CKZZ-FM re a segment on Kiah & Tara Jean

BRITISH COLUMBIA REGIONAL PANEL
CBSC Decision 11/12-0686
July 4, 2012
S. Warren (Chair), H. Ainsworth, J. Doobay, P. Lawson, O. Mowatt, T. Plasteras

THE FACTS

Kiah & Tara Jean was the afternoon drive program on CKZZ-FM (Virgin Radio 95.3 FM, Vancouver). It aired weekdays from 3:00 to 7:00 pm and was hosted by Kiah Tucker and Tara Jean Stevens.  On November 1, 2011, the program broadcast a prank telephone call made by Tucker to a dentist’s office.  He spoke to the female receptionist and pretended that all of his teeth had fallen out after eating his Halloween candy.  At one point, he said “I couldn’t bite you, but I could give you a serious suck.”  The receptionist’s name was not broadcast, but the business name of the dental practice was (a complete transcript of the segment can be found in Appendix A).

On November 29, the CBSC received a complaint from the dental office. They complained that the name of the dental practice and the voice of their receptionist had both been broadcast without informing them or obtaining their permission.  They also alleged that the host had made a “comment with sexual content” toward the receptionist and that this was exploitative under the broadcast codes.  In addition, they complained that the call had been made to the telephone line reserved for dental emergencies and that it was inappropriate to tie up this line for a “nonsense prank”.

The station responded to the complainant on December 21. It apologized for offending the complainant, but pointed out that the segment was meant to be humorous.  It argued that the comments made to the receptionist fell into the category of innuendo or double entendre and thus did not violate the broadcast codes.

The dental office filed its Ruling Request on January 3, 2012 reiterating their concerns and pointing out that Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) Regulations require broadcasters to obtain permission before broadcasting telephone conversations. They also stated that they did not find the prank humorous or appropriate.  (The full text of all correspondence can be found in Appendix B.)

THE DECISION

The British Columbia Regional Panel examined the complaint under the following provisions of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Equitable Portrayal Code and Code of Ethics, as well as under the spirit of Article 4 of the Radio Television Digital News Association’s (RTDNA) Code of Ethics:

CAB Equitable Portrayal Code, Clause 8(a) – Exploitation

Broadcasters shall refrain from the airing of programming that exploits women, men or children.

CAB Code of Ethics, Clause 6 – Full, Fair and Proper Presentation

It is recognized that the full, fair and proper presentation of news, opinion, comment and editorial is the prime and fundamental responsibility of each broadcaster. This principle shall apply to all radio and television programming, whether it relates to news, public affairs, magazine, talk, call-in, interview or other broadcasting formats in which news, opinion, comment or editorial may be expressed by broadcaster employees, their invited guests or callers.

CAB Code of Ethics, Clause 9 – Radio Broadcasting

Recognizing that radio is a local medium and, consequently, reflective of local community standards, programming broadcast on a local radio station shall take into consideration the generally recognized access to programming content available in the market, the demographic composition of the station’s audience, and the station’s format. Within this context, particular care shall be taken by radio broadcasters to ensure that programming on their stations does not contain:

[…]

  1. b) Unduly sexually explicit material; and/or

RTDNA Code of (Journalistic) Ethics, Article 4 – Privacy

Electronic journalists will respect the dignity, privacy and well-being of everyone with whom they deal, and will make every effort to ensure that newsgathering and reporting does not unreasonably infringe privacy except when necessary in the public interest. Clandestine newsgathering techniques should only be used when necessary to the credibility or accuracy of a story in the public interest.

The Panel Adjudicators read all of the correspondence and listened to the challenged segment. The Panel concludes that CKZZ-FM did not violate Clause 8(a) of the CAB Equitable Portrayal Code or Clause 9(b) of the CAB Code of Ethics, but the station did violate Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics for failing to obtain consent before broadcasting the prank telephone call.

Off-Air Issues

The dental office alleged that the radio station’s prank telephone call was made to its emergency number. The CBSC has said in numerous previous decisions that it has neither the mandate nor the resources to gather evidence or verify facts related to off-air issues.[1]  It generally examines only the actual content that was broadcast on air.  The Panel, therefore, makes no comment regarding this issue which falls outside its jurisdiction.

Sexual Content & Exploitation

One of the complainant’s concerns was that the radio host had made an exploitative sexual comment to the receptionist, namely, “I couldn’t bite you, but I could give you a serious suck”. The Panel considers that that statement does not necessarily have a sexual connotation, although it acknowledges that it could be interpreted that way by some listeners.  Indeed, even co-host Stevens reacted to it by telling Tucker to “beg forgiveness for that suck joke.  I heard you.  I understood what you said.”

Even if one possible interpretation of the phrase could have a sexual meaning, it did not reach the level of sexual explicitness which would result in a violation of Clause 9(b) of the CAB Code of Ethics.  The CBSC has defined “sexually explicit” in previous decisions to mean detailed descriptions of sexual acts;[2] the phrase uttered by Tucker definitely did not fall into that category.

Tucker’s comment also cannot be considered exploitative under Clause 8(a) of the CAB Equitable Portrayal Code because it did not objectify anyone or present an inequitable representation of gender.[3]

Privacy & Consent

The RTDNA Code of Ethics technically only applies to news and public affairs programming, but the CBSC occasionally extends the spirit of some of its articles to non-news programming when relevant.  This is true of Article 4 (Privacy) of the RTDNA Code of Ethics; in previous decisions, the CBSC has applied the spirit of the Privacy article using the generally-worded Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics regarding “full, fair and proper presentation” of opinion, comment, editorial, etc.[4]

The BC Panel has done likewise in this case. The Panel does not, however, find that there was a violation of privacy in this broadcast because the receptionist’s name was muted out.

The issue of consent, however, is a separate matter. The Panel notes that Section 3 of the Radio Regulations, 1986 states that broadcasters shall not air any telephone conversation with a person unless “the person’s oral or written consent to the interview or conversation was obtained prior to the broadcast.”  Although it is the CRTC, and not the CBSC, who administers the Radio Regulations, the CBSC considers that a “proper” presentation of content, as required by Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics, encompasses the principles set out in Section 3 of the Regulations.[5]

In this case, the dental office stated that the radio station did not obtain consent prior to broadcasting the audio clip of the prank telephone call and CKZZ-FM did not dispute that contention. The BC Panel finds that the failure to obtain prior consent constitutes an improper presentation of this humorous clip and therefore violates Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics.

Broadcaster Responsiveness

In all CBSC decisions, the Panels assess the broadcaster’s response to the complainant. The broadcaster need not agree with the complainant’s position, but it must respond in a courteous, thoughtful and thorough manner.  In this case, CKZZ-FM provided a reply to the complainant, outlining its view of the broadcast.  The broadcaster fulfilled its obligations of responsiveness and nothing further is required in this regard in this instance.

Announcement of the Decision

CKZZ-FM is required to: 1) announce the 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 Kiah & Tara Jean was broadcast, but not on the same day as the first mandated announcement; 2) within the fourteen days following the broadcasts 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 a copy of that written confirmation and with air check copies of the broadcasts of the two announcements which must be made by CKZZ-FM.

The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has found that CKZZ-FM, Virgin Radio 95.3 violated the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ Code of Ethics.  On November 1, 2011, CKZZ-FM broadcast a prank telephone call without obtaining the consent of the recipient.  This failure to obtain consent violated Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics.

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

[1] CTV re an episode of The Shirley Show (CBSC Decision 93/94-0261, August 18, 1995); CFSK-TV (STV) re an episode of Friends (CBSC Decision 95/96-0159, December 16, 1997); TQS re Call TV (CBSC Decision 08/09-1834 & -1856, August 11, 2009); and CJSB-FM re a news report about an animal seizure (CBSC Decision 10/11-1293, October 31, 2011).

[2] CFMI-FM re Brother Jake Morning Show (Wake up Contests) (CBSC Decision 01/02-0875, January 14, 2003); CIKI-FM re a joke on Tout le monde debout (CBSC Decision 02/03-0358, July 17, 2003); CFNY-FM re a “Gay Jeff” segment on the Dean Blundell Show (CBSC Decision 08/09-0700, June 25, 2009); and CIHT-FM re a “Josie & The City” segment on The Morning Hot Tub (CBSC Decision 08/09-1628, June 25, 2009).

[3] CJKR-FM re a radio contest (Nude Bicycle Riding) (CBSC Decision 98/99-0476, November 18, 1999); CFMI-FM re offensive humour (Drug Tester) (CBSC Decision 00/01-0811, January 23, 2002); and CIKI-FM re a joke on Tout le monde debout (CBSC Decision 02/03-0358, July 17, 2003).

[4] CIQC-AM re Galganov in the Morning (Invasion of Privacy) (CBSC Decision 97/98-0509, August 14, 1998); CFTM-TV (TVA) re Tôt ou tard (CBSC Decision 00/01-1080, April 5, 2002); CIKI-FM re a joke on Tout le monde debout (CBSC Decision 02/03-0358, July 17, 2003); CJMS-AM re comments on two episodes of Le p’tit monde à Frenchie (CBSC Decision 04/05-0939, October 24, 2005); and CHMP-FM re a segment broadcast on Puisqu’il faut se lever (CBSC Decision 06/07-0607, April 7, 2008).

[5] TVA re a report broadcast on J.E. (CBSC Decision 00/01-0838, April 5, 2002); CIKI-FM re a joke on Tout le monde debout (CBSC Decision 02/03-0358, July 17, 2003); and CISS-FM re a recorded conversation regarding a phone-contest (CBSC Decision 03/04-0135, February 10, 2004).