Open-Line Talk Radio Program in Breach of Broadcasters’ Code of Ethics, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, September 5, 2002 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning episodes of the John Michael Show broadcast on March 6 and 7, 2002 by CKTB-AM (St. Catharines). The topic of the open-line radio talk show on those dates was the conflict in the Middle East between the Israelis and the Palestinians. A listener filed a complaint with the CBSC indicating his concern about the inflammatory content of the programs. The CBSC Ontario Regional Panel found that some of the host's comments during the March 6 show violated the Canadian Association of Broadcasters' (CAB) Code of Ethics.

During the broadcasts, host John Michael expressed his view that the Middle East situation could not be resolved by verbal negotiations and that military force was necessary. He also mentioned that he favoured the Israeli side. The Ontario Panel stated that it

supports the right of the host to take either side in the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He has chosen the Israeli side. He might have chosen the Palestinian side. That is his right to do. He is also justified in assessing the conflict as one in which negotiation is doomed to failure as a solution, however discouraging that position may be to persons of optimistic spirit, and that the only solution to the conflict will be a military one. The Panel also considers that Michael is entitled to express the perspective that “might is right”, that, in other words, the last side standing will be the victor and entitled to see itself as that. While this may be a particularly amoral way to view international politics, the host is entitled to espouse and express the position.

The Panel did not reach the same conclusion, however, with respect to some of Michael's other comments, such as “go to town with the biggest tanks, the biggest guns, the biggest of everything you got and blow the Palestinians, Yasser Arafat included, to kingdom come” and that the Israelis should “kill everyone who is not their friend.” The Panel found that the recommendation of indiscriminate killing was an improper and unfair comment contrary to Clause 6 (3) of the CAB Code of Ethics. It viewed the comments as follows:

It is not merely an unsubtle stance; it promotes blanket violence against a people and smacks of a genocidal tone. To advocate violence against those who perpetrate terror would be one thing. To propose such a recourse against all persons of a nationality solely on the basis of their sharing that background has no place on Canadian airwaves.

The Panel also found a breach of Clause 2 of the CAB Code of Ethics for Michael's abusively and unduly discriminatory comments against Palestinians. The Panel considered that “John Michael's blanket condemnation of all Palestinians as hating persons of the Jewish faith and wishing to drive Israel out of existence [was] excessive,” and that “to tar all Palestinians with a brush of hatred constitutes, in the view of the Ontario Panel, an unduly discriminatory comment based on their national or ethnic origin.” The Panel also provided a statement on the nature and virtues of open-line radio:

The Panel clearly accepts that some rough-and-tumble on the airwaves is acceptable but it expects that the value and virtue of open line radio is that it truly serves as a marketplace of ideas.

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 500 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