Making Unfair and Improper Comments Targeting a Private Individual Breaches Code of Ethics, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, April 26, 2007 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning the broadcast of an episode of Freedom Radio Network (FRN) on July 29, 2006 on CHRB-AM (High River).  That half-hour show focussed on an individual who had brought a complaint to the Canadian Human Rights Commission about the website comments of an FRN co-host and another group about persons on account of their sexual orientation.  He also complained to the CBSC about the broadcast, alleging that the program had been used to retaliate against him, in violation of clauses of the CAB Code of Ethics dealing with Human Rights; full, fair, and proper presentation of opinion and comment; and failing to treat fairly controversial public issues. 

The Prairie Regional Panel did not consider that any comments made amounted to a violation of the Human Rights Clause of the CAB Code of Ethics

There is, simply stated, nothing in the comments of Chapman and Chandler that comes at all close to unjustified nastiness, vitriol and callous treatment of individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation.  There were clearly efforts by the co-hosts in the currently challenged episode to stay on the permissible side of the discriminatory line.  If anything, the comments directed at the success of the activism and militancy of the homosexual community belied a reluctant but grudging admiration for their success.  When they referred to the complainant as articulate and manipulative, they were clearly not trying to flatter him, but there was an admission in those adjectival recognitions that he was achieving certain goals that the co-hosts and those they represented would rather not have encountered.  

On the other hand, in dealing with the clauses on full, fair and proper presentation, and the fair treatment of controversial public issues, the Panel found several problems with the broadcast.  Since almost all of the half hour was consumed with a one-sided attack on the complainant, a private, not a public, individual, the Panel noted the 

disparity of power between the person(s) on the transmitting side of the microphone and those on the receiving end of the radio waves.  There is, therefore, a need for those whose transmissions are to all extent untrammelled to exercise their licensed authority with a particular appreciation of the responsibility that that privilege bestows upon them.  In the view of the Panel, the co-hosts exceeded reasonable bounds in this episode.   

The Panel found that the co-hosts had “distorted the nature of the acts of the complainant in a serious way.”  They had: a) alleged that the complainant had accused them of a hate crime; b) misled listeners about what they had “won” and “where” in litigious confrontations with the complainant; c) made a series of incorrect, distorted or exaggerated comments regarding homosexuality which constituted unfair and improper presentation of opinion; and d) by threatening to ignore any judicial condemnations and fines, made unfair comments on a controversial public issue, which were “an example of electronic bullying.”  

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 600 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