CFNY-FM re the Dean Blundell Show (Easter)

CBSC Decision 11/12-1715
November 15, 2012
H. Hassan (Vice-Chair), J. Medline (ad hoc), M. Oldfield, D. Ward (ad hoc)


The Dean Blundell Show is the morning show of alternative rock radio station CFNY-FM (102.1 The Edge, Toronto).  It airs weekdays from 5:30 to 10:00 am and contains the usual songs, news, traffic and weather updates, and banter between the hosts, Dean Blundell, Todd Shapiro and Derek Welsman.  On April 2, 2012, the Monday before Easter, at approximately 7:35 am, the hosts had a conversation about Easter.

Blundell presented his “hypothesis” that Jesus was gay, based on the assertion that he chose to spend his last day alive with 12 men, washing their feet. Towards the beginning of the conversation, Welsman stated “for the record, I don’t agree with what you’re about to say,” but nevertheless “it makes me laugh”.  In Blundell’s words, “Christ had a thing for dudes and feet.”  He and his co-hosts had a lengthy exchange, imagining what Jesus and his disciples did and talked about.  They used a stereotypically effeminate voice to imitate what they imagined Jesus and his disciples said to each other, all of which consisted of innuendo regarding homosexual activity.  The entire conversation was conducted in the program’s customary outrageous, humorous and irreverent style.

After a commercial and traffic break, Blundell read e-mails and accepted telephone calls from listeners who criticized him for his comments. In light of Easter’s religious origin as a recognition of Jesus’ resurrection, Blundell speculated that a story about someone rising from the dead would not be viewed the same way today as it was during Jesus’ time:  “they’d be considered zombies and, and have their heads smashed in with lead pipes.”  (A complete transcript of the segment can be found in Appendix A).

A listener complained to the CBSC on April 2 that Blundell had offended “the entire Christian religion” by suggesting that Jesus Christ was homosexual particularly during “the most holiest week for Christians”. CFNY-FM responded to the complainant on April 23.  The station acknowledged that some listeners “may have been offended by the tone used in discussing such a central religious figure” and may not have found the segment funny, but pointed out that this irreverent treatment of the subject of Jesus’ sexual orientation was “by no means hateful of Jesus, or abusively discriminatory of Christians generally.”  The complainant filed his Ruling Request on April 28.  In the accompanying letter, he raised the issue of Blundell’s “zombie” comment arguing that it “implies that the resurrection never happened”, which is another “attack on the entire religion.”  (The full text of all correspondence can be found in Appendix B.)


The Ontario Regional Panel examined the complaint under the following provisions of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Equitable Portrayal Code:

Clause 3 – Negative Portrayal

In an effort to ensure appropriate depictions of all individuals and groups, broadcasters shall refrain from airing unduly negative portrayals of persons with respect to race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, marital status or physical or mental disability. Negative portrayal can take many different forms, including (but not limited to) stereotyping, stigmatization and victimization, derision of myths, traditions or practices, degrading material, and exploitation.

Clause 6 – Derision of Myths, Traditions or Practices

Broadcasters shall avoid the airing of content that has the effect of unduly deriding the myths, traditions or practices of groups on the basis of their race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, marital status or physical or mental disability.

The Panel Adjudicators read all of the correspondence and listened to the broadcast in question. The Panel concludes that CFNY-FM did not violate any Code provisions.

Applicable Code Provisions

In the complainant’s April 28 Ruling Request letter, he asserted that the broadcast had violated Clause 8 (Religious Programming) of the CAB Code of Ethics.  That clause applies only to religious programming, that is programs specifically designed to communicate the beliefs and values of a particular religion.  That clause is not applicable to other types of programming that might happen to touch on religious topics from time to time, as the Dean Blundell Show has done here.  Clause 6 of the CAB Equitable Portrayal Code cited above is the applicable Code provision to deal with the complainant’s concerns in this case.  Clause 3 of that same Code is also relevant, as it lists the various forms of possible negative portrayal that receive more detailed treatment in the Code provisions that follow it.

Humorous Treatment of Religion

The Panel recognizes that some listeners, Christian and non-Christian alike, would have found the comments made on the Dean Blundell Show to be in extremely poor taste.  The hosts did not merely posit an alternative version of Jesus’ life and events for thoughtful debate; rather they engaged in a protracted dialogue involving an outrageous imagined scenario of Jesus interacting in a homoerotic manner with his male disciples, all while invoking numerous stereotypes about gay men and uttered in mocking tone.  It was clear to any listener that this humorous exchange was likely to provoke Christians who view the Last Supper and Resurrection as important and sacred events.  Broadcasting this conversation would have been troubling at any time of year, but was all the more so given that it was broadcast during the week leading up to Easter.

All that being said, the Ontario Panel finds no breach of Clauses 3 and 6 of the CAB Equitable Portrayal Code.  As the CBSC has explained in previous decisions, religion is no more immune from criticism, parody and satire than are politics, culture or other aspects of society.[1]  The fact that some people would be uncomfortable or, indeed, offended by a joke that targets religion is unfortunate, but that alone cannot be determinative in finding a Code breach.  The content must be “unduly deriding” of religious myths, traditions or practices in order to contravene Clause 6 of the Equitable Portrayal Code (and by extension Clause 3, as explained above).  In order to reach the level of “undue derision”, the Panel considers that there must be some level of hatred, contempt or risk of broader societal harm than people simply being upset by the content.

In its examination of the discussion on the Dean Blundell Show, the Panel observes that there was a ridiculous reinterpretation or re-imagining of Jesus’ actions on his last day on earth.  As Blundell and his co-hosts stated about their “hypothesis”, they were just “throwin’ it out there” as a possibility open for debate.  Indeed, Welsman himself stated that he did not agree with Blundell and CFNY-FM broadcast the reactions of listeners who objected to Blundell’s story.  While the hosts took their hypothesis to an over-the-top extreme, there was no direct criticism or insult of people who do choose to believe the traditional account of events, nor was there any suggestion that Jesus himself was a bad person.  The Panel understands that the suggestion that Jesus engaged in certain sexual behaviours would make some listeners uncomfortable, particularly those who consider those behaviours inappropriate.  The Panel notes, however, that a conclusion of breach in this instance could have left the impression that homosexuality itself was problematic.  Such a conclusion would be inconsistent with the Codes and CBSC jurisprudence which both make it clear that abusive commentary or unduly negative representations regarding sexual orientation is unacceptable.

In other decisions in which the CBSC did find problematic content with respect to religion, there were more direct references to the religious adherents.[2]  In this case, the Panel considers that the content went beyond lightly poking fun of a religious story, but it did not reach the level of “undue derision”.

It also finds nothing problematic in Blundell’s evaluation of the potential skepticism and fear that a story about resurrection from the dead might elicit in modern times. At no time did the program belittle Christians for  believing in the account of Jesus’ resurrection.  In the absence of a Code breach, listeners must address their personal distaste for such material with the on/off switch.

The Panel makes one additional point with respect to the wording of Clauses 3 and 6. Both of those Clauses refer to derision of “myths”.  The Panel suggests that the word “myth” might not have been the best choice since it has a connotation of fiction or invention.  The Panel understands that the codifiers were attempting to convey the concept of “foundational story” and suggests that CBSC assessments of such matters could be complicated by the presence of the word “myth” in the Code.

Broadcaster Responsiveness

In all CBSC decisions, the Panels assess the broadcaster’s response to the complainant. The broadcaster need not agree with the complainant’s position, but it must respond in a courteous, thoughtful and thorough manner.  In this case, CFNY-FM provided a reply to the complainant, outlining its view of the broadcast.  The Panel observes that the letter referenced only the CAB Code of Ethics and did not mention the CAB Equitable Portrayal Code.  Although the CAB Code of Ethics is considerably older, the Equitable Portrayal Code has been in existence since 2008 and contains more refined provisions relating to representation of identifiable groups.  The Equitable Portrayal Code was the more pertinent Code in this matter, a point with which CFNY-FM should have been aware given its past experience with other complaints.  The Panel concludes that the station met its obligations of responsiveness and no further action is required, but it wishes to highlight that identification and consideration of the appropriate Code(s) are key aspects of responding adequately to complaints and should be addressed at the earliest stage of response.

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.

[1] CKVR-TV re Just for Laughs (CBSC Decision 94/95-0005, August 23, 1995); The Comedy Network re Bill Maher Special (CBSC Decision 97/98-0560, July 28, 1998); CFNY-FM re Humble & Fred (“Danger Boy on a Cross”) (CBSC Decision 97/98-0644, February 3, 1999); and CTV re an episode of Open Mike with Mike Bullard (CBSC Decision 01/02-0783+, January 15, 2003).

[2] CJAY-FM re Forbes and Friends (multiple choice “quiz”) (CBSC Decision 02/03-0638, December 15, 2003) and CFNY-FM re the Dean Blundell Show (Females, Freezies & Halloween) (CBSC Decision 11/12-0380, May 24, 2012).