RDS re 5 à 7 (“Laprise branché!”)

QUEBEC REGIONAL PANEL

CBSC Decision 11/12-0649

July 24, 2012
G. Moisan (Vice-Chair), A. H. Caron, V. Dubois, T. Porrello

THE FACTS

5 à 7 is a sports magazine program. The Réseau des sports (RDS) broadcasts the program Monday to Friday from 5:00 to 7:00 pm. Hosts Yanick Bouchard and Frédéric Plante discuss sports news, occasionally with other sports commentators. Michel Laprise is one of these commentators and he hosts a recurring segment entitled “Laprise branché!”.

On November 15, 2011, in the introduction to Laprise’s commentary, the hosts noted that viewers can send him funny videos via e-mail. He then showed a video that he had received. Laprise said [translation] “I know that it’s not necessarily nice to show videos like this, but it’s funny.”

The video showed full-sized men using a man with dwarfism as a bowling ball. There was a plastic sheet on the floor of a room with bowling pins set up at one end. The man of short stature was shirtless, covered in oil and wearing a pair of shorts. Different pairs of full-sized men took turns swinging the short-statured man and throwing him down the plastic sheet with the objective of knocking down the bowling pins. The man of short stature appeared to be a willing participant in the activity; he danced as he approached the pairs of full-sized men and played air guitar.

As the video was shown, Laprise commented, [translation] “If you’re organizing a Christmas party and you don’t know what to do as an activity, here’s what you can do. Bowling with an oiled dwarf. You need a large sheet of rubber. You need oil. You need a dwarf with a sense of humour. And most importantly, you need a single sister-in-law who is willing to date a dwarf just during the holiday season.” Plante replied [translation] “No, Michel, you’re making us uncomfortable on set here.” Laprise also commented on the various attempts to knock down the pins and said [translation] “but the Little Person even seems to like it”.

One week later, on November 22, Laprise stated: [translation] “To clarify a point, uh, sometimes in my commentary I present videos and make comments that are on the edge of acceptable. Last week, I crossed that line. People wrote to me. That’s okay. When you cross the line, it’s good to be told so. So, for the people who were hurt, I apologize.” (A fuller transcript of both the November 15 and 22 segments can be found in Appendix A, in French only.)

The CBSC received a complaint dated November 24 from the Quebec Association of Persons of Short Stature. The Association complained about the [translation] “outrageous” images broadcast by RDS and the comments that accompanied them. The Association emphasized in its complaint that [translation] “dwarfism is a serious medical condition” and that a large portion of the population who has it [translation] “continues to be the object of harassment, barbaric attitudes and degrading remarks, and this lack of respect passes for humour”. The Association did not accept Laprise’s apology because [translation] “the damage was done”.

RDS responded to the complainant association on December 5. In its response, RDS acknowledged that the content of this commentary, [translation] “by presenting images and remarks of questionable taste regarding people with dwarfism, was awkward and uncalled-for.” RDS confirmed that the incident had been brought to the attention of the 5 à 7 team and “they acknowledged their error”. The response also pointed out that Laprise [translation] “gave his sincere apology on air”. On January 16, 2012, the Association responded that it was not satisfied with RDS’s reply or with [translation] “the weak apology provided by the host”. (The full text of all correspondence can be found in Appendix B, in French only.)

THE DECISION

The Quebec Regional Panel examined the complaint under the following clauses of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics and Equitable Portrayal Code:

CAB Code of Ethics, Clause 2 – Human Rights

Recognizing that every person has the right to full and equal recognition and to enjoy certain fundamental rights and freedoms, broadcasters shall ensure that their programming contains no abusive or unduly discriminatory material or comment which is based on matters of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status or physical or mental disability.

CAB Equitable Portrayal Code, Clause 2 – Human Rights

Recognizing that every person has the right to the full enjoyment of certain fundamental rights and freedoms, broadcasters shall ensure that their programming contains no abusive or unduly discriminatory material or comment which is based on matters of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, marital status or physical or mental disability.

CAB Equitable Portrayal Code, Clause 3 – Negative Portrayal

In an effort to ensure appropriate depictions of all individuals and groups, broadcasters shall refrain from airing unduly negative portrayals of persons with respect to race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, marital status or physical or mental disability. Negative portrayal can take many different forms, including (but not limited to) stereotyping, stigmatization and victimization, derision of myths, traditions or practices, degrading material, and exploitation.

CAB Equitable Portrayal Code, Clause 5 – Stigmatization and Victimization

Recognizing that members of certain of the following identifiable groups face particular portrayal issues, broadcasters shall ensure that their programming does not stigmatize or victimize individuals or groups on the basis of their race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, marital status or physical or mental disability.

CAB Equitable Portrayal Code, Clause 7 – Degrading Material

Broadcasters shall avoid the airing of degrading material, whether reflected in words, sounds, images or by other means, which is based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, marital status or physical or mental disability.

The Panel Adjudicators read all of the correspondence and watched the program in question. The Panel concludes that the broadcast breached all of the aforementioned provisions.

The Panel recognizes that the man of short stature appeared to participate in the bowling game of his own volition. Regardless of that particular man’s view of the event, however, RDS still had an obligation to respect Canadian broadcast standards.[1] The Panel considers that the video of the bowling event depicted the man as an object, namely a bowling ball. The comments made by Laprise further reinforced that objectification, as he included an “oiled dwarf” in his list of items that one needs to have for a fun holiday party, along with “a large sheet of rubber” and “oil”. The segment presented persons of small stature as mere objects of humour and ridicule.

According to the Panel, the broadcast of this video constituted programming that was abusive and unduly discriminatory with respect to a physical handicap, namely dwarfism, in contravention of Clause 2 of the CAB Code of Ethics and Clause 2 of the CAB Equitable Portrayal Code.

The content of this video also contravened the provisions of Clause 3 of the CAB Equitable Portrayal Code because it presented on air a negative portrayal of individuals based on a physical handicap.

It also contravened Clause 5 of that same Code in stigmatizing and victimizing an individual due to his physical handicap.

Finally, the Panel Adjudicators conclude that this video constituted degrading material under the terms of Clause 7 of that Code.

Broadcaster Responsiveness

In all CBSC decisions, the Panels assess the broadcaster’s response to the complainant. The broadcaster need not agree with the complainant’s position, but it must respond in a courteous, thoughtful and thorough manner. In its written response, the broadcaster acknowledged that the content of this commentary was [translation] “awkward and uncalled-for”. It added, however, that [translation] “Mr. Laprise gave his sincere apology on air, in his subsequent commentary on November 22.” In this case, the Panel Adjudicators note that, in order to be effective, an on-air apology must be relevant and make reference to the subject of the complaint. In this case, the apology given on air on November 22, 2011 was generic and did not specifically make reference to the content of the November 15 program. In the future, any apologies provided on air should be more precise.

Announcement of the Decision

RDS is required to: 1) announce the decision, in the following terms, once during prime time within three days following the release of this decision and once more within seven days following the release of this decision during the time period in which 5 à 7 was broadcast, but not on the same day as the first mandated announcement; 2) within the fourteen days following the broadcasts of the announcements, to provide written confirmation of the airing of the statement to the complainant who filed the Ruling Request; and 3) at that time, to provide the CBSC with a copy of that written confirmation and with air check copies of the broadcasts of the two announcements which must be made by RDS.

The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has found that RDS violated the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ Code of Ethics and Equitable Portrayal Code in its broadcast of 5 à 7 on November 15, 2011. During the segment “Laprise branché!”, a video was shown that presented persons of small stature in an abusive, negative, stigmatized and degrading manner. This breached Clause 2 of the Code of Ethics and Clauses 2, 3, 5 and 7 of the Equitable Portrayal Code.

This decision is a public document upon its release by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council.

[1] See CFNY-FM re a “Spencer the Cripple” segment on the Dean Blundell Show (CBSC Decision 08/09-0650, June 25, 2009) for another case in which a person’s willing participation in the program did not prevent it from constituting a Code breach.