CANADIAN BROADCAST STANDARDS COUNCIL

ONTARIO REGIONAL PANEL

CFNY-FM re The Show with Dean Blundell

(CBSC Decision 01/02-0267)

Decided June 7, 2002

M. Ziniak (Vice-Chair), R. Cohen (ad hoc), M. Oldfield, J. Pungente and C. Reyes

THE FACTS

The Show with Dean Blundell is CFNY-FM's (Edge 102, Toronto) morning show which airs weekdays from 5:30-10:00 am. It features usual morning show fare, such as songs, contests, news, traffic and weather reports, and banter amongst the show's hosts, Dean, Danger, Todd and Tina (who was replacing the regular female host on the broadcast dates reviewed in connection with this adjudication). This banter includes discussions about pop culture, current events and unusual news stories, but often veers off into conversations and jokes containing sexual innuendo or double entendres as well as occasionally more explicit sexual details. The contests, which allow listeners to phone in and win prizes, also have a sexual component to them; for example the 'Ho' Renovations contest for which the broadcaster played audio clips from home renovation television programs and pornographic movies, challenging the caller to guess which was which.

The CBSC received the following complaint about the program in November 2001, which stated in part (the full text of all correspondence can be found in Appendix B):

I and a number of other people in the Toronto area would really appreciate it if you could review CFNY (FM 102.1)'s content policies. [The show's] content is based on pornography: contests involving pornography, DJs telling how and when they had sex and with whom and in what position ... graphic details involving anal sex (as part of a phone prank they insist on playing again and again) stories of men who's [sic] genitalia have been split or cut off or whatever else horrible, graphic things they choose to repeat on the radio, as well as an ongoing obsession with genitalia and what he apparently thinks women are good for (apparently only one thing) by the show host Dean Blondell [sic].

We would really appreciate it if you would assist them in cleaning up their act. [...] It makes many of us feel ill in the mornings, but there are no other alternative music radio stations to listen to.

The complainant sent a second letter a few weeks later, elaborating on her concerns:

[T]hey then proceeded to play the "HO' RENOVATIONS" contest, where callers have to listen to audio clips from porn movies and home renovations shows and guess which was which ... and then on to stories of how a man had his penis split in half, etc. as well as their obsession with people who walk down the street wearing jeans that are too tight revealing their genitalia through the fabric ... all in all very negative and hard on the stomach first thing in the morning.

Added on to this is the continuous harping on the theme that an intern 'Todd' is gay and sleeps around - he goes into detail of how he had sex with who [sic] and when ... and the general theme that apparently Dean Blondell [sic] does not apparently like women very much, views them as only good for one thing (blow jobs or something like that) and the amazing part is the guy is supposed to be a DJ playing alternative music but he doesn't even like (and says that he doesn't) much of the music that is played during his show and cannot contribute anything interesting as a commentary to the music. I mean, this is supposed to be an alternative music FM radio station!

The Program Director of Edge 102 responded to the complainant on December 18 with the following, in part:

As you know CFNY is an edgy, irreverent station that attracts its audience from a wide variety of listener backgrounds including young professionals, blue and white collar workers, looking for excitement in their drive to work in the morning. The Station's programs use a blend of sarcasm, humor and information and have been doing so for the past ten years, with a steadily growing audience. The Program you refer to in your e-mail is not merely a music program but features a combination of news, information, music, contests and caller participation.

In keeping with CFNY's general style, the Program featured a number of humourous items on the mornings you make reference to, including a conversation with a willing participant on the Program, an irate "motel lady". You will appreciate that any expletives in that discussion were bleeped out in a timely manner. Your e-mail also refers to a story about a man self-injuring his penis. You will recall that this unusual incident, which took place in a remote village in the Philippines, was widely reported in all media, including print and broadcast, and accordingly the incident was relayed to our listeners during the Program. In addition to this and other news stories, the Program also featured discussions on various topical issues, including sexual orientation. A contest called "Ho-Renovations" was also featured. In our view, at no time were these discussions, or the contest, exploitative, explicit or discriminatory or contrary to the Canadian Association of Broadcasters codes (the "Codes"), administered by the CBSC.

[...]

We regret that the Program offended you for that was not our intent. Please be assured that we take our responsibilities as a broadcaster very seriously and to that end work to ensure all our programming complies with the Broadcasting Act, the Radio Regulations and the Codes.

The complainant was unsatisfied with that response and submitted her Ruling Request on December 28.

THE DECISION

The Ontario Regional Panel examined the broadcasts under the following provisions of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters' (CAB) Code of Ethics:

CAB Code of Ethics, Clause 6 (paragraph 3):

It is recognized that the full, fair and proper presentation of news, opinion, comment and editorial is the prime and fundamental responsibility of the broadcast publisher.

CAB Code of Ethics, Clause 15 (Sex-Role Stereotyping):

Recognizing that stereotyping images can and do cause negative influences, it shall be the responsibility of broadcasters to exhibit, to the best of their ability, a conscious sensitivity to the problems related to sex-role stereotyping, by refraining from exploitation and by the reflection of the intellectual and emotional equality of both sexes in programming.

The Ontario Regional Panel reviewed all of the correspondence, as well as the tapes of the morning show broadcasts from November 5, 7 and 9, 2001. The Ontario Regional Panel concludes that certain comments and audio sketches containing sexually explicit content broadcast on The Show with Dean Blundell are in breach of Clause 6, paragraph 3 of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters' (CAB) Code of Ethics because they were inappropriate for broadcast at a time of day when children might have been listening. In the case of those jokes and comments that do not, in the Panel's view, exceed sexual innuendo, as well as those remarks made about men and women, the Panel finds no breach of any broadcaster Code on the basis that they relate to matters of taste alone.

Sexually Explicit Comments

This is not the first time that a CBSC Panel has had to deal with sexual comments broadcast on morning radio. In CHOM-FM and CILQ-FM re The Howard Stern Show (CBSC Decision 97/98-0001+, October 17-18, 1997), the Ontario and Quebec Regional Panels jointly concluded, and this for the first time, that Howard Stern's sexual discussions were inappropriate for broadcast at times when children could be listening. One of the dialogues cited in that decision involved Stern's graphic account of the family vacation on which his wife had forgot to bring her vibrators. The Panels stated:

[I]n the view of the Quebec and Ontario Regional Councils, descriptive opinion and comment such as that cited above regarding the sex life of Stern and his wife, details of which were broadcast during hours when children could be expected to be listening to radio is certainly not proper material for Canadian children. The Regional Councils also have no hesitation in concluding that Stern's language is not at all suitable at an hour when children could be expected to be listening to radio.

The same issue arose again with respect to another episode of the same program, dealing with a different sexual subject. In CILQ-FM re The Howard Stern Show (CBSC Decision 97/98-0487, -0488, -0504 and -0535, February 20, 1998), the Ontario Regional Panel elaborated on the unsuitability of such subject matter for children:

Unlike the other breaches found in this matter, which would remain breaches of the Codes involved at any time of the day or night, the suitability of subject matter for children is a time-related issue. The aspects of the Stern Shows treated under this heading are unsuitable by reason of their ready accessibility by children rather than by reason of their nature. While perhaps not either pleasant or of broad social value at a late evening hour, their broadcast would not be challenged at that hour.

[...]

The CBSC considers that the "proper presentation of [...] opinion [or] comment", in the case of children is a function of what is suitable for them and it remains the Council's view that the description of explicit sexual acts, abetted in these December and January episodes by explicit discussions of violent acts, constitutes improper comment and is in breach of Clause 6(3) of the Code of Ethics.

The British Columbia Regional Panel has more recently dealt with sexual content in CFMI-FM re Brother Jake Morning Show (CBSC Decision 00/01-0688, January 23, 2002). In that case, the B.C. Panel reviewed tapes of a morning show episode in which, among other things, one host gave an account of his previous night's sexual exploits. In the course of that dialogue he explained how he was "givin' it to her" on a workbench and "she's goin' nuts grabbin' my nuts". The episodes included other conversations and audio comedic sketches with sexually explicit material, such as a sketch of a woman crying out in the throes of passion "Oh, the tongue!" and "Oh, the finger!". The B.C. Panel found such material to be in breach of Clause 6, paragraph 3 of the CAB Code of Ethics due to its unsuitability for times of the day when children could be expected to be listening.

Not all comments of a sexual nature on that show were considered to be in violation of that clause; those considered by the Panel to be no more than sexual innuendo or double entendre were not viewed as sufficiently explicit to amount to a Code breach. Examples of such unproblematic comments included Jake's remark that he would like the female host to "hold my import"; euphemisms referring to masturbation; the hosts making fun of a newscaster for accidentally pronouncing the word "deck" as "dick"; and so on.

The Ontario Regional Panel finds the content of the program at hand to be very similar to that dealt with by the B.C. Panel in the case of the Brother Jake Morning Show. Of the comments or comedic sketches which were as problematic as those noted in the above-mentioned cases, one was the following conversation about Todd's date (the full dialogue of this and other examples can be found in Appendix A):

Todd: Uh, well yes, I was gonna say somethin' but I don't know if I can say it.

Dean: What?

Todd: Umm. Well. It was very windy that day.

Dean: There was some blowin'?

Todd: Yes. [All laugh]

Dean: Todd picks up this, this, we won't explain it to you because we don't want to leave you in the lurch. Todd picks up this girl who apparently, by all accounts, hated him when he was there being a male chauvinist pig.

[...]

Dean: Whatever. You go and get a couple of drinks. You go back to your place.

Todd: And, uh, yeah, things progressed in my bedroom quite nicely ... after my mom left.

[...]

Dean: Todd still lives at home. He had to shut the door to his house. He, she performs pleasures on him.

[...]

Dean: She, uh, fellated you within three hours of knowing her.

Todd: And it was awesome.

A few other conversations and segments also fell into this category, including a joking reference to one of the hosts having sex with his mother and other detailed conversations about the sex lives of the hosts and various celebrities. Consequently, the Panel concludes that some of the comments made on The Show were too sexually explicit for times of the day when children could be expected to be listening and thus in breach of the CAB Code of Ethics, Clause 6, paragraph 3.

With respect to the 'Ho' Renovations contest and other contests involving sexual material, the Panel finds that on the broadcast dates examined for this decision, the audio clips of pornographic movies and other like material fell on the boundary between sexually suggestive and sexually explicit. In those instances for which the Panel finds content to be "on the edge of acceptability", the CBSC has previously explained that it must "err on the side of freedom of speech." On November 5, 7 and 9 the audio clips from pornographic movies consisted, for example, of a woman giggling and saying "you're good at that" and a man asking a woman to say "I like it" in Swedish. The Panel considers that these particular clips were not so explicit as to amount to a breach of Clause 6, paragraph 3. Many other segments contained comments that, in the view of the Ontario Panel, do not amount to anything more than sexual innuendo or double entendre. Examples of these comments were referring to the weather as being "a little nipply outside"; jokes about a lesbian enjoying a movie called "Tip Toe Through My Tulips", performer Britney Spears requesting "wall-to-wall carpet" and other similar content where the sexual meaning was not immediately obvious. At worst, those comments are questions of taste, not giving rise to Code breaches (see "Matters of Taste" below).

Sex-Role Portrayal

In addition to her concerns over the sexually explicit content of The Show, the complainant raised the issue of sex-role portrayal in the following terms: "Dean Blondell [sic] does not apparently like women very much, views them as only good for one thing." While the Ontario Panel notes that there was considerable discussion about sex and relationships on each of the broadcast dates, the Panel members could find no remark which would lead them to conclude that the host's comments were in violation of the sex-role portrayal provisions. Whether the complainant is or is not correct in her assessment of Mr. Blundell's attitude towards women is irrelevant. The issue relates only to what was in fact said on the show. In this respect, the Panel found no basis to conclude that women were degraded or demeaned or otherwise portrayed more negatively than men. In the Panel's view, neither gender fares well on The Show with Dean Blundell.

The Panel supports the position taken by the B.C. Regional Panel in the Brother Jake Morning Show decision, which it finds is applicable here:

The comments were distasteful and inappropriate but not degrading or exploitative of either gender. The "sex on the workbench" discussion in particular was an unflattering description of an intimate act (vis-à-vis both genders), but the male host did not in any way directly insult the woman with whom he had had this experience. As the Prairie Panel said in CKX-TV re National Lampoon's Animal House (CBSC Decision 96/97-0104, December 16, 1997),

While the portrayal of the women in the film is not overly flattering, it cannot either be said that the portrayal of the men is any better or advantages them in any way. All in all, the presentation of almost every one of this group of young college people is as unflattering as one might expect from a film emphasizing the frivolous, narcissistic, often gross, occasionally disgusting portrait of college fraternity life which can best be characterised as high farce. The question of portrayal inequality does not come into play.

Another aspect of the sex-role portrayal issue relates to the discussions about men's and women's body parts. Two past CBSC decisions involving The Howard Stern Show have dealt with similar matters. The first was CHOM-FM and CILQ-FM re The Howard Stern Show (CBSC Decision 97/98-0001+, October 17-18, 1997) in which the Ontario and Quebec Regional Panels jointly found a breach of the CAB Code of Ethics and Sex-Role Portrayal Code. The Panels found that the host's unrelenting use of terms such as "pieces of ass", "dumb broads" and "sluts" was inappropriate, exploitative, degrading and unacceptable. The Panels also noted that Stern

frequently deals with female guests on the basis of their physical attributes and sexual practices rather than, or occasionally in addition to, the skills or talents which are the reason for their common recognition. In the case of callers, he regularly avoids the subject with respect to which they have called in order to seek details of their bust size and weight as well as their sexual practices, despite the fact that this information is utterly irrelevant to the subject of interest.

The conversational situations arising in The Show with Dean Blundell were more akin to those of the other Howard Stern Show decision, namely, CILQ-FM re The Howard Stern Show (CBSC Decision 99/00-0717 & -0739, June 28, 2001). In that case, this Panel did not find Stern's focus on the physical attributes of his guests in breach of any Code because

[the actresses and models] about whom the comments were made appeared on the show fully expecting to discuss those issues and not others from which they were distracted by the host. Where such comments have been problematic in past decisions, it has been because of the forcing of the discussion into areas neither anticipated nor desired by the women in question.

Although certain comments made by participants on The Show with Dean Blundell focussed on the body parts of both men and women, none was so focussed as to amount to a breach of the sex-role portrayal provisions in the broadcaster Codes. In one such exchange, the hosts were discussing a photograph of female singer Bif Naked on the inside of her CD:

Dean: New rock, Edge 102. Bif Naked, "Moment of Weakness". If you look inside that new album it's, uh, it's, makes me randy.

Tina: Her boob's hangin' out or somethin' like that?

Dean: Yeah. She's got, uh, ...

Danger: Well, it's hanging out.

Dean: ... her left hooter is hangin' out. It's pretty cool. It's really cool. She's taken all the metal out of her face, she looks good.

On another occasion they were remarking on co-worker Sandra's augmented breast size, the result of her recent pregnancy. Dean made jokes, such as asking her "How are they? I mean, how are you?", but Sandra obviously went along with the joke since she herself later stated that her breasts were so big that "they need a postal code". In neither instance were negative or degrading comments made. It must also be acknowledged that the women who were the subject of these remarks were willing participants: Bif Naked for choosing to put a revealing photo on her CD, no doubt in an attempt to be provocative; and Sandra for contributing to the jokes about the post-pregnancy increase in her bust size.

The Ontario Regional Panel consequently finds that the comments made about men and women are not in breach of any Code and rather fall into the category of matters of taste discussed immediately below.

Matters of Taste

Various CBSC Regional Panels have explained that there is no sanction for programming which may be in bad taste where that programming does not fall afoul of any specific Code provisions. As the Quebec and Ontario Regional Panels stated in CHOM-FM and CILQ-FM re The Howard Stern Show (CBSC Decision 97/98-0001+, October 17-18, 1997),

Many of the complaints received regarding The Howard Stern Show related to questions of taste. Stern was accused of being offensive, vulgar, adolescent, rude, unsuitable, outrageous, sick, tasteless and so on. [...] The Quebec and Ontario Regional Councils are, however, agreed that, under the present Codes, matters of taste must be left to be regulated by the marketplace. Such choices remain those of the listener. This is the time when the on/off switch is the listener's coping mechanism. Unless comments made by a broadcaster are of a nature to breach the provisions of one or more of the Codes, the CBSC will not judge them one way or the other.

Similarly, in CFMI-FM re the Brother Jake Morning Show (CBSC Decision 00/01-0688, January 23, 2002), the B.C. Panel made the following observations:

The B.C. Regional Panel views much of the content of the Brother Jake Morning Show as juvenile, sophomoric, locker room-style and in poor taste. The hosts frequently discuss and make jokes about masturbation, flatulence and bodily functions and engage in discussions about such matters as Jake in his boxer shorts, "blue angel" farts, and a 0-0 sports score as being "dog balls". Although potentially offensive to many listeners, in cases where such material is not sexually explicit, the Panel does not find it in breach of any broadcaster Codes.

The Ontario Panel considers the foregoing principles applicable to The Show with Dean Blundell. The segments involving sexual innuendo rather than explicit content must, at worst, be considered in bad taste, as well as the remarks about men and women noted above, the lengthy discussions about the "camel toe" phenomenon, jokes about Todd being a "couch humper", insinuations that Todd is gay, and so on. For these sketches and comments considered by some listeners to be in bad taste, the solution must be limited to the on/off switch.

Broadcaster Responsiveness

In all CBSC decisions, the Regional Panels assess the broadcaster's responsiveness to the complainant. Although the broadcaster need not agree with the complainant, it is expected that its representatives charged with replying to complaints will address the complainant's concerns in a thorough and respectful manner. In this case, the Panel finds that the broadcaster's response was, in this regard, entirely appropriate in that it addressed the specific points brought up by the complainant. The Panel considers that CFNY-FM has met its responsiveness responsibilities of CBSC membership.

ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE DECISION

CFNY-FM is required to: 1) announce this 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 in the time period in which The Show with Dean Blundell is broadcast; 2) within fourteen days following the broadcast of the announcements, to provide written confirmation of the airing of the announcements to the complainant who filed the Ruling Request; and 3) at that time, to provide the CBSC with that written confirmation and with air check copies of the broadcasts of the two announcements which must be made by CFNY-FM.

The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has found that, in its broadcast of episodes of The Show with Dean Blundell on November 5, 7 and 9, 2001, CFNY-FM has breached the Canadian Association of Broadcasters Code of Ethics. Those episodes included sexually explicit material which was broadcast at times of the day when children could be expected to be listening contrary to Clause 6, paragraph 3 of the Code of Ethics which requires that broadcasters ensure the proper presentation of opinion and comment.

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