Use of French Religious Epithets Not In Breach of Broadcast Standards, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, February 12, 2003 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning a comedic sketch by radio host Michel Beaudry broadcast on CKAC-AM. On June 3, 2002 at approximately 4:30 am, Michel Beaudry performed a skit in which he parodied boxing promoter Régis Lévesque. To more accurately depict Lévesque, Beaudry used colloquial language peppered with such words as “tabernac'”, “calice” and “hostie”. A listener complained that these words were offensive to the Québec population. The Québec Regional Panel found no violation of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters' (CAB) Code of Ethics.

Although the CBSC has dealt with English-language epithets in the past, this was the first occasion on which a CBSC Panel had been called upon to rule on offensive terms in the French language. The listener complained that the words used represent sacred objects and should be treated with respect. CKAC-AM argued that the words have become part of Québec popular language and that their broadcast did not violate any broadcaster Codes.

The Panel listened to the broadcast and examined all correspondence from both the complainant and the broadcaster. It stated that it did not dispute the religious origin of the words, but noted that in this instance the words “did not in any way target the Catholic religion […]. [T]hey were merely used as expletives without any intended reference to things religious.” The Panel went on to state that, based on a broad social norms test, it

agrees with the broadcaster that the words in question have slipped into common and marginally acceptable usage […] “Christ”, “tabernac'”, “calice” and “hostie” were employed in the context of a parody of a public figure, namely Régis Lévesque, who is not unknown to use such language himself.

The Panel understands, and is sensitive to, the perspective of the complainant. It concludes, however, that, while the words may be unacceptable in some households and are certainly not tasteful, they are not today so severe as to restrict their usage on radio, especially in the very early hours of the morning, namely between the hours of 4:00 and 5:00 am.

Canada's private broadcasters have themselves created industry standards in the form of Codes on ethics, gender portrayal and television violence by which they expect the members of their profession will abide. In 1990, they also created the CBSC, which is the self-regulatory body with the responsibility of administering those professional broadcast Codes, as well as the Code dealing with journalistic practices first created by the Radio Television News Directors Association of Canada (RTNDA) in 1970. More than 530 radio and television stations and specialty services from across Canada are members of the Council.

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All CBSC decisions, Codes, links to members' and other web sites, and related information are available on the CBSC's website at www.cbsc.ca. For more information, please contact the CBSC National Chair, Mme Andrée Noël CBSC Executive Director, John MacNab