Use of the Term “Redneck” not in Breach of Code of Ethics, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, March 15, 2005– The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning the broadcast by Télévision Quatre Saisons (TQS) of sports commentator Michel Villeneuve’s reaction to the words of a Toronto Sun columnist, who had objected to the choice of Nicholas Gill as Canada’s flag-beaer at the Athens Olympic Games. The Toronto columnist argued that the athlete’s preference for Quebec sovereignty in the 1995 Quebec referendum had rendered him unqualified to carry the Canadian flag. Villeneuve had commented that, “[translation] for Simmons, a redneck in the same league as Don Cherry, a separatist doesn’t have the right to carry the Canadian flag.” A viewer complained that, by using the term “redneck”, Villeneuve had “[translation] made racist and biased comments.”

While the Panel expected that the “English-language slang term, ‘redneck’, [was] likely unfamiliar to many Francophone television viewers, [it was] clear to the Panel, on the basis of [English, American and Canadian definitions] that, in the Canadian context, […] “redneck” could reasonably be considered a disparaging or derogatory term for people with politically conservative opinions.” It concluded, nonetheless, that

the protected grounds, in terms of the prohibition of abusive or unduly discriminatory comment extend to “race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, marital status or physical or mental handicap.” While the list is not limitative, it does not, in the view of the Panel, extend to “political affiliation”.

It added that, in the special case of Quebec complaints, the presence of “political convictions” in the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, did not have the effect of extending the effect of Clause 2 of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics.

The purpose of the Human Rights Clause of the CAB Code of Ethics does not target the same forms of discriminatory practices. It is the view of the Quebec Panel that the protections afforded to persons subject to the Quebec Charter apply to the circumstances therein envisaged but do not extend the definition of enumerated groups in Clause 2 of the CAB Code of Ethics.

The Panel also concluded that the failure of TQS to conserve and deliver the logger tape of the challenged program constituted a breach of one of the CBSC member’s obligations of membership.

[T]he retention and provision of logger tapes is an obligation of result, not of means. Best efforts to ensure the availability of logger tapes when required will not suffice. Absent the actions of a third party over whom the broadcaster has no control or for whom it has no responsibility, the failure to deliver tapes when required will constitute a breach of the broadcaster’s CBSC membership obligations.

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 550 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