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.
A recurring contest on the program is entitled “Wha’ Happened?” Callers are invited to telephone the show and recount stories of unusual or unbelievable things that happened to them. The hosts then choose the “best” story and award that caller a prize.
On December 5, 2011, between 7:00 and 8:00 am, a caller named Al telephoned to participate in the “Wha’ Happened?” contest. In an animated manner and using very colloquial speech, he described how, the previous night, he had hit a female pedestrian with his truck. The woman had survived, but was injured and had to be taken to hospital in an ambulance. According to Al’s account, a “Newfie lady [...] comes bookin’ across the intersection, ran right across and I had no time to stop” so he hit her with his “big monster truck”. He speculated that the woman “had a little bit of the Screech into her”. The caller described the woman’s injuries as “blood coming out of the back of her head and stuff”. He insisted that he had been driving at less than 10 kilometres an hour, but had he been going any faster, he “would’ve squished her like a frog!” He also described how he and some bystanders had had to chase after the woman’s two dogs “like a comedy act”. He described the experience as “trippy” and “freaky” and expressed surprise that the police had not charged him with anything. At various points in Al’s story, the hosts laughed. They then awarded Al the prize for the best story, which was a $100 gift card for a fast food restaurant as well as tickets to multiple different rock concerts. (A complete transcript of the conversation can be found in Appendix A.)
The CBSC received a complaint about the segment on December 6 from a woman who identified herself as a friend of the accident victim’s daughter. She complained that the segment humiliated and slandered an innocent pedestrian. She asserted that the hosts should not have laughed at the story and encouraged Al to provide more details and especially should not have rewarded Al for what he did. She commented that Blundell and his co-hosts “shut down people and are rude to people all the time, but the one time they should be stopping someone and censoring what they are airing, they allow the man to continue on, adding to his pride and evident lack of remorse.” The station replied to the complainant on December 26. The station agreed that there were aspects of the segment which were “regrettable”, but pointed out that “the hosts were not supportive of the accident itself; rather, they were taken aback by the absurdity of the caller’s story.” The station also indicated that it had not intended to leave the listener with the impression that the hosts were trivializing the incident. The complainant submitted her Ruling Request on December 30. She wrote that it seemed that the station defended the hosts for “their inappropriate on-air behaviour” and that she was “still uncertain as to why there was a prize awarded to an individual who should be penalized for his actions, not awarded for his heroic assault on a pedestrian”. She argued that “I do not find laughter to be a sign of someone being ‘stunned’ or ‘taken aback’ and I’m certain that the caller did not either.” The CBSC actually received a total of 18 complaints about the broadcast, but this complainant was the only one who filed a Ruling Request. (The full text of all correspondence related to this file can be found in Appendix B.)
The CBSC Ontario Regional Panel examined the complaint under the following provisions of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics and Equitable Portrayal Code:
CAB Code of Ethics, 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.
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.
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 Equitable Portrayal Code, 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, gender, sexual orientation, marital status or physical or mental disability.
CAB Equitable Portrayal Code, Clause 4 - Stereotyping
Recognizing that stereotyping is a form of generalization that is frequently simplistic, belittling, hurtful or prejudicial, while being unreflective of the complexity of the group being stereotyped, broadcasters shall ensure that their programming contains no unduly negative stereotypical material or comment which is based on matters of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, marital status or physical or mental disability.
The Panel Adjudicators read all of the correspondence and listened to the broadcast in question. The Panel concludes that CFNY-FM did not violate any of the aforementioned Code provisions.
Comments about the Victim’s Origins
The comments on the origins of the victim were almost all made by the listener who called in to relay his story. He mentioned on two occasions that he had hit a Newfie lady who, in his opinion, had imbibed a bit of Screech. At the very end, however, host Shapiro added with respect to the victim, “Some Newfie”. The Panel listened to the audio segment at issue and read the transcript of that segment. It concluded that although the references to the victim’s province of origin and to the fact that she may have consumed some Screech were discriminatory, none of the comments made by the caller or the hosts incited hatred or contempt, nor were they derogatory towards the inhabitants of Newfoundland and Labrador and that they were therefore not in breach of Clause 2 of the CAB Code of Ethics or Clauses 2 and 4 of the CAB Equitable Portrayal Code.
Use of Humour to Describe Dramatic Situations, and Content that Sanctions, Promotes or Glamorizes Violence
The Panel Adjudicators then turned their attention to the tone used by the hosts and the caller to describe the situation. They concluded that rather than amounting to a flippant approach to tragic events, the bantering tone of the hosts and their laughter had been elicited by the bizarre nature of the incident (i.e., the lady knocked over by the driver was more concerned about her two dogs than for herself; the witnesses running to catch the dogs; and the police officer who concluded that if the driver had been going at more than ten kilometres per hour, he would have run over the woman and not just hit her, which was the reason why he did not charge the driver).
The Panel also concluded that awarding the prize for the best story of that morning to this caller, albeit the tragic circumstances in which it unfolded, did not in itself constitute content that sanctions, promotes or glamorizes violence, and that while it was on the fringe of what is acceptable, it did not breach Clauses 6 and 9 (a) 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, CFNY-FM provided a reply to the complainant, explaining its position and acknowledging that the segment did contain some questionable moments. 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.