Today's ruling by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council that the Sun News Network breached the Canadian Association of Broadcasters Code of Ethics in a December 2011 broadcast of Ezra Levant's commentary program is a victory for civility in Canadian political discourse.
As a result of formal complaints filed by this blogger and 21 others, the four-member CBSC National Services Panel that investigated the on-air commentary issued a ruling today that requires Sun News Network to announce the decision once during prime time over the next three days and a second time within the next seven days during the same time period in which the edition of Levant's program, The Source, was broadcast.
In addition, Sun News Network must provide written confirmation of the broadcasts within 14 days to the 22 complainants and the CBSC.
The ruling noted that Levant had made the following statement on the air as part of his commentary about a report the Chiquita Brands food company had announced it would avoid using oil from Alberta's bitumen sands, "Hey you. Yeah you, [name of Chiquita executive]. Chinga tu madre." Referring to the commentary as "a tirade," the ruling notes Levant also said "in a distinctly aggressive tone" that the Chiquita executive was a liar.
The ruling says all six complainants who filed ruling requests "emphasized that the phrase 'chinga tu madre' can only be translated as 'fuck your mother' and all Spanish speakers consider it a very nasty insult."
The ruling requires Sun News Network to read the following statement twice on the air:
"The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has found that Sun News Network breached the Canadian Association of Broadcasters' Code of Ethics in its broadcast of The Source on December 22, 2011. The program contained a coarse insult directed at a specific named person. This violated Clause 6 of the Code."
As a person who was disgusted and disturbed by Levant's remarks, I must have been the first to complain to the CBSC after the broadcast, judging from the Toronto Star's coverage of the controversy caused by the Sun News Network commentary. That story, which seems to have received 111 comments, and perhaps my commentary, must have prompted some of the additional complaints.
The description and assessment of the facts outlined in the panel’s ruling is in my view fair, accurate and balanced.
The panel notes that Levant and other commentators have a right to express strong opinions with vigour and even aggression, but that personal insults and coarseness are not appropriate under the broadcasters' voluntary code.
"The Panel Adjudicators concluded that host Ezra Levant used personal and particularly coarse insults with respect to a Chiquita executive that he named several times on the air, thereby violating the provisions of Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics regarding full, fair and proper presentation," the ruling says.
"They also found the host's attempt to explain himself on January 17, 2012 only served to exacerbate the insult, particularly in light of the admission that he had used the term in a blatant attempt to attack the Chiquita executive."
The Panel noted that a letter sent by Sun News Network's legal counsel to complainants "seemingly was an attempt to obfuscate the facts and avoid addressing the complainants' concerns about the use of the specific phrase in the precise context of the December 22 broadcast."
One hopes this ruling will have the effect of reintroducing the tone of civility to Canadian broadcasting that has been in decline in recent months, in no small part, it is fair to conclude, because of the efforts of Sun News Network.
This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.