CKTB-AM re an episode of the Phil Hendrie Show

ONTARIO REGIONAL PANEL
(CBSC Decision 02/03-0383)
R. Stanbury (Chair), M. Ziniak (Vice-Chair), J. David, H. Hassan,M. Maheu and M. Oldfield

THE FACTS

The Phil Hendrie Show is a parody talk radio program that originates in the United States.  The show features commentary from its host and conversations with both real and fictional callers and guests.  It is broadcast in Canada, among other places, on CKTB-AM (St. Catharines, Ontario) at 7:00 pm.

On the episode of November 26, 2002, Hendrie provided his thoughts on some recent news stories, one of which concerned the alleged cloning of a human baby by an Italian doctor.  Hendrie made the following comments:

And an Italian doctor, going against all civilized convention and international law, went ahead and cloned a baby anyway.  After everything we've been telling you, after everything that we said, some wop made a baby.  And not just any kind of a baby, another guinea baby is foisted upon the world and it was cloned.  Eww.  Little greasy kid.

Hendrie went on to deliver his point of view on a few other stories.  After a commercial break, he provided an explanation for the comments he had made about Italians:

Of course I use the word “wop”, “guinea”.  I don't know if you can understand this, but there's no, really, any real offence intended.  And yesterday I was on WOAI in San Antonio.  They said to me, I forget what we were asking.  Oh yeah, I mentioned that I was fortunate enough in the television show that we're writing to be working with a guy named Peter Tolan who wrote the movie Analyze This, which was a funny movie.  And I said to the guys “You thought that was a funny movie, didn't you?”  And they said “Well, not if you were Italian, they didn't think it was funny.”  And I said “You know who the Italians oughta sue?  They oughta sue the Mafia.”  Why don't you try doing that?  Why don't you Italians that don't like the way you're portrayed in the media, why don't you turn around and file a lawsuit against the Gambinos.  Try that.  They're the guys that got you in that place in the first place.  That's the whole reason why Italians are looked upon as hoods, is because there are Italian hoods.  And I know what you're gonna say:  There's Irish hoods and Arabian hoods.  Yeah, but you gotta admit, man, how many blockbuster movies are made about them?  How flashy and colourful and interesting to look at are they compared to the multi multi billion dollar business that the Mafia has run in this country for decades?  And besides, the Irish, the Jews, all of us, we have other things we're able to do.  Apparently all Italians are capable of is breaking the law.  I'm joking.

Hendrie addressed other news stories in a similar manner.  For example, he mentioned the case of a Canadian politician who called U.S. President George W. Bush a “moron” and said “Some frog in Canada called Bush a 'moron'”.  He suggested that the incident was not a big deal to Americans since presidents are often criticized and burned in effigy.  In another case, after noting that actor Nicolas Cage had divorced Lisa-Marie Presley, he said it was probably because Cage “couldn't take the smell.”

The CBSC received a complaint about the Italian comments dated December 12 (the full text of all correspondence can be found in the Appendix to this decision).  The listener found the use of the term “wop” to describe the Italian scientist to be “derogatory and racist” and suggested that the comments about Italians and the Mafia were “extremely border-line”.

The Operations Manager of CKTB-AM responded to the complainant on December 19.  In that reply, the Operations Manager explained that the Phil Hendrie Show takes a “tongue-in-cheek approach” to “contemporary social issues” and “attempts to uncover North American culture for what it is rather than its facade of political correctness.”  She pointed out that Hendrie's “objective is to bait listeners into addressing uncomfortable subjects” and that listeners can telephone into the show to express their opinions.  She also noted that Hendrie portrays many characters on the program, including his own “guests”, but that listeners are made aware of this fictional aspect.

The complainant responded to the broadcaster on December 20, emphasizing that it was the term “wop” that concerned him most about the episode.  He informed CKTB-AM that he appreciates “humour that has an edge and challenges conventional norms and political correctness,” but that the line must be drawn at the use of racist language on the airwaves.

CKTB-AM responded a second time on December 20.  The Operations Manager stated that, in using the term “wop”, Hendrie was “attempting to show his disgust with the doctor's actions, not making social comment on his ethnic background.”  She also noted that occasionally some Italians refer to themselves as “wops”.  She went on to mention that CKTB-AM aims to encourage “public dialogue and debate,” but acknowledges that it will not be able to satisfy all tastes all the time.

The complainant sent a further reply to CKTB-AM on January 19, 2003.  He reiterated his acceptance of different styles of social commentary, as well as his primary concern of the use of “racial epithets” on the airwaves.  CKTB-AM reiterated its position, indicating that it had nothing further to add to its previous letters with respect to his complaint.  On February 17, the complainant requested that the CBSC refer his complaint to the appropriate Adjudicating Panel.

THE DECISION

The CBSC Ontario Regional Panel examined the complaint under Clause 2 (Human Rights) of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters' (CAB) Code of Ethics which reads as follows:

Recognizing that every person has the right to full and equal recognition and to enjoy certain fundamental rights and freedoms, broadcasters shall ensure that their programming contains no abusive or unduly 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 disability.

The Panel listened to a tape of the broadcast and reviewed all of the correspondence.  The Ontario Regional Panel concludes that the broadcast of host Phil Hendrie's comments about Italians is in breach of the Human Rights clause.

Racial Epithets

That elements of the population have succeeded in creating a number of catchwords, nicknames or appellations intended to apply to identifiable groups (frequently minorities distinguished by their ethnicity, nationality, religion or skin colour) is not one of society's notable achievements.  While there may be some such terms that are positive and admiring in their nature, many, perhaps most, and certainly all of those at issue here, are not.  They tend to be epithetic, denigrating, even derisory in nature.  Generally consisting of a single word, they are frequently meant to evoke disparaging reactions with respect to the targeted groups they “define”.  At worst, they are ugly and nasty.  At best they are condescending, a shorthand reference by the user to others who do not have the “right stuff”.

The CBSC has, in the past, in CKTF-FM re Voix d'Accès (CBSC Decision 93/94-0213, December 6, 1995), acknowledged that

t would be unreasonable to expect that the airwaves be pure, antiseptic and flawless.  Society is not.  Nor are individuals in their dealings with one another.  Nonetheless, the airwaves are a special and privileged place and those who occupy that territory are expected to play a more restrained and respectful social role.

  issue in the matter at hand is whether the terms “wop” and “guinea” are, even if epithetic, not so problematic that they pass the “pure, antiseptic and flawless” test.  In the view of the Panel, they do not.  They fall within the category of sweeping racial slurs.  They are disparaging terms, utterly without redemptive value.  While there may be some dramatic programming circumstances (not encountered here) in which the use of such words may be contextually justified, their appropriateness should be carefully monitored.  In any event, they had absolutely no place in the non-dramatic programming at issue here.  As this Panel said, with respect to the use of the racial epithet “wog”, in a relevant decision, namely, CFRA-AM re The Lowell Green Show (Somalia Commission Report) (CBSC Decision 96/97-0238, February 20, 1998):

Stripped of the rhetorical overlay for the sake of this preliminary part of the discussion, the Council has no hesitation in finding that the use of the term “wogs” to describe persons of Somali origin is abusively discriminatory and has no place on Canadian airwaves.

In CHOM-FM and CILQ-FM re The Howard Stern Show (CBSC Decision 97/98-0001+, October 17-18, 1997), the Quebec and Ontario Regional Panels jointly concluded:

The CBSC has no hesitation in finding that, in this case, the expressions “peckerheads”, “pussy-assed jack-offs”, “scumbags”, “pussies”, “Frig the French” and “Screw the French” are […] abusive.”

In the case at hand, the challenged words constitute abusive or unduly discriminatory comment, exacerbated by the remarks that the baby was “foisted upon the world” and was a “little greasy kid”. If, as suggested by the broadcaster, the host was “attempting to show his disgust with the doctor's actions, not making social comment on his ethnic background,” there can be no doubt but that he failed miserably.  The Panel concludes that the broadcast by CKTB-AM of the terms “wop” and “guinea”, as well as “little greasy kid”, on the challenged episode of the Phil Hendrie Show constitutes a breach of the CAB Code of Ethics.

“No Offence, Just Joking”

Coming back after the commercial break, the host tried to dig himself out of the hole he had already made by saying that “there's no, really, any real offence intended.”  He said this, though, in the breath following his affirmation that he had used the challenged terms.  He did not recognize their impropriety.  He did not attempt to withdraw them as utterances in error.  To the contrary, he repeated them and confirmed that he had done so, emphasizing this fact by the addition of the words “of course” to explain his on-air choice.  By saying “no offence”, perhaps he was emphasizing that he who had spoken the words was not offended.  It would have done little to salve the sentiments of those of whom he had spoken.  And then, as if to rub a little salt in the wound, he added, “Apparently all Italians are capable of is breaking the law.  I'm joking.”

The Code breach was, if anything, exacerbated by those words.  They certainly did not serve his declared purpose.

Broadcaster Responsiveness

In all CBSC decisions, the Adjudicating Panels assess the broadcaster's responsiveness to the complainant.  Although 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 manner.  In this case, the Panel finds that CKTB-AM's Program Director carefully attempted to describe the basis for the program that, in her view on behalf of the station, explained, if not justified, the use of the challenged terms.  She took the trouble to respond again to the complainant's dissatisfied reply and even personalized her perception of the issue in good faith to be of assistance, she hoped, in the resolution of the matter.  As is apparent, she did not succeed, perhaps in part because there was not, in the Panel's view, any method of justifying the abusive epithets at the end of the day.  Her efforts were, however, serious.  In the view of the Panel, she has met the CBSC's obligations of responsiveness by engaging in a dialogue with the complainant through the exchange of multiple e-mails.  Indeed, the complainant himself stated his appreciation for the “reasonable and appropriate” dialogue process and insisted on allowing CKTB-AM an opportunity to respond to each of his e-mails before pursuing formal adjudication.

ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE DECISION

CKTB-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 during the time period in which the Phil Hendrie Show is broadcast; 2) within the fourteen days following the broadcast 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 that written confirmation and with air check copies of the broadcasts of the two announcements which must be made by CKTB-AM.

The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has found that CKTB-AM breached the clause of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters' (CAB) Code of Ethics dealing with human rights.  By broadcasting an episode of the Phil Hendrie Show on November 26, 2002 in which the host used disparaging racial epithets to refer to Italians and their offspring, CKTB-AM aired abusive or unduly discriminatory comment contrary to the terms of Clause 2 of the CAB Code of Ethics.

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