Negative Remarks about Disabled in Breach of Broadcast Standards, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, May 9, 2006 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning an episode of the open-line discussion program Doc Mailloux broadcast on CKAC (Montreal) on November 4, 2005.  The CBSC Quebec Regional Panel concluded that some of the comments made by the host Pierre Mailloux about people with trisomy 21 (commonly known as Down syndrome) were abusive and unduly discriminatory.  The Panel found the broadcast in breach of the Human Rights clause of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics

In the episode, a caller to the program objected to the comments Mailloux had made on a previous episode about a television advertisement that had focussed on people with trisomy 21.  Mailloux took the opportunity on his talk show to re-state his view that, by comparing “normal” women to those afflicted with trisomy 21, the advertisement was insulting to “normal” women.  He added that people with trisomy 21 do not have the same value in society as healthy individuals.  He also continually referred to people with trisomy 21 as “mongoloids” despite the objections of his co-host and the caller to the use of that term. 

The CBSC received a complaint from a listener who was concerned that Mailloux’s remarks were intolerant and insulting towards persons with disabilities.  The Quebec Panel reviewed the complaint under the Human Rights clause of the CAB Code of Ethics which requires broadcasters to ensure that their programming does not contain any abusive or unduly discriminatory material on the basis of mental or physical disability.  The Panel found a breach of that clause for the following reasons: 

In the view of the Quebec Regional Panel, the foregoing dialogue reflects a disrespect for those afflicted with trisomy 21.  On the level of societal value, Mailloux is almost filled with contempt for the notion that a “normal” woman would be compared as equal to a trisomy 21-handicapped woman.  It is, he goes so far to say, “dangerous, unhealthy and inappropriate” to make such a suggestion.  And then, adding insult to injury, he insists on the use of the terms “mongoloid” and “mongolism”, despite the attempts on the part of his co-host, Janine, to make him understand that the terms are not only inappropriate in North America but also pejorative.  […]  To all of the foregoing, the Panel wishes to add the expression of its concern about the danger of public desensitization which may result from such comments.  The host with a microphone is, by definition, a powerful figure.  He or she is in a position of credibility, underscored in this case by the professional qualification of Doctor Pierre Mailloux.  Comments of this kind are at risk of “sticking”, that is, of leaving audience members with a sense of accuracy or legitimacy, which represents a danger for the identifiable group being disparaged, if not reviled.  

The Panel also found a violation of Clause 9(c) of the CAB Code of Ethics for the use of the f-word in English during the broadcast. 

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. 

– 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