While Humour in Bad Taste Is Close To the Line, Unduly Coarse Language and Sexually Explicit Descriptions Overstep It, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, June 9, 2004 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released three decisions concerning three different segments of the Forbes and Friends morning show broadcast on CJAY-FM (Calgary) during 2003.  While the Prairie Regional Panel did not find any code breaches in the segment involving fictitious individuals suffering from Tourette’s Syndrome, it did find that the two remaining broadcasts, one dealing with Chinese “translations” and the other with circumstances relating to the Kobe Bryant rape case, breached the Code provisions that prohibit the broadcast of unduly coarse and offensive language, on the one hand, and unduly sexually explicit material, on the other.

On the first episode, broadcast between 8:00 and 9:00 am on May 17, CJAY aired a pre-recorded segment that a complainant found to be “cruel and discriminatory” at the expense of people who suffer from Tourette’s Syndrome.  In examining the parody in question, titled “Really Stupid People with Tourette’s Syndrome”, which involved made-up conversations with fictitious people afflicted with the condition, the CBSC Panel explained that, in evaluating references to physical disabilities, the CBSC has generally only found a breach when the broadcast mocked the disabled group or attributed negative stereotypical characteristics to it.  With respect to the parody in question here, the Prairie Regional Panel concluded: 

In the matter at hand, the Panel acknowledges that the “humour” arguably focussed on persons afflicted with Tourette’s Syndrome, although not necessarily solely there, in the sense that some of the commentary was simply targeted at so-called “stupid” people.  In addition, the Panel understood that what focussing there was on Tourette’s stayed away from the symptoms of motor tics and movement disorders, limiting itself to an aspect of the Syndrome, namely, coprolalia, that is reflected in a small percentage only of persons with the condition.  Moreover, coprolalia, or the tendency of persons to blurt out socially inappropriate or taboo expressions, is not a requirement of a Tourette’s Syndrome diagnosis.  Notwithstanding the foregoing, the Panel does view the skit as a regrettable example of the use of the microphone to have fun at the expense of individuals with a mental affliction.  It is a cheap and unnecessary shot, which, however, the Panel considers does not bludgeon, to import the CHFI terminology.  Consequently, it views the broadcast as a matter of bad taste, extremely close to the line, but not over it.  The Panel finds no breach of Clause 2 in this instance.

The Panel reached a similar conclusion in its examination of another parody that aired on the same show on August 11, 2003.  In it, the host took a phoney call from a Mr. Wong who offered to help the hosts learn some phrases in Chinese.  The ensuing “translations” provided by Mr. Wong were in English but pronounced so as to sound Chinese.  A complainant alleged that the skit was demeaning to the Chinese community.  The Panel found that 

In the present instance, the Panel concludes that the humour is neither deep nor cutting.  It depends principally on the relatively light-hearted technique frequently applied in cases of ethnically-oriented humour, namely, the use of accents.  While these are generally employed so as to leave the impression that the person or group that is the brunt of the “joke” is inferior, occasionally the issue is simply that the person or group is different.  The Panel believes that this is the case in the matter at hand.  The Panel considers that the Chinese community is not belittled, mocked or marginalized.  It is the object of humour, to be sure, but not on the grounds of any alleged or even implied inadequacy, weakness or failure.  

Although the Panel did not find a breach of the Human Rights Clause, it did find that the use of the expression “f**ing super” in the humorous dialogue constitutes a breach of clause 9 of the CAB Code of Ethics which prohibits the use of unduly coarse or offensive language. 

The last segment, aired on the morning of October 10, involved a discussion that commented on and provided details of the rape allegedly committed by American basketball player Kobe Bryant.  A complainant found the content of that “humorous” dialogue, as well as a joke about a confused drunk and a parody commercial about a fictitious shampoo (both with sexual connotations), to be inappropriate and too explicit for the airwaves.  While the Panel considered that both the joke and the parody were “not even, in fact, on the cusp of explicitness,” it found the discussion involving Bryant and his accuser to be unduly sexually explicit. 

With respect to the first issue, the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary defines the aspect of “explicit” that is material to the Panel as “distinctly expressing all that is meant; leaving nothing merely implied or suggested; unambiguous; clear.”  While there can be no doubt that the use of the verb “rape” alone could be understood as clear and unambiguous, it is not in this sense that the Panel understands the codifiers’ intention in using the term “explicit”.  The Panel considers that the codifiers meant explicit in the sense of graphic, full, expressing all that is meant, which is to say more than the isolated verb could convey.  Indeed, it would make little sense for the use of a solitary verb, however unequivocal, to fall into the “explicit” category.  What was intended was the unnecessary and excessive building upon that foundation, the “unduly explicit” description of, in this case, sexual activity.

In applying that understanding to the words “He grabbed her by the neck with both hands, which is a foul, turned her around, bent her over the chair and raped her,” the Panel considers that the broadcaster has been “unduly sexually explicit”.  Had the host limited his observation to the fact that Bryant had raped the accuser, that would almost certainly have presented no problem.  He chose, however, to convert the rape (if rape there was – this matter is still before the Courts as of the date of this decision) into a four-step event, which exceeded the bounds of Clause 9 of the CAB Code of Ethics.  

The Panel also applied Article 7 of the Violence Code, namely, the issue of the glorification or glamorization of violence against women, to the Kobe Bryant discussion and found that there was no Code breach.  It explained that “there were attempts at humour but none at the sanctioning of violence against women” and that “the humour was itself predicated on questions of consent and the facts giving rise to any doubts in this regard (on the basis of public reports) but there was none with respect to any aspect of violence against women.” 

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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