CJAB-FM re comments made on 94.5 Le Matin

CBSC Decision 11/12-1392
September 6, 2012
G. Moisan (Vice-Chair), G. Bonin (ad hoc), S. Charbonneau, M. Ille, T. Porrello


94.5 Le Matin is the morning show of the pop-rock music station CJAB-FM (NRJ 94.5, Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean). The program is hosted by Richard Courchesne, Marie-Ève Jean, Julie Bergeron and Simon Roy-Martel.  On March 5, 2012 at approximately 6:20 am, they discussed the television program Star Académie (a reality show competition for aspiring singers).  They discussed their favourite competitors and specifically mentioned one competitor named Mélissa Bédard.  Bédard was a tall black woman from the Quebec City region.  For the benefit of listeners who did not regularly watch Star Académie, Courchesne noted [translation] “Mélissa, that’s Chewbacca”, a reference to the fictional character from Star Wars who looks like a large hominid covered in fur.  They then listed other nicknames for Mélissa, such as “Big Mama”, “Elle s’appelait Serge” ([translation] “She Was Called Serge” – a reference to the song by the group Les Trois Accords about a transgendered woman), and “Fiona” (a reference to Fiona, the green ogress from the movie Shrek).  (A more complete transcription of the segment is available in Appendix A, in French only.)

Apparently, the station received numerous comments about these remarks, via both telephone and online social networks. Two days later, on March 7, Courchesne read on air an apology that he had drafted himself in which he wanted to clarify the facts about the comments made on air about Mélissa Bédard on the previous broadcast.  He began by apologizing for the [translations] “unpleasant remarks made during the program” with respect to “a competitor on Star Académie”.  He added that the remarks made by himself and his co-hosts had been reported and misrepresented on the social network Facebook and that he wanted to clarify the facts.  He noted that he had never compared Bédard to a prehistoric animal, but rather had compared her to a character in a science fiction film.  He also apologized for the other nicknames he had attached to her and recognized that [translations] “this string of nicknames is similar to bullying” which “is unacceptable for a radio host”.  He apologized [translation] “to all the listeners whom I might have offended and in particular to Mélissa who, in my opinion, has the talent required to win the current edition of Star Académie.”  CJAB-FM also posted Courchesne’s apology on its Facebook page.  (A transcription of the March 7 broadcast is also available in Appendix A, in French only.)

The CBSC received 34 complaints about the comments made regarding Mélissa, but only six provided enough information to pursue the complaints. Following receipt of the broadcaster’s response, only one complainant submitted a Ruling Request.  That complainant wrote in his complaint:  [translation] “racist remarks, defamation, lack of respect towards Mélissa of Star Académie on TVA.”  CJAB-FM responded to the complainant on March 27, [translation] “it seems that our host made these remarks in an attempt to be funny, without realizing just how hurtful they could be.”  The station acknowledged that the comments were unpleasant towards Mélissa, but noted that the host had apologized on the station’s Facebook page and on air.  The complainant was not satisfied with that response.  He stated that the host should have realized that his comments were inappropriate at the time of the broadcast since his colleague was clearly ill at ease.  He confirmed that he maintained his complaint because the apology was nothing more than [translation] “a slap on the wrist”.  (The text of all correspondence is available in Appendix B, in French only.)


The Quebec Regional Panel examined the complaint under the following clauses of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics and Equitable Portrayal Code:

CAB Equitable Portrayal Code, Clause 2 – Human Rights

Recognizing that every person has the right to the full enjoyment of certain fundamental rights and freedoms, broadcasters shall ensure that their programming contains no abusive or unduly discriminatory material or comment which is based on matters of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, marital status or physical or mental disability.

CAB Code of Ethics, Clause 2 – Human Rights

Recognizing that every person has the right to full and equal recognition and to enjoy certain fundamental rights and freedoms, broadcasters shall ensure that their programming contains no abusive or unduly discriminatory material or comment which is based on matters of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status or physical or mental disability.

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.

The Panel Adjudicators read all of the correspondence and listened to the challenged segment as well as the broadcast of the apology. The Panel concludes that there was no violation of the Human Rights clauses, but there was a violation of Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics.

“Racist” Remarks

After carefully listening to the segment and reading the transcript, the Panel Adjudicators found no racist remarks made by the hosts about Bédard. In fact, the only reference to Bédard’s racial origin during the segment was made by Julie Bergeron who noted that [translation] “She’s the tall black lady from Quebec City”, a remark that does not constitute abusive or unduly discriminatory comment on the basis of race under Clause 2 of the CAB Code of Ethics or Equitable Portrayal Code.[1]  In fact, the hosts’ comments referred more to Bédard’s general appearance rather than to her racial origin.

Insulting Comments Towards an Individual

The Panel finds, however, that, even if they were not based on race, the remarks exchanged by the hosts on CJAB-FM’s March 5, 2012 broadcast were far from flattering towards Bédard. Effectively comparing her to Chewbacca from the movie Star Wars (a gorilla-like hominid), to Fiona from the movie Shrek (a large green ogress) and implying she is transgendered (with the reference to the song “Elle s’appelait Serge” by Les Trois Accords) constitute insulting, mean and degrading comments which had the effect of unfairly ridiculing Mélissa Bédard.  Based on previous Council decisions, the Panel therefore concludes that the comments made about Bédard on the morning of March 5, 2012 on CJAB-FM constituted a violation of Clause 6 (Full, Fair and Proper Presentation) of the CAB Code of Ethics.[2]

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, CJAB-FM and the host made a full, public apology almost immediately:  the station on the following day via its Facebook page and the host himself the day after that via an on-air announcement.  The broadcaster fulfilled its obligations of responsiveness and nothing further is required in this regard in this instance.

Decision Announcement

The Council generally requires the broadcaster to broadcast its decision on air when there has been a violation of any Code provision; however, in cases where a broadcaster acknowledges its errors and provides an on-air apology prior to the publication of the Council’s decision, the Council does not require the broadcaster to announce the decision on air, as long as the apology is complete and sincere.[3]

In this case, the Panel considers that the apology provided by the host on air, and that made by the station, in the days following the broadcast in question were complete and sincere and there is no need to require the broadcaster to announce the decision on air.

This decision is a public document upon its release by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council.

[1] See SRC re Bye Bye 2008 (CBSC Decision 08/09-0620+, March 17, 2009) for examples of abusive or unduly discriminatory comments about Black people.

[2] See the following decisions for other examples of insulting comments: CJMF-FM re the program L’heure de vérité avec André Arthur (CBSC Decision 99/00-0240, August 29, 2000); CHOI-FM re Le monde parallèle de Jeff Fillion (CBSC Decision 02/03-0115, July 17, 2003); CJRC-AM re an interview by Daniel Séguin on L’Outaouais ce matin (CBSC Decisions 03/04-2082 & 04/05-0023, April 4, 2005); CJMF-FM re comments made on an episode of Le trio de l’enfer (CBSC Decision 04/05-0761, October 24, 2005); CJMF-FM re an interview on Bouchard en parle (CBSC Decision 04/05-1852, February 3, 2006); and CKAC-AM re an episode of Doc Mailloux (Adolescent Sexuality) (CBSC Decision 05/06-1104, June 30, 2006).

[3] OMNI.1 re an episode of the Jimmy Swaggart Telecast (CBSC Decision 04/05-0097, April 19, 2005) and CKRS-AM re comments made on Champagne pour tout le monde (CBSC Decision 06/07-0904, August 20, 2008).