Political Comments about War in Middle East Not Abusive Towards Muslims, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, June 13, 2007 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning an episode of the American radio talk show Coast to Coast AM broadcast on CFMJ-AM (AM 640, Toronto).  A segment on the September 3, 2006 program dealt with the United States’ war in Iraq.  A listener complained that the episode contained abusive comments against Muslims.  The CBSC’s Ontario Regional Panel, by majority, concluded that the broadcast did not violate the Human Rights Clause of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics.  One Panel Adjudicator, however, disagreed. 

Coast to Coast AM, which is syndicated on various Canadian radio stations, generally focusses on conspiracy theories and the paranormal, but occasionally touches on current events.  It is hosted on the weekends by Art Bell.  On the September 3rd episode, Bell read from an essay written by a retired U.S. major general which asserted that Americans did not really understand what was at stake in the war in the Middle East, namely, a real and immediate threat to Americans’ freedoms.  The essay read by Bell included comments about Muslim radicals and terrorists, but also suggested that peaceful Muslims do not speak out for fear of reprisal. 

The CBSC received a letter from a listener who was concerned that the broadcast “was tantamount to a diatribe directed against all Muslims delivered […] in a manner intended to incite hate and kindle racism towards the entire Muslim community.”  The station response suggested that the broadcast had been clear in directing its criticisms to Muslim “terrorists” only.  The Ontario Panel examined the complaint under the Human Rights Clause (Clause 2) of the CAB Code of Ethics which requires that “programming contains no abusive or unduly discriminatory material or comment which is based on matters of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion” and so on.  The majority of the Panel concluded that the broadcast was entitled to contain criticisms of certain groups on the basis of their criminal activities and that it had adequately distinguished between “terrorists” and all Muslims in general.  The majority made the following comments: 

The Panel majority considers that […] the broadcast text does distinguish between Muslim terrorists and peaceful Muslims.  Terms such as “terror group” (referring to Al-Qaeda), “Islamic militant”, “Muslim terrorists”, “terrorists”, and “radical Muslims” were applied to the former throughout the monologue.  […]  The Panel is of the view that the broadcaster was justified in identifying the “criminal sub-group”, to use the complainant’s term, by associating it with the characteristics of the group to which they belong, whether those characteristics are religious, national, ethnic, cultural, by gender or other pertinent designation.  The Panel finds no inherent problem in such a choice. 

One adjudicator concluded otherwise and wrote the following in her minority dissent: 

[I]t is my view that all Muslims would suffer in the minds of listeners on the basis of the host’s descriptions.  In fact, it does not appear to be an exaggeration that the host’s characterizations of Muslims were intended to give rise to fear and animosity on the part of audience members.  It is my opinion, in hearing the broadcast, as a listener would, that there was too much assimilation of the Muslim terrorists with all Muslims.  […]  I would find the broadcaster in violation 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, 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 600 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