TQS re an episode of L’Avocat et le diable (accommodations)

quebec regional panel
(CBSC Decision 05/06-1605+)
M.-A. Murat (Vice-Chair), B. Kenemy, D. Meloul, G. Moisan

THE FACTS

L’Avocat et le diable is a daily open-line television show, running from 9:00-10:00 am.  The hosts, Richard Desmarais and Stéphane Gendron, generally discuss current news stories or issues with their callers.  The question of the day on May 9, 2006 was [translation] “How far should we go to accommodate ethnic requirements?”  The issue appeared to have arisen for the episode’s producer from two newspaper reports:  the first was an article in Le Devoir which observed the significant number of Quebec students whose mother tongue is not French; and the second was a story on l’école Antoine-Brossard in Brossard.  In that case, the Marie-Victorin school board accommodated three Muslim girls who were to undergo a swimming test.  They covered the windows of the pool because Muslim girls are forbidden to show skin.  After putting the question of the day, the hosts began their dialogue with the following exchange (a more complete presentation of the dialogue can be found in Appendix A, available in French only):

This morning, we’re going to talk about what we call accommodations; the accommodations made for eth-, and we are seeing more and more of this.  In this morning’s edition of Le Devoir, we read that one out of every two students in the Montréal school board, one out of every two students whose, um, whose mother tongue is another language, whose mother tongue is not French.  That means that only 50 percent of the students in Montréal schools are of true Francophone stock.

[translation]

Desmarais: A question of a sensitive nature. This morning, we’re going to talk about what we call accommodations; the accommodations made for eth-, and we are seeing more and more of this. In this morning’s edition of Le Devoir, we read that one out of every two students in the Montréal school board, one out of every two students whose, um, whose mother tongue is another language, whose mother tongue is not French. That means that only 50 percent of the students in Montréal schools are of true Francophone stock.

Gendron: Watch out, watch out. “True stock”.

Desmarais: The true stock.

Gendron: True stock.

[…]

Desmarais: Well, how far do these accommodations have to go?

Gendron: To zero, zero accommodation.

Desmarais: Well no, you have to –

Gendron: No, no, no, it’s the laity law passed in France in 2005. Niet; get rid of any manifest signs, throw them in the garbage, otherwise go back where you came from. That’s how it works. In my case, no one smokes in my house. Is that clear, or what?

Desmarais: Well, yes, but you’re talking about smoking, whereas we’re talking about religious practices.

Gendron: Well, it’s the same principle. It’s the same thing. There’s no place for smoking or practising one’s religion in the schools.

The dialogue then focussed on the experience of the Muslim girls at the école Antoine-Brossard. One of the hosts referred to the blocking of the windows as “unacceptable favouritism”. After some further bantering between the co-hosts, they took their first call from Chantal.

Chantal: Well, I’m for zero tolerance. There would be absolutely no accommodating, um, –

Gendron: No.

Chantal: – this type of, um, because otherwise, there is no end to it. It was the kirpan; it was, um, specialised technical schools. Now it’s swimming. What’s next?

Gendron: No, no. We should do as they do in France in terms of laity. Leave your religion at the door –

Chantal: That’s right. At home or in church –

Gendron: – on the bus.

Chantal: – or at the mosque, whatever, and um.

Gendron: No more.

Chantal: – whatever and that’s it.

Gendron: It’s frightening how much time we lose over religion.

[…]

Gendron: Watch out, watch out. Who is at fault? Do we blame the three Muslim girls who made the request and were in fact accommodated? Do we blame the, the prune we heard from the school board, the bearded prune?

Desmarais: Hey, hey, hey, hey.

Gendron: The prune. [Imitating the man in question] “You know, we have certain requirements involving the obligation to accommodate”.

Chantal: Well, that’s just it. Just tell them “no” directly, and that’s the end of it; that’s all there is to it.

Gendron: Marie-Victorin school board, shame on you, period. Rotten.

The next caller, Nathalie, was of a similar view:

Nathalie: Especially the mayor of Huntingdon. I wholeheartedly agree with him. Um, that’s right. I would be for zero tolerance. Um, if we went to their country and we asked for those types of limitations, I’m not so sure it would be accepted, eh?

Caller Rebecca had a different perspective on the unfairness of favouring other religions.

Rebecca: Um, I find this totally unaccept-, unacceptable.

Desmarais: Mmn hmn?

Rebecca: I believe they removed the crosses in catholic schools.

Gendron: Mmn hmn.

Rebecca: And now they’re accepting things from another religion. It’s unacceptable.

[…]

Gendron: Yes, but I am astounded by the fact that there is still religion in schools in 2006. And the fact that we are obliged to accommodate. And this is not for sexual reasons; it’s for religious reasons. She can’t show her charms. What kind of submissiveness is that? You know? What kind of portrayal is that of women?

Desmarais: Three, three out of two thousand; three female students out of two thousand.

Gendron: Yup. It’s not allowed. It means that these people refuse our way of life, go swimming fully dressed. And you accept that as a society and you communicate as a value that women do not have the right to show themselves in a bathing suit. I protest and not because it’s a pleasant thing!

The end of that call was followed by a sarcastic intervention by co-host Gendron regarding one of his earlier remarks:

Gendron: In any event, I want to apologise to, to the spokesman for the Marie-Victorin school board in case he wants to initiate legal action. I called him a “prune” and I want to apologise to prunes.

After reading a few e-mails supporting the zero tolerance position, the co-hosts returned to the callers. Caller André, living in Montreal at the time of the call, told the story of an experience he had had while living in Mississauga. In a very large high school with a nearly Olympic-size pool, the Muslim girls not only were given the right to swim in appropriate garb, but they also insisted that the lifeguards, who were all female, be similarly clothed. André explained that the latter succeeded in their insistence that, for pool safety reasons, they be as unencumbered as possible in their dress. The result was a compromise. As the dialogue between the caller and co-host Gendron continued, the focus of the discussion changed slightly.

Gendron: Yes, but watch out, watch out. Last night I saw something very serious on Radio-Canada. They broadcast an excerpt from the Qur’an, a sura, I’m not too sure of the term, and the man has the right to hit his wife! It’s criminal! It’s a criminal religious code!

André: Mr. Gendron, Mr. Gendron, Mr. Gendron.

Gendron: Yes.

André: When I lived in Toronto I had Muslim friends. I talked with them and I made some very good friends incidentally. Afghanis, Iraqis, Iranians.

Desmarais: They aren’t all like that.

André: As far as that goes –

Gendron: Well, an upstanding society would forbid the Qur’an. That gets banned. Hey, beating women.

André: Well, as far as that goes, they all told me it’s a few zealots, and we need to eliminate them in our Charter of Rights, you understand?

Gendron: Well, you have to eliminate the text.

André: That’s right, because there are limits to interpretation. There are interpretations in the Bible. Hey, do we live with the Bible every day?

Gendron: No.

Desmarais: No.

Gendron: We eliminate it from our lives and we’re better off for it.

André: I’m telling you that regardless of whether it’s English Canada or Quebec, I am 100 percent in favour of immigration, but those religious zealots, I’m sorry, but I’ll personally escort you to the airport with a few kicks in the ass, and you can go back where you came from.

Caller Zaïde focussed on the beating of women discussion, which she stated was not present in the Qur’an.

Zaïde: And, if you read the Qur’an, there is no law legitimising the beating of women.

Gendron: But why did Jean-Michel Leprince -?

Zaïde: Excuse me, excuse me, I haven’t finished. It’s like in all religions. Some use religion inappropriately and interpret it incorrectly.

Gendron: Ah!

Zaïde: It’s their prerogative, but when you read the facts and you look at the facts, that is not written in the Qur’an at all.

Gendron: Wait a minute, Jean-Michel Leprince showed the excerpt yesterday on RDI during the program Le Point. An unfaithful wife deserves to be beaten. The man can beat his wife. That wasn’t a fabrication.

Zaïde: No, no.

Gendron: Isn’t it true? Isn’t it true?

Desmarais: Well, what is written, then?

Gendron: Well, that tears it.

Desmarais: Wait a minute. What is written, then?

Zaïde: I couldn’t say –

Gendron: So, you haven’t read it! Well, I did, last night for Pete’s sake!

Zaïde: [???] not written what you say, but [??] talk about it [??] as you say –

Gendron: Well yes, but a religion that authorises the beating of women is a blankety blank religion.

She then returned to the question of the day, saying,

Zaïde: So, I just want to give my, my position on reasonable accommodation.

Desmarais: Yes, but you didn’t read it. I asked you, um, but how far should we go in accommodating this?

Zaïde: Okay, what I can say is that I am in favour, um, of reasonable accommodation, because reasonable accommodation, as, as I’m telling you, I want to define what that is on television. It is the obligation to suspend a rule adopted by a majority in order to meet the needs of, of certain individuals –

Tony was the next caller but the co-hosts took the time to comment on the dialogue with Zaïde.

Gendron: No, you know? No, it’s pretty grim because she argued with us. Imagine, the Qur’an advocates beating women. It’s criminal. It’s a religion that incites crime.

Desmarais: Well, yes. You ask her what it says and well, she doesn’t know.

Gendron: She hasn’t even read it.

Desmarais: She makes the effort to call and tell us we’re wrong, that it doesn’t exist, but she couldn’t tell us what, what is written.

Gendron: As if what the lady reported on Radio-Canada yesterday was false. For heaven’s sake, the text was up on the screen; it wasn’t invented.

When Rose called, she identified herself as a Haitian and a practising Christian, who prayed every day.

Rose: I practise my religion. Look, if something doesn’t suit me, I’ll stay in my own country; same thing if there is something at school. After all, it’s not my country. People need to understand. We are in Québec here. There are values. I understand that people don’t want to abandon their religion. That’s all well and good.

Gendron: Mmn hmn. Religion is a personal thing.

Rose: But, I pray. You know, I pray every day. I go to church. But I don’t need to flaunt it everywhere.

Gendron: Well, that’s just it. You go to church for those things.

Rose: Yes.

Gendron: You make it a personal thing.

Rose: I pray at home.

Gendron: That’s right.

Rose: I saw in the paper that the university, I attend the University of Montréal, that legal action is being taken against the Polytechnique by Muslims who want a place to pray. [????] Is everyone going to ask for a place to pray? Now, for three individuals, we have to pay money so the children can be shut away. It’s abnormal; it’s becoming tedious.

[…]

Rose: Why are they the centre of the universe? Look here, we’re not going to implant Islam around the world. I’m sorry, that’s the idea. Look, this is Québec; if you’re not happy, go back where you came from.

That call was followed by one from Cécile, who also identified herself as a Haitian. Referring to Zaïde’s call, she asserted:

Cécile: In her race, in her race, not all Arab women wear the hijab, so she should start by accusing them. And I want to tell them that Arabs want to sexualise everything. They are pigs; they are swine –

Desmarais: Shu, shu –

Cécile: They, their policy is to sexualise so they can condemn everything.

Gendron: Yes, but listen, there are French Canadians who are also pretty focused on sex.

Cécile: Well yes, but they should, they should espouse the, um, Arab religion, I’m telling you. And I want to tell that woman that the West gives her far more respect than the people in her country. I mean, my father is Haitian and so is my mother. And I’m telling you, we are in Québec; we respect Québec law. If you don’t like it, well can we Haitians ask for voodoo churches, in the schools, I don’t know.

Desmarais: Hey, hey, hey.

Cécile: We never have problems with –

Gendron: No, but if you follow that logic –

Desmarais: That’s where it starts.

Cécile: I’ll tell you something. We never have problems with the Irish, the Italians, the Asians –

Desmarais: The Chinese.

Cécile: The Chinese, the Italians.

Desmarais: The Buddhists.

Cécile: Well, it’s true, those people respect themselves. It’s always the same damn individuals. In Spain, in all the countries they go to, they make tongues wag, that’s, that’s clear. Are we going to give them Québec for Christ’s sake?! How long are we going to wait? We’ll give them Québec and we’ll have to go live in [?]?! Is that what they want? Fine.

Then, after reading some e-mails, co-host Gendron provided a clarification regarding the Qur’an provision referred to earlier.

Gendron: The passage quoted yesterday from sura four point thirty-eight. So, to contradict Zaïde who was quite steamed up a while ago. So, for those women who are not, those women who are not virtuous and obedient, um, the sura says “As to those on whose part you fear disobedience, admonish them and leave them alone in the sleeping-places, and beat them”. Imagine such a backward, clueless, mental provision.

Desmarais: Fear disobedience.

Gendron: Yes, and you shall relegate them to separate beds and you shall beat them. Geez, that’s harsh. So, if I beat you, it is because I love you, it is because that is the word of Mohammed. Sura 4.38, you shall beat them. And then, the idiots tell us “Well, it’s my religion; it’s written down in the book”. Who wrote the book? Bunch of ignorami. It’s men, old broken down macho men who wanted to subjugate you 2,000 years ago, 1,000 years ago. “But, it’s written in the book; I had to do that, make her wear a scarf, it’s written in the book.”

The final caller was Julie and her concluding remarks and those of the co-hosts were as follows:

Julie: What is good for one is good for the other. If it’s good for a school, it should be good for the others.

Desmarais: That’s right.

Julie: If it isn’t good for a school, well then let them get rid of it and stop nauseating us with this.

Desmarais: Um, but I can tell you this. Together they are capable of making many, many demands from all sides.

Gendron: Yes, but it’s because, remember, if Muslim women come here and Fatima Houda-Pépin is a very good example of a liberated woman.

Desmarais: Yes.

Gendron: When you come here, well for us a woman is a man’s equal. If you don’t like it, well go back home. That’s all. You’ll be arrested and jailed because if your religion advocates beating your wife, I will seize the Qur’an, I will seize your religion, I will close the mosques and that’s the end of it. Thank you and goodnight.

In all, the CBSC received 24 complaints about the program.  Of these, only four individuals filed Ruling Requests following the broadcaster’s responses.  The first complainant, who identified himself as an Arab, sent a complaint to the CRTC, which forwarded it to the CBSC in due course.  He wrote in part (the full correspondence from the four individuals and the broadcaster’s responses can be found in Appendix B, available in French only):

[translation]

The complaint concerns one or more offensive and discriminatory comments with respect to the Muslim religion and my Arab origins made by hosts Richard Desmarais and Stéphane Gendron during the program L’Avocat et le diable, broadcast on May 9 from 9 to 10 a.m.

During this program, Mr. Stéphane Gendron insulted the Muslim religion, saying it is “a blankety blank religion.”  Rather than displaying the professionalism and integrity of their profession, the hosts would not let a Muslim lady from Montréal express her opinion and made fun of her.  On the other hand, they were only too happy to converse with the woman who called Arabs “pigs”.  Mr. Desmarais asked her mockingly to lower her voice so she would not be heard by Arabs.  Should they not have hung up?  The two hosts even had the temerity to add that the Arabs must get on planes and leave.

The comments made by the hosts of this program incite hatred, disdain and discrimination against Arabs and Muslims.  They have no respect for either democratic values or the general wellbeing of Arab and Muslim citizens.

The other three letters were sufficiently similar to this complaint that their text need not be repeated here; they can, however, be found in Appendix B.

The broadcaster’s Vice-President, Communications, responded to each of the complainants in the following terms on July 6.

[translation]

We sincerely regret that you were offended by the comments made by Messrs. Gendron and Desmarais and we apologise.  However, we believe it is important to establish the context in which they made their comments during this program.  In fact, the hosts were commenting on recent events, in particular a news story that caused a lot of ink to flow and generated a great many comments, i.e. the decision made by a school to allow three Muslim girls to take their swimming exam apart from the other students after having eliminated all visual access to the pool.

This situation sharply emphasised the differences among various religions, certain particular effects caused by the strict application of these religions in schools and the great difficulty in respecting the obligation to accommodate as set out by the Supreme Court.  It should be noted that this story also followed behind the issue of wearing a kirpan in school.

Given this context, it is false to claim that religion was the target as such, as the issue was rather an undeniable fact of current events that could be legitimately commented upon by the hosts of this program.

That being said, we submit to you that these comments were made for the sole purpose of pointing out the difficulties inherent in the strict application of a religion within a different framework, and that even though some may consider these comments discriminatory they were not abusive and could be justified in a context where school authorities sought to deal with certain features of this religion with total objectivity.

The Canadian Standards Council [sic] has even recognized that in a society as progressive as ours it is acceptable to underscore certain religious tenets with humor without constituting disdain or undue or abusive discrimination.

The complainants declared their dissatisfaction in identical letters, which read in principal part:

[translation]

I received a letter from TQS in which [the Vice-President] wrote that she regrets the incident.  Her reply consisted of nothing more than a pat formula containing quotes out of context that do not in any way address my concerns as to the patently hateful comments disseminated on TQS.  I am not alone in having been offended, as a mockery has been made of the law.  If in fact the Vice-President is apologizing, I would very much have liked to believe the sincerity of her “words”, but unfortunately the rest of her two-page letter demonstrates that she did not take the time to read the complaint.  Several points completely escaped her.

The Vice-President did not take into account the fact that the subject of the letter was hardly one that “caused a lot of ink to flow and generated a great many comments”.  Although such accommodations have been set out by the Supreme Court, it was the general substance of the comments made by the two hosts that were cause for indignation.  When the hosts of a supposedly professional and credible program claim that the Muslim religion is a “blankety blank” religion, encourage the audience members who call in to insult Arabs and call them “pigs”, and mockingly propose that the Arabs “leave by plane”, the situation is serious!  It was precisely these comments that we deem offensive.  It is this context that reveals a lack of respect for our cultural communities and this manner of inciting racial hatred that are completely unacceptable.

[.] Freedom of speech and multiculturalism enrich society.  On the other hand, these are abusively discriminatory comments that cannot be accepted or justified for any reason.  [.]  The insults contained in the program L’Avocat et le diable pave the way for small minds to infect society with a mentality that will not withstand an intellectual debate based on reality and objectivity.

THE DECISION

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

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 Code of Ethics, Clause 6 (Full, Fair and Proper Presentation)

It is recognized that the full, fair and proper presentation of news, opinion, comment and editorial is the prime and fundamental responsibility of each broadcaster.  This principle shall apply to all radio and television programming, whether it relates to news, public affairs, magazine, talk, call-in, interview or other broadcasting formats in which news, opinion, comment or editorial may be expressed by broadcaster employees, their invited guests or callers. 

The Quebec Regional Panel Adjudicators reviewed a tape of the call-in show and read all of the correspondence.  The Panel concludes that the episode was not in breach of the aforementioned Code provisions. 

HUMAN RIGHTS

It has long been the position of the CBSC Panels that it is not simply any reference to an identifiable group that will be understood to constitute a breach of the Human Rights clause of the CAB Code of Ethics; it is only those comments that are abusive or unduly discriminatory that will be found in violation.  It should also be noted that the discussion of political matters or issues of current affairs will generally be understood as falling within the sphere of acceptable comment, although there is no doubt that even such customarily valuable discussion can be carried over the invisible boundary line of tolerability.  It is the responsibility of the Panel to review the challenged broadcast material to see whether it is tinged with such negative critical content as to be found in breach. 

In the matter under review, the trigger for the morning discussion was a specific event that had garnered public attention in Quebec; namely, the bathing attire of Muslim girls in an otherwise unrestricted school pool environment.  Basically, the question for callers focused on the extent to which the general population should accommodate the practices of ethnic minorities that are in conflict with the traditional comfort levels of the local citizenry.  Similar triggering issues had arisen with the wearing of the kirpan by Sikhs, the hijab, niqab or burkha by Muslims, large religious crosses or other symbols by various orthodox Christian sects and so on.  In France, the passage by the Assemblée nationale of the loi du 17 mars 2004, à propos du port des signes religieux à l’école [law of March 17, 2004 concerning the wearing of religious symbols in school], generally known as the loi sur la laïcité [laity law], provoked worldwide reaction on such matters (and this law was referred to in this broadcast).

The point is that the discussion of such matters is in and of itself entirely consistent with the entitlement, if not responsibility, of any broadcaster to discuss controversial issues.  Nor is it a breach of any codified standard for the co-hosts or callers to take the position that schools and other public institutions ought not to cater to the demands of other religions or traditions.  The issue is rather, in so doing, have the co-hosts or callers gone too far?  Have they overstepped the bounds of legitimate comment?  The Quebec Panel considers that they have not.  The focus was on the issues, not on the identifiable group espousing them.  One issue, the initial issue, was the dress restrictions.  That was dealt with strictly on the issue of concessions to be made or refused (most callers did, it is true, espouse the zero tolerance approach, but that was their right to do).  Another was the lawsuit instituted by Muslim students at the Montreal Polytechnique seeking a room for prayer.  This, too, provoked a reaction of unreasonableness by the one caller raising that point.  Here, too, she was entitled not to support the request by certain students.  Finally, in this regard, there was the comment about the small-mindedness of a religion that would support the beating of a spouse for infidelity.  Although this point arose from the discussion of a Qur’anic sura that appeared to be worded so as to support such harsh treatment of a spouse, the reaction was framed in terms related to any religion that would favour such actions.

In other words, there was not, in the view of the Panel, any abusive or unduly discriminatory comment with respect to the discussion of any of the foregoing issues.  It is, however, undeniable that one caller uttered the ugly statement, [translation] “They are pigs; they are swine”, but there was a quick negative reaction to it by the co-host Desmarais, who said “Shu, shu.”  (The Panel disagrees with the first complainant that this was done in the context of keeping the comment quiet so that persons who might be offended could not hear it; it seems to the Panel that the purpose was to suggest that the caller should not be making such remarks at all.)  And when the caller followed up with a supplementary comment regarding their sexual proclivities, co-host Gendron quickly countered by saying [translation] “Yes, but listen, there are French Canadians who are also pretty focused on sex.”  There was, in other words, counterpoint to the comments.  Nipped in the bud, they were permitted no life or existence by the co-hosts.  They did not, in the circumstances of their utterance, amount to abusive or unduly discriminatory comment.

In this episode of L’Avocat et le diable, the Quebec Regional Panel finds no breach of Clause 2 of the CAB Code of Ethics.

Quoting the Qur’an

At one point in the program, during an exchange with caller André, co-host Gendron referred to a Radio-Canada television program of the evening before in which a reference had been made to a sura in the Qur’an which, he reported, “the man has the right to hit his wife”.  His reaction, whether feigned or genuine, was one of horror: [translation] “It’s criminal!  It’s a criminal religious code.”  The discussion with the following caller, Zaïde, continued to focus on the Qur’anic sura, which had only been discussed obliquely.  No specific reference had yet been given to either the text or the number of the sura in question.  A part of that exchange indicated that, although caller Zaïde categorically denied the presence of that provision in the Qur’an, co-host Gendron strongly supported its existence on the basis of the assertion by Jean-Michel Leprince on Radio-Canada.

Zaïde:               And, if you read the Qur’an, there is no law legitimising the beating of women.

Gendron:           But why did Jean-Michel Leprince -?

 Zaïde:               Excuse me, excuse me, I haven’t finished.  It’s like in all religions.  Some use religion inappropriately and interpret it incorrectly.

 Gendron:           Ah!

 Zaïde:               It’s their prerogative, but when you read the facts and you look at the facts, that is not written in the Qur’an at all.

Gendron:           Wait a minute, Jean-Michel Leprince showed the excerpt yesterday on RDI during the program Le Point.  An unfaithful wife deserves to be beaten.  The man can beat his wife.  That wasn’t a fabrication. 

That level of reliance as to the accurate content of an important Qur’anic provision, particularly one that is the subject of criticism, is risky.  In CFRA-AM re an episode of the Lowell Green Show (the Qur’an) (CBSC Decision 05/06-1380, May 18, 2006), the Ontario Regional Panel was called upon to assess similar assertions by an Ottawa radio call-in show host, who had misquoted a provision of the Qur’an regarding the issue of apostasy.  Although the radio host had himself misquoted a letter-writer who had properly quoted the sura, the point was that the radio host had gotten the text wrong, with regrettable consequences for the radio audience and Islam.  As the Ontario Panel said,

The issue is [.] that the “quotation” from the Qur’an is incorrect.  [.]  The broadcaster had its own obligation to be certain, at material times, of the accuracy of the material on which it was relying.  Its failure to do so resulted in a construct of an argument or position that appeared to be more defensible than it was.  The Qur’an has an authoritative cachet, as it should, as the Bible does.  Building an argument on the apparent content of Islam’s holy book puts callers and listeners in a defensive, behind-the-8-ball position from the get-go.  The host either knew or ought to have known that his position would appear stronger in such reliance.  He or someone on the broadcaster’s staff ought to have verified such an important point before using that provision as the foundation for almost the entire episode.  Their failure to present the audience with accurate information about the content of the Qur’an was misleading and unfair.  They loaded the dice without disclosing the fact that they had done so, even if that choice was unintentional.  In the end, the broadcaster’s constant reliance on misquoted text from the Qur’an [.] rendered the presentation neither full, fair nor proper, and consequently in breach of Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics.

As it happens, the sura referred to in the challenged broadcast was not misrepresented.  It was, however, chancy to depend on someone else’s representation for such a consequential conclusion by the co-hosts.  In the view of the Panel, they were lucky on this occasion.

Later identified as sura 4:38 (numbered in some locations as 4:34), translations do appear to refer to the sanction mentioned by the co-hosts on the program.  It may be that leaving to listeners the idea that the entitlement to “beat” women in the sense of the Canadian criminal law is a shallow and uncustomary interpretation of those words.  It does not, however, in the circumstances of this broadcast, amount to an improper or unfair comment, as envisaged in Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics.

Broadcaster Responsiveness

The CBSC considers, as a part of every decision, whether the broadcaster has complied with its obligation to respond appropriately to the complainant’s concerns. That dialogue is not only a part of every broadcaster’s CBSC membership obligations, it also represents the public’s sense of security in the process of self-regulation. While broadcasters are always involved with the reaction of their audiences to what they put on air, this dialogue with a listener is the manifestation to the complainant of that involvement. In this case, the Panel considers that the response by the Vice-President of Communications at TQS was thorough and appropriate.

This decision is a public document upon its release by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council. It may be reported, announced or read by the station against which the complaint had originally been made; however, in the case of a favourable decision, the station is under no obligation to announce the result.