Open-line Host’s Treatment of Callers Rude but not in Breach of Code

Ottawa, June 15, 2006 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning comments made on an episode of CKNW’s (Vancouver) open-line program Adler on Line on October 18, 2005.  In the episode, the host of the show engaged in an aggressive debate and labelled some of his callers as “stupid”.  The CBSC B.C. Regional Panel concluded that the remarks were on the edge of acceptability, but did not, in the end, violate the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics

The topic of the episode in question was the B.C. teachers’ strike that was occurring at the time and the refusal of the teachers to return to work even after they had been ordered to do so by government back-to-work legislation.  Host Charles Adler strongly expressed his opinion that the teachers’ action was illegal and morally reprehensible.  Adler accepted telephone calls from listeners who were more accepting of the teachers’ position or were teachers themselves; however, Adler raised his voice with some of those callers, interrupting them.  He also called two of them “stupid” and told another to “get a life”. 

A listener complained to the CBSC that Adler had “verbally abused” these callers just because they had expressed an opinion different from his.  CKNW acknowledged that Adler “did get quite animated and had some aggressive exchanges with some of the callers to the program,” but pointed out that the purpose of the program is to debate controversial issues. 

The B.C. Panel examined the complaint under Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics which requires the “full, fair and proper presentation of news, opinion, comment and editorial”.  It cited previous CBSC decisions where the Council has recognized that open-line programs often contain lively discussion and provocative argument.  It also quoted cases where a host has directly insulted a guest or caller.  In comparing Adler’s remarks to those cases, the Panel found that he came close to the line but did not cross it.  It made the following observations: 

In the matter at hand, Charles Adler expressed a point of view on the B.C. teachers’ strike that could be characterized […] as unequivocal and aggressive.  Fair enough.  The host is also undeniably clever.  His stated belief in the rule of law and clear disdain for strikers disregarding the Legislative Assembly’s back-to-work legislation were forcefully put.  The Panel is, however, at a loss to understand why he descended to the level of personal insult, using words like “stupid” to characterize [two of the callers].  […]  Adler could have characterized ideas as stupid but people?  No need.  Not right.  It was, in the Panel’s view, unnecessary to pander to the bleachers.  It is fine to disagree with the callers and to argue with them but to be rude and insulting to them to that extent was unnecessary.  The deft gave way to the blunt.  On balance, the Panel concludes that the broadcast came close to the edge but did not, on this occasion, go over it.  While the Panel does not find that those insults constituted a breach of Clause 6 of the Code, it does regret that they were used. 

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. 

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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