Broadcast Standards Council Decision On “Sexual Harassment” Comments

Ottawa, October 24, 1996 – The Ontario Regional Council of the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) released its decision today concerning comments about sexual harassment aired on CFTO-TV.

CFTO-TV aired a about a humour segment in News Beat Today, on December 12, 1994. During the segment, host Robin Ward discussed Donald Sutherland’s attitude toward sexual harassment, following his role in the film Disclosure. In the host’s words, “Sutherland says he’s too old to change and he says he even takes off his hat when a woman comes into the room. But the last time he did that he said the woman gave him a dirty look. Well come on, Donald, taking off your hat in front of a woman you’ve never met before ... now that’s sexual harassment if I’ve ever heard it.”

A viewer complained to the CBSC that the remark was offensive, and that “not only does Mr. Ward need to be sensitized and educated about issues of such gravity, he needs to know if he wants to share his views he can do so in an editorialized offering.” CFTO-TV replied that the comments were harmless, not intended either to encourage or belittle sexual harassment. The viewer, unsatisfied with this response, asked that the CBSC refer the matter to its Ontario Regional Council for adjudication.

The Ontario Regional Council is composed equally of representatives of the public and of the broadcasting industry. Council members viewed a tape of the segment and reviewed the complaint under the industry’s Code of Ethics and the Sex-Role Portrayal Code, which require broadcasters to exhibit sensitivity to the problems associated with gender stereotyping, and to refrain from exploitation in their programming. In its decision (attached), the Council affirmed, “the remarks of host Robin Ward ... were ... neither intentionally nor even inadvertently heavy-handed. They were perhaps an attempt to suggest that society may be taking itself too seriously or going too far in sanctioning any behaviour which may be seen to deviate from some absolute norm .... Mr. Ward’s comments lightly poked fun at the limits of sexual harassment and not at all at the issue of sexual harassment itself.” Thus, Council decided that CFTO-TV did not breach the industry’s codes.

In addition to administering industry codes on ethics and sex-role portrayal, the CBSC administers the Voluntary Code Regarding Violence on Television and the Code of (Journalistic) Ethics. Nearly 400 private sector radio and television stations from across Canada are members of the Council.

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