CKNG-FM re “Blond Moments”

PRAIRIE REGIONAL COUNCIL
(CBSC Decision 96/97-0060)
S. Hall, (Chair), D. Braun (Vice-Chair), K. Christensen, D. Dobbie, V. Dubois, D. Ish

The Facts

On November 29, 1996, as part of its Morning Show, CKNG-FM sought stories of foolish
mistakes from its listeners who were urged to call and “tell on themselves”. As a reward
for laughing at their own stupidity, prizes were handed out to those who called. The
segment challenged by the listener which is the subject of this decision was entitled “Blond
Moments”.

A listener who tuned in to CKNG-FM at about 11 a.m. heard the post-Morning Show
announcer refer to the Morning Show's “Blond Moments” segment. The announcer
allowed a caller to tell her story of folly at that time because she had been unable to call
in to the station earlier that morning. The short reference to the Morning Show's “Blond
Moments” segment went as follows:

If you were listening to the Morning Show this morning Gary and Audie, they were doing
“blond moments” if you've had any. Now I don't want you to call in but I have Ann on the
line right here and I understand that you have a doozie and you couldn't call in. You are on
your break right now, so, what blond moment did you have today?

The caller went on to tell the story of how she brushed her teeth with Melaluca pain
reliever that morning. After sharing some laughter with the announcer, she was given a
prize for her story.

The Letter of Complaint

On January 2nd, 1997, a listener sent a complaint to the CRTC. This letter was in turn
forwarded to the CBSC. It stated in part

On Friday November 29, I happened to tune to CKNG-FM Power 92 at about 11:00 a.m.
and heard the D.J. conducting a contest called “blond moments” in which listeners would
phone in and tell how they did something stupid, and be rewarded with a prize. It was also
stated that it was one in a series of similar spots.

Obviously, this is a bad thing. It equates having Scandinavian ancestors with being stupid.
These types of generalizations are the very heart of prejudice. To many women, doing
something stupid isn't their fault, it's “those blondes, making them be stupid”. To many men
blond hair equals bimbo, and to many bimbos blond hair equals bimbo as well. These days
no one talks about lazy Blacks or sneaky Asians and yet this type of racism against
Scandinavian based people continues, aided by hair dye. No one dyes their hair blond to
be more intelligent or become a better person; but to be sexy, weird or kinky. Judging
someone by their ancestors and blaming them for your problems is racism.

I worry greatly about the ongoing effect this is having on blond children. Little girls are
constantly told by the media that they have to grow up to become stupid bimbos, while boys
see themselves as laid-back weirdos. I worry that they will give up trying to live the image
instead.

If the media want to make fun of someone why don't they say Bleached blondes instead.
I have no problem with attacks on these 'falsies'. [Emphasis original.]

The Broadcaster's Response

The Assistant Program Director of CKNG-FM wrote to the complainant on January 2, 1997
[the following italics are original]:

The reference to blond moments by the announcer was not intended to be prejudicial or
racist. It was not intended to offend those of Scandinavian descent. The choice of phrasing
may have been inappropriate but the motivation was not malicious. Listeners were simply
being encouraged to tell on themselves, those participating had the good nature to laugh
at themselves. Your letter suggest in part, the media want to make fun of someone, ;[sic]
the radio station was offering listeners the opportunity to make fun of themselves.

Your letter further suggests, If the media want to make fun of someone why don't they say
Bleached blondes instead. I have no problem with attacks on those “falsies”.

Power 92 does not intend or encourage attacks on any nationality. As stated, the choice of
words may not have been desirable, but the intent of the contest was not intended to be
undesirable.

Thank you for taking the time to voice your concerns. We are always pleased to hear from
our listeners regardless of the nature of the correspondence. Your point has been duly
noted.

Further Correspondence from the Complainant

The complainant was unsatisfied with this response and requested, on January 10, 1997,
that the CBSC refer the matter to the appropriate Regional Council for adjudication. The
complainant's “Ruling Request” form was accompanied by a letter which read in part as
follows:

I have received the response from the broadcaster and I am a little puzzled. Are they
apologizing or excusing themselves? They seem to be saying that they didn't do anything
wrong, and that they won't do it again.

Their spokesperson said that the viewers were “being encouraged to tell on themselves,
those participating had the good nature to laugh at themselves.” So what does that have
to do with calling it “Blond Moments”? Were only people of Scandinavian descent allowed
to phone in? That doesn't seem fair to people of other racial makeups who might want to
laugh at themselves!

I also get the impression from the wording that I am being blamed for not having good
humour. Isn't that like saying that a woman who was raped was at fault for not having the
good nature to have sex? Why should I laugh at jokes that include me because of my
ancestors? Do blacks laugh at nigger jokes? I know they don't, and I think that there are
millions of light haired people who are very tired of these type [sic] of clichés.

I heard this spot recently and they have changed it to “Embarrass Yourself”, so it seems
possible to laugh at yourself and blame yourself, and not someone else. This whole incident
only shows how common it is for the media to equate blondness with weirdness. The result
of this is that truly weird people see and hear this attitude and dye their hair, and thereby
create a self-fulfilling proof to the media and the world.

I am not naive enough to believe that this is the only incident by the only broadcaster.
However, official action will slow down this tendency in the future and remind people that
blond equals Scandinavian ancestors, and not sex bimbo, no matter what the hair dye
companies say. Therefore, because of the ambiguous response of Power 92 I am
requesting further action.

The CBSCs Prairie Regional Council considered the complaint under Clause 2 of the
Code of Ethics of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB). That provision reads
as follows:

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.

The Regional Council members listened to a tape of the program in question and reviewed
the correspondence. The Council considers that the program in question does not violate
the CAB Code of Ethics.

Did the Broadcaster Discriminate Against Scandinavian People?

The complainant alleges that the reference to “blonds” in conjunction with stories of
foolishness constitutes discriminatory or abusive comment towards people of Scandinavian
origin. The Council disagrees. It notes that no specific references to Scandinavia or
Scandinavian people were contained in the broadcast in question; rather, the Council finds
that the allegation of discrimination based on national or ethnic origin stems from the
complainant's inference that persons with light-coloured hair are all of Scandinavian origin.
In this respect, the matter at hand is similar to CKLZ-FM re Announcer Comments (CBSC
Decision 94/95-0113, December 18, 1996), in which the complainant believed that the use
of the expression “Achtung, baby” was meant to be reflective of the broadcaster's attitude
toward the police. The B.C. Regional Council concluded that the complainant's inference
was his own and not one intended by the announcer.

The word “Achtung”, German for “Attention”, is not per se offensive. It is in common usage
as a warning in modern Germany, at crosswalks, in subways, meaning “Look out!”, “Take
care!”, “Take heed!” or the like. It is only its military usage, “Attention!”, and its association
in the Canadian experience with Nazi atrocities in the Second World War which may make
it offensive and then depending on the context in which it is used.

In the matter at hand, the Prairie Regional Council disagrees with the complainant on her
inference on this issue. Moreover, the Prairie Council considers that, in this case as in the
CKLZ-FM decision, few other listeners would have drawn the inference between blonds
and Scandinavians which led to the complainant's letter. In the Council's view, the title
“Blond Moments” cannot be reasonably said to constitute comment based on national or
ethnic origin.

Is Hair Colour a Protected Ground under Clause 2?

To the extent that the complainant's letter can also be reasonably interpreted as
discriminating against blonds, the Prairie Regional Council considers it relevant to review
previous CBSC decisions relating to Clause 2 of the Code of Ethics.

The CBSC has, on a previous occasion, interpreted the human rights provision of the CAB
Code of Ethics to insert a protection that is not specifically included in the wording of that
provision. In CHQR-AM re Forbes and Friends (CBSC Decision 92/93-0187, August 8,
1994), the Prairie Regional Council added sexual orientation as one of the protected
grounds enumerated in Clause 2. The Ontario Regional Council explained this inclusion
in CHCH-TV re Life Today with James Robison (CBSC Decision 95/96-0128, April 30,
1996). In the CHCH-TV decision, the Council relied upon the following passage from Mr.
Justice La Forest's opinion regarding section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and
Freedoms
in Egan v. Canada [1995] 2 S.C.R. 513:

I have no difficulty accepting the appellants' contention that whether or not sexual
orientation is based on biological or physiological factors, which may be a matter of some
controversy, it is a deeply personal characteristic that is either unchangeable or changeable
only at unacceptable personal costs, and so falls within the amibit of s. 15 protection as
being analogous to the enumerated grounds.
[Emphasis added.]

While the Council understands that hair colour may also be a meaningful personal matter,
it does not consider that it falls within the class of factors described by Mr. Justice La
Forest as a “deeply personal characteristic that is either unchangeable or changeable only
at unacceptable personal costs”.

Hair colour likely falls into the category of matters considered by the B.C. Regional Council
in CKLZ-FM re Announcer Comments (CBSC Decision 94/95-0113, December 18, 1996),
in which that Regional Council was reluctant to extend the enumerated grounds to assist
a complainant with regard to “language used with respect to an occupation.” The Council
held:

It is not the view of the B.C. Regional Council that it would be possible by definition to
extend “race, national or ethnic origin, religion, age, sex, marital status or physical or mental
handicap” to include occupation or profession. Such a change, were one merited, would
require the intervention of the codifiers.

Similarly, in this matter, the Council considers that any extension of the enumerated
provisions to cover such an additional ground as is envisaged by the complainant in this
case would require the intervention of the codifiers of the Code of Ethics.

Broadcaster Responsiveness

The CBSC always recognizes the broadcaster's obligation, as a CBSC member, to be
responsive to complainants. In this case, the Regional Council considers that the
broadcaster dealt fairly with the issues raised by the complainant in its letter of response
and reacted responsibly by changing the title of the segment. Nothing more could have
been expected of it. Consequently, the station did not breach the Council'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.