CFEX-FM (X92.9 FM, Calgary) is an alternative rock music station. Marcello Palombi is one of the station’s weekend hosts. On October 2, 2011 at approximately 1:00 pm, he made the following comments:
Calgary’s new rock alternative X92.9. My name is Marcello. Now, you’ve probably heard about this. It was in the paper the other day. Uh, Crynos [sic, Cryos] International, the world’s largest sperm bank is now not accepting any more redhead donors. And, huh, I don’t know. Uh, uh, I don’t know. I’m not a ginger. I don’t have any, anything in my blood that even, that’s even close to ginger. And I don’t know how, if I was how’d I feel ’cause essentially this pretty much says that you’re part of a dying breed. You’re, you’re an endangered species, if you will. And I know it’s the whole “ew, gingers kind of freak me out” and everything like that, but, but not me really. I think, I think guys who are gingers freak me out. They really do. But I’m sort of that guy where it’s, like, you got a redhead girl and it’s kinda like “Hey, how’s it goin’? Can I buy you a drink?” Stuff like that. And even when you look at, like, celebrities. Like, I think that when it comes to redheads, women, like, female redheads are pretty hot. Like your Amy Adams, Christina Hendricks, Emma Stone when she was a redhead. Even your pre-cre, pre-crazy Lindsay Lohan was pretty hot as a redhead. It’s the guys that are kind of, like, if we could phase out all the male, male gingers, that would be great. You get rid of, like, you know, Ron Howard and Carrot Top and Shaun White ’cause those are the ones that really freak me out. But, uh, you know, if you’re a ginger, how do you, how do you feel about this? To be part of, like, you know, a dying breed. Let me know, 238-X929.
The CBSC received a complaint dated October 2 about the broadcast (the full text of all correspondence can be found in the Appendix). The complainant wrote that the comments about phasing out redheaded men were inappropriate and questioned whether it would have been acceptable had the comments been made about an ethnic group. The station responded to him on October 17. It stated that the host had not intended to attack anyone and that the station generally “uses a blend of sarcasm, humour and information” to attract its audience of 18- to 34-year olds. The complainant wrote back to the CBSC on November 4 stating that he was not satisfied with the broadcaster’s response because “they were basically saying that I’m not part of a group protected by your regulations (an ethnic group or disadvantaged person), so they have no need to be sorry.”
The CBSC Prairie Regional Panel examined the complaint under Clauses 2 and 6 of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics, which read as follows:
Clause 2 – Human Rights
Recognizing that every person has the right to full and equal recognition and to enjoy certain fundamental rights and freedoms, broadcasters shall ensure that their programming contains no abusive or unduly discriminatory material or comment which is based on matters of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status or physical or mental disability.
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.
The Panel of Adjudicators read all of the correspondence and listened to the broadcast in question. The Panel concludes that the station did not violate the CAB Code of Ethics.
In a previous decision, the CBSC determined that it would not extend the list of categories in Clause 2 of the CAB Code of Ethics to include hair colour. 1 Clause 2 (Human Rights) is, therefore, not directly applicable to this case. The CBSC can, however, apply the more general provision regarding the full, fair and proper presentation of news, opinion, comment and editorial found in Clause 6. In previous cases where the CBSC has been called upon to assess comments made about groups not covered by Clause 2, the CBSC has applied Clause 6 with some of the principles of Clause 2 in mind. That is to say, in order for it to consider comments unfair or improper under Clause 6, the CBSC will assess whether the comments are “abusive” or “unduly” negative against any particular group. 2
With respect to the comments made about redheaded men by Marcello Palombi, the Prairie Panel considers that they do not reach the level of a Code breach. The Panel recognizes that redheads are occasionally the subject of teasing, but that is a bigger societal issue outside the CBSC’s jurisdiction. The Panel must limit itself to an examination of the precise comments made on CFEX-FM. The Panel acknowledges that the comments were somewhat insulting towards redheaded males, but they were not said in a particularly harsh, nasty or mean-spirited way. The comment about phasing out male gingers and listing specific male redheaded celebrities to “get rid of” was in poor taste and it is always unfortunate when the airwaves are used to disparage others. The comments were not, however, so hateful or denigrating as to constitute a violation of Clause 6.
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, CFEX-FM provided a lengthy reply to the complainant, explaining why it felt no Code violation had occurred. 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.
2 See the following decisions for examples of cases where the CBSC has applied Clause 6 in this manner: CJMF-FM re the program L’heure de vérité avec André Arthur (CBSC Decision 99/00-0240, August 29, 2000); CKNW-AM re an episode of Bruce Allen’s Reality Check (CBSC Decision 05/06-0651, May 9, 2006); CFRB-AM re an episode of the Michael Coren Show (CBSC Decision 06/07-1428, April 14, 2008); and SRC re Bye Bye 2008 (CBSC Decision 08/09-0620+, March 17, 2009)