TQS re Dieu reçoit

QUEBEC REGIONAL COUNCIL
(CBSC Decision 98/99-0402+)
P. Audet (Chair), Y. Chouinard (Vice-Chair), R. Cohen (ad hoc),S. Gouin, P.-L. Smith and P. Tancred

THE FACTS

Dieu reçoit is a comedy show with a religious satirical
theme, which is evident from the show’s title. Intended as a weekly program, it made
its debut on Télévision Quatre Saisons (TQS) (Montreal) on February 16, 1999 and, as
matters evolved, it ceased to be broadcast after April 23.

The show is set in “Heaven”, as it might be popularly
conceived, namely, atop white fluffy clouds and with the Pearly Gates at its entrance. The
counterpoint to this classic setting is quickly evidenced, however, by scenes of a bouncer
standing guard at the Pearly Gates, a busy receptionist taking messages for God, and the
depiction of God himself as a scrawny-looking administrator with glasses and a mustache.
The show follows a talk/variety format in which, among other things, God plays host to a
weekly special guest, who is brought to Heaven following a humourously staged death which
occurs at the beginning of the show. God entertains his guest by bringing back “on
stage” famous deceased artists, by giving a tour of Heaven and by showing scenes of
life on Earth, as it was, as it is now and as it would be if certain events were to
happen, on his “oracle” viewing screen.

The show’s humour is deeply rooted in Quebec culture, history and
politics, and, as the foregoing descriptions attest, it pokes constant fun at religion in
general and the Catholic religion in particular. On February 16, Dieu reçoit
included the following dialogue [a more complete transcription of that show is available
in Appendix A]:

: Ah, Dieu, votre filsJésus, il est complètement soul.

Dieu: Encore!

Ange: C’est pas de sa faute. Chaque fois qu’il boit del’eau, ça se change en vin.

Dieu: Mais il peut boire du lait.

Ange: Ça se change en Bailey’s.

The February 16 episode also included the following skit depicting
Sunday morning mass as such a popular event that a doorman has to turn parishioners away,
advising them to return the following Sunday, once the Church has reached its maximum
capacity. In this skit, the priest enters with great fanfare, tossing what appear to be
communion hosts into the crowd. The dialogue was as follows:

: Directement de laparoisse Saint-Narcisse de Fleurimont, c’est la messe du dimanche avec votre curé lePère Massicotte.

Père: Merci. Merci beaucoup. Y a-tu du monde dans la salleicitte à soir?

Tous: OUI !

Père: À vous tous, le Christ ouvre son coeur, lui qui est venupour nous sauver. L’abbé Marsan aussi est venu, mais ce n’est pas pour noussauver, c’est pour jouer de l’orgue! L’abbé Marsan. [Musique d’orgue]

Père: Chers paroissiens, chères paroissiennes, chers petitsparoissiaux, ça vous est-tu déjà arrivé, vous autres, d’être bien, bien tentésde faire quelque chose qui allait à l’encontre de vos valeurs morales? C’est cequi est arrivé à notre Seigneur Jésus. Un jour qu’il marchait dans le désert, parun soleil chaud et brûlant, le diable l’interpelle et lui dit: « Jésus, veux-tu dela 15?» Le Seigneur a résisté même s’il commençait à faire des cloches dans levisage. C’est d’ailleurs ce qu’on a appelé les fameuses cloches deJérusalem. Le Seigneur a résisté car il avait la foi. [Chantant] Il est grand mystèrede la foi. … Amen. … [buvant de la coupe] Santé, tout le monde.

Avoir foi en Jésus, c’est aussi avoir foi en la vie éternelle.Il est rassurant de penser que le Seigneur a dit: Heureux les simples d’esprit, carle royaume de Dieu vous appartient. Le Parlement aussi. C’est dans cet espritd’ouverture et de générosité que le Seigneur a également dit: « Laissez venir àmoi les petits enfants.» Parabole qui a été mal interprétée par certains de mescollègues. OK, elle est rough, elle est rough… Mais je l’ai bénie avant de ladire!

En guise de sermon, j’aimerais vous réciter l’évangileselon Saint Luc. [Musique solennelle] Mais non, quelque chose de plus funky, avec un peude… tu sais, là? AH! [en chantant]

C’est en r’venant de Jérusalem

J’ai vu des Romains

2-3 égyptiens,

Des Nazaréens.

Puis Jésus dans l’coin

Cloué sur la croix

Ça fait pas mal aux doigts

Et les 2 larrons

J’sais plus trop leur nom.

Marie-Madeleine

Elle avait en d’la peine.

La passion du Christ je vais la raconter.

Ça a pourtant bien commencé.

Deux gros barbus se joignent à Jésus.

Ils sentent la morue

Puis là ça se peut plus,

Ils sont prêts à croire

N’importe quelle histoire.

Du moment qu’ils mangent

Le reste ça s’arrange.

Envoie le vin fin

Fait multiplier les pains

Puis change l’eau en vin.

Ensemble ils sont partis prêcher.

C’est pas loin qu’la chicane a pogné,

Jésus il est hot;

Le monde il capote,

Les juifs sont jaloux

Les Romains itou.

[Retour à la prose] Sur le mont des oliviers, ce soir-là, le barbuprêchait à des milliers de personnes. C’est alors que Jésus s’est approchéet lui a dit: «Jean-Marc, tasse-toi de là, c’est ma place!» Jésus prit le pain,rendit gr âce, le donna à ses disciples en disant: «Ceci est mon corps, livré pourvous, en 30 minutes c’est garanti!»

Jésus était sur la croix alors que Marie-Madeleine lui frottait lespieds. Jésus lui dit: “Marie-Madeleine, cesse de me frotter les pieds; tu es renduà l’os!” “Seigneur, je ne te frotte pas les pieds, je shine le clou!”

[En chantant] Voilà, cette messe est terminée. Merci. Merci beaucoup.

The following (February 23) episode contained the following dialogue [a
more complete transcript is provided in Appendix A]:

: Avis à tous les Anges,voici Dieu.

[Applaudissements]

Dieu: Ça va bien, mes anges?

Anges [les spectateurs]: Oui.

Dieu: Moi, j’ai un petit peu de misère.

Anges [les spectateurs]: Ohhh.

Dieu: Ah oui, ah oui, ah oui. Je regarde les humains puis je lestrouve arrièrés. Ah oui, ah oui, ah oui. À l’église catholique, tu as le Vaticanqui se prononce contre l’homosexualité. Voyons donc ! C’est comme Patrick Royparler contre les goalers. Le Pape, il s’est mis riche avec la Bible; j’aijamais eu une maudit cenne de droits d’auteur là- dessus.

This is perhaps the first occasion on which the Council has received numerous
letters of complaint prior to the first broadcast of a show. The Council assumes
that many of those people were reacting to media reports about the show’s upcoming
debut and were outraged by the reported premise of the show. The Council responded to
these complaints with an explanation of the fact that its mandate requires the actual
broadcast of a program before the CBSC can become involved. There is not, in fact,
any body, governmental (such as the CRTC) or private (such as the CBSC) which has the
mandate to intervene with respect to an anticipated broadcast. As the Ontario
Regional Council stated, in its recent decision in CITY-TV re Fashion Television (Adult
Film Stars Photo Shoot)
(CBSC Decision 97/98-1261, June 17, 1999):

to public complaints and not censorship by way of anticipation of potential Code breaches.In the event of the expression of concern by one or more members of the public, the CBSCwill become involved in the resolution of a complaint; however, it will always await sucha complaint before becoming involved in a programming issue. In that sense, therefore,members of the public should be aware that all programming will escape thenotice of the CBSC (or the CRTC, which operates on the same basis) unless and until itbecomes the subject of a written complaint. Canadian society is, on balance, far betterserved that way.

The point is that Canadian broadcasting oversight procedures do not
include censorship of programming prior to its broadcast. Broadcasters choose their
programming in light of the standards they have agreed to abide by. It is only where there
are concerns raised regarding something that has been broadcast that the Council
will become involved. As stated in CILQ-FM re the Howard Stern Show (CBSC Decision
97/98-0487, 488, 504 and 535, February 20, 1998):

It is neither the role nor duty of theCanadian Broadcast Standards Council to tell Canadians what they can or cannot see andhear on their radios and television sets. In the aftermath of the first Stern decision,those who have in various fora accused the Council of attempting to act as a censor, havemissed the point of the Council's raison d'être.

The CBSC has been assigned the responsibility to assess, on the basisof complaints by the public, whether its member radio and television stations have in factadhered to the standards and practices which the broadcasters themselves have adopted asacceptable codes of conduct. Whether or not CBSC decisions, either in favour of, oragainst its broadcast members, are unpopular with the industry or the general public isnot at issue.

Consequently, in accordance with the system, Dieu reçoit was
broadcast as scheduled and, predictably, complaints began to pour in to the CRTC and CBSC
from various church groups and religious organizations as well as private citizens. The
Council opened a total of 500 files with respect to Dieu reçoit, many of which
contained petitions. In all, over 14,000 persons, either individually or collectively,
registered their opposition to the show, more than had ever complained to the CBSC about
any single program.

In accordance with CBSC procedure, each complaint was forwarded to the
broadcaster for response. Due, however, to the great quantity of complaints received by
the Council in a short period of time, each of the steps in the “dialogue phase”
(which includes the response from the CRTC and the CBSC to complainants, the remittance of
the complaints to the broadcaster and the broadcaster’s response to each complaint)
cumulatively took far more time than would normally be the case. In fact, the flood of
complaints was such that TQS was still responding to complaints about the show at the
“dialogue phase” after they had removed the program from the air. As a
result, at least in part, only 10 files, representing 118 complainants, contained Ruling
Requests that their complaint be adjudicated by the CBSC's Quebec Regional Council.

While pertinent excerpts from some of these letters of complaint can be
found in Appendix B, the Council notes that the overwhelming majority of the complainants
expressed concern over the blasphemous content of the program. In the words of one
complainant, as an example:

[Translation] From the first to the lastminute of this program, the religion of a segment of Quebec’s population issystematically held up to ridicule. Not only does this constitute a lack of respecttowards a segment of the population characterised by their religion (an attitude whichapproximates anti-Semitism and other ideologies which have been rejected by civilisedsociety) but it also, and especially, constitutes a discriminatory attitude and aviolation of the fundamental right, guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, topractice the religion of our choice without being discriminated against on this basis.

Another important theme of the complaints revolved around the argument
that “[translation] had this program targeted Muslims, Mohammedans or Jews there
would have been a serious public outcry.”

In addition to the above-noted concerns regarding the substance of the
show, some complainants also complained about the early hour at which the show was
broadcast, thereby making it accessible to children, to be an aggravating factor.

Prior to its decision to remove the show from its programing schedule,
TQS’s Vice-President, Communications, responded to each complaint with following:

[Translation] First of all, permit me tonote that we have considered various legal opinions and precedent setting decisions onsimilar issues. Based on this information, we believe that Dieu reçoit respectsthe regulations as well as the Code of Ethics of the Canadian Association ofBroadcasters.

Notwithstanding, in response to the various concerns which have beenbrought to our attention, we have decided to make certain changes. We will ensure that thenext six episodes do not include any content that may unduly disparage the beliefs ofcertain people. Moreover, the time slot for the last six episodes will be changed toFridays at 10:30 p.m. from its original time slot of 7 p.m. on Tuesdays. Finally, from nowon, an advisory will be broadcast at the beginning of every episode in order to warnviewers that while the content of the show is intended to be humourous, some may find theshow’s content offensive.

It was not the intention of either TQS or the producers of the show toattack anyone’s beliefs or convictions. We endorse the principles underlying theCharter of Rights and Freedoms and we hope that the rescheduling and greater vigilanceregarding the show’s content will achieve the delicate balance between the competingvalues and freedoms enshrined therein.

Once the decision was made to remove the show from the programming
schedule, the broadcaster began to respond to complainants with the following short
letter:

The CBSC has forwarded your letterexpressing concern regarding the program Dieu reçoit broadcast on TQS.

Please note that the program is no longer broadcast as of last April23rd.

We thank you for making your concerns known to us.

The CBSC’s Quebec Regional Council considered the complaint under
the human rights provision of the Code of Ethics of the Canadian Association of
Broadcasters (CAB). This provision reads as follows:

CAB Code of Ethics, Clause 2 (Human Rights)

Recognizing that every person has aright 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 theirprogramming contains no abusive or discriminatory material or comment which is based onmatters of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, marital status orphysical or mental handicap.

The Regional Council members viewed tapes of the programs in question
and reviewed all of the correspondence. The Council did not find that the broadcasts in
question violate the Code provision cited above.

The main concern regarding Dieu reçoit is that the show is
blasphemous. For many complainants, the inevitable result of such a characterisation of
the program is that a human rights violation must have occurred. There is, however, more
to the issue than this and the Council does not share the view that a link necessarily
exists between the existence of blasphemy and a violation of the human rights provision of
the Code of Ethics. In Comedy Network re Bill Maher Special (CBSC Decision
97/98-0560, July 28, 1998), the CBSC’s first decision dealing with the issue of
blasphemy head on, the Ontario Regional Council stated:

OxfordEnglish Dictionary as “Profane speaking of God or sacred things; impiousirreverence.” The adjective “profane” is itself defined as”Characterized by disregard or contempt of sacred things; irreverent, blasphemous;impious, irreligious, wicked.” Finally, “irreverence” is defined as”disrespect to a person or things held sacred or worthy of honour.”

It may be that the Church has a strict and conservative view ordefinition of the foregoing words but it is not such definitions which the CBSC considersapplicable in defining broadcast standards. For that purpose, the Council begins, asalways, with the principle that freedom of expression is the basis of broadcasterentitlements. Indeed, since the adoption of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, itis at the root of all Canadian speech. Article 2(b) of the Charter providesthat “freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of thepress and other media of communication” are fundamental attributes of Canadiansociety.

… [T]he CBSC considers that blasphemy alone would not be sufficientto constitute a violation of the CAB Code of Ethics. It would need to be hateful,not merely irreverent, comment, abusively discriminatory, not merely impious orirreligious. At this point in the 20th century, the CBSC expects that comedians areentitled to question tradition and to tickle formal and possibly outdated values withoutfinding themselves, for that reason alone, exceeding Canadian broadcast standards.

The Council did not consider that any of the jokes in the Bill Maher
special “attain[ed] a level which could be characterized as disdainful, much less
hateful.” The Council noted that “There is undeniably a level of irreverence but
it is light-hearted, not heavy-handed. It is flippant and casual but not
disrespectful.”

More recently in, CFNY-FM re Humble & Fred (“Danger Boy on
a Cross”)
(CBSC Decision 97/98-0644, February 3, 1999), the Council found that
the entire concept of a mock crucifixion in the days leading up to Easter “was
irreverent and possibly even in bad taste” but did not breach the Code. The Council
stated

Religion is not, after all, immune fromfarce, sarcasm or parody. The issue to determine is whether the barb has become a poisonarrow, and whether, in other words, the humoristic device has stepped over the farcicalthreshold and into the bitter and nasty territory of abusively discriminatory comment.Disrespectful and even apparently harsh words may be on the safe side of thatthreshold despite the sensitivity of the listener of the same religious persuasion or eventhe listener who is sympathetically inclined. The Council considers that, broadlyspeaking, gibes and parodies which are directed ad religionem are likelier to passthe test than those which are ad personam on the basis of religion although, evenin the latter case, they must amount to abusively discriminatory comment on thataccount to fail the test.

In this case, the Council finds that the humour in Dieu reçoit
is undeniably irreverent, certainly impious and arguably, at times, in bad taste. It is
casual and flippant with respect to certain traditional Catholic practices, even as to the
undeified appearance and nature of God. It is not, however, in the Council’s view, at
any time, bitter, nasty, disdainful or hateful about Catholicism and certainly never
about individuals on the basis of their religion. Accordingly, the Council does not find
that a breach of Clause 2 of the CAB Code of Ethics has occurred in this case.

In light of some of the comments made in the complaints, the Council
considers it appropriate to note that, in coming to the above conclusion, the Council has not
considered the mocking of certain attitudes, traditions or practices of the Christian
faith, and Catholicism in particular, as any less serious than the mocking of any other
faith or religion. In this regard, the Council notes the comments of the Ontario Regional
Council in the CFNY-FM case referred to above:

In almost all cases which have comebefore the CBSC as the result of a public complaint, the religion in question has been aChristian religion, whether Protestant or Catholic. This may result from the case thatChristianity in its broadest sense is the dominant religion in Canada, therefore, thereligion best known to the population and the one which would be likeliest to be publiclyparodied. Quite simply, the parodying of less representative religions may not reach thelowest familiarity level of a broad enough segment of the population to “work”with the target audience.

It does not in the end matter why this is the case since theprinciples established in the various CBSC decisions on the subject would be as applicableto any religious group. What matters ultimately relates to the clash of the rightof freedom of speech and the right of broadcast audiences to be free from abusivelydiscriminatory comment on the basis of religion, as well as other grounds enumerated inClause 2 of the CAB Code of Ethics.

Any careful review of the jurisprudence of the Canadian Broadcast
Standards Council will immediately reveal that it has been as substantively protective of
any religious, ethnic, linguistic, national or cultural group as any other or, when
appropriate in the other direction, as willing to permit justifiable
(that is, non-abusive) discriminatory comment regarding any religious, ethnic, linguistic,
national or cultural group as any other. The CBSC’s issues are always treated at the
underlying macro level and not at a micro level associated with any religious, ethnic,
linguistic, national or cultural group.

The Council notes that numerous complainants were very concerned about
the accessibility of this program to children. In CITY-TV re Ed the Sock (CBSC
Decision 94/95-0100, August 23, 1995), the CBSC had its first opportunity to examine issues
of principle relating to the watershed hour. The Ontario Regional Council there observed,
among other things, that

In its literal sense, [the watershed],of course, denotes the line separating waters flowing into different rivers or riverbasins. Popularly, the term has been applied to threshold issues but the literal meaningof the word gives the best visual sense of programming falling on one side or the other ofa defined line, in this case a time line. Programming seen as suitable for children andfamilies falls on the early side of the line; programming targeted primarily for adultsfalls on the late side of the line. It should be noted that the definition of that timeline varies from country to country, from 8:30 p.m. in New Zealand to 10:30 p.m. inFrance. (Great Britain, Finland, South Africa and Australia all share the Canadian choiceof 9:00 p.m. as the watershed.)

In Canada, the watershed was developed as a principal component of the1993 Violence Code, establishing the hour before which no violentprogramming intended for adult audiences would be shown. Despite the establishment of thewatershed for that purpose, the Council has reason to believe that broadcastersregularly consider this hour as a rough threshold for other types of adultprogramming. …

In CFMT-TV re an Episode of “The Simpsons” (CBSC
Decision 94/95-0082, August 18, 1995), the Ontario Regional Council elaborated on the
significance of the watershed hour and the tendency for broadcasters to apply it not only
to programming containing violent material intended for adult audiences but also
programming containing other kinds of material deemed by the broadcaster to be more
suitable for mature viewers.

There has been a tendency, since theintroduction of the 9:00 pm watershed hour for everyone to treat that moment as the GreatDivide. The community has tended to consider that all post-watershed programmingfalls into the “adults only” category and that all pre-watershedprogramming falls into the “suitable for everyone, including youngchildren” category. Neither generalization is wholly accurate.

… [M]aterial broadcast in the early evening falls within “therich broadcasting fare” mentioned above and should be vetted by parents as to itssuitability in their homes.

In this case, the Council notes that TQS changed the show’s time
slot after the first two broadcasts in response to complaints it had received. Since then,
the Council also notes that the show has been completely taken off the air. While the
Council does not consider that the broadcaster erred in scheduling Dieu reçoit at
its original early evening time slot, it does commend the broadcaster on its quick
response to concerns raised about the scheduling of the controversial program.

As a final note in this connection, the CBSC has often observed that a
broadcaster’s decision to accede to the requests of viewers (or listeners) is a mark
of its responsiveness to its market, not an admission of the breach of any broadcast
standards. Even in circumstances where, as here, a program is not found to have
exceeded the broadcasters’ own common set of broadcast principles, its broadcaster
may determine that its show would be better modified or even removed from the airwaves to
accommodate the tastes of its audience. This neither adds to nor takes away from the
Council’s role as the independent arbiter regarding questions of compliance (or
non-compliance) with the Codes which it administers.

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
addressed fully and fairly all the issues raised by the complainant. Consequently, the
broadcaster has not breached the Council’s standard of responsiveness. Nothing more
is required.