OTTAWA, September 5, 2006 The Catholic Civil Rights League today announced that it has encouraged the Canadian Radio Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to review its procedures for addressing complaints about defamation in the broadcast media.
The Leagues comments, contained in its submission to the CRTCs wide-ranging review of how changes in technology are changing the Canadian media landscape, are focused on its experience in media monitoring and how changes in technology have made any regulation of broadcast standards much more difficult.
The League has over 20 years of experience in receiving public complaints about anti-Catholic bias or defamation in all media. In most cases the League finds that the program or comment in question, while it may well be offensive, falls within generally accepted standards of free speech. In cases where it believes defamation has occurred, it files formal complaints with the CRTC, or the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC), the voluntary industry body that the CRTC has designated to hear such concerns.
We have not been satisfied with the results of this process (see below), and believe it would benefit from having complaints handled directly by the CRTC, since as a mandated body it has the authority to make decisions that are binding, the CCRL submission noted. We are not aware of a single complaint of perceived anti-Christian content in broadcasting that has ever been resolved in favour of the complainant by the CBSC.
We believe a subcommittee of the CRTC could play an important role in administering standards in many areas of Canadian broadcasting. However, we have volumes of correspondence suggesting that the existing CSBCs usefulness in adjudicating complaints about anti-religious defamation and bias is limited and ineffective.
Noting that an increasing proportion of the programs people bring to its attention have no Canadian component, the League suggests that the CRTCs relationship with carriers may need to be addressed. While satellite and other subscription services are doing much good, especially in providing programming that wouldnt be commercially viable for mass audiences, the multi-channel universe puts broadcast content outside of Canadian control.
In our experience, Canadians want some oversight of public air space such as the Commission provides, the League said. We believe that, due to technological change, the difficulties of providing such oversight are growing. We urge the Commission to review and strengthen its role with carriers, since there is little chance of working with the creators of broadcast material when they are located outside of Canada. Traditional safeguards such as viewer discretion warnings and time-of-day guidelines become meaningless in a world where programs originate elsewhere.
The CRTC must focus on the broadcast outlets and distribution channels that do fall under its mandate. Controlling the over-the-air broadcasters, the new specialty channels, the cable delivery systems and the Canadian-based satellite and microwave systems would deal with the majority of issues that do occur.
The CRTC invited public comments as part of its research into a report about the evolution of Canadian broadcasting, and the impact of new technology, to be presented to the Minister of Heritage no later than December 14.
Some examples of CBSC rulings on complaints of anti-Catholic defamation:
· In July, the CBSC refused to proceed with the Leagues complaint that the Dennis Leary Christmas special in December, 2005 violated industry guidelines about respect for religion. The Leagues complaint was based on ridicule of the doctrine of the Virgin Birth, expressed in coarse language. It is understandable that Learys style of comedy would not appeal to all viewers and that some might find his comments to be in bad taste, the council wrote. Those comments were not, however, in breach of Clause 2 of the CAB Code of Ethics.
· In a 2002 skit on the Mike Bullard comedy show, priests were depicted as pedophiles in the context of a joke about keeping boys away from the studio. Following complaints from the League and others, the CBSC ruled that the skit was acceptable since it was sufficiently gently satirical (and related to a very publicly debated controversy) to be acceptable.
· A series of humorous promotions on the former Humble and Fred morning show on CFNY radio, Toronto in the late 90s, which included a Jesus Look-Alike Contest, a mock crucifixion and the delivery of Jesus-shaped chocolates, were deemed acceptable by the CBSC since they were either directed at religion in general, rather than individual believers, or were matters of perceived bad taste rather than the specific industry code about anti-religious defamation.
· The Ontario Regional Council of the CBSC stated that a series of jokes on a Bill Maher comedy special, involving irreverent remarks about Jesus, were not abusive or discriminatory on the basis of religion: There is undeniably a level of irreverence but it is light-hearted, not heavy-handed. It is flippant and casual but not disrespectful.
Catholic Civil Rights League (www.ccrl.ca) assists in creating conditions within which Catholic teachings can be better understood, cooperates with other organizations in defending civil rights in Canada, and opposes defamation and discrimination against Catholics on the basis of their beliefs. CCRL was founded in 1985 as an independent lay organization. The Catholic Civil Rights League is a Canadian non-profit organization entirely supported by the generosity of its members.