No Stereotyping But an Offensive Word in a Parody Song, Concludes the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, August 30, 2011 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning the broadcast of a parody song entitled “12 Days of a Guido Christmas” on December 23, 2010 by CIDC-FM (Z105.5 FM, Toronto).  A listener complained that the song “portrays Italians in a stereotypical way.”  Although no specific words had been mentioned in the complaint, the broadcaster argued that “neither of these terms [i.e. Guido or paesan] can be seen as being used in an unduly negative or abusive way that puts Italians in a negative light.”

While the Ontario Regional Panel appreciated the focus of the complainant and the broadcaster on the word “Guido”, the Adjudicators were “also extremely conscious of the fact that that word was not used even once in the parody song.”  It was in fact only used in the correspondence between the complainant and the broadcaster, both of whom had only identified the title of the song off-air in their e-mail exchange.  The Panel did, however, note that there was “another disparaging term for Italians used in the second stanza of the song [which was] repeated in every stanza thereafter, namely, the word ‘guinea’.”  The Ontario Panel referred to an earlier decision it had rendered regarding the use of that word and concluded that it found

nothing redemptive in the matter at hand regarding the utterly gratuitous use of the word “guinea” [in this decision]. … [T]he Panel finds that the word is, by its nature, abusive and unduly discriminatory. […] Insofar as the context is concerned, the Panel finds no justification for the use of the word “guinea”.  The Panel does not consider that it is “light and relatively inoffensive”, as would be required in order to apply the comedic defence established in Clause 10(b) of the Equitable Portrayal Code.  The word is derogatory, inappropriate, abusive and unacceptable and there is no more reason for its usage here than there was in the [earlier Ontario Panel decision].

It found the use of the term in breach of the Human Rights Clauses of the CAB Code of Ethics and the CAB Equitable Portrayal Code, as well as Clause 9 of the latter Code, which requires broadcasters to “be sensitive to, and avoid, the usage of derogatory or inappropriate language or terminology in references to individuals or groups based on race, national or ethnic origin.”

As to the complainant’s concern about stereotyping, with one Adjudicator dissenting, the view of the majority of the Panel was

that every line of the song makes it abundantly clear that the ditty was indeed focussed on Italians.  Moreover, the Panel does consider that the song stereotypes Italians.  The foregoing being said, the matter does not end there, for, even admitting that stereotyping comments have been made, the codified standard requires that “programming contains no unduly negative stereotypical material or comment.”  In other words, not all stereotyping is of a negative nature.  To label one community superbly athletic, another skilled in computers and mathematics, another endowed with culinary finesse, yet another remarkably intelligent would not be insulting or negative to any one of those communities.  There is no prohibition against stereotyping comments unless they are unduly negative.

Applying the foregoing principles to the CIDC-FM decision, the majority of the Panel declared that it was

not oblivious to the fact that stereotyping frequently carries a “Don’t you find this funny?” underlying tone.  There may even be said to be a gently mocking aspect to descriptions of those being stereotyped.  Indeed, in the matter at hand, the majority concludes that the comments made in each of the verses were undoubtedly meant to characterize Italian habits and practices, even on a somewhat tongue-in-cheek basis, but it does not consider that the comments were negative, much less unduly negative.  While the Panel does not consider there is anything positive to observe about the parody song, the majority does not find that there is any breach of either Clause 4 or Clause 7 resulting from its broadcast.

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.  Almost 730 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