The Biggs & Barr Show is the morning show on rock radio station CHTZ-FM (97.7 Htz FM, St. Catharine’s, Ontario). It airs weekdays from 6:00 to 10:00 am and is hosted by Chris Biggs and Jason Barr and their co-host “Pasty Jamie”. The show features the usual traffic, news and weather updates, songs and banter between the hosts. A recurring contest on the program is “The Evil that People Do”. Listeners call in to recount stories of mean things they have done and the hosts award a prize for the “best” one.
On August 26, 2011, at approximately 8:30 am, a caller named Bob described how he had “shoved a couple of hits of acid” down his neighbour’s cat’s throat (a transcript of the segment can be found in Appendix A). Bob explained that his own dog had become very ill after eating chicken fat that someone had placed outside. Bob suspected his neighbour as the culprit so gave the cat acid as an act of revenge. Biggs and Barr asked Bob if the cat was okay. Bob replied that the cat had acted crazy for a few hours but was otherwise fine. The hosts and caller laughed about the incident. Bob insisted, however, that the incident had taken place “back when I was younger and foolish”, and the show hosts repeatedly stated that they did not condone giving drugs to cats, so for that reason they did not award the contest prize to Bob.
On September 5, the CBSC received a complaint about the broadcast (the full text of the complaint and all other correspondence can be found in Appendix B). A listener complained that the program participants had laughed about the incident and the station should not have been allowed to promote cruelty to animals in this manner. He was under the mistaken impression that Bob had won the contest. Htz FM responded to the complainant on October 3. The station clarified that Bob had not won the prize; it had in fact been awarded to the previous caller. It pointed out that the “hosts also commented several times that the caller’s behaviour was not something that the hosts condoned, nor would they advise treating any animal in such a fashion”. The complainant was not satisfied with the broadcaster’s response and filed his Ruling Request on October 7.
The CBSC Ontario Regional Panel examined the complaint under the following provisions of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics and Violence Code:
CAB Code of Ethics, Clause 9 – Radio Broadcasting
Recognizing that radio is a local medium and, consequently, reflective of local community standards, programming broadcast on a local radio station shall take into consideration the generally recognized access to programming content available in the market, the demographic composition of the station’s audience, and the station’s format. Within this context, particular care shall be taken by radio broadcasters to ensure that programming on their stations does not contain:
- Gratuitous violence in any form, or otherwise sanction, promote or glamorize violence;
CAB Violence Code, Article 9.0 – Violence Against Animals
9.1 Broadcasters shall not telecast programming which sanctions, promotes or glamorizes violence against animals.
The Panel Adjudicators read all of the correspondence and listened to the segment in question. The Panel concludes that the station did not violate either of those Code provisions.
Violence against Animals in Radio Broadcasting
Although the CAB Violence Code was originally created for television broadcasting, the CBSC has extended it to apply to radio programming as well, 1 particularly in cases where some of the more specific provisions of the Code are applicable, such as Violence against Animals in this case. Clause 9(a) of the CAB Code of Ethics also deals with violence on radio in general terms, so it is also applicable in this case.
Although the hosts did laugh about Bob giving the cat hits of acid, Bob claimed that the cat had ultimately been unharmed. Moreover, the hosts did repeatedly state that they did not condone Bob’s behaviour and, contrary to the complainant’s recollection, they did not award Bob the prize for the “best” story. The Panel finds that the conversation and laughter regarding Bob’s story was in very poor taste, but that it did not sanction, promote or glamorize violence against animals. 2 CHTZ-FM did not violate Clause 9(a) of the CAB Code of Ethics or Article 9.1 of the CAB Violence Code.
In all CBSC decisions, the Panels assess the broadcaster’s response to the complainant. The broadcaster need not agree with the complainant’s position, but it must respond in a courteous, thoughtful and thorough manner. In this case, CHTZ-FM provided a lengthy reply to the complainant, outlining its view of the segment. The broadcaster fulfilled its obligations of responsiveness and nothing further is required in this regard in this instance.
This decision is a public document upon its release by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council. It may be reported, announced or read by the station against which the complaint had originally been made; however, in the case of a favourable decision, the station is under no obligation to announce the result.