Open-Line Discussions on Police Shooting of a Black Ottawa Resident Not in Breach of Broadcast Standards

Ottawa, March 19, 1998 -- The Ontario Regional Council of the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning CFRA-AM’s Mark Sutcliffe and Lowell Green Shows of January 2 and 3, 1997.

The decision concerns broadcasts of the Mark Sutcliffe and Lowell Green open-line shows in which the shooting by Ottawa police of a member of the black community was discussed. A listener complained that the Sutcliffe broadcasts were fraught with unsupported claims that the “black community” had charged that the shooting was racially motivated and that the shooting victim, a Saint Lucian, had been misidentified as Jamaican. The complainant further alleged that Mr. Green “used these baseless charges to ‘tee-off’ on the black community” and that he was in fact fomenting hatred against this community.

After reviewing the tape of the newscasts and examining the correspondence, the Regional Council decided that CFRA-AM had not breached the industry’s Code of Ethics or the Code of (Journalistic) Ethics. In the Council’s view, Mark Sutcliffe broached a thorny issue with great skill and, in fact, encouraged the free-flowing expression of views on a matter of public concern. The Council was further of the view that he kept remarkable balance in the discussion, despite some unpleasant caller interventions, and that he delivered a broadcast of value to the audience.

Regarding the error as to national identity, the host had corrected the error as quickly as information got to him. The Council did raise the following caveat regarding terms used to describe the black community in general:

It goes without saying that members of the black community come from many individual national backgrounds, which include countries with predominantly black populations and others with minority black populations. Nor should it be forgotten that Canada is itself privileged to have its own national Canadian black population. Thus, the Council considers that the use of such national designations ought to be limited to those circumstances in which they are both relevant and likely, on the basis of known information, to be accurately applied.

Regarding The Lowell Green Show, the Council noted that this is an opinion program, and the host is, as much as anyone, a person with strong opinions. However, the Council determined that, in this case, far from fomenting hatred, Lowell Green presented a perspective that was balanced and, if anything, sympathetic to the black community. The Council considered that the presentation of a set of diversified opinions is the role of good talk radio and The Lowell Green Show on this occasion accomplished that very purpose.

The CBSC is the self-regulatory body created by private broadcasters to respond to complaints and administer industry standards on ethics, journalistic practices, gender portrayal and television violence. Nearly 400 radio and television stations from across Canada are members of the Council.

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