Broadcast Council Issues Decision On “Jewish Mothers” Comments Aired On Toronto Radio Stations

Ottawa, April 22, 1996 – The Ontario Regional Council of the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decisions concerning comments made about “Jewish mothers” and the Ontario Legal Aid system, aired on CHUM and CFTR (Toronto) in September, 1995.

The decisions follow 40 complaints about comments made by CHUM announcer Brian Henderson, and supporting comments made by CFTR announcer Dick Smyth. Following his reading of the morning news on September 14, Henderson read a personal commentary stating that “the root cause of the crisis in the Legal Aid system is Jewish mothers.” The ensuing outcry attracted wide media attention in the Toronto area, and CFTR commentator Smyth commented on September 20 that, “... my old colleague Brian Henderson finds himself in a confrontation with the Jewish community because of some rash but nevertheless true words. A quick inspection of the Toronto phone book reveals that there is indeed a disproportionate number of Jewish lawyers, dentists and doctors ...”

The CBSC reviewed tapes of these commentaries and subsequent apologies, letters from listeners to these stations, and the broadcasters’ written responses. The Council decided that both programs breached the industry’s Code of Ethics by broadcasting abusive and discriminatory comment based on matters of religion. In its decisions, the Regional Council affirmed that, while Henderson had attempted to discuss an important public concern, namely, the state of the Ontario Legal Aid system, the use of an unrelated, irrelevant and factually unsupportable claim was improper and abusive. By supporting Henderson’s claims, Smyth, too, broadcast improper and abusive comment.

In its decision concerning CHUM, the Council affirmed, “while each individual must determine his or her limits of tolerance at home, the manifestation of such intolerance on the publicly-owned airwaves is unacceptable. The freedom to speak or express does not include the freedom to defame.” It added in the CFTR decision that “in radio, where there is no video component, words are, if not everything, nearly everything. Poor or unskilled choices reflect on the person broadcasting. Thoughtless or wrong choices which are abusive or discriminatory reflect on the person listening. The broadcaster’s liberty of expression does not extend that far.”

While its decisions are negative, the Regional Council recognized measures taken by both CHUM and CFTR to resolve the matters. Within several hours of the Henderson commentary, CHUM’s President issued a press release and aired a public statement. CHUM representatives later met with representatives of the Jewish community organization B’nai Brith.

Together these parties agreed to CHUM’s airing of a mutually agreed-upon apology by Henderson, an invitation to B’nai Brith members to conduct a human rights educational program for CHUM staff, CHUM’s airing of public service announcements on human rights issues, and the co-sponsorship of an elementary and high school program on human rights. B’nai Brith issued its own press release accepting the CHUM measures.

CFTR management, for its part, broadcast a rebuttal of Smyth’s commentary the next morning. B’nai Brith also intervened, issuing its own press release criticizing Smyth’s comments and accepting CFTR management’s apology. Smyth broadcast his own apology within several days.

The CBSC Regional Council decided that the measures taken by both stations to resolve the matter were firm and unequivocal. Thus, while the CBSC’s decisions were negative, the Council believed that the apologies aired by the stations were the equivalent of the on-air announcement the CBSC generally requires in the case of negative decisions. As a result, CHUM nor CFTR, having aired apologies within days of the offending programs, are not required to make an on-air announcement of these decisions.

Created in 1990 to promote self-regulation of private sector radio and television broadcasters, the CBSC administers industry codes on ethics, television violence and gender portrayal. Some 400 stations from across Canada are members of the CBSC.

The decisions are attached.

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For more information, please contact the National Chair of the CBSC, Ronald I. Cohen, at (###) ###-####.