The Dean Blundell Show is CFNY-FM’s (102.1 The Edge, Toronto) morning show, which airs weekdays from 5:30 to 10:00 am. It contains the usual songs, news, traffic and weather updates, and banter between the hosts, Dean Blundell, Todd Shapiro and Derek Welsman. A recurring segment on the program is “The Edge Files” during which Blundell and his co-hosts read or describe unusual, absurd or disgusting news stories and comment on them.
On January 17, 2013, one of the “Edge Files” stories was about a case in the United States where a 17-year-old male died after getting stuck inside a rolled-up wrestling mat in his high school gymnasium. It appeared that he had crawled into an upright, rolled-up mat in order to retrieve his shoe, but had become stuck upside down in the mat and suffocated. Blundell read the news report, which identified the young man by name, and then commented that it was “proving once again, kids, wrestling is incredibly gay.” Blundell then proceeded to elaborate on why he thought wrestling was a “gay” sport: “You start on all fours, the guy gets right behind you like he’s getting ready to give you the old ram-rod [...] then you just jump on him and smother him with your privates. [...] And you gotta wear a unitard.”
Although the report read by Blundell did not even suggest that the deceased young man had himself participated in high school wrestling, Shapiro then suggested that “maybe [...] he crawled into that mat on purpose [because] he was uncomfortable with some of the things he had done the last few weeks in practice” to which Blundell responded “Yeah, like finger-hooked a couple dudes” and added “Yeah, not only is wrestling gay, it can kill you.”
Blundell went on to say that he had never wanted to wrestle in high school gym class because he did not want to “be rollin’ around, grabbin’ guys and grabbin’ their bums. [...] I know it’s one of the oldest sports in the world, but I’m sorry, homoerotic man-slinging is not a sport.” Shapiro then complained “You can’t even punch him [one’s opponent] in the face!” Blundell also provided the information that some men have been arrested for rape after participating in wrestling because “one of the moves is to stick your finger in some guy’s butt”. He concluded the segment with the statement to his audience, “Kids, if you’re on the wrestling team: quit. [...] It’s gay.” (The full transcript of the segment can be found in Appendix A.)
The CBSC received two complaints about this broadcast in January 2013 and both complainants filed their Ruling Requests. The complainants were concerned that the hosts had used the word “gay” with a derogatory connotation. More importantly, they had given the impression that young people should be ashamed if they engage in a “gay” sport or other homosexual activities and that it was understandable if the young man had wanted to commit suicide after doing so. They also suggested that Shapiro’s comment that a wrestler cannot even punch his opponent in the face condoned violence on the basis of sexual orientation as it implied that violence was a “normal” reaction to a display of homosexual interest. They characterized the entire exchange as “homophobic” and perpetuating stereotypes, and alleged that these types of “jokes” are irresponsible given the high rates of suicide among LGBT youth.
The station replied to the complainants on February 5, pointing out that the hosts’ comments had focused on their views about the sport of wrestling. Although they had used the word “gay”, the station did not believe that the comments violated any broadcast codes, particularly since the program is “intended to be a satirical, sarcastic and hopefully comedic perspective on ordinary and significant aspects of daily life”, rather than a news program. The complainants each filed a Ruling Request, reiterating their concerns and arguing that the segment had breached certain broadcast codes. (The full text of all correspondence can be found in Appendix B.)
The Ontario Regional Panel examined the complaints under the following provisions of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics, Equitable Portrayal Code and Violence 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 Violence Code, Article 7.0 – Violence Against Specific Groups
8.1 Broadcasters shall not telecast programming which sanctions, promotes or glamorizes violence based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, or mental or physical disability.
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.
CAB Equitable Portrayal Code, Clause 3 – Negative Portrayal
In an effort to ensure appropriate depictions of all individuals and groups, broadcasters shall refrain from airing unduly negative portrayals of persons with respect to race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, marital status or physical or mental disability. Negative portrayal can take many different forms, including (but not limited to) stereotyping, stigmatization and victimization, derision of myths, traditions or practices, degrading material, and exploitation.
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.
CAB Equitable Portrayal Code, Clause 7 – Degrading Material
Broadcasters shall avoid the airing of degrading material, whether reflected in words, sounds, images or by other means, which is based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, marital status or physical or mental disability.
CAB Equitable Portrayal Code, Clause 9 – Language & Terminology
Broadcasters shall be sensitive to, and avoid, the usage of derogatory or inappropriate language or terminology in references to individuals or groups based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, marital status or physical or mental disability.
- It is understood that language and terminology evolve over time. Some language and terminology may be inappropriate when used with respect to identifiable groups on the basis of their race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, marital status or physical or mental disability. Broadcasters shall remain vigilant with respect to the evolving appropriateness or inappropriateness of particular words and phrases, keeping in mind prevailing community standards.
CAB Equitable Portrayal Code, Clause 10 – Contextual Considerations
Broadcasts may fairly include material that would otherwise appear to breach one of the foregoing provisions in the following contextual circumstances:
b) Comedic, humorous or satirical usage: Although the comedic, humorous or satirical intention or nature of programming is not an absolute defence with respect to the proscriptions of this Code, it is understood that some comedic, humorous or satirical content, although discriminatory or stereotypical, may be light and relatively inoffensive, rather than abusive or unduly discriminatory;
The Panel Adjudicators read all of the correspondence and listened to the challenged segment. The Panel concludes that the broadcast violated Clauses 2 and 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics as well as Clauses 2, 3, 4 and 7 of the CAB Equitable Portrayal Code. It did not, however, violate Clause 9(a) of the CAB Code of Ethics, Article 7 of the CAB Violence Code or Clause 9 of the Equitable Portrayal Code.
Comments relating to Homosexuality
As mentioned above, the Panel Adjudicators listened to the segment, and read the relevant transcript, of “The Edge Files” concerning the accidental death of a 17-year-old young man that occurred in his high school gymnasium. What should have simply been a news item about an unfortunate incident, and remained so, was transformed into a flat-out attack against homosexuality in the exchange between Blundell and Shapiro. The pretext they used to launch into their diatribe was the fact that the youth in question was found in a rolled up exercise mat used for wrestling practice. They then launched into a full-scale assault on wrestling by associating wrestling with the development of homosexual tendencies among those who practice it. In their unbridled imaginations, they associated the moves involved in that sport with an array of sexual practices linked to homosexuality, rape and ultimately death.
The Panel Adjudicators find these comments, the full transcript of which is found in Appendix A, abusive and unduly discriminatory in violation of the provisions of Clause 2 of the CAB Code of Ethics and Clause 2 of the CAB Equitable Portrayal Code. In addition, these remarks constitute unduly negative stereotyping and degrading comments on the basis of sexual orientation, in violation of the provisions of Clauses 3, 4 and 7 of the CAB Equitable Portrayal Code. 1
While the station claimed that the hosts’ comments were meant to be satirical, humorous and sarcastic, the Panel Adjudicators do not in any way share that interpretation as they feel the tone was such that the comments could not even be considered as black humour and that in this case Clause 10(b) of the CAB Equitable Portrayal Code does not apply.
With respect to the issue of the use of the word “gay”, the Panel considers that it does not constitute, in and of itself, a violation of Clause 9 of the CAB Equitable Portrayal Code. 2
Finally, the Panel Adjudicators find that the comments quoted above do not constitute incitement of violence against homosexuals and therefore there is no violation of Clause 9(a) of the CAB Code of Ethics or of Article 7 of the CAB Violence Code. The comment to the effect that wrestlers cannot punch each other in the face constituted a criticism of the sport itself and not homosexuals.
As a general rule, Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics requires members to ensure the full, fair and proper presentation of news, opinion, comment and editorial. The Panel feels the comments made by Blundell and Shapiro were anything but fair and proper.
The two hosts did, in fact, trivialize the young 17-year-old’s tragic death, whom they did not hesitate to name on the air, while placing the burden of the disgrace of his own death squarely on his shoulders: “… and then you just jump on him and smother him with your privates. It’s what you do in wrestling. It’s what high school wrestling is. And now it’s led to a death. Let this be your lesson, kids” [emphasis added] and a few minutes later, “Yeah. He crawled in that mat on purpose. This kid […] realized that, ah, he was uncomfortable with some of the things he had done the last few weeks in practice”, and finally “Yeah, not only is wrestling gay, it can kill you” [emphasis added]. And, throughout this tawdry exchange, the hosts spluttered with laughter.
The Panel Adjudicators are of the opinion that the hosts went far beyond the limit in treating this tragedy in a thigh-slapping manner and that they therefore violated the provisions of Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics concerning the full, fair and proper presentation of news, opinion, comment and editorial. 3
The Panel notes that this is the third time that the hosts of this program on this station have breached Clause 2 of the CAB Code of Ethics and Clauses 2, 3, 4 and 7 of the CAB Equitable Portrayal Code within the reference period with respect to identifiable groups. CFNY-FM breached these very provisions in the following cases: CFNY-FM re a “Spencer the Cripple” segment on the Dean Blundell Show (decision released September 22, 2009), CFNY-FM re the Dean Blundell Show (Women at War) (decision released January 18, 2012) and CFNY-FM re the Dean Blundell Show (Females, Freezies & Halloween) (decision released May 24, 2012), contrary to the long-standing CBSC policy as outlined in the CBSC Manual for broadcaster members under the heading “Responsibilities of Membership”: “Broadcaster members which join the CBSC do so voluntarily and, by doing so, agree to (b) avoid the recurrence of any breach of the Codes which has previously been decided against them with respect to a particular program or series.”
Every case involved the program hosted by Blundell and Shapiro. It should be noted that the decision on “Women at War” had not yet been issued when the “Females, Freezies and Halloween” program was aired and that it did not, therefore, constitute a third breach of the CBSC-administered regulations.
Consequently, the broadcaster is required to provide, within 30 days of the release of this decision, a plan to the CBSC indicating how it will ensure that no other breaches of the provisions of the above-mentioned clauses occur at CFNY-FM. This plan must be acceptable to the CBSC and if the latter does not receive an acceptable plan by the given deadline, it will determine whether there is any reason for which CFNY-FM should be entitled to remain a member of the CBSC benefiting from the operation of the self-regulatory mechanism. 4
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 replies to the complainants, outlining its view of the broadcast. The broadcaster fulfilled its obligations of responsiveness with respect to these specific files. Aside from announcing the result of this decision in the terms set out below and submitting to the CBSC a course of action for rectifying its repetitive breaches as explained above, nothing further is required with respect to responsiveness in this file.
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, 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 CFNY-FM.
The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has found that CFNY-FM, 102.1 The Edge has breached the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ Code of Ethics and Equitable Portrayal Code in its broadcast of the Dean Blundell Show on January 17, 2013. The broadcast contained negative comments on the basis of sexual orientation contrary to Clause 2 of the Code of Ethics and Clauses 2, 3, 4 and 7 of the Equitable Portrayal Code. It contained improper comments about the death of an identified individual contrary to Clause 6 of the Code of Ethics.
This decision is a public document upon its release by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council.
2 CFNY-FM re the Dean Blundell Show (Females, Freezies & Halloween) (CBSC Decision 11/12-0380, May 24, 2012).
3 See the following CBSC decisions for similar situations: CIGL-FM re Announcer Comments (Pygmies) (CBSC Decision 02/03-0514, February 10, 2004); CFNY-FM re the Dean Blundell Show (Murders in Mexico) (CBSC Decision 11/12-0236, April 19, 2012).
4 The CBSC has taken this measure in some other previous cases. See: TQS re Faut le voir pour le croire (CBSC Decisions 99/00-0460 & 00/01-0123, August 29, 2000); Showcase Television re the movie Frankie Starlight (CBSC Decision 02/03-0682, January 30, 2004); CJAY-FM re Forbes and Friends (graphic discussion) (CBSC Decision 03/04-0157, April 16, 2004); TQS re the film Film de peur (CBSC Decision 02/03-0940, April 22, 2004); and CKAC-AM re an episode of Doc Mailloux (Childless by Choice) (CBSC Decision 05/06-1671, December 11, 2006).