Abusive Comments From Phone Poll Breach Industry Ethics, Says Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, May 9, 1997 -- The Ontario Regional Council of the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning the airing of comments from a phone poll conducted by Sudbury’s CJRQ-FM.

The station conducted an informal poll of its listeners in February, 1995 on the question of OHIP-funded sex-change operations. 198 listeners called to leave their comments, and the station selected three of those messages to air. In the first, the caller stated, “these are pretty sick times when the health-care system would refuse to finance a leg-brace for a small child but would willingly open its purse strings if some sick, demented, obviously mentally disturbed homosexual minces into a hospital or clinic demanding a vagina. And the health-care professionals are tripping over each other to accommodate this misfit of the natural order.” The other messages were negative, but not as virulent. The program host indicated that 90% of callers believed the province should not fund such operations.

A CJRQ-FM listener complained about the poll and the comments aired. She believed that the comments were extremely offensive and homophobic and added that, when she contacted the station directly to complain, she was told that “people are entitled to their opinions.” She retorted, “I do not agree with your employees that any opinion can be broadcast and I don’t think Canadian licensing laws would condone this situation.” In his 32-word response to the listener, the station’s General Manager merely stated that the incident had been a “learning experience” that forced the station staff to reexamine its policies regarding the poll. The station appended those policies to the letter. The listener was unsatisfied with this response and asked the CBSC Ontario Regional Council to review the matter.

In its decision, the Regional Council noted that, although the host himself had not made the comments in question, the station, by selecting the comments to be aired, was responsible for the program. The Council agreed with the complainant that the comments selected for broadcast were blatantly homophobic. While the other two callers had expressed strong opinions, the first caller’s reference to “some sick, demented, obviously mentally disturbed homosexual” and “this misfit of the natural order” constituted abusive material based on matters of sexual orientation. In its words, “the Council is never troubled by the expression of opinion, as long as it does not become abusively discriminatory.” The Council concluded that CJRQ-FM had breached both the industry’s Code of Ethics, which forbids the broadcast of such material, and the RTNDA Code of (Journalistic) Ethics, which states that news broadcasts should not be sensationalized. Moreover, the Council decided that the station’s letter had been totally unresponsive. As a result of this negative decision, CJRQ-FM must announce the decision during peak listening hours within the next 30 days.

Nearly 400 stations from across Canada are members of the Council and adhere to CBSC-administered codes on ethics, journalistic ethics, gender portrayal and television violence.

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This and other decisions of the CBSC are available via Internet at www.cbsc.ca. For more information, please contact Ronald I. Cohen, CBSC National Chair, at (###) ###-####.