfectly well that LowellGreen was trying to ridicule the decision of the Federal Government to disband the SomaliaInquiry. … The Council does not consider that his attempt to achieve his goal was poorlyconceived but it does consider that it was poorly executed. Careful thought before thefact would have led the host to understand that his comments would likely offend not onlythe brunt of his barbs, namely, the Federal Government, but also persons of Somali origin,as well as those right-minded Canadians who are sensitive to racial slurs about anyidentifiable group. …

The effect of his rhetorical attempt to skewer the politicaldecision-makers was not, as it could have been, moderated so as not to skewer thecompatriots of the slain teenagers. He thus undermined the legitimacy of his own argument… This was made the moreso true by his repetition of the offensive statementswithout, at any time in the show, offering any mitigation which would have left thesarcastic element operational vis-à-vis the actual target but not vis-à-vis theunintended target. Moreover, he had the perfect opportunity to offer that mitigation or atleast some moderation of his position in his response to the caller Ashouk, who, afterall, had missed the irony and could have been assumed not to be the only such listener inthat position.

The Use of Sarcasm: The Host's Explosive Comments

The Council does not for a moment believe that there was anyintention on the part of the host to advocate violence. In a way, its conclusion issimplified by the exaggerated nature of the host’s “violent” suggestion.Had it been a realistic suggestion, it might have been reasonable for theCouncil to conclude that the host had in fact been advocating a criminal act;however, the utter absurdity of the “suggested” use of nuclear or neutron bombs,which are obviously inaccessible weapons, makes it clear that this is simply a hyperbolicdevice used as a part of the well-known rivalry between the two Quebec radio hosts.

Moreover, the Quebec Regional Council notes that, in the CFRA-AM case, the Ontario Regional Council emphasized the absence of any mitigation by the hostregarding his offensive statements, which might have supported the use of sarcasm as atalk show device. In this case, the Council notes that the host did allude to the possiblevisit of the police at Mr. Villeneuve’s home following the interview, a clearreference to the potentially illegal nature of the actions discussed on the air and to thepossible consequences of such actions. Accordingly, the Council does find mitigatingcircumstances which make it clear that there has been no breach of the Code in this case.

Comments Inciting Violence: The CBSC Jurisprudence

In an earlier case referred to the Quebec Regional Council, namely, CIQC-AMre Galganov in the Morning (CBSC Decision, 97/98-0473, August 14, 1998), this Councildealt with the issue of comments inciting violence. The Council had to rule on the comment”we have to … beat the crap out of all these… crapheads” spoken by hostHoward Galganov, well-known activist, anti-separatist campaigner and advocate for therights of English-language Quebeckers. The Council did not, however, find that the host,in making this statement, had seriously advocated violence against whoever he consideredto be the “crapheads” at the time. The Council stated:

Leaving aside for the moment the issue of vulgar language which isdealt with below, the Council does not find the statement “we have to … beat thecrap out of all these … crapheads” to be in breach of the fairness requirement ofthe Code. The Council does not view this statement as “[translation] a call toviolence”, as contended by the complainant. While the meaning sought to be conveyedby Mr. Galganov in making this pronouncement is ambiguous, to say the least, the Councildoes not consider this isolated comment to be more than an unpleasant, tasteless, juvenilecomment, but not a genuine pre-meditated attempt to encourage the commission of a criminaloffence.

The Council considers this example to be analogous, to some extent,to the statements dealt with in CIWW-AM re the Geoff Franklin Show (CBSC Decision92/93-0181, October 26, 1993). In that case, the Ontario Regional Council also dealt withan allegation that the host of an open-line radio show was advocating violence. In thatcase, the host had responded to a case of animal cruelty by encouraging callers to suggestmethods of “getting even” with the perpetrator of the crime. The Council did notfind any breach of a Code.

It determined that the host had, as a dog-lover himself, beenmotivated by anger in marshalling the listeners’ calls but that he had not ever meantto be taken as a serious advocate of criminal activities. In the result, it considered Mr.Franklin’s comments to be in poor taste but not constituting a breach of any of theprovisions of the Code of Ethics.

Whether the reference to bombs in the segmentunder consideration amounted to bad taste, particularly in the context of their use in themurder of the security guard, must be left to be determined by the marketplace via theon/off switch.

An Interview with a Convicted Criminal

As to the issue of an interview with a convicted criminal raised bythis complaint, the Council believes that the principle of free speech must be theoperational rule. While it would always be wise for broadcasters to be cautious in theirprovision of a platform to a criminal who might wish to profit financially,psychologically or otherwise from his crime or to exploit the public, in the absence ofthe breach of a specific Code provision, it is up to the broadcaster alone to make such aninterviewee choice.

Broadcaster Responsiveness

In addition to assessing the relevance of the Codes to thecomplaint, the CBSC always assesses the responsiveness of the broadcaster to thesubstance of the complaint. In this case, the Council considers that thebroadcaster’s response addressed fully and fairly the main issue raised by thecomplainant. Nothing more is required. Consequently, the broadcaster has not breached theCouncil’s standard of responsiveness.

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.