CKRS-AM re an episode of Champagne pour tout le monde

QUEBEC REGIONAL PANEL
(CBSC Decision 01/02-0331)
G. Bachand (Chair), S. Gouin (Vice-Chair), R. Cohen (ad hoc),B. Guérin and T. Rajan (ad hoc)

THE FACTS

On December 6, 2001 CKRS-AM (Chicoutimi) broadcast an episode of its morning talk show, Champagne pour tout le monde, hosted by Louis Champagne.  During the course of the dialogue with co-host Brigitte Simard, the following exchange took place (translated from the original French):

Simard: You know, everything has gone wrong between Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown.  She still hasn't gotten it together.  We last saw her in a show given by Mic…, um, a Michael Jackson concert, but she was really thin and very sick. For his part, he keeps adding to his list of conquests violent temperament, numerous brushes with the law and…[Champagne laughs] King Kong, eh? Quite frankly, it's not his best year.  And now it is being said that even though they've been together for nine years, they really are on the verge of separating.  We know that in spite of the fact that they have broken up and gotten back together many times, it's the death-knell this time, according to those close to them…  Wait a minute, you, that's not for certain. What a twisted relationship eh? Champagne: She

's scary. Champagne: It’

s a dumb thing to say, isn't it?

Simard: I understand why you're saying it that way.  I know that you know that's not necessarily the case, but that's the role in which she feels good isn't it?

Champagne: That’s right. Simard:

:            Poor kid.

Champagne:

:    A smack in the face is just the thing.

Simard: Walt Disney

Champagne: She needs that smack in the face. There are some who need that.

Simard: And …

Champagne: There are some, there are some.

Simard: There are some mental midgets who need to slap others around aren't there?

Champagne: Yes.  Yes, yes, yes, yes.

Simard: What a bunch.

The complainant sent a brief e-mail to the CRTC (which was forwarded to the CBSC in due course) the following day expressing his disgust over the hateful remarks made by Champagne to the effect that some women need a slap in the face (the full text of this e-mail and all other correspondence can be found in the Appendix; they are available in French only).

The host of the program and the General Manager of the station sent a joint reply to the complainant on January 16, 2002.  They explained that the program Champagne pour tout le monde is meant to provide a combination of news, public affairs and entertainment to its listeners and that the host will occasionally make humourous comments with respect to the news items of the day in order to maintain the interest of listeners.  Citing a portion of the dialogue between hosts Simard and Champagne, the letter stated that Champagne's remarks were intended to “denounce the cycle of violence that has become common-place in the lives of some women” and “were not intended in any way to promote or endorse violence against women.”

The complainant sent letters to both the CBSC and CKRS-AM indicating his dissatisfaction with their response on January 21.  He noted that the broadcaster had failed to include in its version of the transcript a key segment of the conversation between Simard and Champagne.  He also stated his continued belief that the comments were sexist, misogynist and discriminatory and that the serious issue of violence against women cannot be treated flippantly.

The complainant contacted a women's group called the “Table de concertation des groupes de femmes RéCIF-02” which then wrote a letter expressing its support of his complaint.  This letter can be found in the Appendix.

 

THE DECISION

The Quebec Regional Panel considered the matter under certain clauses of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB) Code of Ethics and the provision of the CAB Violence Code dealing with violence against women:

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, [sexual orientation], marital status or physical or mental handicap.

CAB Code of Ethics, Clause 15 (Sex-Role Stereotyping):

Recognizing that stereotyping images can and do cause negative influences, it shall be the responsibility of broadcasters to exhibit, to the best of their ability, a conscious sensitivity to the problems related to sex-role stereotyping, by refraining from exploitation and by the reflection of the intellectual and emotional equality of both sexes in programming.

CAB Violence Code, Article 7.0 (Violence Against Women):

7.1 Broadcasters shall not telecast programming which sanctions, promotes or glamorizes any aspect of violence against women.

7.2        Broadcasters shall ensure that women are not depicted as victims of violence unless the violence is integral to the story being told.  Broadcasters shall be particularly sensitive not to perpetuate the link between women in a sexual context and women as victims of violence.

Panel members listened to a tape of the broadcast in question and reviewed the correspondence.  The Panel finds that CKRS-AM is in breach of the foregoing provisions of the CAB Code of Ethics as well as the article of the CAB Violence Code dealing with violence against women.

Violence against Women

It is an established principle of Canada's private broadcasters that there is no place on the airwaves for the advocacy of violence against women, whether that advocacy may be characterized as sanctioning, promoting or glamorizing any aspect of violence against women.  While that principle was established in the private broadcasters' code dealing with violence on television, broadcast material of that nature cannot be assumed to find refuge on radio.  It is, after all, the advocacy of violence against women that can be expected to be the concern of the broadcasters, not merely the medium of distribution of such messages.  The Ontario Panel dealt with that very issue in its decision CIOX-FM re a song entitled Boyz in the Hood (CBSC Decision 99/00-619, October 12, 2000):

While it is clear that the prohibition against sanctioning, promoting or glamorizing any aspect of violence against women is found in the Code dealing with violence on television, the Council does not assume that Canadas private broadcasters had intended their strong and unequivocal prohibition of such aggressively anti-woman behaviour to extend no further than the television screen.  The Council considers that, while the Violence Code was created to deal with a series of content issues far likelier to be present in that medium than in the different style of programming in the radio sphere, the broadcasters did not believe that that prohibitory principle ought not to benefit women across the broadcast spectrum.  Moreover, the Council understands that the freedom of persons from abusive or discriminatory comment based on their gender in the human rights provision of the Code of Ethics would include an entitlement to be free from the promotion of physical violence in either medium.  Moreover, the recognition of the dangers of stereotyping images and the mandating of a conscious sensitivity to the problems related to sex-role stereotyping, by refraining from exploitation in Clause 15 of the medium-neutral Code of Ethics would equally intend to provide such protection from physical abusive language content.

In the CIOX-FM decision, the Panel also dealt with the substance of the lyrics.  The conclusion was as follows:

Whether the intention of the song is serious or satirical, the Council finds that the lyrics, in their sanctioning, promotion or glamorizing of violence against women, constitute abusive commentary on the basis of gender and are insensitive to the dangers of stereotyping generally.

Although it did not articulate matters in the same way in its decision in CILQ-FM re the Howard Stern Show (CBSC Decision 97/98-0487, 488, 504 and 535, February 20, 1998), the Ontario Panel said there:

Whether in apparent jest or otherwise, the use of language such as “chop her head off”, sharks eating half of a woman and the like lead readily to the conclusion that aggressive non-consensual sex may be acceptable.

The Ontario Regional Council considers that the above comments regarding Mary Hart and other comments associating naked women or sexually objectified women and violence to be in violation of Clause 2 of the Code of Ethics.

In that decision, the Panel also referred to the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in Butler v. R., [1992] 1 S.C.R. 452, where the Court held:

if true equality between male and female persons is to be achieved, we cannot ignore the threat to equality resulting from exposure to audiences of certain types of violent and degrading material.  Materials portraying women as a class as objects for sexual exploitation and abuse have a negative impact on the individual's sense of self-worth and acceptance.

It also cited an excerpt from CRTC Public Notice Concerning a Complaint against CKVU Television, Vancouver, British Columbia, by Media Watch ( P.N. CRTC 1983-187).  In that Public Notice, the Commission dealt with an on-air editorial, which included the following statement:

If there is ever another conventional war, it's my hope that Media Watch and its army of snoops will be found in the front line where they can be raped by the Russians.

Long before the CBSC ever existed, the Commission concluded that

broadcasters fall short of discharging their responsibilities and of attaining the high standard of programming required when the frequency entrusted to them is used, not to criticize the activities of a particular group but to advocate sexual violence against its members.  The broadcasting industry itself has recognized that principle by inserting in its Code of Ethics the clause respecting human rights referred to above.

[…] The Commission agrees with the complainant that the issue of whether or not women should be raped is not debatable. […]

[T]he right of freedom of expression on the public airwaves cannot supersede the public's right to receive programming of high standard, free of demeaning comments or incitement to violence toward any identifiable group.

The Quebec Panel considers that Louis Champagne's comments are equally unacceptable.  Referring to Whitney Houston as a battered woman who likes to be beaten, asserting that a smack in the face is a good thing, eh? and, undaunted by his co-host's attempt to exit the dialogue, his repetition that She needs a smack in the face; there are those [women] who need that is outrageous.   The argument that the host did not intend to say this, or that he was being provocative, engaging or sarcastic, holds no water.  There is simply no justification for supporting the idea of wife-beating on the airwaves.  In the terms used by the CRTC in its CKVU-TV decision, it is not debatable.  Freedom of expression is not a broad enough concept for Canada's private broadcasters to include such dangerous comments.  The December 6 dialogue of Louis Champagne clearly constitutes a breach of the human rights and sex-role portrayal clauses of the CAB Code of Ethics as well as the CAB Violence Code article prohibiting violence against women.

Broadcaster Responsiveness

It is a fundamental obligation of broadcasters to be responsive to complainants who take the time to express in writing their concerns about programming they have heard or seen on the airwaves.  It is the duty of the CBSC Panels to assess the thoughtfulness of the broadcaster replies on each occasion that they adjudicate a file.  In this case, the letter was sent jointly by the on-air host, whose comments were at play, and the station's General Manager.  Although the letter left out of the transcription the most damning language used by the host, it was a lengthy and thoughtful attempt to explain away what Champagne had said.  It did not satisfy the complainant's concerns.  It did, however, constitute a more than fair effort to do so.  The broadcaster has met its obligations of responsiveness.  Nothing more is required in this respect.

ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE DECISION

CKRS-AM is required to: 1) announce this 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 in the time period in which Champagne pour tout le monde is broadcast; 2) within fourteen days following the broadcast of the announcements, to provide written confirmation of the airing of the announcements 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 CKRS-AM.

The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has found that CKRS-AM's broadcast of the December 6, 2001 episode of Champagne pour tout le monde breached the CAB Code of Ethics and the CAB Violence Code.  The host's comments that an internationally renowned singer, who was a battered spouse, liked to be beaten, that a slap in the face was a good thing, and that some women deserve being struck in that way, constituted a breach of the clause of the Violence Code which prohibits the sanctioning, promotion or glamorizing of violence against women.  The comments were equally in breach of the clauses of the Code of Ethics which prohibit abusive commentary on the basis of gender.

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