TQS re Black-out (“Faring Well with Welfare”)

QUEBEC REGIONAL COUNCIL
(CBSC Decision 98/99-0009+)
P. Audet (Chair), Y. Chouinard (Vice-Chair), R. Cohen (ad hoc),M. Gervais, S. Gouin and P-L. Smith

THE FACTS

Black-out is a television talk show with a panel format, which is set in a local Montreal bar called Le lion d’or. The show made its debut on Télévision Quatre-Saisons (TQS) on Tuesday, September 1, 1998 at 8:30 pm with a discussion about “Faring Well with Welfare” (a non-literal translation of the original French title “Le B.S. c’est ben correct” to convey its sense). The two hosts, Robert Gillet and France Gauthier, presided over and steered the discussion among the four panelists (all self-proclaimed welfare collectors by choice) and members of the audience (i.e. the bar patrons). It was unclear to the Quebec Regional Council whether the “discussion” was staged and/or whether any of the “panelists” was an actor rather than an individual genuinely in the alleged circumstances; however, the substance of this decision remains unaffected by the answers to those questions.

During this panel discussion which focussed on abuse of the welfare system, the panelists were, each in turn, questioned, criticized and sometimes taunted by the hosts and members of the audience for choosing social welfare rather than taking active and concrete steps towards gainful employment. The following provides a sampling of the “discussion” (a full transcript of the show is provided as AppendixA):

: Bien, non, c’est pas que j’ai honte. Je veux pas nécessairement que le monde me reconnaisse.

: Bien, c’est que je veux pas nécessairement me faire écoeurer quand je vais sortir d’ici.

: Comment ça? Pourquoi? Pourquoi te faire écoeurer?

: Bien, regardez c’te gang d’imbéciles-là qui arrêtent pas de gueuler.

: Laissez-le parler. D’abord, vous touchez combien par mois?

: OK, est-ce que t’as déjà travaillé?

: Et alors? Ça, c’est un beau métier.

: Ben, c’est la pire des affaires, je pense, laver la vaisselle sale des autres.

: En plus, on gagne pas 80 000 par année, fais-que à quoi bon travailler?

: D’abord, il faut commencer quelque part.

: D’habitude, les gens qui ont des cagoules, ce sont des bandits. Est-ce que Christian pourrait nous dire, est-ce que vous avez autre chose à cacher? Est-ce que vous travaillez au noir un petit peu avec ça? Pour arrondir les fins de mois?

: Non, je dirais plutôt que… Non, je dirais plutôt que je travaille à jouer de la musique ou à quêter sur le coin des rues de temps en temps pour…

: Et quand tu quêtes sur le coin des rues, est-ce que tu déclares ces revenus supplémentaires-là à l’impôt? Non, hein?

: Je pense, Robert, qu’il faudrait laisser quelques personnes réagir parce que j’entends toutes sortes de murmures, des grands soupirs. Est-ce que vous travaillez, vous, Monsieur? Levez-vous, s’il vous plaît.

: Ah, oui, je travaille, contrairement à Merveille Masquée, là.

: Qu’est-ce que vous faites comme travail?

: Moi, je travaille dans un bar. Je travaille comme bouncer dans un bar. Je vide les vidanges comme ça, là.

: Christian pourra se défendre après, mais qu’est-ce que vous avez à dire, en fait, comme réaction par rapport à ce qui vient de se dire?

: Bien, je suis juste content qu’à le voir qu’il n’aura pas d’enfant pour montrer ça parce que c’est épouvantable, là.

: Christian, y’a pas grand monde ici qui fait des jobs à 80 000, mais j’ai une mademoiselle ici avec moi qui est également sur l’aide sociale et qui s’est levée, qui a des choses à dire. Je pense qu’elle est un petit peu en furie.

: Oui, parce que moi, là, j’ai trois enfants. J’ai 886 pour vivre, OK? Calculez comme vous voudrez, les allocations familiales, le B.S., moé j’arrive dans le trou. Je vais travailler, je vais y aller mais je peux pas travailler à salaire minimum.

: Je peux pas faire vivre mes enfants au salaire minimum.

: Mais qu’est-ce que vous avez à dire à Christian?

: Y’exagère tout simplement. C’est… l’exagération, c’est à cause du monde de même, comme lui….

: Ben, t’avais rien qu’à pas aller baiser, t’en aurais pas d’enfants puis tu serais pas dans la merde.

: J’ai dit t’avais rien qu’à pas aller baiser. Tu serais peut-être pas dans la merde avec tes enfants.

: J’ai quelqu’un ici qui aimerait ça vous poser une question, je pense. Vous aussi, vous êtes un assisté social?

: Ça écoeure pas mal de voir tout ce monde-là parce que moi, j’en ai besoin de l’assistance sociale parce que médicament parlant, je peux pas faire autrement. J’ai été obligé de tout lâcher ma job, mes études, tout ça pour pouvoir vivre, juste vivre. Puis de voir c’te bande d’imbéciles-là, en avant, ça me tue.

: Imbéciles. Imbéciles peut-être moins qu’on pense. Je sais pas de quel côté sont les imbéciles. Est-ce que ce sont ceux qui paient ou ce sont ceux qui sont payés, là?

: C’est une question, avez-vous une réponse?

: Bien, deux petites choses. Si c’est ceux qui paient, si tout le monde arrête de payer, bien, vous allez être dans la merde….

: OK, moi, j’ai quatre commentaires. Un pour chaque. Cyprine qui pense que là, elle est sur le B.S. parce qu’elle paie pas ses prêts et bourses, mais là, la loi a changé. Tu vas les payer à moment donné, fais-que travaille.

Toi, que ton grand-père, ton père, ton arrière-grand-père, tes oncles, tes tantes qui ont payé de l’impôt, je sais pas trop, ils ont payé pour eux autres, pour les services sociaux, pour la société. Fais-que toi, bouge ton cul puis travaille.

Puis toi, Martram. OK, moi, je suis étudiante. J’ai fait des études supérieures. J’ai étéquatre ans à l’université sur des prêts. J’ai jamais eu une tabernacle de bourse. J’ai travaillé dans un bar, de nuit, ces quatre ans-là à temps plein en même temps que je faisais des études à temps plein et je suis encore vivante et je pense que je sers mieux la société que toi, que je coûte moins cher.

Puis toi, tu es un artiste puis moi, je paie pour ton art, donc je veux une toile dans mon salon, une dans ma chambre de bain puis une dans ma chambre.

: Ce sont tous des artistes. Quelle idée géniale! On veut tous des toiles ce soir. Vous nous faites quelque chose? Qui en veut?

: On pourra les voir dans les rues de Montréal. C’est vos graffitis. Y’a déjà que ça fait bondir tout le monde. Robert, est-ce qu’il nous reste du temps pour des commentaires?

: Des graffitis, pas sur mon char, s’il vous plaît.

: Moé, vous m’étourdissez, surtout la cagoule, là. Moi, j’en n’ai pas de cagoule. Je vais te dire de quoi. Le courage, c’est ça.

: Tu devrais bien en porter, une cagoule. Tu as l’air assez épais de même.

: Écoute-moi deux minutes. Moi, j’ai le SIDA, mon boy, OK?

: J’ai le SIDA. Tu connais ça? On connaît ça, le SIDA. Puis je m’éfouère pas sur ma maladie. Quand je suis capable de me lever puis aller travailler, pour pas retirer un ostie de chèque de B.S., je le fais, OK? Puis m’a te dire une autre affaire. Je me demande c’est quoi la fierté de dire puis de catcher de toutes les manières possibles, se faire soutenir par une société où est-ce qu’il y a des gens qui sont vraiment dans le besoin, où est-ce que y’a du monde vraiment malade, qui aurait de besoin de plus. Puis à cause de toé, y’en n’ont pas plus.

: Avant d’aller à la pause, moi, j’ai l’impression que les Québécois, nous sommes des gens foncièrement bons et on va faire un test très scientifique dans la salle ce soir, si vous voulez. Les gens qui sont d’accord pour être très généreux vis-à-vis des assistés sociaux qui en ont vraiment besoin, manifestez-vous. Faites du bruit.

: OK, maintenant, maintenant les gens dans la salle qui sont tout à fait contre le principe du bien-être social, pour qui que ce soit, manifestez-vous.

: Le chandail vert là-bas, avec les cheveux roses ou jaune-orange. Écoute-moi donc minute, là. Moi, je travaille. Je suis comme tout le monde icitte, là. M’as-tu compris, là?

: Penses-tu que j’ai jamais travaillé, moi?

: As-tu déjà travaillé, toé? T’es sur le B.S., quessé que t’es, toé, icitte?

: Ben, je suis sur le B.S. pour l’instant parce que j’ai décidé d’approfondir mon art.

: Oui, pour l’instant. Pour combien de temps tu vas être sur le B.S.?

: Le temps que ça prendra pour que ce soit rentable.

: Ben le temps que t’apprendras, c’est nous autres qui paient pour toé. As-tu compris, là?

: Je pense que le monsieur est très catholique ici.

: Monsieur qui venez de parler, là, sincèrement, si vous leur en voulez, pourquoi vous faites pas la même chose? Pourquoi vous vous mettez pas vous-même sur le B.S.?

: Parce que je suis trop fier de travailler. Moi, je suis pas fier à rester assis sur mon cul.

J’ai déjà été sur le B.S. moé itou. J’ai déjà été sur le B.S., moi aussi, OK, puis j’étais pas fier de ça pantoute. M’a te dire une affaire. J’ai fait ben des affaires dans ma vie, OK, pis je m’en [censuré] pas mal. Mais m’a te dire une affaire, là. Moé, je suis pas fier d’être sur le B.S. puis là, je le suis plus. Tant mieux. Mais j’étais pas fier d’être sur le B.S., OK? Parce que moi, j’ai une fierté dans la vie. C’est de travailler puis faire vivre ma famille. C’est ça, ma fierté!

: Oui, alors dans un premier temps, moi aussi, j’étais contre le fait de donner du bien-être social aux gens qui en avaient pas besoin. Mais maintenant, après avoir vu ce que j’ai vu ce soir, je me rends très bien compte que d’abord, y’a des femmes qui en ont besoin, y’a des gens qui sont malades qui en ont besoin. Et dans un autre temps, je vois ces gens-là là-bas, là, le petit oiseau du paradis, le warrior et tout ça, ces gens-là, on veut pas les employer. Alors, il faut leur en donner, du bien-être social. Il faut leur en donner pour notre sécurité, pour que ces gens-là aient un minimum pour vivre. Sans ça, ça va nous faire des criminels dans la rue qui vont nous attaquer.

: Je trouve que c’est complètementabsurde et con, ce que le monsieur vient de dire.

: Non, moi, je trouve que ç’a de l’allure.

: Bien oui, ça va faire des criminels. Vous êtes une gang de criminels.

: Non, mais on n’a pas assez. Ils devraient donner plus au bien-être social.

: Non, mais ce que Monsieur a dit, je sais pas s’il disait que vous, personnellement, vous seriez des criminels, mais si j’ai bien compris ce que Monsieur disait, c’est que lui, il aime mieux vous donner de l’argent parce que lui ne vous emploierait pas parce que y’a pas confiance en vous. Je pense que c’est ça qu’il voulait dire.

The following song by two amateur comedians was also included as part of the “discussion”:

J’ai pas de préjugés face au B.S., même si chaque fois qu’ils reçoivent un chèque, y’achètent pour mille piastres de chinois. Ils dépensentleur argent n’importe où. Du Coke aux cerises, des montres, calculatrices, des macarons du Pape. Ça se plaint que çavit dans la crotte mais ça se paie des affaires. Des pailles qui tournent, des aimants pour mettre sur le frigidaire. Sont pas capables de se retenir. C’est comme une descente de vessie dans le portefeuille.

À huit heures, le B.S. se lève pour regarder dehors. Il se rouvre une bière puis il gratte une poule aux oeufs d’or. Y’écoute la télévision en anglais, CBS. C’est une grosse qui fait la météo. Il fera pas beau. Y’emprunte la tondeuse à son voisin. Il dit que son gazon est long mais il reste au septième. Y’emprunte la souffleuse à sa voisine. C’est la fête de son gars. C’est pour souffler les balounes.

Chaque semaine, y’écrit au courrier de Solange Harvey. L’hiver, il enfile sa tuque brune et orange Harvey’s. Harvey’s. Ça, c’est cowboy. Y’ont pas d’argent pour les enfants. Y’est habillent avec des vieilles boîtes d’électroménagers. À chaque matin, je les vois passer. Je regarde la laveuse puis la sécheuse qui vont à l’école.

The Letters of Complaint

The Council received numerous complaints about the show, almost all of which reflected a common theme. The complainants considered that the broadcast discriminated and incited hatred against persons on social welfare. In the words of one complainant, “[translation] the purpose of the show is to insult, abuse and treat like cattle four youths on welfare”. Another complainant was of the view that the show was “[translation] an encouragement for the general population to develop a lack of understanding and contempt towards the most destitute segment of society.” And another stated that “[translation] this kind of collective emotional release can only lead to violence and intolerance.”

Another complaint, although raising some points similar to those previously mentioned, had a different twist:

[Translation] I have a degree in social work but, due to the precariousness of the job market and the lack of opportunities, have had no other choice but to go on welfare.

In response to a newspaper ad which appeared last August, I contacted one of the researchers for the show. They were proposing, in fact, a new debate-style show which would focus on the question “Can you be happy on welfare?” Aside from our financial troubles, I sincerely believe that we can still be happy. This carefully articulated opinion won me a spot as a panellist at the first taping.

I was shocked to find that, on the day of the taping, I was the only woman among three young men who had nothing valuable to say about their circumstances. My surprise was that much greater when I found that there was no debate, the hosts were obnoxious and the audience was filled with prejudice. Despite the context and the general ambiance of the taping, I managed to convey some respect and dignity which I believe helped the audience to better understand those on social assistance.

Unfortunately, the recording remains the property of the producers. With all types of excuses, they decided to re-tape the show. At the last minute of the second recording, they decided to replace me with another panellist. Since I stayed until the end of this taping, I had time to figure out what was going on. I won’t get into the details of the production, but the disgust I felt has been with me ever since as well as many questions:

What was the real point of this show? Did the producers shelf the first show because it contained more political content than they wanted? How do they explain that the same people, with the same biased arguments took part in both recordings and signed contracts? Why wasn’t the gender equality of the population on social assistance not represented in the panellists? The most troubling: It was advertised as a debate but was in fact a brutal lynching encouraged by two “professional television personalities.”

As a woman on welfare, I was deeply insulted by this broadcast. It’s a shame that television which should be used for purposes of education and information is now controlled by irresponsible sensationalists who are more concerned with making money by playing on the lowest form of mankind’s instincts.

The Broadcaster’s Response

The Vice-President of Communications for TQS responded to the initial complainants in the following terms:

[Translation] I acknowledge receipt of your letter in which you share with us your dissatisfaction regarding the broadcast of Black-out au Lion d’Or on September 1.

We have noted your concerns and we have already made some modifications to the show in order to avoid and future similar situtation. TQS’s management pays particular attention to each topic and its treatment given on the show.

We are sorry that only the most sensational comments were noted by the public and viewers. You’ll note that a single mother had ample opportunity to express her point of view. It is a show where everyone had the freedom to say what they are thinking and where everyone has a right to their opinion.

 

After it had responded to approximately half of the complaints, the broadcaster added the following paragraph to its by then standard response:

is not a public affairs program but rather an entertainment program complete with musical interludes, broadcast as part of TQS’s “Funny Tuesdays”.

Ten complainants were unsatisfied with TQS’ response and requested that the CBSC refer the matter to the appropriate Regional Council for adjudication. Two of these complainants also followed up their request with additional correspondence, expressing disgust with the broadcaster’s response and calling for a public apology from TQS or “[translation] a real public affairs program dealing with the plight of people on welfare, who live in institutionalised poverty”. These letters are included in AppendixB.

THE DECISION

The CBSC’s Quebec Regional Council considered the complaint under Clauses 2 and 6 of the Code of Ethics of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB). The texts of these provisions read as follows:

CAB Code of Ethics, Clause 2 – Human Rights

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

CAB Code of Ethics, Clause 6 – News

It shall be the responsibility of member stations to ensure that news shall be represented with accuracy and without bias. The member station shall satisfy itself that the arrangements made for obtaining news ensure this result. It shall also ensure that news broadcasts are not editorial. News shall not be selected for the purpose of furthering or hindering either side of any controversial public issue, nor shall it be designed by the beliefs or opinions or desires of the station management, the editor or others engaged in its preparation or delivery. The fundamental purpose of news dissemination in a democracy is to enable people to know what is happening, and to understand events so that they may form their own conclusions.

Therefore, nothing in the foregoing shall be understood as preventing news broadcasters from analyzing and elucidating news so long as such analysis or comment is clearly labelled as such and kept distinct from regular news presentations. Member stations will, insofar as practical, endeavour to provide editorial opinion which shall be clearly labelled as such and kept entirely distinct from regular broadcasts of news or analysis and opinion.

It is recognized that the full, fair and proper presentation of news, opinion, comment and editorial is the prime and fundamental responsibility of the broadcast publisher.

The Regional Council members viewed a tape of the program in question and reviewed all of the correspondence. The Council considers that the show did not present a full, fair and proper discussion on the issue of social welfare or successfully circumscribe the discussion to deal solely with the issue of persons who choose welfare over gainful employment. By failing to meet either of these expectations, the broadcaster breached paragraph 3 of Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics.

Clause 2 and the Protected Grounds of Discrimination

Clause 2 of the CAB Code of Ethics protects persons against abusively discriminatory comment “based on matters of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, marital status or physical or mental handicap.” Discriminatory comment based on a person’s need for social welfare is not explicitly prohibited. The analysis does not end here, however, because the CBSC, on occasion, has extended the application of the human rights provision beyond its explicit wording.

In CHQR-AM re Forbes and Friends (CBSC Decision 92/93-0187, August 8, 1994), the Prairie Regional Council “read in” sexual orientation as a protected ground of discrimination, stating that “[a]lthough Clause 2 does not contain a specific reference to ‘sexual orientation’, … the term ‘sex’ could reasonably be understood as being broad enough to include ‘sexual orientation’.” The addition of sexual orientation as a protected ground was further explained in CJRQ-FM re Opinion Poll (CBSC Decision 94/95-0135, March 26, 1996). In that decision, the Ontario Regional Council stated the following:

was created in 1988. When, two years later, the private broadcaster codifiers created the Sex Role Portrayal Code, with the approval of the CRTC, they provided, in Article 3, for “fair and equitable demographic diversity” in the following terms:

Television and radio programming shall portray the wide spectrum of Canadian life. Women and men shall be portrayed with fair and equitable demographic diversity taking into account age, civil status, race, ethnocultural origin, physical appearance, sexual orientation, background, religion, occupation, socio-economic condition and leisure activities, while actively pursuing a wide range of interests. Portrayals should also take into account the roles and contributions of the mentally, physically and socially challenged.

,the private broadcaster codifiers, again with the approval of the CRTC, provided a corresponding protection on the basis of sexual orientation in Article 8:

8.1 Broadcasters shall not telecast programming which sanctions, promotes or glamorizes violence based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, or mental or physical disability

provides that “A licensee shall not broadcast any abusive comment that, when taken in context, tends or is likely to expose an individual … to hatred or contempt on the basis of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, sexual orientation, age or mental or physical disability.”

The Council added to these two cases supporting the inclusion of sexual orientation as one of the protected grounds enumerated in Clause 2 the following rationale in CHCH-TV re Life Today with James Robison (CBSC Decision 95/96-0128, April 30, 1996). Citing both the CHQR-AM and CJRQ-FM cases, the Council further noted

… that the CRTC amended all of its regulations dealing with broadcasting content in 1991 to include sexual orientation as one of the bases on which abusive comment is prohibited. While the CAB has not yet amended its Code of Ethics,which was drafted in 1988, the Council does not find this situation problematic. The Council notes that the Supreme Court of Canada has read sexual orientation into section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in Egan v. Canada [1995] 2 S.C.R. 513. In that decision, Mr. Justice La Forest stated:

I have no difficulty accepting the appellants’ contention that whether or not sexual orientation is based on biological or physiological factors, which may be a matter of some controversy, it is a deeply personal characteristic that is either unchangeable or changeable only at unacceptable personal costs, and so falls within the ambit of s. 15 protection as being analogous to the enumerated grounds. [Emphasis added.]

The Council does not, however, extend the application of the human rights provision lightly. In CKLZ-FM re Announcer Comments (CBSC Decision 94/95-0113, December 18, 1996) a radio announcer on a rock music station disclosed the location of a police radar trap (a “fuzz-trap“, in the announcer’s words).The British Columbia Regional Council concluded that “fuzz” is a slang term, not a pejorative term, and not in violation of the Code. With respect to whether it was discriminatory, Council explained:

It is not the view of the B.C. Regional Council that it would be possible by definition to extend “race, national or ethnic origin, religion, age, sex, marital status or physical or mental handicap” to include occupation or profession. Such a change, were one merited, would require the intervention of the codifiers.

In another case, CKNG-FM re “Blond Moments” (CBSC Decision 96/97-0060, December 16, 1997), the Council did not consider it appropriate to extend the protected grounds specifically enumerated in Clause 2 in order to include “blonds” as a protected group. As to whether discrimination on the basis of hair colour should be prohibited, the Council stated:

The CBSC has, on a previous occasion, interpreted the human rights provision of the CAB Code of Ethics to insert a protection that is not specifically included in the wording of that provision. In CHQR-AM re Forbes and Friends (CBSC Decision 92/93-0187, August 8, 1994), the Prairie Regional Council added sexual orientation as one of the protected grounds enumerated in Clause 2. The Ontario Regional Council explained this inclusion in CHCH-TV re Life Today with James Robison (CBSC Decision 95/96-0128, April 30, 1996). In the CHCH-TV decision, the Council relied upon the following passage from Mr. Justice La Forest’s opinion regarding section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in Egan v. Canada [1995] 2 S.C.R. 513:

I have no difficulty accepting the appellants’ contention that whether or not sexual orientation is based on biological or physiological factors, which may be a matter of some controversy, it is a deeply personal characteristic that is either unchangeable or changeable only at unacceptable personal costs, and so falls within the ambit of s. 15 protection as being analogous to the enumerated grounds. [Emphasis added.]

While the Council understands that hair colour may also be a meaningful personal matter, it does not consider that it falls within the class of factors described by Mr. Justice La Forest as a “deeply personal characteristic that is either unchangeable or changeable only at unacceptable personal costs”.

Hair colour likely falls into the category of matters considered by the B.C. Regional Council in CKLZ-FMre Announcer Comments (CBSC Decision 94/95-0113, December 18, 1996), in which that Regional Council was reluctant to extend the enumerated grounds to assist a complainant with regard to “language used with respect to an occupation.” The Council held:

It is not the view of the B.C. Regional Council that it would be possible by definition to extend “race, national or ethnic origin, religion, age, sex, marital status or physical or mental handicap” to include occupation or profession. Such a change, were one merited, would require the intervention of the codifiers.

Similarly, in this matter, the Council considers that any extension of the enumerated provisions to cover such an additional ground as is envisaged by the complainant in this case would require the intervention of the codifiers of the Code of Ethics.

In this case, the complainants would like the Council to sanction the broadcaster for discrimination against welfare recipients. In effect, the complainants contend that this group is one of the most disadvantaged of society and that, the Council conjectures, welfare recipients share many of the socio-economic disadvantages and prejudices faced by persons with physical or mental disabilities. Without suggesting for a moment that, as a group, social welfare recipients can be equated to either of the foregoing groups, it seems clear that there is no other analogous link for them to the protected grounds in Clause 2. Moreover, the Council is uncertain whether the socio-economic nature of social welfare can, at the end of the day, entitle this or any other group, on that basis, to protection under Clause 2. The issue becomes even more complicated, in the case of social welfare, when one considers that social welfare recipients themselves, as illustrated to some extent by this very program, are susceptible of division into two groups; namely, those who are voluntarily and those who are involuntarily on the social welfare rolls.

While the Council considers discrimination based on the need for social welfare different from the case of discrimination on the basis of occupation for which the Council indicated that extension for the inclusion of this ground would require the intervention of the codifiers (see the CKLZ-FM case referred to above), the Council is of the view that the solution is probably the same. In other words, the Council cannot comfortably come to the conclusion that the case of social welfare recipients can become a protected ground without the intervention of the codifiers. To borrow the words of Mr. Justice La Forest in Egan v. Canada, the Council must ask itself whether the nature of social welfare is so “unchangeable” that it ought to fall within the enumerated grounds of Clause 2 of the Code of Ethics. In so doing, it does not conclude that this is the case. Except for those cases in which the presence of individuals on the welfare rolls results from some physical, mental or related inability of those individuals to fend for themselves (in which case they might, on those bases, avail themselves of the enumerated grounds in Clause 2), there is, in principle, an ability to change their status, likely at less than the “unacceptable personal costs” noted by Mr. Justice La Forest in Egan. In such circumstances, the Council is unwilling to extend the enumerated grounds without the intervention of the codifiers. Nor should this statement be interpreted as a call to those responsible for the “legislative” state of the CABCode of Ethics to make such a change; it is merely the expression of the reluctance of the Council to stake such a step without their prior “legislated” instruction to do so.

Clause 6 and the Requirement for Fairness in Dealing with Controversial Topics

Some complainants also raised the issue of the fairness of the discussion, indicating that the Black-out show in no way contained a real discussion about social welfare, but rather constituted a lynching or “[translation] an encouragement for the general population to develop a lack of understanding and contempt towards the most destitute segment of society.”.

The Council considers this type of talk show to be similar to radio open-line programs. In CKTB-AM re the John Michael Show (CBSC Decision 92/93-0170, February 15, 1994), the Regional Council considered the complex question of the responsibilities of broadcasters airing open-line programs. In so doing they reviewed the Proposed Guidelines for Open-Line Programs,Public Notice CRTC 1988-121, the ultimate Policy Regarding Open-Line Programming , Public Notice CRTC 1988-213, the CanadianAssociation of Broadcasters’ Submission to the CRTC in the Matter of Public Notice CRTC 1988-121 and the CCTA Guidelines for Open Line Community Programs. In this, the Council’s first decision on the subject, the Council stated that

open line programs are a vital part of Canadian broadcasting. They present an opportunity for lively public discussion. They are timely. They are, one might justifiably observe, an essential home of public debate in a free democracy. They are also a locus for the expression of conflicting passions, which make for exciting radio. … [The CBSC] is acutely conscious of the fact that open line radio does not come to the public without certain countervailing impediments and restrictions. Freedom of expression in Canada, as guaranteed in Section 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is not without limitations (see Section 1 of the Charter). Freedom of expression in “the use of radio frequencies, which are public property and limited in number by the radio spectrum [is] subject to the requirement for programming of high standard.” (See Decision CRTC 90-772, at p.6.) It is that delicate role of weighing freedom and restriction, lively debate and imperturbable responsibility, which the host must play and which, when offence is declared by a listener, the CBSC must judge.

The Council considers that it is the very topic of the program which has most offended the complainants, as evidenced by the request that TQS air “[translation] a real public affairs program dealing with the plight of people on welfare, who live in institutionalised poverty”. The Council generally has stated that it will not meddle with a broadcaster’s choice of story to tell, or as in this case, the choice of topic to be discussed. Freedom of expression and journalistic, creative and programming independence are guaranteed to broadcasters under the Broadcasting Act (see subsection 2(3)). As stated in CKVR-TV re News Item (Car Troubles) (CBSC Decision 97/98-0235, July 28, 1998):

,broadcasters enjoy “journalistic, creative and programming independence”. The Council is of the view that this independence is also a cornerstone of the interpretation which should be given to the industry Codes which members of the CBSC have agreed to abide by. Accordingly, the Council does not question the broadcaster’s determination of the newsworthiness of this consumer report.

Of course, the Council must assess fairness and balance in programming when called upon to do so, but, in this regard, it should be noted that what is considered “fair” by the complainants and the fairness prescribed by the Code may not be one and the same. In CFCN-TV re “Consumer Watch” (TravelAgency) (CBSC Decision 95/96-0240, December 16, 1997), the president of a discount travel agency complained that reports about his business did not give “the other side of the issues.” In finding no breach of the Code, the Council made the following comments on the fairness and balance requirement of the RTNDA Code:

It appears to the Council that the complainant, in alleging that the story should have included “the other side of the issues”, considers that the fairness and balance requirement for news reports means that negative comments about a company must be balanced by positive comments. The Council disagrees. Were the complainant’s view correct, there could never be a negative or critical news report. At the end of the day, it is the reporting of the newsworthy event which must be evaluated for its objectivity and fairness and not the overall effect of the news report on the person or company who is its subject…

In another case similar to this one where the Council was called upon to adjudicate a complaint about a highly controversial topic, CHOG-AMre The Shelley Klinck Show (CBSC Decision 95/96-0063, April 30, 1996), the Council found that the broadcaster had achieved fairness and balance in a discussion about “Women who falsely accuse men of rape” and did not entertain the allegation that focus of the discussion reflected negatively on all victims of rape.

In this case, however, the journalistic approach was not the same. While there were elements of fairness in dealing with this serious subject, on balance it was not a “full, fair and proper presntation” of the social welfare system. The Council does acknowledge the broadcaster’s attempt to focus the discussion on the case of persons choosing social welfare over gainful employment and possibly thereby abusing the welfare system. The Council also considers that negative comments were not directed primarily at those in need of welfare, but rather at those who selfishly take away from those in need, as pointed out by the audience member who stated:

Je me demande c’est quoi la fierté de dire puis de catcher de toutes les manières possibles, se faire soutenir par une société où est-ce qu’il y a des gens qui sont vraiment dans le besoin, où est-ce que y’a du monde vraiment malade, qui aurait de besoin de plus. Puis à cause de toé, y’en n’ont pas plus.

The focus of the indignation was further made clear by the “pop-poll” conducted by host Robert Gillet about mid-way through the show: when the audience members were asked whether they supported the principle of being generous with welfare recipients who really need it, the crowd’s agreement was loud and clear; when asked whether they were against the idea of welfare altogether, the crowd fell silent.

There is no doubt that the idea of “welfare by choice” put forward by the “panelists” was loudly rejected by the audience and that the panelists were at times taunted for their “philosophy”. That being said, there can be very little doubt that these panelists were chosen for the show because they presented a view which was most likely to incite a strong reaction from the audience. There is equally very little doubt but that the choice of such caricatures as “panelists” was likely to reflect poorly on social welfare recipients in general. Moreover, the program’s producers cannot escape the fact that the song which they chose to include in the show made no distinction whatsoever between people on welfare and the members of that discreet group which may be abusing the welfare system. The song painted all welfare recipients as dishonest self-indulging people with disgusting habits neglectful of their children. In general, the mocking tone of the show did not present sufficient differentiation of the two “faces” of the welfare process and was consequently in breach of paragraph 3 of Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics.

A further explanation of the discrepancy between the French and English texts of paragraph 3 of Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics is in order since, as the Quebec Regional Council has previously explained, the poor translation of the English text created an inconsistency and an unanticipated and undesirable standard which it would never be reasonable to expect any broadcaster to meet. In CFTM-TVre Mongrain (CBSC Decisions 93/94-0100, 93/94-0101, and 93/94-0102, December 6, 1995), the Council explained its position regarding that textual discrepancy in the following way:

The Quebec Regional Council notes that the French-language translation of Clause 6(3) differs somewhat from the English-language version in emphasis. The French-language text reads, “C’est un fait reconnu que la tâche première et fondamentale du radiodiffuseur est de présenter des nouvelles, des points de vue, des commentaires ou des textes éditoriaux avec exactitude, d’une manière objective,complète et impartiale. [Emphasis added.]” In particular, the Quebec Council members recognize that the words “full, fair and proper”, in the English version, do not correspond exactly to “d’une manière objective, complète et impartiale” in the French translation. While the English text provides no conflict between the necessarily subjective presentation of “opinion, editorial and comment” and “full, fair and proper”, the French text presents an impossible task to a French-language broadcaster attempting to adhere to the French-language requirements of the Clause. To provide “des points de vue, des commentaires ou des textes éditoriaux” in a “manière objective … et impartiale” is essentially a contradiction in terms. In the opinion of the Council, it is unreasonable to expect that “pointsde vue” and “textes éditoriaux” be presented in an “impartial” manner, and that, by their very nature, editorial and opinion (“points de vue” and “textes “éditoriaux”) are partial, that is, they contain some element of preference or bias. It would thus be utterly unreasonable to impose such a standard on a French-language broadcaster.

Council members attribute this difference in emphasis to the particular translator(s)’s choices in the adaptation of the English text to French. This is, after all, a case in which the English text was the original text and the French version a translation of that document. In the circumstances, while the Council believes that there may be aspects of the Clause which apply similarly to the French and English broadcasters, such as the “juste” presentation “des nouvelles, des points de vue, des commentaires ou des textes éditoriaux”, those aspects which cannot be so applied must be considered in the sense in which other Regional Councils have interpreted the English-language version of the Clause. It goes without saying that Canadian broadcasters cannot be held to different levels of responsibility as a function of the language in which they broadcast.

The Quebec Regional Council’s decision in this case is based on the foregoing interpretation of Clause 6(3) of the CAB Code of Ethics.

Broadcaster Responsiveness

The CBSC always recognizes the broadcaster’s obligation, as a CBSC member, to be responsive to complainants. In this case, while the Council did not agree with the position put forward by the broadcaster, it considers that the response from the broadcaster dealt fairly with the letters of complaint. Nothing more could have been expected of him. Consequently, the station did not breach the Council’s standard of responsiveness.

CONTENT OF THE ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE DECISION

The station is required to announce this decision forthwith, in the following terms, during prime time and, within the next thirty days, to provide confirmation of the airing of the statement to the CBSC and to the complainant who filed a Ruling Request.

The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has found that Télévision Quatre Saisons breached provisions of the Canadian Association of Broadcaster’s Code of Ethics in its broadcast of Black-out on September 1, 1998. In the Council’s view, the broadcaster’s attempt to discuss the idea of “welfare by choice” reflected poorly on social welfare recipients in general. The Council considers that the show did not present a full, fair and proper discussion on the issue of social welfare and did not successfully circumscribe the discussion to deal solely with the issue of persons who choose welfare over gainful employment. By failing to meet either of these expectations, the broadcaster breached paragraph 3 of Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics.

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