Ethnic Slurs in Breach of Code, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, August 6, 2003 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision the Phil Hendrie Show broadcast on CKTB-AM (St. Catharines). The CBSC's Ontario Regional Panel found the broadcast in breach of the human rights clause of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters' (CAB) Code of Ethics because it contained abusive or unduly discriminatory remarks about Italians.

The Phil Hendrie Show is a parody-style talk radio program that originates in the United States. On the November 26, 2002 episode, Hendrie commented on the report that an Italian scientist had cloned a human baby. He used certain undesirable catchwords. Then, following additional discussion of other topics and a commercial break, the host stated that he had not intended any offence in his use of the unpleasant terms and suggested that Italians who were upset about their portrayal as gangsters in the media should sue the mafia for creating this stereotype. A listener complained that using racial slurs to refer to Italians was derogatory and racist. The broadcaster responded that Hendrie was taking a tongue-in-cheek approach to contemporary social issues and that he was criticizing the doctor's actions, not his ethnicity.

The Ontario Panel concluded that the remarks were unduly discriminatory, while being based on ethnicity: “If, as suggested by the broadcaster, the host was 'attempting to show his disgust with the doctor's actions, not making social comment on his ethnic background,' there can be no doubt but that he failed miserably.”

That elements of the population have succeeded in creating a number of catchwords, nicknames or appellations intended to apply to identifiable groups (frequently minorities distinguished by their ethnicity, nationality, religion or skin colour) is not one of society's notable achievements. While there may be some such terms that are positive and admiring in their nature, many, perhaps most, and certainly all of those at issue here, are not. They tend to be epithetic, denigrating, even derisory in nature. Generally consisting of a single word, they are frequently meant to evoke disparaging reactions with respect to the targeted groups they “define”. At worst, they are ugly and nasty. At best they are condescending, a shorthand reference by the user to others who do not have the “right stuff”.

He said this, though, in the breath following his affirmation that he had used the challenged terms. He did not recognize their impropriety. He did not attempt to withdraw them as utterances in error. To the contrary, he repeated them and confirmed that he had done so, emphasizing this fact by the addition of the words “of course” to explain his on-air choice.

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All CBSC decisions, Codes, links to members' and other web sites, and related information are available on the CBSC's website at www.cbsc.ca. For more information, please contact the CBSC National Chair, Mme Andrée Noël CBSC Executive Director, John MacNab