L’Avocat et le diable Discussion about Minority Religions Did Not Violate Broadcast Code, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, January 23, 2007The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning an episode of the open-line television program L’Avocat et le diable broadcast on TQS on May 9, 2006.  The hosts discussed a case in Brossard in which a school had accommodated the request of three female Muslim students to barricade the windows of the school’s swimming pool while they underwent a swimming test.  The reason for the request was that the girls’ religion forbids them to show skin in public.  In light of that recent news story, L’Avocat et le diable’s question of the day was “How far should we go to accommodate the ethnic requirements?”  The CBSC’s Quebec Regional Panel concluded that the broadcast of the ensuing discussion did not contain any abusive or unduly discriminatory material on the basis of religion. 

In response to the question of the day, the hosts and the majority of callers expressed the view that such accommodations should not be made for minority groups.  Some of the callers made specific reference to Muslims and suggested that, if they disagree with this position, they should “go back where they came from”.  One of the program hosts also commented that Islam does not have any respect for women and that a report on Radio-Canada had revealed that a provision in the Qur’an even gives a man the right to beat his wife.  One female Muslim caller argued that this was not true. 

The CBSC received a number of complaints about this episode from people who identified themselves as Muslims.  They complained that the episode incited hatred and contained discriminatory comments about Muslims and Arabs.  TQS responded that the purpose of the episode was to discuss a controversial news story and that all of the comments were justified.  The Quebec Regional Panel examined the complaints under Clause 2 (Human Rights) of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ Code of Ethics and found no breach of that Clause.  The Quebec Panel agreed that the station was entitled to broadcast critical comments about this political issue and that any negative comments specifically targetting Muslims were countered by the hosts.  The Panel made the following observations: 

The point is that the discussion of such matters is in and of itself entirely consistent with the entitlement, if not responsibility, of any broadcaster to discuss controversial issues.  Nor is it a breach of any codified standard for the co-hosts or callers to take the position that schools and other public institutions ought not to cater to the demands of other religions or traditions.  […]  [I]n this regard, there was the comment about the small-mindedness of a religion that would support the beating of a spouse for infidelity.  Although this point arose from the discussion of a Qur’anic sura that appeared to be worded so as to support such harsh treatment of a spouse, the reaction was framed in terms related to any religion that would favour such actions.

In other words, there was not, in the view of the Panel, any abusive or unduly discriminatory comment with respect to the discussion of any of the foregoing issues.  It is, however, undeniable that one caller uttered the ugly statement, [translation] “They are pigs; they are swine’’, but there was a quick negative reaction to it by the co-host Desmarais, who said “Shu, shu.”  […]  And when the caller followed up with a supplementary comment regarding their [Muslims’] sexual proclivities, co-host Gendron quickly countered by saying [translation] “Yes, but listen, there are French Canadians who are also pretty focused on sex.’’  There was, in other words, counterpoint to the comments.  Nipped in the bud, they were permitted no life or existence by the co-hosts.  They did not, in the circumstances of their utterance, amount to abusive or unduly discriminatory comment.

Canada’s private broadcasters have themselves created industry standards in the form of Codes on ethics, gender portrayal and television violence by which they expect the members of their profession will abide.  In 1990, they also created the CBSC, which is the self-regulatory body with the responsibility of administering those professional broadcast Codes, as well as the Code dealing with journalistic practices first created by the Radio Television News Directors Association of Canada (RTNDA) in 1970.  More than 590 radio and television stations and specialty services from across Canada are members of the Council.

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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