The Dean Blundell Show is the morning show on rock radio station CFNY-FM (102.1 The Edge, Toronto). It is hosted by Dean Blundell, Todd Shapiro and Derek Welsman and airs weekdays from 5:30 to 10:00 am. It contains news, traffic and weather updates, songs and banter between the hosts.
On September 15, 2011, at 6:33 am, the hosts discussed a news story about two people found hanging from a bridge in Mexico. The conversation was as follows:
Blundell: I was gonna save this story for, uh, – it’s a terrible story – save this story for, for The Edge Files, but it’s just too good. Uh, you know how in Mexico drug cartels take, like, they’re killin’ everybody? Choppin’ heads off, throwin’ ’em down the well? Two bodies, hanging like meat from a pedestrian bridge. A woman hog-tied and disemboweled and her intestines comin’ out.
Blundell: And then this other dude, same thing. He had his, he had his, he had his feet tied. He had his feet tied and he, his guts are hanging out and he’s, and, you know, [chuckles]. His right shoulder severed so deeply bone was visible. Signs left near the body declare the pair, both apparently in their 20s, were killed for posting denouncements on social network sites.
Shapiro: Oh wow. Regarding drugs?
Blundell: Yeah. Saying, oh, so, uh, you know, drug dealers, uh, you gotta stop it. So this is a, this is the sign and this is what it read: [affects Mexican accent] “This is going to happen to all those posting the funny things on the internet”. One sign says [affects Mexican accent] “You better f-ing pay attention ’cause we will get you.” And I thought, Jesus, someone hates Facebook more than me? [Blundell & Shapiro laugh] That’s pretty extreme. Facebook kills.
Shapiro: I don’t even want to be associated with this story. [Blundell & Shapiro laugh] You know? Good one, Dean.
Blundell: You just want to [???] we’ll make it all funny on air! [more laughter]
Shapiro: Dean, that was excellent. That story you brought up. That was great. You really took us by surprise there when you –
Blundell: Yeah, yeah, I know. Totally. Yeah, yeah.
Welsman: [?] talk about it.
Blundell: [affects Mexican accent] “I told you something. Facebook is so gay, they’re hanging people from the bridges in Mexico. Hey, guess who’s not single?” [laughter] “’Cause they’re dead! Status: Disemboweled.”
Shapiro: Yeah. [laughs]
Welsman: It’s complicated.
Blundell: [affects Mexican accent] “Dripping blood from the bridge. Hashtag, this sucks.” [all laugh] “I wish I would’ve stopped with the keyboard crap. Post these pics online.” [more laughter]
A listener complained to the CBSC on September 22. He complained that it was “entirely repugnant and disgusting” that the hosts had made jokes about the murder victims and that the conversation went on for a number of minutes. The station responded to the complainant on October 24. It agreed that the “discussion was graphic and unpleasant”, but argued that the “unpleasantness stemmed from the gruesomeness of the event itself”. The station stated that the hosts tried to “bring levity to the subject”, but acknowledged that not all listeners would have found it funny. The station did not, however, believe that the content violated any broadcast codes. The complainant filed his Ruling Request on November 15, indicating that he found CFNY-FM’s response “unacceptable” (the full text of all correspondence can be found in the Appendix).
The CBSC Ontario Regional Panel examined the complaint under the following provisions of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics:
Clause 6 – Full, Fair and Proper Presentation
It is recognized that the full, fair and proper presentation of news, opinion, comment and editorial is the prime and fundamental responsibility of each broadcaster. This principle shall apply to all radio and television programming, whether it relates to news, public affairs, magazine, talk, call-in, interview or other broadcasting formats in which news, opinion, comment or editorial may be expressed by broadcaster employees, their invited guests or callers.
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:
(a) Gratuitous violence in any form, or otherwise sanction, promote or glamorize violence;
The Panel Adjudicators read all of the correspondence and listened to the challenged segment. The Panel concludes that the broadcast is in breach of Clauses 6 and 9 of the CAB Code of Ethics.
Gratuitous & Improper Treatment of a Violent Act
Clause 9(a) of the CAB Code of Ethics prohibits “gratuitous violence in any form” as well as the sanction, promotion or glamorization of violence. The Panel finds that the content did not sanction, promote or glamorize the violent act described, but that it did constitute gratuitous violence under the Code. While the Panel considers that the hosts were fully entitled to discuss the murders in Mexico on the airwaves, it finds that the level of gruesome details provided about the state of the bodies was entirely unnecessary to the discussion, particularly given the flippant tone with which those descriptions were provided. That aspect of the broadcast was thus gratuitous and a violation of Clause 9(a).
In addition, the Panel observes that the hosts treated a serious, violent, tragic matter in a light-hearted manner. The broadcaster’s letter admitted that the hosts were trying to “bring levity” to the subject matter. These murders in Mexico were a real incident, involving real people and were related to a grave problem in Mexico regarding drugs and gang violence. While the CBSC does not wish to state that any humour about serious issues is always unacceptable, it does caution broadcasters to tread carefully when dealing with humour in this area. The CBSC has noted in previous decisions that using tragedy as a springboard for humour has the potential to violate the Code. 1 In the matter at hand, the Panel finds that the constant laughter on the part of the hosts and the multiple jokes about the murder victims demonstrated extreme insensitivity and went beyond mere poor taste. The Panel concludes that the content constitutes improper comment contrary to Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics.
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, the Panel itself disagreed strongly with the broadcaster’s point of view, but CFNY-FM nevertheless provided a thorough response to the complainant. The broadcaster fulfilled its obligations of responsiveness and nothing further is required in this regard in this instance.
Announcement of the Decision
CFNY-FM is required to: 1) announce the 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 during the time period in which the Dean Blundell Show was broadcast; 2) within the fourteen days following the broadcasts of the announcements, to provide written confirmation of the airing of the statement to the complainant who filed the Ruling Request; and 3) at that time, to provide the CBSC with a copy of 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 CFNY-FM The Edge violated the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ Code of Ethics in its broadcast of the Dean Blundell Show on September 15, 2011. The hosts joked about murders that had occurred in Mexico. They provided graphic details about the murders, contrary to Clause 9(a) of the CAB Code of Ethics. They also made light of the situation, contrary to Clause 6 of the Code.
This decision is a public document upon its release by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council.