Criticism of Government Program for Drug Addicts not Unfair, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, July 12, 2006 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning an episode of Bruce Allen’s Reality Check aired on CKNW (Vancouver) on September 8, 2005.  In the editorial segment, Allen criticized a government program designed to assist drug addicts.  The CBSC British Columbia Regional Panel concluded that the segment did not contain inappropriate remarks about drug addicts contrary to the Canadian Association of Broadcaster’s (CAB) Code of Ethics

CKNW broadcasts a daily editorial segment by Bruce Allen called Reality Check in which Allen provides his point of view on a recent news story.  In the September 8 segment, Allen complained about a government program which supports volunteers assisting drug addicts on Vancouver’s East Side to inject themselves.  Allen criticized this use of taxpayers’ money and stated “What’s the down side if these people [drug addicts] don’t get their fix?  They die?  Yeah, so?  Are we losing big contributors here?  […]  Kind of like driving around a car at a hundred kilometres an hour when the sign says fifty.  You take your chances, you reap the consequences.” 

A listener complained to the CBSC that this editorial “promoted hatred towards a disadvantaged group in our society, people with substance abuse problems.”  CKNW argued that Allen was simply stating his objection to the government program.  The B.C. Panel examined the complaint under the CAB Code of Ethics.  It noted that illegal drug addicts were not a protected identifiable group under the Human Rights clause of the Code.  The Panel then assessed whether Allen’s comments were unfair and improper under Clause 6 of the Code; it concluded that they were not, for the following reasons: 

[T]he B.C. Panel considers that the issue is policy-related and controversial, which certainly makes it fair game for editorial comment.  […]  The focus of the piece is on those who facilitate the drug addiction by helping those too “messed up” to inject themselves.

[…]

The Panel finds the opinion piece tough but entirely fair. 


Were the addicts and their guardian angels a fair target?  Yes.  Were they a proper target?  Yes.  Was the criticism over the top?  Perhaps, but only on the level of taste.  It may be that Bruce Allen used a medieval mace when stepping on the bug would have sufficed; however, the criticism of the program of benevolence did not constitute a breach of Clause 6 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 590 radio and 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