On March 22, 2012, college and university students in Quebec held a protest to express their discontent with the provincial government’s decision to raise tuition fees. The protest was the principal topic on that day’s episode of the public affairs program Face à face, broadcast on V at 10:00 am. The hosts of the program, Stéphane Gendron and Caroline Proulx, interviewed (by telephone) a spokesperson from la Coalition large de l’Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (CLASSE), Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois. During the open-line segment of the program, they also took calls from listeners who expressed their views on the subject.
The CBSC received a total of 914 complaints about the broadcast, mostly due to a campaign launched on social media websites. The complainants alleged that the hosts had been disrespectful towards Nadeau-Dubois because they continually interrupted him and made disparaging comments about the student movement. (A full transcript of the interview segment can be found in Appendix A, available in French only.)
The CBSC selected two representative complaints and decided to adjudicate the matter without requiring those two complainants to file Ruling Requests as per its usual process. V issued a response, pointing out that the program’s goal is to [translation] “generate discussion and debate”. (The full text of the correspondence relating to the two complaints can be found in Appendix B, available in French only.)
The Quebec Regional Panel examined the complaints under the following articles of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics:
Clause 6 – Full, Fair and Proper Presentation
It is recognized that the full, fair and proper presentation of news, opinion, comment and editorial is the prime and fundamental responsibility of each broadcaster. This principle shall apply to all radio and television programming, whether it relates to news, public affairs, magazine, talk, call-in, interview or other broadcasting formats in which news, opinion, comment or editorial may be expressed by broadcaster employees, their invited guests or callers.
Clause 7 – Controversial Public Issues
Recognizing in a democracy the necessity of presenting all sides of a public issue, it shall be the responsibility of broadcasters to treat fairly all subjects of a controversial nature. Time shall be allotted with due regard to all the other elements of balanced program schedules, and the degree of public interest in the questions presented. Recognizing that healthy controversy is essential to the maintenance of democratic institutions, broadcasters will endeavour to encourage the presentation of news and opinion on any controversy which contains an element of the public interest.
The Panel Adjudicators read all of the correspondence and viewed the program in question. The Panel concludes that V did not violate Clauses 6 or 7 of the CAB Code of Ethics.
Although Nadeau-Dubois was originally scheduled to be interviewed in the studio, he did not do so for reasons of his own and the interview actually took place by telephone. At a certain point during that interview, the connection was lost for a few minutes. In addition to viewing the program, the Panel members read the verbatim transcript of the program in question. They ascertained that the hosts had a great deal of difficulty interviewing Nadeau-Dubois, in part due to the lost connection, but also because he would interrupt them before they could fully form their questions.
One of the complainants said the interview was [translation] “very impartial [sic], disrespectful and carried out for the purpose of ridiculing the guest.” The other complainant noted that Nadeau-Dubois was constantly interrupted and did not have the opportunity to adequately defend himself. He also maintained that the co-host acted in bad faith because she repeated the word [translation] “pitiful” on three occasions in reference to the fact that she considered the students’ strike movement a failure and that this comment plus [translation] “the combative attitude displayed by Mr. Gendron […] are deplorable and do not belong on a major television network.” He added that [translation] “the faces made by the latter and the way he intimated that Mr. Nadeau-Dubois abandoned the conversation also demonstrate his lack of respect”.
Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics requires of broadcasters the “full, fair and proper presentation of news, opinion, comment and editorial”. In the past, the CBSC has determined that “[i]t is only when hosts have directed nasty personal insults at individuals that [it] has found violations of Clause 6.” In this case, the Panel did not find any instance of personal insults or nastiness toward Nadeau-Dubois at any time during the interview. The Panel therefore concludes that there was no violation of Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics.
Clause 7 of that Code recognizes the right of broadcasters to deal with issues in the public interest that may be controversial. That right also encompasses the hosts’ right not to share the point of view of the interviewees, to make that fact known and to question their positions. The Panel notes that the hosts did not share Nadeau-Dubois’ opinion on the student movement, the strike that was underway and the protests organized in support of his ideology, but that they were entitled to disagree with the latter’s position, to express that disagreement and even “to be biased and aggressive in their presentation of views and questioning of interviewees.” In the matter at hand, the Panel did not even observe any aggressiveness on the part of the hosts and saw, at the most, a few gestures denoting impatience when they were having difficulty asking their questions. The Panel therefore concludes that there was no violation of Clause 7 of the CAB Code of Ethics.
In all CBSC decisions, the Panels assess the broadcaster’s response to the complainants. The broadcaster need not agree with the complainant’s position, but it must respond in a courteous, thoughtful and thorough manner. In this case, V provided an adequate reply to the complainants, outlining its view of the broadcast. The broadcaster fulfilled its obligations of responsiveness and nothing further is required in this regard in this instance.
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.
 Sun News Network re Canada Live (Margie Gillis interview) (CBSC Decision 10/11-1803+, December 15, 2011). [See also CHOI-FM re Le monde parallèle de Jeff Fillion (CBSC Decision 02/03-0115, July 17, 2003)].