ARCHIVED -  Public Notice CRTC 1985-236

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Public Notice

Ottawa, 4 November 1985
Public Notice CRTC 1985-236
Complaints by the Nishga Tribal Council and Musqueam Indian Band against CKNW New Westminster, B.C.
The Commission hereby censures CKNW for the racially offensive remarks made on the open-line show of Mr. Gary Bannerman on 3 April 1985 (the Broadcast).
Substance of the Broadcast
CKNW, an AM radio station owned by Westcom Radio Group Ltd., a corporation which is wholly owned by WIC Western International Communications Ltd., broadcasts the Bannerman open-line show weekday mornings from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon. During the 3 April 1985 broadcast of his show, Mr. Bannerman expressed his views on the topic of native self-government.
The Broadcast lasted one hour and twenty minutes, interrupted by commercials and one news break. It began with an expression by Mr. Bannerman of his views, followed by the comments of 14 callers, of whom 11 agreed with Mr. Bannerman's remarks and 3 disagreed. The topic of native self-government was the first of three topics discussed on Mr. Banner man's program and was extended beyond the 10:00 a.m. news break because there were callers holding on the line.
In the course of the Broadcast, Mr. Bannerman criticized the Government's policies on native self-government and argued that the native peoples are irresponsible and cannot safely be given self-government. He also made derogatory generalizations about the native peoples of Canada. Some of Mr. Bannerman's more outrageous remarks are the following:
  Every native Indian alive today has got everything to do with the tragedy of the native peoples, the fact that they have got the highest rates of incest in Canada, the highest rates of alcoholism in Canada, the highest rates of crime, and misery and poverty and failure, you name it. Where is their responsibility for themselves? It's far too easy, so easy, to say that's because we were screwed by history. Absolute nonsense. They have privileges that the average Canadian doesn't have, endless privileges, whether it comes to fisheries, handouts, meetings, grants. And what do they do with them? The brother has a child with his sister, is what they do with them.
. . .
 But self-government? Where every month you send a cheque for $300,000.00 to the Chief and say - Do with it whatever you want? That kind of self-government? That kind of self-government will lead to the worst kind of crime and irresponsibility imaginable. Even the honest Chief will buy $300,000 of beer. The crooked one will deposit it in the Bahamas. And Brian Mulroney says we'll look after the details later. Unbelievable, these people. Unbelievable.
. . .
 Hear. Hear. You are right. But it's worse than that. You know, there are vast tracts of British Columbia's forbidden, forbidding geography, where the native peoples have a sacred right to put a net across the mouth of the stream. And they do it. And we say why doesn't the Fisheries officer go and do something about that. Well, if the one Fisheries officer goes hundreds of miles into the wilderness all alone, you'll never see him again. And the Fisheries officer knows that. I'm not going to go and take that net down unless I have an army behind me. You will never see him again. That's the story of native peoples in British Columbia. They want all the rights and privileges of everybody else plus a whole lot more.
In summary form, the derogatory themes developed by Mr. Bannerman may be paraphrased as follows: incest is a regular occurrence amongst Indians; the native people (or at least their Chiefs) are dishonest and cannot be trusted with public funds; native peoples have no respect for the law or the lives of law enforcement of ficers; the Indians are child-like; native peoples are stereotyped as poachers and dirty, messy people; the native peoples are alcoholics.
Some themes developed by Mr. Bannerman were fair comment in that they were criticisms of past and present government policies and of proposals for native self-government. Mr. Bannerman also said that a small minority of native people have done very well and do not fit the stereotypical image that he painted. He also supported the respect of native land claims by the Courts. He expressed the belief that the law is not properly written in that it gives special status to native persons, but he emphasized that it should be rewritten with considerable care.
The Complaints and CKNW's Response Thereto The complainants, the Nishga Tribal Council and Musqueam Indian Band, the latter of which was specifically mentioned in the Broadcast, submitted through their lawyers that the station had violated paragraphs 5(1) (b) and (d) of the Radio (A.M.) Broadcasting Regulations, which read as follows:
5(1) No station or network operator shall broadcast ...
 (b) any abusive comment that, when taken in context, can or is likely to expose an individual or group or class of individuals to hatred or contempt, on the basis of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability; ...
 (d) any false or misleading news.
The complainants submitted that any reasonable listener who heard the Broadcast would feel that its main thrust was to abuse, demean and ridicule Indian people. They also submitted that many untrue statements were presented as if they were factual in the Broadcast and therefore it contained false and misleading news.
Initially, in responding to the complaints, CKNW pointed to the non-objectionable themes and concluded that the comments of Mr. Bannerman "constituted fair comment on a topical issue, and in no way violated CRTC Regulations".
CKNW later wrote that it "regrets that offense was taken to portions of the Program". It submitted that there was a responsible and objective basis for many of the positions taken by Mr. Bannerman and that because of the nature of the radio hot-line format, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to censor Mr. Bannerman during the Broadcast. CKNW concluded that, when taken in context, the editorial commentary of Mr. Bannerman was provocative and controversial, but not abusive. CKNW then offered air-time to the complainants to reply to Mr. Bannerman's editorial comments.
The reply of the complainants was that CKNW's response was limited to a justification of the non-objectionable themes. They suggested that the offer of air-time was insulting because the abuse committed by Mr. Bannerman could not be remedied by providing an opportunity ... to go on the airways and state, for example, that they do not sleep with their sisters.
The Commission wishes to make it clear that it finds Mr. Bannerman's derogatory generalizations completely unacceptable. Many of his comments and conclusions are unsubstantiated and indefensible. The use of public airwaves to stereotype and denigrate the native peoples of Canada has the regrettable effect of reinforcing racist prejudices and arousing ill-will towards the Indian people in general, and the Musqueam Band in particular. The Broadcast was ill-advised, irresponsible and regrettable.
In respect of CKNW's submission that Mr. Bannerman's comments constituted fair comment on an issue of public interest, two observations must be made. First, the non-objectionable themes never formed part of the subject matter of the complaints. Second, the freedom of expression enjoyed by broadcasters does not constitute an absolute licence. In this regard, the Commission reiterates what it said in CRTC Public Notice 1983-187 dated 17 August 1983, Concerning a Complaint Against CKVU Television Vancouver, British Columbia, by Media-Watch:
 The Commission emphasizes the right to freedom of expression on broadcasting stations is not absolute. As noted above, it is expressly limited by various laws aimed at protecting other cherished values.
With these considerations in mind, the Commission considers that the occasion to exercise a broadcaster's right to criticize Government policy cannot be used as an excuse to conduct an attack upon an identifiable group. Such a deliberate attack is not comprised within the limits of responsible speech.
The Commission also rejects CKNW's argument that the nature of open-line programming makes the pronouncements of both host and callers difficult to control. It reminds CKNW of its responsibility for programs it broadcasts under section 3(c) of the Broadcasting Act.
In a decision related to previous complaints (Decision CRTC 76-553 dated 23 August 1976), concerning CKNW's open-line programming and also involving Mr. Bannerman, the Commission stressed the responsibility of the licensee to take all steps necessary to ensure the prevention of errors, carelessness or lack of professionalism. Because of its determination of the present complaints, the Commission concludes that CKNW is not exercising the required degree of care and control to prevent the function of open-line programming from being abused.
In respect of the allegation of "false or misleading news", the Commission is satisfied that much of the information broadcast by Mr. Banner man was false, but notes that the prohibition of paragraph 5(1)(d) of the A.M. Regulations tends to envisage a newscast rather than a program directed at the exchange of opinions.
Even after realizing the gravity of the complaint, CKNW has seen fit to maintain that "there is a responsible and objective basis for many of the positions taken by Mr. Bannerman", rather than publicly apologizing to the groups maligned and the general public for the ill-conceived state ments made by Mr. Bannerman. The Commission, as well as the complainants, finds unsatisfactory the private apology eventually proffered to the effect that CKNW "deeply regrets that offense was taken to portions of the Program", together with an offer of air-time for the native groups to present their own views on self-government. Such an invitation misses the point of the complaints. It is completely inappropriate to request the native groups to "balance" racially abusive remarks. The Commission agrees with the complainants who stated that abusive comments can not be justified by offering equal time to the abused. The Commission will not accept racially abusive broadcasting simply because of an offer of rebuttal time.
The Commission strongly expects the management and parent company of CKNW to institute controls immediately and to take whatever other steps may be necessary to prevent recurrence of such irresponsible use of the air waves. The Commission hereby requires CKNW to report to the Commission within three months on the steps it has taken.
In accordance with its policy on complaints, the correspondence and present Public Notice will be placed on the public file of CKNW at the time of its licence renewal. Members of the public and the complainants will, of course, have a right to intervene in the renewal process and further discuss this incident and the actual performance of the station following the present determination.
Fernand Bélisle Secretary General

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