Inflammatory Personal Attacks Over the Airwaves Breaches Code, Says Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, January 10, 2001 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning an episode of the morning show L’heure de vérité hosted by André Arthur on CJMF-FM in Quebec. During the broadcast in question, the host criticized the Péladeau family’s efforts to raise money for the less fortunate, accusing the family, as a whole, of having “psychological” and other problems, as well as being a “family of crooks”. The host went on to criticize social assistance recipients, claiming that, at the end of the month, they “sleep” and “burp their beers”, while ”in ten days, they’ll begin accumulating debts again at the expense of their children’s breakfast.” A listener complained that the host “defamed” and “ridiculed” the Péladeau family and made “vicious and inflammatory comments against recipients of income security benefits as a whole.”

The Quebec Regional Council considered the decision under the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ Code of Ethics. It found the comments concerning the Péladeau family in breach of Clause 6(3) of the Code, characterizing the host’s “inflammatory unjustifiable language” as “a travesty and the worst type of journalistic excess to which talk radio can succumb.” The Council stated:

[The host’s language] adds absolutely nothing remotely worthwhile to public discourse. It is petty, scurrilous and hateful. It is not full, but empty; not fair, but the most unfair use of a one-way microphone; and not proper, but improper and inappropriate. Whether any one of the comments might have a ring of truth with respect to a single member of the family (and the Council does not suggest that this is at all the case), there is no doubt but that the host has tarred the entire family with the broad brushstrokes he has used, capping them all off with the linking conclusion that they are a “family of crooks”. Consequently, the Council has not the least hesitation in finding the broadcaster in breach of Clause 6(3) of the CAB Code of Ethics with respect to the challenged remarks.

However, the Council did not find the host’s comments concerning social assistance recipients in breach of the human rights provision of the Code, confirming an earlier decision in which the Council held that social condition is not presently covered by the Code. In its view:

While the Council considers that the aggressive, mocking, arrogant style of the host does no justice to the medium of radio, it is of the view that the comments do not constitute a breach of the clause in question. In such circumstances, the Council is of the opinion that there is no violation and that freedom of speech must prevail.

Canada’s private broadcasters have themselves created industry standards in the form of Codes on ethics, gender portrayal and television violence by which they expect the members of their profession will abide. In 1990, they also created the CBSC, which is the self-regulatory body with the responsibility of administering those professional broadcast Codes, as well as the Code dealing with journalistic practices first created by the Radio Television News Directors Association of Canada (RTNDA) in 1970. More than 430 radio and television stations and specialty services from across Canada are members of the Council.

– 30 –

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