Negative Stereotypes Based on Ethnicity Violate Equitable Portrayal Code, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, November 24, 2010 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning comments made during “The Last Word” segment on Derringer in the Morning broadcast on Q107 Toronto (CILQ-FM).  The CBSC concluded that the hosts had unduly stereotyped an ethnic group when they referred to Gypsies engaged in illegal activity.

“The Last Word” is a segment on Q107’s morning show during which the hosts talk about entertainment news.  In the broadcast in question, they mentioned that pop singer Madonna had a troupe of Romani Gypsies accompanying her on tour and that, at one of her concerts, she had spoken out against the discrimination experienced by that ethnic group.  The Derringer in the Morning hosts then joked that Madonna “didn’t say anything about the tramps and the thieves” and that “they happen to do a lot of illegal activity on the side.  You know, most of them aren’t workin’ nine-to-five jobs.”  To this latter point, the co-host replied “Really?  They’re not stealing babies and crossing a palm with silver?”

A listener complained to the CBSC about these remarks, arguing that these remarks “supported the stereotypes and racist beliefs that some have” about Romani Gypsies.  The station responded that the overall discussion was not racist because the hosts had also said that Gypsies were a “fascinating” people and their history was not widely understood.

The CBSC’s Ontario Regional Panel examined the complaint under the Human Rights clauses of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics and Equitable Portrayal Code, as well as the Stereotyping and Negative Portrayal clauses of the latter Code.  The Panel concluded that the comments were not “abusive or unduly discriminatory” under the Human Rights clauses, but that they did unduly stereotype and negatively portray a group on the basis of ethnicity contrary to the relevant clauses of the CAB Equitable Portrayal Code.  The Panel explained its finding in the following terms:

While [one negative] comment might have survived scrutiny had it been the sole reference of that type, seconds later [the hosts made additional similar statements]. […]  [T]he reality is that Gypsies are a real group, a real ethnicity, and comments labelling them as tramps, thieves, lawless to whatever extent, baby-stealers and so on, are stereotypes, and clearly unduly negative.  The danger with such comments is that, particularly with any degree of snickering in the background, they risk desensitizing the public with regard to the verbal victims.  The Stereotyping Clause is there to precisely avoid that social consequence.

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 and the pay television Codes, as well as the Code dealing with journalistic ethics created by the RTNDA – Association of Electronic Journalists in 1970.  More than 750 radio stations, satellite radio services, 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