Callers’ Open-line Show Comments Are Broadcaster’s Responsibility But No Breach Here, Says Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, July 8, 1998 -- The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning a late-night talkshow called Connections, hosted by Dr. Jerry Green, which was broadcast on CHOG-AM (Toronto) on October 28, 1996. During that show, comments made by a caller on the subject of cutbacks by the government of Ontario included the statement that “Tories don’t have children, they have piglets.” A listener complained that the host had allowed this caller to make “hateful, threatening and derogatory statements without being challenged and/or being muted.”

The Ontario Regional Council considered the complaint under the provision of the Code of Ethics of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB) which requires the “full, fair and proper presentation of ... opinion, comment and editorial”. The Council noted that broadcasters are responsible for the airing of all material, including the comments of a caller on an open-line show. The Council considered that the host’s on-air statement that “Those are your words... I wouldn’t be as nasty” did not have the effect of nullifying the broadcaster’s responsibility.

The Council concluded, however, that the broadcaster, through its host Dr. Green, acted appropriately in dealing with the comments by the caller in question:

Dr. Green stepped in assertively... when, in his view, the caller began to “cross the line” of acceptable comment. While the Council considers that, for the most part, the comments of caller “Don” constituted political rhetoric, it acknowledges that the host must have the latitude to determine when a caller has gone too far. Even though such political expression holds a very high status in terms of the constitutional guarantee of freedom of expression, the Council believes that the host acted appropriately in dealing with this part of Don’s comments both in letting “Don” continue as long as he did (the complainant’s criticism) and in cutting him off when he judged the moment apt.

With respect to Don’s specific comment that “Tories don’t have children, they have piglets”, the Council is of the view that the comment is silly rather than abusive. Accordingly, the Council does not find that CHOG-AM violated broadcast standards by allowing the comment to be aired. However, the Council is of the view that such a comment did deserve mitigation, given its venomous intent. Accordingly, the Council finds that Dr. Green acted appropriately in this regard when he stated “You are getting very nasty, Don.”

Canada’s private broadcasters have created industry standards in the form of Codes on ethics, gender portrayal and television violence by which they expect their members will abide. They also created the CBSC, which is the self-regulatory body with the responsibility of administering those Codes, as well as the Code dealing with journalistic practices created by the Radio Television News Directors Association Canada (RTNDA). More than 430 radio and television stations and specialty services from across Canada are members of the Council.

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All CBSC decisions, Codes, links to members’ and other web sites, and related information are available on the World Wide Web at www.cbsc.ca. For more information, please contact the National Chair of the CBSC, Ron Cohen, at (###) ###-####.