Ottawa, March 25, 1998 — The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning broadcasts of the Howard Stern Show on certain days in December 1997 and January 1998 on CILQ-FM (Q107) in Toronto.
In an earlier decision dealing with the same program, CHOM-FM and CILQ-FM re the Howard Stern Show (CBSC Decision 97/98-0001+ and 97/98-0015+, October 17 and 18, 1997, released November 11, 1997), the CBSC found that the two stations had breached the CAB Code of Ethics and the Sex-Role Portrayal Code by broadcasting abusive or discriminatory comments relating to French-Canadians and other identifiable groups, sexist remarks or observations, and unsuitable language or descriptions of sexual activity during periods when children could be expected to be listening to the radio.
The stations were called upon to announce that result forthwith, which they did, and to indicate what steps they would be taking to avoid future Code breaches of the private broadcaster Codes. In this decision, for the first time, the CBSC provides details of the steps taken to ensure that compliance.
Both stations engaged additional production staff and acquired digital time shift recorders that enabled the broadcasters to extend the initial time delays to cope with questionable material from 2 minutes to 8 minutes. The effective delay is considerably longer since the stations are able to insert further locally generated material to fill the time of any edited segments before inserting the stored 8 minutes of material.
As a part of its commitment to the process, CILQ-FM has provided the CBSC with logs of the edits, which reveal that, from the time of institution of the new digital equipment in the week of February 23rd until March 20th, CILQ-FM made 77 individual edits to 17 shows in the period. These ranged in length from a few words to segments of 20 minutes in length on two occasions. The Ontario Regional Council was pleased by the this development. It said:
By adding to their infrastructure in both sophisticated digital equipment and personnel, they further acknowledged that special steps would be required to ensure that Canadian standards would be respected in the broadcasting of the Stern Show. This was, in the view of the Council, a significant acknowledgment since the Stern Show had had a “take it or leave it” reputation; it was indicated that it could not be tampered with, revised, edited or altered in any way.
In commenting on these steps, Ron Cohen, National Chair of the CBSC, stated: “I am very pleased at the success of the Canadian self-regulatory system. It is a unique example in world broadcasting experience of broadcasters’ willingness to take tough steps to deal with a tough problem. This is, to the best of the CBSC’s knowledge, the first time when the broadcast of the Howard Stern Show has been modified in a significant way on an ongoing basis. The alternative, namely, the ongoing breach of the private broadcaster Codes, was unacceptable to the broadcasters as well as the CBSC.”
The December and January Broadcasts
In the earlier decision, the CBSC anticipated that the problems which it had found with the September 1997 episodes of the show would recur. Both CHOM-FM (whose broadcast of the show is not in question in this decision) and CILQ-FM had committed to take whatever steps were necessary to ensure that the program would comply with the CAB Codes.
Despite that, the Toronto station did not begin its monitoring and editing steps when it ought to have, namely, by December 10 at latest. As the President and C.E.O. of WIC Radio stated in a letter to the Council which forms a part of the decision:
In hindsight, I believe we were too slow off the mark in getting the new systems fully operational and I apologize for our tardiness. That lateness I’m sure, contributed to some of the complaints that were received following the CBSC’s November decision.
The Council was, therefore, called upon to deal with the complaints regarding the December and January programs, which were aired at least a month or two before the new measures were firmly in place.
With respect to these shows, the Ontario Regional Council found that CILQ-FM breached provisions of the industry’s Code of Ethics and Sex-Role Portrayal Code. The Council concluded that the Howard Stern Shows of December 15th to 18th and 24th and that of January 15th contained abusive or discriminatory comments directed at identifiable groups, sexist remarks or observations, material sexualizing children and improper language or descriptions of sexual activity during a pre-school broadcast period. These breaches, which are summarized below, occurred prior to the implementation of significant changes by the station to its editing capability.
1. Sex-Role Portrayal Issues: Sexist and Abusive Comments
The Council noted that one of the most prevalent problems of the Show relates to the fundamentally sexist disposition of the show, which, on a continuing basis, objectifies women on the basis of their genital organs and their sexual proclivities. The Council found that this objectification extends into abusive comments and associations between sex and violence. Stern's use of abusive or degrading comments in dealing with women continued in the broadcasts reviewed by the Council in this decision.
The Ontario Regional Council is of the view that the demeaning approach to women taken in most, if not all, of the Stern Shows reviewed for this decision violates both the underlying spirit and express provisions of the Sex-Role Portrayal Code. The broadcasting of such retrograde attitudes, which so clearly violate the Code, risks the desensitization of the public to the invalidity of the unequal treatment of women and the validation of the unacceptable view of women as sexual objects, purely and simply. Nor is it merely the target group which suffers that indignity; all Canadians are the less for the proliferation of such messages over the publicly owned airwaves.
2. Advocating Violence against Women
The Council also found that the declarations of the host and others on the Stern Show regarding women go further than mere sexism. Whether in apparent jest or otherwise, the use of language such as “chop her head off”, sharks eating half of a woman and the like lead readily to the conclusion that aggressive non-consensual sex may be acceptable. The Council referred to the Supreme Court’s position on this issue in the landmark Butler decision, which held that,
if true equality between male and female persons is to be achieved, we cannot ignore the threat to equality resulting from exposure to audiences of certain types of violent and degrading material. Materials portraying women as a class as objects for sexual exploitation and abuse have a negative impact on “the individual's sense of self-worth and acceptance”.
The Council also referred to an earlier CRTC decision arising out of a 1983 MediaWatch complaint, in which the Commission stated that
broadcasters fall short of discharging their responsibilities and of attaining the high standard of programming required when the frequency entrusted to them is used, not to criticize the activities of a particular group but to advocate sexual violence against its members. ... The Commission agrees with the complainant that the issue of whether or not women should be raped is not debatable. ...
3. Racist and Abusive Comments
The Council also concluded that the numerous examples of racist comments directed at blacks and Jews, among others, violated the CAB Code of Ethics.
4. Sexual Acts Involving Children
The shows reviewed included several references to the participation of children in sexual acts, which the CBSC considers particularly unacceptable. In one example, Stern said:
After I peed, I kind of forgot how to get downstairs and I open up the... I see two people in bed and I went, “Oh, my God, they’re having sex”, and I realized it was Lindell’s kids asleep in the bed. They passed out on a bed. ... I tried to get it on with them, but I couldn’t. They couldn’t be woken up.
There were other examples. The Council concluded:
The Regional Council has not previously been called upon to assess the content of talk radio programming of a more serious nature than that involving the participation, real or imagined, of children in sexual acts. However permissive the view of society may be toward consensual sex among adults, there is no tolerance in civilized societies for child pornography in any form. As the Supreme Court put this point in defining the three categories of pornography in Butler v. R., it explained that “explicit sex that is not violent and neither degrading nor dehumanizing is generally tolerated in our society and will not qualify as the undue exploitation of sex unless it employs children in its production. [Emphasis added.]”
5. Suitability of Subject Matter for Children
In the shows reviewed on this occasion, the Ontario Regional Council considered that Howard Stern had exposed new types of programming which are unsuitable for children during the early hours of the day when they are aired. These included explicit discussions regarding a sado-masochistic restaurant, sexual acts, and “favourite” methods of killing people close up. The CBSC considers that the “proper presentation of ... opinion [or] comment”, in the case of children, is a function of what is suitable for them and it remains the Council’s view that the description of explicit sexual acts, abetted in these December and January episodes by explicit discussions of violent acts, constitutes improper comment and is in breach of the Code of Ethics.
Consequences of the CILQ-FM Code Breaches
The Council noted that in other circumstances, it may have recommended that CILQ-FM be asked to leave the Council; however, the Council did not make this recommendation in this case because CILQ-FM had explicitly and unequivocally declared its support of the self-regulatory process and its intention of complying with Canadian broadcast codes and regulations. The Council believed it only fair that the infrastructural changes which the company had introduced to deal with the “challenges [of] the Howard Stern Show” should be given the opportunity to be tested.
Given this sequence of events, the Council does not believe that the membership of CILQFM in the CBSC should be revoked because of the question of a timing failure. The Council does consider that it is only reasonable to provide CILQ with the opportunity to demonstrate, with its additional personnel and new digital technology, that it can in fact edit the Stern Show to ensure its compliance with industry Codes.
While it remains to be proven to the CBSC that this new infrastructure can, in fact, succeed, the Council believes that it has a responsibility to provide this member station with the chance to make these new processes work. If the station can achieve Code compliance, so much the better. If, however, it cannot, then it will ultimately have to deal with these issues in another forum.
This is the only situation in which the CBSC has twice been required to review the same radio show as a series. Consequently, while the CBSC considers that the steps taken by CILQ-FM to attempt in future to make the Stern Show comply with the broadcast Codes should be given a reasonable chance to succeed, the Council has reserved the right to initiate its own determination within 30 days of this decision to assess whether the station has succeeded in making this series Code-compliant.
In any event, CILQ-FM is required to announce this decision forthwith during prime time in terms provided in the text of the decision.
The full text of the decision and the appendices are to be found on the CBSC’s web site at www.cbsc.ca.
The CBSC’s Regional Councils are composed equally of broadcasters and representatives of the general public. The Ontario Regional Council Chair is Al MacKay, a broadcaster representative. The Vice-Chair, a public member, is Robert Stanbury. Other public members participating in the decision were Meg Hogarth and Taanta Gupta; while Paul Fockler and Madeline Ziniak represented the broadcasters.
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All CBSC decisions, Codes and related documentation 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 (###) ###-#### or (###) ###-####.