Ottawa May 25, 2009 - The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning Société Radio-Canada (SRC)’s nearly annual broadcast of the variety show Bye Bye on New Year’s Eve 2008.
The circumstances behind the CBSC’s involvement in this file were unusual. As SRC is a public broadcaster, and not a CBSC member, complaints about it are customarily dealt with by the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), which received 210 complaints about the 2008 edition of Bye Bye. In any case, the CRTC asked the CBSC to examine the broadcast due to the CBSC’s “considerable experience with complaints about broadcast content” and “its well-recognized Panel process.” The Commission requested a “report” of the CBSC’s conclusions, on the basis of which the CRTC would in due course make its own “decision on the complaints”. Accordingly, the CBSC’s Quebec Regional Panel adjudicated the 210 complaints about the 2008 edition of Bye Bye.
Complainants expressed their concerns about different aspects of the broadcast, including comments and sketches about Black people, other identifiable groups, the Roy hockey family, Nathalie Simard, politicians and various public personalities.
The Quebec Panel examined Bye Bye under the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Equitable Portrayal Code (EPC) and the CAB Violence Code, both of which are conditions of licence for SRC. The Panel concluded that some of the comments relating to Blacks violated the EPC. It said:
The Panel finds nothing redeeming in the allegedly comedic notion that an American President should be shot, still less that this would be easier to achieve because of the colour of the President’s skin. It was a disturbing, wounding, abusive racial comment. It was, in the sense of [an earlier] decision, “grit your teeth”, “cringe in discomfort” comment. It was abusive […] and degrading […].
Of comments “confusing” the President Obama character with a Black singer “because the Blacks, you all look alike,” that people should “‘hide their purses’ because a Black was coming on the program,” and others of a similar nature, the Panel stated that “the challenged content in the above examples is simplistic, belittling, hurtful and prejudicial, and constitutes unduly negative stereotypical content, […] as well as unduly discriminatory content.” The Panel cited additional examples which it characterized as “another component of the humour at the expense of Blacks that is endemic to the entire show.” The Panel concluded that those comments would also be in violation of the Television Broadcasting Regulations, 1987. It also determined that the fact that the program was intended to be comedic did not absolve SRC of its responsibility to avoid airing abusive, degrading, or unduly negative stereotypical material.
The Panel did not, however, find most comments made about other identifiable groups in breach of the EPC, including comments about English Canadians, South Asians, Aboriginals, the poor, convenience store operators (dépanneurs), and immigrants generally. The Panel concluded that some of “the talk is trashy, crude and in bad taste. But, carefully analyzed, the worst that could be said of Mercier’s insults is that they make English Canadians out to be basically boring and dull. No sex. No drink. No good times. Impliedly ‘not like us’.” The Panel characterized the worst of the comments as “some crude, some not, but all harmless in terms of [the EPC].” Of the other comments about identifiable groups, some were, in the view of the Panel, benign, others were not directed at one or another of the targeted groups, and, in the end, none rose “to the level of abusive or unduly discriminatory comment.” As to the charge that sketches about the Julie Couillard character were sexist or exploitative, the Panel considered that “this particular depiction of a specific woman does not constitute exploitation, nor does it make negative generalizations about women in general.”
With respect to the CAB Violence Code, the Panel concluded that a sketch that parodied the violent actions of former NHL goaltender Patrick Roy and his sons violated the Code provision regarding violence against women because it depicted one of Roy’s sons beating up his mother and the mother repeatedly flinching to avoid her husband’s and sons’ aggression.
There was simply no creative need for the Roy men to beat the mother up and to leave the impression that this element was a constant in their family life. The show’s creators may have viewed these actions as a satirical depiction of the Roy men’s violent tendencies, but, in the view of the Panel, they went too far. They exaggerated the reality at the level of the victim, as much or more than at the level of the perpetrators.
The Panel also examined the sketches about public personalities under the CAB Code of Ethics, concluding that the parodies of Céline Dion, Chantal Lacroix, Julie Couillard, the federal political party leaders, former Cabinet Minister Maxime Bernier and others were typical sketch comedy fare which lightly poked fun rather than bludgeoned the subjects.
Some viewers had expressed concern about the sketches that made fun of former child star Nathalie Simard because the co-producer and host of the program, Véronique Cloutier, was the daughter of Guy Cloutier, Simard’s former agent, who had served prison time for sexually abusing Simard when she was a minor. The Panel did not find the sketches problematic because they made fun of other aspects of Simard’s life while making no mention whatsoever of sexual abuse.
The Quebec Panel also noted that some of the sketches contained sexual innuendo and coarse language inappropriate for children. While that content did not pose a problem when originally broadcast at 11:00 pm on December 31, the Panel noted that the rebroadcast of the program much earlier, namely at 8:00 pm on January 1, required viewer advisories alerting viewers to that mature content. In the view of the Panel, the failure to include these constituted a breach of the high standard provision of the Broadcasting Act.
Canada’s private broadcasters have themselves created industry standards in the form of Codes on ethics, equitable portrayal, television violence and journalistic independence 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 ethics created by the RTNDA – Association of Electronic Journalists in 1970. More than 720 radio stations, satellite radio services, 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