Stern Comments under Fire by Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, August 29, 2001 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning two episodes of the Howard Stern Show on CILQ-FM (Toronto). The CBSC acted on two complaints, one from an individual concerning one episode and one from MediaWatch enumerating examples of offensive programming after a month of monitoring the show. The complainants expressed concern about sexist and racist comments. These included Stern’s expression of his views on immigration, a segment on the extent to which a Playboy Playmate was prepared to go to appear on the show and Stern’s “verbal assault” of a call-in listener. The Ontario Regional Panel considered the comments under the Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB) Code of Ethics and Sex-Role Portrayal Code.

The Panel found that Stern’s discussion of immigration did not constitute unduly discriminatory comment because it was nothing more than the expression of Stern’s political opinion. Contrary to the complainant’s contention, the Panel found that Stern had “made no comment whatsoever suggesting that American citizens of other national or ethnic groups be stripped of their citizenship and returned to their countries of origin. He does not wish new immigrants. It is a defensible view in terms of the freedom of expression.”

As to the allegations of sexist and degrading comments, the Panel found that the“suggestions” made by Stern to the manager of a Playmate eager to appear on the Show had gone too far. The Panel concluded that “the cumulative effect of the suggestions that the Playmate smell underwear, be rolled up naked in a rug and forced to ride in an elevator, eat a carrot in Stern’s lap while she is naked and eat food out of a dog dish while naked is demeaning and degrading in the extreme.” In the view of the Panel, these comments are in breach of Clause 4 of the Sex-Role Portrayal Code and cannot be “‘gotten away with’ on Canadian airwaves.”

Moreover, Stern’s treatment of a caller who had phoned in to exclaim her disapproval of the Playmate dialogue also went too far according to the Panel. Stern had reacted, among other things, by suggesting that the caller “eat a taco out of [his] crotch”, calling her a “big fat cow”, then a “fat, ugly girl who can’t get squat”, suggesting she had a mustache, accusing her of living in an apartment with cockroaches and so on. The Panel concluded that “the comments of the host are both racist and sexist. These comments are not borderline. They are extreme. They have no place on the airwaves in this country.”

Finally, the Panel addressed the issue of repetitive breaches. The Panel agreed that “objectionable comments are unacceptable. The [editing] process is not part-time; it is not designed to permit occasional breaches of the Codes.” The Panel noted, however, that there is “considerable material flowing out of the New York studio where the show originates” and that the CBSC receives edit logs on a daily basis which indicate just what and how much dialogue is excised by CILQ-FM day-in and day-out. The Panel further took into account the fact that new corporate owners assumed management of the broadcaster only two business days prior to the dates of the challenged broadcasts. The Panel considered the drop in complaints received since the new corporate ownership to be a “promising sign” but required that the broadcaster provide a written explanation of further steps which it will put in place to ensure that such “gaps” as occurred on July 12 will not recur.

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 470 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 For more information, please contact the National Chair of the CBSC, Ron Cohen, at (###) ###-####.