Black-out is a television talk show with a panel format, which is
set in a local Montreal bar called Le lion d’or and broadcast on Télévision
Quatre-Saisons (TQS). The September 15, 1998 episode, which aired at 8:30 pm, discussed
“gay culture” under the heading “The Good, the Bad and the Drag” (a
non-literal translation of the original French title “Le bon, la brute et la
matante” to convey its sense). The two hosts, Robert Gillet and France Gauthier,
presided over and steered the discussion among the four male panelists, composed of three
gays and one heterosexual, and members of the audience (i.e. the bar patrons).
The “discussion” was introduced as follows:
France Gauthier: Ce soir, Robert, on reçoit desgens qui croient que les homosexuels, qu’ils soient travestis ou non,s’affichent trop et surtout qu’ils prennent beaucoup trop de place. [Bruit de lafoule]. Ah, c’est partagé. C’est partagé.
Robert Gillet: … Mesdames, Messieurs, ce soir, nous allonsnous poser bien des questions. Par exemple, pourquoi les gais, souvent, ont l’air fife ?Pourquoi les gais souvent parlent sur le bout de la langue ? Pourquoi ? Voulez vousm’expliquer pourquoi un homme a le goût de se déguiser en matante des états ? Et puis,autre grande question, est-ce que en dehors… est-ce qu’il y a des “grandesfolles” en dehors du village gai et puis de Radio Canada ?
France Gauthier: Je l’sais pas. Ooooh !
Robert Gillet: Ooooh !
France Gauthier: Mais on va se poser une grande question : estce que les Michel Girouard de cette terre ont vraiment et prennent vraiment trop de place?
Robert Gillet: Y’a bien des gens qui ont des choses à direlà-dessus.
France Gauthier: On va I’savoir.
During the discussion, comments were made both for and against the
public display of a person’s sexual orientation. While some stated that gays and
lesbians must make themselves visible in order to combat homophobia and persistent
discrimination, others argued that “gay culture” doesn’t really exist and
that matters of sex should stay in the bedroom. A sampling of the discussion is provided
Antoine Bourdages (invité): Bon ben, vous me demandez si, d’après moi, la culture homosexuelle, gaie ça existe. Comment est-cequ’il pourrait exister quelque chose qu’on pourrait encapsuler, qui embarqueraittout le monde là-dedans quand on a juste à regarder la diversité de nos gens qui ontété si bien choisis pour être assis en avant. À part que d’avoir la mêmeorientation sexuelle, qu’est-ce qu’on a en commun ? Je veux dire…
Quelqu’un dans l’auditoire: C’est assez.
Robert: Donc, y’a pas de culture gaie.
Antoine: [addressant la personne dans l’auditoire] Ouimais, est-ce qu’on partage toute la même culture ? Je ne suis pas certain moi.
Personne de l’auditoire: C’est pas grave.
Antoine: Je n’ai pas dit que c’était grave.
… France: Robert, on a entendu toutes sortes determes, entre autres, Dany qui dit qu’ils ne voulaient pas une “grandefolle”. Alors j’aimerais savoir, vous (s’addressant à un travesti dansl’auditoire), est-ce que vous êtes une “grande folle” ? Est-ce quec’est ça qu’on appelle une “grande folle”.
Travesti dans l’auditoire: Pas du tout. [La foule hue.]
France : Est-ce que vous faites partie de la culture gaie ?Est-ce que ça fait partie de la culture gaie, les drag queens ?
Travesti dans l’auditoire: Ben, y’en a toujours eu, detoute façon. Mais y’en a que c’est des bonnes. Y’en a qui sont des moinsbonnes. Y’en a qui aiment ça et qui ont du talent, qui savent bien se maquiller, pisc’est de l’art.
France: Mais, est-ce que c’est nécessaire de faire duspectacle comme ça ? Parce que les gens en avant semblent dire que c’est pasnécessaire pour la culture gaie. Est-ce que c’est nécessaire de faire du spectaclecomme ça pour être reconnu ?
Travesti dans l’auditoire: Y’en a qui font duspectacle. Y’en a qui travaille. Moi, je travaille de même comme serveuse dans unbar. Je travaille comme femme pis y’a aucun problème avec là-dessus.
France: Par spectacle, je parle tout simplement des’habiller comme ça.
Travesti dans l’auditoire: C’est pas un spectacle.Moi, j’aime ça m’habiller en femme. J’adore la femme.
Robert: Vous ne le faites pas pour gagner votre vie. C’estpour votre plaisir.
Travesti dans l’auditoire: Non, je gagne ma vie comme ça.
Robert: Mais c’est pour votre plaisir aussi.
Travesti dans l’auditoire: Oui…
Robert: Et, est-ce que vous avez plus de succès avec les hommesen femme ou en homme ?
Travesti dans l’auditoire: Les deux.
Robert: Et pourquoi un homme homosexuel serait-il attiré à unhomme déguisé en femme?
Travesti dans l’auditoire: C’est surtout leshétérosexuels qui sont attirés vers nous. [La foule hue.]
The show also included a song which poked fun at homosexuality. The
text of it is as follows:
Les gais sont en grand danger d’extinction. Tout lemonde sait que ces gens, ça se mange entre eux-autres. Pourtant on est en train de sefaire envahir. Mais grand Dieu, comment font-ils pour se reproduire ? Dans le temps de mongrand-père y’avait pas de gais. Y’avait des vicaires, des Monseigneurs, descurés. Ils donnaient leur corps au service de Dieu, avec quoi le Saint crème étaitfaite vous pensez. Mais nous on aime les gais. On les aime à la télé. On va les voirdans leur quartier pis dans leur parade chaque année. De temps en temps, j’amène manièce. Je l’amène où ? À nos tapettes. Je lui apprends l’acceptation en luidisant que les fifis sont fins.
Les homos sont comme des paniers d’épiceries. Ça prend moins deplace quand t’es rentre les uns dans les autres. Grâce à eux on a inventé lesLegos. Derrière la boîte y disent comment faire un dildo. Moi, j’ai rien contre lesgais, mais une fois, je me suis fait pogné. J’ai cruisé une fille assise aubar. Finalement c’était un ténor. Je trouvais qu’elle avait une grossemoustache et qu’a l’aurait pu se faire les jambes. Quand elle m’a levé parla cravate j’suis venu tout trempe. Les fifis sont forts.
Ma grand-mère pense que c’est une maladie. J’ai dit”Grand-mère, tu te trompes avec l’eczéma.” Ensuite, de ça pour luiouvrir l’esprit, je lui ai montré des photos de grand-père avec le chat. Grâce auxhomosexuels, je mène une vie exemplaire. J’ai trop peur d’aller en prison ;j’échappe trop souvent mon savon. Si les gens connaissent le hockey, ils saventc’est quoi un coup de six pouces. Si tu laisses ton filet désert, ils en profitent.Les fifis sont vites.
The Letters of Complaint
The Council received numerous complaints related to this broadcast, of
which two resulted in a request for a ruling by the Council. (Both these complaints are
included in their entirety in Appendix B.) The first of these two complainants, who was
obviously present at the taping of the show, raised concerns about the “staging”
of the discussion. His letter stated in part:
[Translation] Obviously, I strongly urge that this showbe removed from the broadcaster’s programming schedule because it violates broadcaststandards in addition to inciting animosity among various groups… A television showshould not purposefully seek to anger its participants and its viewers… Because thisshow only draws out prejudicial sentiments, it discredits all Canadian televisionproductions…
The second complainant raised general concerns about the
“type” of program. In the complainant’s view, such “trash t.v.”
can be downright dangerous:
[Translation] Over and above the homophobic attacks inthis second episode of “Black-out”, it is the very concept of the show,consisting of inciting and proliferating hatred among the “majority” of minoritygroups which they attempt to ridicule, which seems most dangerous to me.
The Broadcaster’s Response
The Vice-President of Communications for TQS responded to the
complaints as follows:
[Translation] We acknowledge receipt of the letter thatyou have sent us via the CBSC in which you made mention of your dissatisfaction with theepisode of “Blackout” that appeared last September 15.
We have made note of your comments and have already made somemodifications [to the show] in order to avoid other such situations. The management of TQSpays particular attention to each subject and the way we deal with it. This episode lackeddiscipline.
We regret that only the most spectacular elements were remembered bythe public and television audience. However, you should be aware that it is not a publicaffairs program.
The complainants were unsatisfied with the broadcaster’s response
and requested on November 12 and 13, respectively, that the matter be reviewed by the
Quebec Regional Council.
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 andequal recognition and to enjoy certain fundamental rights and freedoms, broadcasters shallendeavour to ensure, to the best of their ability, that their programming contains noabusive or discriminatory material or comment which is based on matters of race, nationalor ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, marital status or physical or mentalhandicap.
CAB Code of Ethics, Clause 6 – News
It shall be the responsibility of member stations toensure that news shall be represented with accuracy and without bias. The member stationshall satisfy itself that the arrangements made for obtaining news ensure this result. Itshall also ensure that news broadcasts are not editorial. News shall not be selected forthe purpose of furthering or hindering either side of any controversial public issue, norshall it be designed by the beliefs or opinions or desires of the station management, theeditor or others engaged in its preparation or delivery. The fundamental purpose of newsdissemination in a democracy is to enable people to know what is happening, and tounderstand events so that they may form their own conclusions.
Therefore, nothing in the foregoing shall be understood as preventingnews broadcasters from analyzing and elucidating news so long as such analysis or commentis clearly labelled as such and kept distinct from regular news presentations. Memberstations will, insofar as practical, endeavour to provide editorial opinion which shall beclearly labelled as such and kept entirely distinct from regular broadcasts of news oranalysis 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 thebroadcast publisher.
The Regional Council members viewed a tape of the program in question
and reviewed all of the correspondence. The Council considers that the broadcast was not
in violation of the aforementioned provisions of the Code of Ethics.
The Content of the Show
At this stage in the CBSC’s existence, it is no longer necessary
to lay out at great length the Council’s well-established position that sexual orientation
is a protected ground under the human rights clause of the Code of Ethics. (See CHCH-TV
re Life Today with James Robison (CBSC Decision 95/96-0128, April 30, 1996) for the
history behind this extension of the explicit wording of the human rights provision.)
While this is the unequivocal position of the Council, it is equally true that not all
discriminatory comment based on sexual orientation will constitute a Code violation. As
the Ontario Regional Council put the point in CFTO-TV re “Tom Clark’s
Canada” (CBSC Decision 97/98-0009, February 26, 1998):
Early on, the Council recognized that Clause 2 of theCAB Code of Ethics requires a weighing of competing values. In CHTZ-FM re theMorning Show (CBSC Decision 92/93-0148, October 26, 1993) the Council noted that”it must balance the right of audiences to receive programming which is free ofabusive or discriminatory material … with the fundamental right of free speech inCanadian society.” The application of this balancing act in various CBSC decisionsevolved into an “abusiveness criteria”; i.e. the establishment of a”test” whereby a comment must not merely be discriminatory to constitutea breach of Clause 2, it must be abusively so.
The question for the Council to determine is whether any of the
commentary in the September 15 broadcast of Black-out is abusively
discriminatory. While the show certainly did broadcast some strong opinions, especially
during the more heated portions of the discussion, the Council does not find that any of
the commentary in question crossed the line into the nettles of abuse. In coming to this
conclusion, the Council is mindful of the fact that the freedom to express views and
opinions on controversial topics of public interest is central to the freedom of
expression guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In many ways,
such expression is analoguous to the expression of political views, about which the
Council made the following comments in CIQC-AM re Galganov in the Morning (CBSC
Decision 97/98-0473, August 14, 1998):
There is no doubt that Howard Galganov’s opinions areexpressed strongly, even vehemently, and, some might say, inflexibly, whether off or onthe air. The host might even wear any such characterization as a red badge of courage. Thequestion for the Council, though, is whether political views, even thus expressed,are subject to curtailment or restriction. While freedom of expression is one of thefundamental freedoms enumerated in Section 2 of the Charter, it is a freedom whichwas not drafted as absolute. As Section 1 of the Charter provides, these freedomsare “subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrablyjustified in a free and democratic society.” Although the Codes administered by theCBSC are not subject to the application of the Charter, the Council has alwaysproceeded with its deliberations on the basis that freedom of expression is fundamental tothe rights of the broadcasters but that even they fully expect that the Codes they havecreated are of the nature of those reasonable proscriptions which ought to apply inthe free and democratic society of which they are a part. The foregoing being said, it isthe view of the Council that, of all of the categories of speech, none can be worthier ofprotection than that speech which can be described as political. After all, thefreedom to express political views is at the very root of the need for a guarantee offreedom of expression in the first place. It is that speech which has historicallybeen the bridge to democracy. This is not to say that all speech which can bedescribed as political will be free from any oversight but rather that such speech will bemost carefully protected in the face of that oversight.
The Council is of the view that the views and opinions expressed in the
episode of Black-out in question here did not transgress the broad parameters of
protected speech for such a discussion.
Moreover, the Council notes that much of the stereotypical name calling
was done by gays to themselves – calling themselves “tapettes” and
“fifes”. In this regard, the Council finds the Ontario Regional Council’s
decision in CHOG-AM re The Shelley Klinck Show (CBSC Decision 95/96-0063, April 30,
1996) to be very relevant. In that decision a talk-show host sought to elicit calls from
women listeners by using words such as “psycho-chicks” in a discussion entitled
“Women who falsely accuse men of rape”. The Council did not find the host’s
comments to be abusively discriminatory.
There is no doubt that the host of the program did usewords such as “psycho chick”, “broad” and “vindictive” todescribe women, as was contended by the complainant. … The Council agrees that, inanother context, these comments might be considered in poor taste or, in theirworst possible interpretation, derogatory toward women; however, in this context,it appeared that the host used the words in question rhetorically, not descriptively, andapparently to be provocative in order to draw attention to the program and to attractwomen callers. Moreover, the Council notes that the host was not describing womenas a group; she was either noting that “A lot of men say today that there are a lotof psycho chicks, that women are vindictive” or asking questions, as in, “Women,is it true? I mean, are we actually that vindictive?” Moreover, she generally usedthese words inclusively, that is to say, she included herself in the group described, asin “And, women, are we really that bad?”
… the Council is of the view that the tone and the context of thecommentary are very different and does not find that the comments of the host were in anyway discriminatory or abusive.
The Council’s determination that the discussion did not
contain abusively discriminatory comment does not lead to the conclusion that there has
been no breach of the Code in this case because the show was not all
“discussion”. Indeed, given that, as stated by the broadcaster, “il ne
s’agit pas d’une émission d’affaires publiques”, the Council also had
to consider whether the “interludes” in the “discussion”, such as the
song poking fun at homosexuality, were abusively discriminatory. In the Council’s
view, those comments were clearly made in jest and were not abusive, as evidenced by the
fact that, judging by their letters, it is not the humour in the show which most offended
Finally, in addition to determining whether the broadcast contained
abusively discriminatory comment, the Council must also determine whether it met the
standard of “full, fair and proper presentation of … opinion, comment and
editorial” set out in Clause 6 of Code. On this issue, the Council considers that
comments made in TQS re Black-out (CBSC Decision 97/98-0009+, January 29, 1999),
another Quebec Regional Council decision, also decided today, about a different episode of
the same program, also apply in this case. In that decision, the Council stated the
The Council considers that it is the very topic of theprogram which has most offended the complainants … The Council generally has stated thatit 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 andprogramming independence are guaranteed to broadcasters under the Broadcasting Act(see subsection 2(3) of the Act). As stated in CKVR-TV re News Item (Car Troubles)(CBSC Decision 97/98-0235, July 28, 1998):
[T]he Council notes that, under the Broadcasting Act, broadcasters enjoy “journalistic, creative and programming independence”. TheCouncil is of the view that this independence is also a cornerstone of the interpretationwhich should be given to the industry Codes which members of the CBSC have agreed to abideby. Accordingly, the Council does not question the broadcaster’s determination of thenewsworthiness of this consumer report.
Of course, the Council must assess fairness and balancein programming when called upon to do so, but, in this regard, it should be noted thatwhat is considered “fair” by the complainants and the fairness prescribed by theCode 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 discounttravel agency complained that reports about his business did not give “the other sideof the issues.” In finding no breach of the Code, the Council made the followingcomments on the fairness and balance requirement of the RTNDA Code:
It appears to the Council that the complainant, inalleging that the story should have included “the other side of the issues”,considers that the fairness and balance requirement for news reports means that negativecomments 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 newsreport. At the end of the day, it is the reporting of the newsworthy event whichmust be evaluated for its objectivity and fairness and not the overall effect of the newsreport on the person or company who is its subject…
While the Council surmises that the complainants would rather not see
such “pseudo-debates” on issues they hold dear, it considers that the choice of
topic comes entirely within the purview of TQS’s programming independence.
Accordingly, the only issue left for the Council to determine is whether the broadcaster
dealt with the chosen topic fairly. The Council concludes that it has. Applying the
fairness test described in the quotation above, the Council considers that the September
15 broadcast of Black-out met at least the minimal requirements for fairness and
balance prescribed by the CAB Code of Ethics. In reference to the specific point
that Robert Gillet might have been biased, an important issue for one of the complainants,
the Council considers the following comment made by the Ontario Regional Council in CTV
re an episode of The Shirley Show (CBSC Decision 93/94-0261, August 18, 1995) to be
With respect to the allegation that the host of the showwas biased, the Council notes that she did allow people with views different from her ownto speak on the subject. On one such occasion, for example, Shirley Solomon exhortedpersons from the audience who were against doctor-assisted suicide to speak up assuch persons had not yet been heard from in the course of the program. In any event, theCouncil does not consider that a breach of Clause 7 occurs as soon as a host, commentatoror moderator “shows his or her colours”. The Council notes in this regard that,in a June 12, 1989 letter to a complainant regarding the CBC program “EdmontonAM”, the CRTC stated that “the use of a commentator who is not totallyimpartial, … is not something which is directly covered by the Broadcasting Actor the regulations. A licensee is free to use whomever he wishes, provided that thebalance and equitable requirements are met.” While matters did not unfold preciselyas the complainant would have preferred, the Council has no doubt that the host acquittedher responsibility regarding the presentation of a diversity of views on the complexsubject of doctor-assisted suicide.
In addition to assessing the relevance of the Codes to the complaint,
the CBSC always assesses the responsiveness of the broadcaster to the substance of
the complaint. In this case, the Council considers that the broadcaster’s response
adequate. Consequently, the broadcaster has not breached the Council’s standard of
responsiveness. Nothing more is required.
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.