CANADIAN BROADCAST STANDARDS COUNCIL

national specialty services Panel

Sun News Network re The Source (Theft Ring)

CBSC Decision 12/13-0069+

Issued September 9, 2013

D. Ish (Chair, ad hoc), G. Bonin (ad hoc),
D. Braun (ad hoc), F. Niemi, R. Waksman, C. Sephton

 

THE FACTS

The Source with Ezra Levant is a political discussion program.  Levant provides his opinions on various news stories, political events and current affairs.  At the beginning of each episode, he does a monologue about one of his chosen topics.  The program airs weekdays from 5:00-6:00 pm Eastern time and is rebroadcasted from 10:00-11:00 pm.

On September 5, 2012, Levant’s monologue was about the recent arrest of a group of individuals who were allegedly involved in a theft ring.  Apparently all of the accused were of “Gypsy” heritage.  The captions “The Jew vs The Gypsies” and “Gypsy Crime in Canada” appeared on screen while Levant made the following comments:

But these are Gypsies, a culture synonymous with swindlers.  [...]  Well, the Gypsies have gypped us.  Too many have come here as false refugees.  And they come here to gyp us again, to rob us blind as they have done in Europe for centuries.  Well, I warned you.  [...]  Now let me stop before you blow your hate crime whistle at me for saying “Gypsy” or “gypped”.  See, political correctness, saying euphemisms like calling them “Roma” instead of “Gypsy”, or, as the BBC calls them “Travellers”.  Now, the point of that is to obscure the truth.  Look, they’re Gypsies and one of the central characteristics of that culture is that their chief economy is theft and begging.  Sorry, it’s true.  [...]  Being Gypsy isn’t like being Black or gay or being a woman or even Romanian where many Gypsies come from.  [...]  Being a Gypsy is a positive choice, like being a Blood or a Crip.  Like joining the Cosa Nostra.  For centuries, these roving highway gangs have mocked the law and robbed their way across Europe.  Now, because of our broken refugee system, they’re here in Canada by the thousands and they’ve brought a Gypsy crime wave with them.

He listed the names of some of the people arrested and the criminal charges against each.  He also mentioned that a number of Gypsies in Canada were investigated for fraudulent refugee claims.  (A full transcript of the monologue can be found in Appendix A.)

After receiving numerous complaints about this broadcast, Sun News Network aired the following statement.  The text appeared on screen and it was read in voice-over:

Two weeks ago on the Sun News program The Source we looked at the issue of Canadian refugee claims by the Roma people.

Following the broadcast we received a number of complaints from viewers who felt the broadcast reinforced negative stereotypes about the Roma people.  We have completed a review of the material and we agree that this content was inappropriate and should not have gone to air.

It was not the intent of Sun News, or anyone employed by Sun News, to promote negative stereotypes about the Roma people.

We regret our error in these broadcasts, and we apologize unreservedly to the Roma people and to you, our viewers.

Sun News is on your side.

The CBSC received a total of 38 complaints about this broadcast throughout September and October 2012.  Of those, 12 complainants were eligible to pursue their complaints (the others either did not provide enough information for the CBSC to proceed or had only heard about the situation after the original broadcast).  All of the complainants asserted that the Sun News Network broadcast had stereotyped, stigmatized, degraded, discriminated against and otherwise presented an unduly negative portrayal of Gypsies by alleging that all Gypsies are criminals.  The complainants noted that Gypsies are considered an ethnic group, contrary to Levant’s contention that they are not.  One complainant also argued that the word “Gypsy” itself is offensive and that “Roma” is the more appropriate term.

Sun News Network responded to all complainants with a letter in which it agreed that Levant’s monologue should not have been broadcast and provided the text of the September 17 on-air apology.  Of the 12 complainants eligible to request a CBSC ruling, three did so, expressing their dissatisfaction with Sun’s response.  (The full text of all correspondence can be found in Appendix B.)

On March 18, 2013, Levant himself made the following statement at the beginning of his program (the full transcript of this monologue is in Appendix A):

[...] I let it rip against crime and immigration fraud and, for the most part, it was just a pretty good rant.  The kind I love to do, poking fun at the Gypsies who had been arrested and even poking fun at myself as a Jew.  There were some criticisms afterward, but I dismissed them as coming from the usual soft-on-crime liberals and grievance groups.  But when I look at some of the words I used last summer, like “the Gypsies have gypped us”, I gotta admit that I did more than just attack a crime or immigration fraud problem.  I attacked a particular group and I painted them all with the same brush.  And to those I hurt, I’m sorry.  As a Canadian citizen and a journalist, I enjoy freedom of speech.  Without that right, we would not be a democracy.  But as someone who seeks to influence the public debate, I have to think about the words I choose.  It was just wrong to slur a group of people.  I made the moral mistake of judging people collectively.  I owe a duty to my employer who had allowed me to be the freest journalist in Canada and has defended me against every attempt to silence me.  I owe a duty to you, my viewers, to give you the most thoughtful arguments I can.  And I owe it to my own philosophy of liberty to judge people as individuals.  As the philosopher Ayn Rand explained, the problem with stereotyping is that it’s, quote, “the lowest, most crudely primitive form of collectivism.  It’s the notion of ascribing moral, social or political significance to a man’s genetic lineage ... that a man is to be judged, not by his own character and actions, but by the characters and actions of a collective of ancestors.”  There’s nothing wrong with going after a criminal gang.  But it’s wrong to brand an entire community with a broad brush.  I wouldn’t like it as a Jew [...].  I’m an anti-racism activist.  I remain concerned about immigration fraud and crime gangs, but I can be better in the way I express those concerns.  The Source is a show about ideas.  I want my words to spur debate.  [...]  I regret having made these statements and I’m hopeful that these remarks or those remarks will serve as an example of what not to do when commenting on social issues.  I’ve got the privilege of commenting regularly in this forum and I’m committed to doing so responsibly.

Sun News submitted an additional letter to the complainants and the CBSC on May 9 pointing out that Levant had aired the additional apology and that it had removed the original offensive clip from its website, even though internet content is not within the CBSC’s jurisdiction (the text of that letter is also in Appendix B).

 

The Decision

The CBSC’s National Specialty Services 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 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 5 – Stigmatization & Victimization

Recognizing that members of certain of the following identifiable groups face particular portrayal issues, broadcasters shall ensure that their programming does not stigmatize or victimize individuals or groups on the basis of their 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.

[...]

b)         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:

[...]

c)         Intellectual treatment:  Programming apparently for academic, artistic, humanitarian, journalistic, scientific or research purposes, or otherwise in the public interest, may be broadcast, provided that it:  is not abusive or unduly discriminatory; does not incite contempt for, or severely ridicule, an enumerated group; and is not likely to incite or perpetuate hatred against an enumerated group.

The Panel Adjudicators read all of the correspondence and viewed a recording of the original broadcast, as well as the two broadcast apologies.  The Panel concludes that the September 5, 2012 broadcast violated Clause 2 of the CAB Code of Ethics as well as Clauses 2, 3, 4, 5 and 7 of the CAB Equitable Portrayal Code.  It also finds that there was no breach of Clause 9(b) of the CAB Equitable Portrayal Code and that Clause 10(c) of the Equitable Portrayal Code does not excuse the other clause violations.

 

Abusive Commentary & Negative Portrayal

The Panel members recognize that a broadcaster is entitled to condemn theft and law violators but they had difficulty finding much in Mr. Levant’s opening monologue which did not violate either Clause 2 of the CAB Code of Ethics or CAB Equitable Portrayal Code, which states that “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”, or Clauses 3 (negative portrayal), 4 (stereotyping), 5 (stigmatization & victimization) and 7 (degrading material) of the Equitable Portrayal Code which elaborate on the prohibition of abusive or unduly discriminatory comment based on matters of race, national or ethnic origin. 1  By making such arguments as, “Look, they’re Gypsies and one of the central characteristics of that culture is that their chief economy is theft and begging.  Sorry, it’s true”, the Panel finds that Mr. Levant violated all of the above clauses by asserting that Gypsies, based on their national or ethnic origin, are thieves and beggars.

The Panel also finds that the broadcaster cannot invoke, in this case, the contextual considerations exception provided by Clause 10 c) of the CAB Equitable Portrayal Code because, as determined above, the language used by Mr. Levant was abusive and unduly discriminatory against the Gypsies.

However, the Panel notes that the broadcaster apologized to its viewers and to the complainants, on air on September 17, 2012, and in writing to all complainants on September 27, 2012 stating that “the opening monologue of that date concerning the Roma people should not have been broadcast and that it was an error of judgment to permit the segment to air”.

Moreover, on March 18, 2013, at 5:00 pm, the broadcaster aired a long statement by Mr. Levant himself where he recognized that “I did more than just attack a crime or immigration fraud problem.  I attacked a particular group and painted them all with the same brush.  And to those I hurt I am sorry.  […] It’s just wrong to slur a group of people.  I made the moral mistake of judging people collectively.”Later in his apology, citing the philosopher Ayn Rand, he added “the problem with stereotyping is that it’s ‘the lowest, most crudely primitive form of collectivism.  It is the notion of ascribing moral, social or political significance to a man’s genetic lineage […] that a man is to be judged, not by his own character and actions, but by the characters and actions of a collective of ancestors’.”And he concluded by saying “I regret having made these statements and I’m hopeful that those remarks will serve as an example of what not to do when commenting on social issues”.  Both apologies can be found at length in Appendix A.

The Panel commends the broadcaster and Mr. Levant for issuing such apologies.

 

Use of the Terms “Gypsy” and “Gypped”

With reference to the use of the words “Gypsy” or “Gypsies”, the Panel finds that the mere use of these words when referring to people of that ethnicity does not in and of itself violate Clause 9 b) of the Equitable Portrayal Code regarding language and terminology as it does not have, according to such sources as the Oxford English Dictionary, a pejorative connotation.  It is even used in English law. 2   However, the Panel cautions broadcasters about the evolution of language and terminology over time.  What was acceptable in the past may become unacceptable in the future. 3

 

Broadcaster Responsiveness

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, Sun News Network provided detailed replies to all complainants, agreeing that the content was inappropriate.  The station also broadcast two apology statements.  The broadcaster clearly fulfilled its obligations of responsiveness and nothing further is required in this regard in this instance.

 

Decision Announcement

When a broadcaster violates one or more codes, the CBSC customarily requires the station to announce the CBSC finding on air.  In this case, Sun News Network aired two separate apologetic statements, one that appeared on screen and was read aloud in voice-over narration and another lengthier one made by the host, Ezra Levant, himself.  Although these broadcasts did not appease the complainants, they did satisfy the CBSC requirements to acknowledge inappropriate statements on air.  The CBSC thus does not require Sun News Network to make any further on-air statements in this case. 4

 

This decision is a public document upon its release by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council.

 

1 See the following previous CBSC decisions which also dealt with those Clauses:  CILQ-FM re a “Last Word” segment on Derringer in the Morning (CBSC Decision 09/10-0188, June 22, 2010); CKAC-AM re an episode of Doc Mailloux (Money) (CBSC Decision 05/06-1379, December 11, 2006); CKAC-AM re an episode of Doc Mailloux (Financial Difficulties) (CBSC Decision 05/06-1405, December 11, 2006); CKAC-AM re Doc Mailloux (six episodes) (CBSC Decision 06/07-0168 & -0266, August 23, 2007); CHMP-FM re comments made on Dutrizac (CBSC Decision 11/12-0630, August 15, 2012).

 

2 See the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960 where “gypsies” are defined as “persons of nomadic habit of life”.  See also the Race Relations Act 1976 where “Gipsies” of Romany origins have been recognized as an ethnic group.

 

3 CFXL-FM re a comment made on Tom Kent (CBSC Decision 11/12-1195, July 18, 2012).

 

4 See the following previous CBSC decisions where the Council also did not require an on-air announcement:  CJMR-AM re the Voice of Croatia (CBSC Decision 92/93-0205, February 15, 1994); OMNI.1 re an episode of the Jimmy Swaggart Telecast (CBSC Decision 04/05-0097, April 19, 2005); CKRS-AM re comments made on Champagne pour tout le monde (CBSC Decision 06/07-0904, August 20, 2008); CJAB-FM re comments made on 94.5 Le Matin (CBSC Decision 11/12-1392, September 6, 2012).