Frivolous and Vexatious Complaint Dismissed by Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, July 16, 1998 -- The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning a Brian Henderson Commentary which was broadcast on CFRA-AM (Ottawa) on August 1, 1996. The Commentary dealt, admittedly aggressively, with the relative roles of men and women in procreation and the child-rearing process. It stated, among other things:

that some men still believe that it's the guy who makes the baby when, in truth, the guy doesn't do anything but water the seed. She plants it; she nurtures is; she harvests it; she feeds it. And, in most households, it's mostly hers to care for. The child-rearing process is getting a little more progressive, more of a shared responsibility. But making babies is women's work. And any man who boasts about his part in the process is an idiot.

A listener took issue with the Commentary, viewing it as “a personal affront as well as a blatant violation of your gender policy.”

The Ontario Regional Council considered the complaint under the Sex-Role Portrayal Code of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters. Concluding that the complaint was utterly without substance, the Council stated that the Commentary “was based on and reflective of reality and ... the content did not reinforce negative stereotypes. By highlighting the role and importance of women in conception, these comments actually counteract negative stereotypes which frequently tend to minimize the positive attributes and contributions of women.”

The Council also noted that the complainant in question argued points already dealt with by earlier CBSC decisions (most of which resulted from the complainant’s own previous complaints to the CBSC) and that “the complaint on this occasion clearly takes aspects of the Commentary out of context, distorts others and generally attempts to make of the Commentary something which it is not.” The Council stated that in this case the complaint was frivolous and vexatious.

While it not unexpectedly occurs that some individuals are the source of more complaints than others, this does not mean that the habitual complainant will be viewed as unjustified in his or her complaint by reason of the frequency of the letters. Where, however, the recurrent complainant returns time and again with complaints which repeat a theme on which the Council’s position is clear, the complaints may justifiably be seen as vexatious or harassing. To treat such complaints with the care and attention which are characteristic of the process becomes unfair both to the broadcaster and to those other complainants whose serious concerns must then await the resolution of a frivolous matter.

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 (###) ###-####.