Satirical Skits Involving Catholic Priests Not in Violation of Broadcast Standards, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, February 18, 2003 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning an episode of CTV's late night talk show Open Mike with Mike Bullard. The episode included allusions to the accusations of paedophilia within the Catholic priesthood, supplemented by skits featuring two young male actors dressed up as Catholic priests. The CBSC National Conventional Television Panel concluded that the skits did not constitute abusive or undue discrimination against Catholics.

The actors dressed as priests were on screen a total of four times during the episode. The first sketch was introduced by a conversation between Bullard and the program's resident band leader, Orin Isaacs, who asked Bullard how he had been able to deter some young boys from hanging outside the studio and terrorizing guests. The host replied that he had “hired a couple of Catholic priests. […] Today I haven't seen a young guy within ten blocks of here.” The scene then cut to the two actors standing outside the studio. In other skits, the actors were shown trying to hand out candy to a young adolescent, admiring young men who passed by, and playing musical instruments.

The CBSC received a number of complaints from viewers, including one from the Catholic Civil Rights League (CCRL), which was concerned that the program unjustly stereotyped Catholic priests and constituted abusive or unduly discriminatory comment against an identifiable group. The Panel examined all of the complaints and viewed a tape of the episode in light of the Human Rights clause of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters' (CAB) Code of Ethics which requires that broadcasters ensure that their programming contains no abusive or unduly discriminatory material based on matters of religion. The Panel found no breach of that clause. It considered that, despite the discomfort of “the individuals or groups on the receiving end of the satirical commentary,” the program had been nothing more than satire on “matters of public interest [which] are subject to becoming fodder for the pen, keyboard or microphone of the social commentator or satirist.” As to the accusation by complainants that the reaction would have been different had the comments been directed toward other ethnic or religious groups, the Panel strongly disagreed. After citing other earlier CBSC Panel decisions in support of that point, it said “The issue is, after all, not the identity of the group but rather the nature of the comments made. Those which are light, rather than heavy, tickling rather than bludgeoning, will, even if distasteful to some (or many), pass muster.” In this case, they found the treatment of the issue to be “sufficiently gently satirical (and related to a very publicly debated controversy) to be acceptable.”

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 530 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