Mild but Tasteless Ethnic Joke Not in Breach of Broadcast Standards, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, October 28, 2002 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning a “humorous” dialogue broadcast on the Scruff Connors and John Derringer Morning Show on CFYI-AM (Mojo, Toronto).  The CBSC Ontario Regional Panel determined that the hosts’ joke, which referred to the Chinese and Chinese food did not breach the Human Rights clause of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics.

During the morning show on November 16, 2001, the hosts, Connors and Derringer, were jokingly suggesting that they were going to leave their jobs at Mojo to work at a foreign language radio station.  When “putting this plan into effect” they telephoned a third language radio station and they encountered the station’s voice mail message, part of which was in Cantonese.  When Derringer asked Connors what the message was saying, Connors affected a Chinese accent and performed a mock translation of the voice mail message, in which he suggested that the message was describing “the lunch special” and listed a series of Chinese culinary dishes.  He also imitated Swedish, German and French accents in the course of the dialogue.

The CBSC received a complaint about the segment from the Chinese Canadian National Council which stated that the “sarcastically stereotypical content” was derogatory and disrespectful towards Chinese Canadians.

The Ontario Regional Panel examined the complaint under the Human Rights clause of the CAB Code of Ethics, which reads:

Recognizing that every person has a right to full and equal recognition and to enjoy certain fundamental rights and freedoms, broadcasters shall endeavour to ensure, to the best of their ability, that their programming contains no abusive or 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 handicap.

The CBSC has long held that it is not the mere mention of one of the aforementioned categories that will constitute a violation of the Code; for the clause to apply, the comment must be abusive or unduly discriminatory vis-à-vis one of the protected groups.  In this case, the Ontario Panel found that the mock translation did not cross the line into abusive comment since it was not “hateful, demeaning or degrading”.  The Panel did, however, agree that such instances of ethnically-pointed humour can often be “childish, ignorant, bullying, appallingly tasteless, and, in the Canadian broadcasting environment, regrettable examples of what may result from, but is defensible under, the principle of freedom of expression.”

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 520 radio and television stations and specialty services from across Canada are members of the Council.

– 30 –

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