ARCHIVED -  Public Notice CRTC 1987-196

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Public Notice

Ottawa, 1 September 1987
Public Notice CRTC 1987-196
Complaints by the Niagara Regional Native Centre, Fort Erie Native Friendship Centre and Peguis Indian Band against CJRN 710 Inc. Niagara Falls, Ontario concerning the John Michael Talk Show
The Commission hereby censures CJRN 710 Inc. (CJRN) for the racially offensive remarks made on the John Michael Talk Show on 6 and 11 March and 16 April 1987.
Substance of the Broadcast
CJRN of Niagara Falls, Ontario broadcasts the John Michael Talk Show each weekday morning for three and one-half hours. This program can be received throughout the Niagara Peninsula and in border areas of the United States. During the 6 and 11 March broadcasts and again on 16 April 1987, extensive comments were made by the host both on his own and in conversation with callers, some of whom spoke along similar lines, concerning Canada's native Indian population. The remarks were initially triggered by South African Ambassador Glenn Babb's visit to the Peguis Indian Reserve in Manitoba.
Several times Mr. Michael voiced the view that native Indians are ineffective or irresponsible in making use of the considerable resources, financial or other, at their disposal and are unable to resolve their dependency on the rest of society. He promoted the idea that when native Indians have cash available they spend it on ostentatious goods and getting drunk. He further alleged that any other group of people in Canada would have been much more successful given the land and support available to the native Indian population.
Mr. Michael conveyed his irritation at the refusal of native Indians to integrate into the mainstream of Canadian society. This was seen to be a failure on their part. Mr. Michael expressed annoyance with native Indians' desire to preserve and promote their traditions and way of life. He further ridiculed their culture and customs, referring to their ways of dressing in traditional clothing and performing traditional songs as "tiring, childish, immature in every sense of the word".
Mr. Michael also denigrated the native Indians who, he said, choose to live in squalor on reserves, voicing the view that laziness is the reason for staying on reserves and that only those who leave to work in mainstream Canadian society are deserving of respect.
On the 16 April show, Mr. Michael made repeated reference to the fact that he had been asked to withdraw as emcee of an ethnic friendship festival, following complaints by the Fort Erie Native Friendship Centre regarding his previous comments. He then went on to state:
 what these people forget; and this is what annoys me, is that these people believe that the world revolves around their own penises and it does not [emphasis in the original].
The Complaints and CJRN's Response
The Commission has received com- plaints against CJRN from the Niagara Regional Native Centre, the Fort Erie Native Friendship Centre and the Peguis Indian Band. In the complainants' view, the station has violated the prohibition in the Radio Regulations, 1986 (the Regulations) against broadcasting comments which are likely to expose an individual or group to hatred or contempt on the basis of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability. In correspondence with the Commission, the Fort Erie Native Friendship Centre stated that, after the airing of the program on 16 April 1987, it received several telephone calls from unidentified individuals expressing hatred toward native Indians. Further, it stated that prior to that time it had never received calls of such a nature. It feels, therefore, that there is a direct relationship between the program and the calls.
Upon receipt of a request from the Commission to respond to the complaints, CJRN offered the explanation that the broadcasts:
 were intended to be a forum for discussion of government policy in respect of Native People. Unfortunately, this discussion deteriorated and what transpired went beyond the parameters of the host's original intentions.
On 22 April 1987 the licensee broadcast the following message read by Mr. Michael in the course of his program:
 CJRN has always maintained a policy on open-line programs of encouraging all points of view. A policy to which I adhere to in spirit and action. It is not and has never been CJRN's policy or my policy to foster racial hatred, bigotry or denigration of any person, or group of persons.
 It has been brought to our attention that some native groups and individuals feel that certain remarks made on the John Michael Talk Show on March the 6th and March the 11th were not in keeping with this policy.
 If such an impression was created CJRN apologizes and I apologize to any person or group that feels we have violated our policy of fair ness and we retract such statements [emphasis in the original].
In written comments provided to the Commission the licensee indicated that it also offered to meet with representatives of native groups to discuss the matter, offered them time on the John Michael Talk Show to state their concerns and offered to work with them on announcements and programming to provide education to Canadians on native issues.
In response to this, the complainants expressed the view that the apology failed to acknowledge that CJRN was in breach of the Regulations but instead portrayed the concerns as a subjective feeling on the part of some people that the statements could foster racial hatred, bigotry or denigration of any person or group of persons. They also felt that the offer of air-time on the John Michael Talk Show or for announcements and programming were insulting and totally unsatisfactory as the statements, being clearly derogatory, did not warrant debate. One complainant concluded that:
 ... it is not the role of the Native people (or any other group of people) to educate against prejudices and bigotries, where such prejudice and bigotry has been actively encouraged by comments made by the talk show host.
The Commission wishes to make it clear that it finds the derogatory generalizations voiced by Mr. Michael and some of his callers completely unacceptable. The complete intolerance shown toward native Indians as a group trying to preserve and foster their collective identity is also objectionable. In leading the discussion on the topic as he did, Mr. Michael ruined any possibility for reasonable debate on an important matter of public concern. To the contrary, the exercise he actively promoted was one of negative stereotyping, denigration and ridicule and its clearly foreseeable effect was the fostering of racial prejudices and ill-will toward native Canadians. This represented an unconscionable and regrettable use of the public airwaves for which the Commission strongly censures the licensee.
Paragraph 3(b) of the Regulations states that:
 A licensee shall not broadcast ...  (b) any abusive comment that, when taken in context, tends or is likely to expose an individual or a 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.
The Commission does not challenge the licensee's objective of providing "a forum for listeners to express their views on topics of concern". Nonetheless, as pointed out in Public Notice CRTC 1983-187 dated 17 August 1983, Concerning a Complaint Against CKVU Television, Vancouver, British Columbia by Media Watch:
 ... in the Commission's view, the right of freedom of expression on the public airwaves cannot supersede the public's right to receive broadcast programming of high standard, free of demeaning comments ... toward any identifiable group.
More particularly, the Commission appreciates that controversial events such as Ambassador Babb's visit to the Peguis Indian Reserve will often arouse lively debate, particularly in the context of phone-in programs. But the licensee must ensure that such a debate is kept reasonably under control and that the show host and any other station personnel involved remain constantly aware of where to draw the line for themselves and for callers.
The Commission does not accept that what occurred was a deterioration of the discussion beyond the licensee's control. The Commission notes that offensive comments were made on a variety of occasions on three different programs over a period of more than five weeks and that Mr. Michael himself was the main protagonist in this regard. In that context, Mr. Michael's attempt on the 16 April program to dismiss his comments as not serious and inconsequential and thus to be disregarded has no material bearing on the situation. There was no reason to doubt that Mr. Michael's comments were made in earnest. Neither could they, in their thrust and tone, be seen as inconsequential.
The Commission finds the apology given on the air entirely inadequate and the offer of air-time, as a means of redress, irrelevant. The statement read on 22 April 1987 was read in such a manner as to create serious doubt about its sincerity. The substance failed to acknowledge the objective character of the wrong inflicted through the comments in question, confining the situation to the realm of feeling on the part of some native groups and individuals and to that of an impression created by CJRN. It also would appear from the statement that it is simply a matter of station policy which was violated. This is not the case: the standard in question is that which is required by the Broadcasting Act (the Act) and the Regulations.
The offer of air-time to the complainants does not address the issue. The Commission's position was expressed in Public Notice CRTC 1985-236 dated 4 November 1985, Complaints by the Nishga Tribal Council and Musqueam Indian Band against CKNW New Westminster, B.C.:
 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 cannot 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.
In correspondence with the Commission, the licensee indicated that corrective action has been undertaken to avoid a repetition of this incident. To this end, CJRN is proceeding to conduct meetings between legal counsel and station staff to ensure that the station's obligations under the Act and the Regulations are properly understood and adequately fulfilled. The Commission expects the licensee to take whatever additional steps are necessary to ensure compliance. This is not the first instance in which the Commission has expressed serious concern about comments made by Mr. Michael and broadcast by CJRN. In these circumstances, the Commission intends to follow closely CJRN's performance with particular emphasis on the program which gave rise to this complaint. A repetition within the licensee's programming of a situation similar to the one dealt with in this Public Notice would call for stringent action on the part of the Commission.
This Public Notice has been issued as a form of censure against CJRN and for the information of all broadcasters. Following the Commission's policy on complaints, all correspondence on this matter and this Public Notice will be placed in the public file of CJRN. The public, including the complainants, will have the right to comment further on this issue and any other conduct of the licensee at the time of the licence renewal of CJRN.
Fernand Bélisle Secretary General

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