Criticism of Pit-Bull Owners Not in Breach of Broadcast Code

Criticism of Pit-Bull Owners Not in Breach of Broadcast Code,
Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, July 16, 2008 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning a segment on the Michael Coren Show broadcast on CFRB, Toronto.  The subject of the segment was pit-bull attacks.  Coren recommended that all pit-bulls be killed and averred that all pit-bull owners were morons, trash or other choice epithets.  The CBSC’s Ontario Regional Panel concluded that the comments did not violate the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics.

The Michael Coren Show is an open-line talk show.  The topic of pit-bulls had been inspired by a recent attack on a retired couple in Whitby, Ontario.  Coren stated that “There is nothing positive that pit-bulls do” and that a solution to the attacks would be to “Round them up, put ’em all to sleep.”  He suggested that pit-bull owners are trying to maintain an image of “white trash, semi-criminal[s]” and joked that they also should be killed.  He spoke with callers, some of whom agreed with him and some of whom did not.

The CBSC received a complaint from a listener who was concerned that Coren disparaged pit-bull owners and advocated violence against them.  The Ontario Regional Panel examined the complaint under Clauses 6 and 9(a) of the CAB Code of Ethics which, respectively, require the proper presentation of comment and the avoidance of comments that sanction or promote violence.  The Panel concluded that the program did not violate either of those Code provisions.  The Panel stated that

it does not agree with the complainant’s assertion that the host was in fact “advocat[ing] to his listeners […] the killing of their owners [i.e. the owners of pit bulls].”  To understand the host’s position, it should be noted that, contextually speaking, he referred to the owners of pit-bulls uniformly as “cretins” or by the application of other equally derogatory designations.  […]  The Panel understands clearly the disrespect manifested by the host for pit-bull owners, but nothing in what it has reviewed leads them to believe in the slightest that he had any intention of advocating violence of any kind toward the owners of pit-bulls.

[…]

[Coren] favoured [pit-bulls] being put to sleep […].  In the view of the Panel, that was an opinion that Coren was entitled to air.  […]  The Panel cannot disagree with the complainant’s assertion that the host “tarred all owners of pit-bulls.”  The issue, though, is not whether Coren made such comments, but whether he was entitled to be as critical as he was.  […]  Bad taste, perhaps, but fundamentally reflective of an opinion that goes to the dog owners’ lifestyle choice, not to an innate human characteristic, such as gender, the colour of one’s skin or the like.  In the view of the Panel, the characterization was harsh but defensible (in terms of the Code).

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 685 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