Commercial Parody with an Aboriginal Theme not in Breach of Broadcast Standards, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, August 10, 2005 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning an advertising parody broadcast on CKTF-FM (Énergie 104.1, Gatineau) during the program Les Grandes Gueules on the subject of the television commercials for Lakota arthritis pain relief products, which feature an aboriginal spokesperson. The CBSC Quebec Regional Panel concluded that the sketch did not violate the Human Rights clause of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics.

The segment in question contained a mock interview with one of the program’s hosts posing as the spokesperson for the Lakota pain relief products. The other hosts questioned the “Lakota Indian” about his products. There were also references to eating “hot owl”, to his “fat barefoot wife” and to “that welfare bum with feathers”. A listener complained that the parody segment was discriminatory towards aboriginals.

The Quebec Panel examined the complaint under the Human Rights clause of the CAB Code of Ethics, which requires that broadcasters ensure that their programming does not contain any abusive or unduly discriminatory material which is based on race. Based on previous CBSC decisions, the Panel concluded that, although the sketch did present some stereotypical commentary regarding aboriginals, it was primarily a parody of the television commercials rather than an abusive attack on aboriginals as a group. The Panel made the following observations about the broadcast:

In the matter at hand, the Panel readily understands the offence found by the complainant in the expressions “B.S. à plume”, “grosse femme nu-pieds” and “on mange du hot hibou ce soir” [“welfare bum with feathers”, “fat barefoot wife” and “We’re having hot owl tonight” (translations)]; however, it does find equally that those comments parody the commercial rather than aboriginal people in general or even the individual in the commercial in particular. It recognizes that the television advertisement for the products has itself led the charge into the aboriginal cultural environment. That commercial has chosen to play up the association of the medicinal compound with the Lakota tribe and with nature. The Panel notes that the expression “hot owl” is a harmless link to the communion with nature represented by the entire Lakota approach to the advertised product. As to the expressions “fat barefoot wife” and “welfare bum with feathers”, the Panel readily concedes the rather tasteless choice of a satirical tool but it concludes that the parody only carries the theme established by the commercial itself to a logical, or perhaps ridiculous, extreme. While lightly stereotypical, in the view of the Panel, the expressions “fat barefoot wife” and “welfare bum with feathers” evoke more of the tickling, than the bludgeoning, approach. In terms of the [earlier] Méchants matins du monde decision, the skit laughed not at the Indians but at the commercial. […] This is not, in the view of the Panel, a breach of Clause 2 of the CAB Code of Ethics.

Canada’s private broadcasters have themselves created industry standards in the form of Codes on ethics, gender portrayal and television violence 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 practices first created by the Radio Television News Directors Association of Canada (RTNDA) in 1970.  More than 550 radio and television stations and specialty services from across Canada are members of the Council. 

– 30 –

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