Negative Comments about Homosexuals Violate Broadcast Human Rights Clause, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, November 18, 2008 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning an episode of the English-Punjabi open-line program the Harjinder Thind Show broadcast on CKYE-FM (Red FM) (Vancouver) on January 31, 2008.  The topic of the day was a Settlement Agreement to deal with possible changes to the British Columbia school curriculum to ensure the proper representation of homosexuality in the curriculum.  The CBSC concluded that certain negative comments about homosexuals made during the call-in program violated the Human Rights Clause of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics.

On the Harjinder Thind Show, the host, guests and callers discuss social, educational and cultural issues.  On the episode in question, Thind interviewed a representative from Parents for Democracy in Education, an organization opposed to the curriculum changes being proposed.  The guest alleged that the BC Government had “secretly” entered into a contract with a gay couple which allowed that couple to review the curriculum.  He also asserted that parents should have more say in the review and encouraged listeners to write letters of protest to their MPPs and school board officials.  The host took a number of calls from listeners, most of whom supported the guest’s view.  Some of the callers spoke in Punjabi and Thind translated into English.  One caller said, in Punjabi, that young people who feel an attraction to members of the same sex are “sick” and that homosexuals are “a little sick group”, while another alleged that homosexuality “is a sickness” that also contributes to the spread of AIDS and HIV.  The host’s loose translations in no way commented on or corrected the callers’ assertions.

The CBSC received a complaint from an individual who was concerned about the comments regarding homosexuality, characterizing them as “negative and false views” which were being communicated to a “new immigrant population that needs to be better educated about [the] Canadian Charter of Rights and our community.”  Red FM replied that they had intended to provide “a fair and balanced representation” and encourage “healthy dialogue”.

The CBSC’s British Columbia Regional Panel examined the complaint under Clauses 7 (Controversial Public Issues) and 2 (Human Rights) of the CAB Code of Ethics.  Clause 7 requires fair treatment of controversial issues, while Clause 2 prohibits abusive or unduly discriminatory comment on the basis of, among other things, sexual orientation.
The Panel found no breach of Clause 7.  It decided that

 

the fundamental basis for the interview with [the guest] was unassailable.  Whether the provincial Government should or should not have supported a more assertive representation of homosexuality in the BC school curriculum was a fair subject to discuss on the airwaves.  In addition, it was entirely reasonable to question the Government’s allegedly unpublicized method of introducing that curriculum modification.

With a small reservation regarding the allegation that the Settlement Agreement had been made “in secret”, when in fact it had received news coverage, the Panel found “no aspect of the school curriculum discussion on January 31 that [came] close to a breach of Clause 7.”  It acknowledged that the station was entitled to broadcast viewpoints opposed to the government’s actions and noted that the program had included two calls from listeners who supported the government, thus achieving the balance required under that Clause.

With respect to Clause 2, the Panel considered that the guest and callers were allowed to broadcast their objections to homosexuality and its inclusion in the curriculum, but that a couple of callers had crossed the line when they referred to homosexuals as “sick” and responsible for the spread of disease.  The Panel acknowledged that the program targeted a different audience than mainstream media, but that it nevertheless violated Clause 2.  It put its decision in the following terms:

 

The Panel understands that the view of some new Canadian communities is […] quite conservative on issues of homosexuality.  As a number of past CBSC decisions clearly indicate, that position presents no problem in terms of the Human Rights Clause, unless and until comments made in support thereof become excessive.  In the matter at hand, this Panel considers that the comments describing gays and lesbians as sick, assimilating homosexuality to a sickness, and attributing the causing of AIDS to homosexuals do exceed the tolerable threshold.  They are abusive and unduly discriminatory.  Such comments can always be controlled by delayed broadcast technology; however, should a caller make such a comment, the host is in a position to mitigate its effect by his or her observations.  That opportunity was doubly available in the present matter, since the host played a translating role for callers and the audience.  He ought to have known his responsibilities pursuant to the CAB Code of Ethics.  To the extent that he did not, it was the responsibility of the broadcaster to ensure that such comments not air.  In this instance, CKYE-FM’s failure to curtail those comments constitutes a breach of Clause 2 of the CAB Code of Ethics.

Canada’s private broadcasters have themselves created industry standards in the form of Codes on ethics, equitable portrayal, television violence and journalistic independence 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 ethics created by the RTNDA – Association of Electronic Journalists in 1970.  More than 690 radio stations, satellite radio services, 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