Commentary on Hockey Hit Did Not Promote Violence, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, January 28, 2009 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning comments made on an episode of Prime Time Sports broadcast on Sportsnet Ontario on April 4, 2008.  The CBSC received a complaint that one of the commentators on the sports talk program had glorified violence.  The CBSC disagreed and found no breach of any broadcast code.

Prime Time Sports is a radio talk show that is also broadcast on the television specialty service Sportsnet Ontario.  On the April 4 episode, the commentators discussed the previous night’s NHL hockey game between the Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs, and, in particular, a hit by Mark Bell on Daniel Alfredsson.  When asked whether he thought it was a “dirty hit”, commentator Jim Kelley facetiously suggested that he “loved it”, was “waitin’ for his head to roll all the way down the ice” and “I thought maybe the two goalies would pick.  One guy could get the head, one could get the helmet and they could curl.”  He went on to say that it was a head blow, but such incidents would continue to be deemed a “legal hit” due to the “mindset” of the NHL on the issue.  In his view, such hits would continue to occur until such time as an injured player sued the NHL and won.

The CBSC received a complaint from a viewer who was concerned that Kelley’s remarks came “close to advocating violence” and “certainly glorifie[d] it”.  The National Specialty Services Panel examined the complaint under Clause 6 of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics regarding full, fair and proper presentation of opinion and comment, as well as Article 10.1 of the CAB Violence Code regarding violence in sports programming.  The Panel concluded that the commentary did not violate either Code provision.  It explained its reasoning in the following terms:

In the matter at hand, the mitigation was clearly present, within seconds of the original challenged words.  The commentator, Jim Kelley, was expressing his frustration with the sport, and with the fact that, until a player dies or the National Hockey League is successfully sued for billions of dollars, “you cannot change the mindset of hockey on this.”  The Panel is comfortable that anyone who listened to the 240 words of the entire comment would not likely have believed that Kelley loved the hit, as he began his observation.  Indeed, he did appear to the Panel to have hated the illegal elbow to the head.  It is fair to observe that he might have chosen less graphic language to make his point, but there is no breach resulting from that editorial choice.  In the end, the Panel believes that this was a strong anti-violence statement.

Canada’s private broadcasters have themselves created industry standards in the form of Codes on ethics, equitable portrayal, television violence and journalistic independence by which they expect the members of their profession will abide.  In 1990, they also created the CBSC, which is the self-regulatory body with the responsibility of administering those professional broadcast Codes, as well as the Code dealing with journalistic ethics created by the RTNDA – Association of Electronic Journalists in 1970.  More than 720 radio stations, satellite radio services, television stations and specialty services from across Canada are members of the Council.

 

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All CBSC decisions, Codes, links to members' and other web sites, and related information are available on the CBSC's website at www.cbsc.ca. For more information, please contact the CBSC National Chair, Mme Andrée Noël CBSC Executive Director, John MacNab