It’s Your Call is a Christian call-in program which is broadcast Monday through Saturday on CITS-TV (CTS Ontario) from 1:00 to 2:30 am. The program is usually hosted by Pastor Robert Melnichuk, but occasionally a guest host replaces him. In each episode, the host presents a topic of discussion and invites viewers to share their opinions via telephone, e-mail or posting to the program’s Facebook page. The host offers his opinion from a Christian perspective and occasionally speaks to guest experts.
The CBSC received complaints from two separate individuals who argued that the program contains discriminatory comments on the basis of sexual orientation. Between the two complainants, they identified six specific episodes that concerned them and which the CBSC was able to examine: July 4, 5, 6 and 28, 2011; October 29, 2011; and February 3, 2012. The CBSC observed that the July 6 episode did not contain any material that raised any issues under the broadcast codes.
The topics discussed on those episodes were: are Christians hypocritical for publicly denouncing homosexuality and ignoring other issues considered sins in the Bible?; are Jesus’ teachings hateful, particularly with respect to sexual orientation?; the debate about conversion/reparative therapy by which people can allegedly change their sexual orientation; the new “Equitable and Inclusive” components of the curriculum of the Toronto District School Board (TDSB); and is sexual orientation a choice?
The host accepted telephone calls and internet messages from individuals with a wide variety of views on each of the topics, including from people who disagreed with him. Melnichuk treated all callers in a respectful manner regardless of their views. He also occasionally showed video clips from other media outlets in order to provide background and illustrate his topic, such as a report from The Christian Broadcasting Network about a Christian counsellor in Britain who was facing disciplinary proceedings after trying to help a gay man who had said he wanted to convert to heterosexuality.
In the context of the various discussions, comments were made about homosexuals, such as that they force their “hidden agenda” on societal institutions, “try to indoctrinate children” in a manner “almost like Nazi brainwashing”, they “rape straight boys”, that acceptance of homosexuals can be “destructive” towards society. One caller even mentioned an alleged case of a “bisexual cross-dresser” who had brutally murdered a man and had sex with the body. The caller suggested that the entire homosexual community is prone to this type of behaviour that specifically targets straight people in a violent manner.
Changes to the TDSB school curriculum was the subject of the October 29 episode (which was hosted by guest host Crystal Lavallee), but it was also raised briefly in some of the other episodes. In those discussions, the hosts and callers made assertions about there being a gay “agenda” to “promote” homosexuality and teach children how to be homosexuals. For example, Lavallee asserted that schools are “forcing” children in grade 2 to look at images from gay pride parades and to learn about orgies and sado-masochism. She also stated that “kids as young as grade 3 are learning about anal sex.” At one point in that episode, a caller asked Lavallee whether she had actually read the curriculum document to which she was referring. He indicated that he had read all 208 pages and proceeded to quote from it to reveal “what actually is being said about the grade 3 curriculum”, namely, the promotion of tolerance of individual differences. He admonished Lavallee with the statement “There is not anal sex in the grade 3 curriculum! That is just utterly wrong and [...] you’re inciting [sic] something that is not there!” In response, Lavallee argued that it is not just what is in the document that is important, but how the guidelines are actually put into practice in classrooms. In another exchange, for example, a caller stated that the American Pediatric Association has said that “just by talking about homosexuality and transgenderism, [...] it can damage children’s brains”. (More complete descriptions and transcriptions of the content of all episodes can be found in Appendix A.)
In its responses to the complainants, CTS explained that it is a religious station and therefore some of its programming presents Christian Biblical teachings and beliefs. CTS noted that calls were accepted from viewers with a variety of perspectives, including those that disagreed with the host. CTS wrote that it did not believe that it had violated any regulations or Codes in its broadcasts of It’s Your Call. CTS did, however, acknowledged that guest host Lavallee “was not as prepared as she should have been” and, at some moments in the program, “viewers do not have their facts correct with respect to the curriculum”. The station indicated that the guest host would not return to the program until the producers “are comfortable with her understanding of our concerns.”
The two complainants filed their Ruling Requests, indicating their dissatisfaction with the broadcaster’s responses and reiterating their views that the programs contained anti-gay material. (The full text of all correspondence can be found in Appendix B).
The Ontario Regional Panel examined the complaints under the following clauses 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 8 – Religious Programming
Broadcasters should endeavour to make available to the community adequate opportunity for presentation of religious messages and should also endeavour to assist in all ways open to them the furtherance of religious activities in the community. Recognizing the purpose of the religious broadcast to be that of promoting the spiritual harmony and understanding of humanity and of administering broadly to the varied religious needs of the community, it shall be the responsibility of each broadcaster to ensure that its religious broadcasts, which reach persons of all creeds and races simultaneously, shall not be used to convey attacks upon another race or religion.
CAB Equitable Portrayal Code, Clause 2 – Human Rights
Recognizing that every person has the right to the full enjoyment of 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.
The Panel Adjudicators read all of the correspondence and viewed the challenged episodes. The Panel concludes that CTS violated all of the aforementioned Code articles.
Abusive or Unduly Discriminatory Comments & Conveying Attacks on the Basis of Sexual Orientation
The CBSC has acknowledged in previous decisions that program participants are entitled to discuss the issue of sexual orientation from a Christian perspective and to declare homosexuality a sin. 1 At the same time, however, comments that reach the level of abusive or unduly discriminatory material are prohibited under the Human Rights clauses of the CAB Code of Ethics and Equitable Portrayal Code. Examples of content that was found to violate these Codes in previous decisions include the following: allegations of an insidious gay agenda whereby homosexuals “recruit”, “indoctrinate” or “brainwash” children; 2 characterizations of homosexuals as “sick”, “demented”, “dysfunctional”, “deviant”; 3 references to homosexuals being “devils”; 4 a comment about killing homosexuals; 5 allegations that homosexuals are responsible for the spread of disease and that they have an “insatiable appetite” for sex with children. 6
In the present case, the Ontario Regional Panel finds that some of the comments made on the various episodes of It’s Your Call likewise crossed the line and constituted breaches of Clause 2 of the CAB Code of Ethics and CAB Equitable Portrayal Code. Again, comments about a malevolent gay “agenda”, references to “recruiting” and “brainwashing” children, implications that all homosexuals are likely to commit rape and other violent crimes, and comments of a similar nature were abusive and unduly discriminatory. The comments were made either by the hosts themselves or by callers and the hosts then made no attempts to refute or temper the remarks.
While the last sentence of Clause 8 of the CAB Code of Ethics states that religious programs shall not be used to convey attacks on other races or religions, the CBSC has extended that clause to apply not just to “races and religions”, but to all of the categories of identifiable groups listed in Clause 2 of that Code. 7 In this case, then, the CBSC finds that the negative comments about homosexuals outlined above also constituted an attack on a group on the basis of sexual orientation, contrary to Clause 8.
The Panel notes that the above findings apply to the episodes of July 4, 5, 28 and October 29, 2011. The February 3, 2012 episode contained discussions about homosexuality, but did not abuse, discriminate against, or attack that group.
Full, Fair and Proper Presentation of Information in Talk Shows
Talk and information program participants have a wide latitude to express their opinions, however strong, provocative or unpopular those opinions may be. The factual information presented to support those opinions, however, must be accurate. The CBSC has consistently applied Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics to address matters relating to the accuracy of information presented in talk shows of a variety of types, including religious talk shows. 8
For example, in one previous decision, the CBSC found that the host of a religious program made misleading and inaccurate statements about (among other topics) proposed changes to the Ontario school curriculum when he claimed that it was designed to teach young children homosexual practices when the wording of the relevant document explained that it was designed to teach tolerance. 9 The Ontario Panel notes that the hosts and callers of It’s Your Call made similar comments regarding school curriculum. The Panel finds that allegations about the new curriculum being designed to teach children “how to” be homosexual and about teaching practices such as anal sex to children as young as grade 3 are simply erroneous. The episodes also contained other misleading or inaccurate information about topics such as statements made by professional medical associations and what is agreed upon as “scientific fact”. These constitute incomplete, unfair and improper information contrary to Clause 6.
In all CBSC decisions, the Panels assess the broadcaster’s response to the complainant(s). The broadcaster need not agree with the complainant’s position, but it must respond in a courteous, thoughtful and thorough manner. In this case, CTS provided multiple replies to each of the complainants, which addressed their specific concerns about the various episodes. It also acknowledged that the guest host on the October 29 episode had not handled the controversial topic as well as expected and would not host the program again until such time as CTS was satisfied that she was aware of the requirements. The Ontario Panel appreciates that recognition and action by CTS. The broadcaster more than adequately fulfilled its obligations of responsiveness and nothing further is required in this regard in this instance.
Announcement of the Decision
CITS-TV is required to: 1) announce the decision, in the following terms, once during prime time 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 It’s Your Call was broadcast, but not on the same day as the first mandated announcement; 2) within the fourteen days following the broadcasts of the announcements, to provide written confirmation of the airing of the statement to the complainants who filed the Ruling Requests; 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 CITS-TV.
The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has found that CTS violated the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ Code of Ethics and Equitable Portrayal Code in its broadcasts of It’s Your Call on July 4, July 5, July 28 and October 29, 2011. The episodes contained abusive and unduly discriminatory comments on the basis of sexual orientation contrary to Clause 2 of CAB Equitable Portrayal Code and Clauses 2 and 8 of the CAB Code of Ethics. They also presented misinformation contrary to Clause 6 of the Code of Ethics.
This decision is a public document upon its release by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council.
1 CHCH-TV re Life Today with James Robison (CBSC Decision 95/96-0128, April 30, 1996); CJCH-AM re The Laura Schlessinger Show (CBSC Decision 99/00-0652, February 14, 2001); and CFYI-AM re Focus on the Family (CBSC Decision 99/00-0724, June 28, 2001)
2 CKRD-AM re Focus on the Family (CBSC Decision 96/97-0155, December 16, 1997); and CITS-TV (CTS) re John Hagee Today (“Diamonds for Successful Living”) (CBSC Decision 04/05-0177, April 19, 2005)
3 CJRQ-FM re Opinion Poll (CBSC Decision 94/95-0135, March 26, 1996); CFYI-AM and CJCH-AM re the Dr. Laura Schlessinger Show (CBSC Decision 99/00-0005+, February 9 & 15, 2000); and CKYE-FM re an episode of the Harjinder Thind Show (CBSC Decision 07/08-1229, October 23, 2008)
5 OMNI.1 re an episode of the Jimmy Swaggart Telecast (CBSC Decision 04/05-0097, April 19, 2005)
7 Vision TV re an episode of Power Today (CBSC Decision 01/02-0617, September 13, 2002); CITS-TV (CTS) re John Hagee Today (“Diamonds for Successful Living”) (CBSC Decision 04/05-0177, April 19, 2005); OMNI.1 re an episode of the Jimmy Swaggart Telecast (CBSC Decision 04/05-0097, April 19, 2005); and CITS-TV re Word.ca and Word TV (CBSC Decision 08/09-2142 & 09/10-0383+, June 22, 2010)
8 CKTB-AM re The John Michael Show (CBSC Decision 92/93-0170, February 15, 1994); CILQ-FM re John Derringer’s “Tool of the Day” (CBSC Decision 02/03-1465, February 10, 2004); CFRA-AM re an episode of the Lowell Green Show (the Qur’an) (CBSC Decision 05/06-1380, May 18, 2006); CHRB-AM (AM 1140) re an episode of Freedom Radio Network (CBSC Decision 05/06-1959, January 9, 2007); CITS-TV re Word.ca and Word TV (CBSC Decision 08/09-2142 & 09/10-0383+, June 22, 2010); CHOI-FM re Dupont le midi (community organizations) (CBSC Decision 08/09-1506, September 23, 2010); CHOI-FM re Maurais Live (government agency training) (CBSC Decision 09/10-1564, January 25, 2011); Sun News Network re The Source (Edmonton Artists’ Housing) (CBSC Decision 10/11-2102 & -2124, March 28, 2012)