Spoof of Sad Current Event not a Code Breach, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, February 10, 2005- The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning the broadcast of a parody segment on CJKR-FM (Winnipeg)’s Wheeler and Hal morning program.  The segment was inspired by a recent news event in which the body of a young man had been found behind the wall of a bar in Winnipeg’s Osborne Village neighbourhood.  There was no suggestion that he had been the victim of foul play or was known to the public or the police in any way.  In any event, the spoof included what appeared to listeners to be a muffled and despairing voice (simulating the young man trapped behind the wall), ignored by the others in the skit.

A member of the public found the skit tasteless and insensitive.  The Prairie Regional Panel disagreed.  Basing themselves on previous CBSC Panel decisions, the Panel observed that 

one might conclude that humour directly linked to, and constructed on, a tragedy is improper.  Moreover, it would appear that the issue is not the size of the tragedy but its nature.  On the other hand, a skit that may have been inspired by sad current events but does not use them as part of the humour itself is not necessarily in breach of the improper presentation provision of the CAB Code of Ethics. 

In applying those principles to the challenged broadcast, the majority (there were two dissenting Adjudicators) agreed that 

there can be no doubt but that the underlying story is a sad one, no doubt a tragic one to friends and family, involving the death of an individual.  Those in the majority on this Panel are not of the view that the segment constitutes a breach of Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics.It is their view that the broadcaster did not primarily focus in any way on the individual who had inadvertently come to be trapped behind the wall.  They consider that the humour the on-air host found in the story was strictly associated with the undeniably bizarre circumstances associated with the disappearance and death of the individual.  They also consider that, because he was not well-known to the public, the humour was impersonal and detached.  In [the earlier CBSC decisions], it was not the individuals but the groups that were well-known to the audiences likely to have heard the joking at the expense of the groups.  The Panel does acknowledge that the humour in the matter under consideration was tasteless and insensitive but not in breach of Clause 6 of the Code. 

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 550 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 CBSC's website at www.cbsc.ca. For more information, please contact the CBSC National Chair, Mme Andrée Noël CBSC Executive Director, John MacNab