The Use of Coarse Language in an Interview Breaches the CAB Code of Ethics, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, March 14, 2005 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning the broadcast by CFGQ-FM (Calgary) of a live performance of, and an interview with, the Canadian rock band the Tragically Hip in which the band performed some of their songs and answered questions from the audience and radio host. In response to an e-mailed question “what’s the lyric you’re most proud of having written?”, band member Gord Downie replied “I really like f— this and f— that and this guy is a diplomat.” A complainant wrote that he had “heard the ‘F’ word a couple of times. That’s something I didn’t think I would hear on the radio.” The broadcaster agreed that the station had “let some questionable language air” but noted that steps had been taken and that “all future live networked programs will be aired with a delay system in place.”

The Prairie Regional Panel reviewed some previous decisions in which the f-word had been used in a spoken word environment, including a recent interview on an Ontario station with a well-known movie actor. In that matter, the use of the word by the interviewee had been characterized as gratuitous. The Prairie Panel quoted the Ontario Panel’s conclusion to the effect that “The broadcaster was responsible for avoiding such an occurrence, whether by tape delay or otherwise” and, in the present matter, decided that, although the band member’s use of the word had not been gratuitous, the broadcast of the f-word constituted a breach of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics.

While the use of the f-word appears not to have been gratuitous, the broadcaster ought to have had a delay (or other) system in place to prevent such an on-air occurrence. In any event, its obligation was to avoid the broadcast of unduly coarse or offensive language. By failing to do avoid that language, CFGQ-FM has breached Clause 9(c) of the CAB Code of Ethics.

The Panel also commended the broadcaster for acknowledging its technological gap on that occasion and for putting in place the appropriate mechanisms to avoid a recurrence of such a problem in future.

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 550 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