“Jewish Mothers” Joke Not Abusive, According To Broadcast Standards (disponible en anglais seulement)

Ottawa, April 8, 1997—The Ontario Regional Council of the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning a joke mentioning “Jewish mothers” on CHFI-FM.

During the Don Daynard show in March 1995, the host told a series of “light bulb” jokes, including one which asked, “how many Jewish mothers does it take to change a light bulb?” A viewer did not take this “joke” lightly and felt that it was anti-Semitic and offensive. He believed that such jokes had the effect of victimizing ethnic and racial groups and that the host felt he could attack these groups with impunity. CHFI-FM, in its response to the complaint, affirmed that there was no malice or offence intended in the joke, but nonetheless apologized for the listener’s discomfort with it. The listener was unsatisfied with this reply and asked the CBSC Ontario Regional Council to consider his complaint.

In its decision (attached), the Regional Council reviewed the industry’s Code of Ethics, which requires broadcasters to avoid discriminatory material or comment based on matters of religion, national or ethnic origin. The Regional Council recognized that ethnic humour can be contentious and in fact has been the subject of several CBSC decisions in the past few years. It has established that some such jokes are acceptable—provided that they do not contain abusive or discriminatory material or comment. They may also be acceptable in certain contexts, particularly the nature of program in which they appear and the probable audience perception. Thus, a comment that might be considered abusive or discriminatory in some other context would not be so in a comedy program. In the case of the “Jewish mothers” joke told on CHFI-FM, the Council noted that the joke was told in the context of other “light bulb” jokes aimed at other groups including Marxists, surrealists, accountants, and feminists and, in that context, it merely poked fun; it did not attack or demean. As the Council remarked, “the CBSC does not expect that the airwaves will be pure, antiseptic and flawless when society is not.” Thus, CHFI-FM did not breach the Code of Ethics.

Nearly 400 private sector radio and television stations from across Canada are members of the CBSC. The Council also administers industry codes on ethics and gender portrayal.

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This and previous decisions are posted on the CBSC’s Web site at www.cbsc.ca.