CJMF-FM (le 93.3, Quebec City) broadcasts the program Bouchard en parle weekdays from 6:00 am
to 9:30 am. Hosted by Sylvain Bouchard,
the show features discussions about current events, opinion segments and interviews.
On July 26, 2005 at approximately 7:30 am, Bouchard conducted a telephone
interview with Michael Walsh, the Vice-President of the Quebec Association
of Friends of Cuba. The host introduced the interview with the information
that July 26 was Cuban National Day and that the Association was holding festivities
in Quebec in celebration thereof. For practical reasons, a part only of the lengthy
interview transcription is included as a part of the decision text but the
full transcription, which gives the tone and flavour of the dialogue, can
be found in Appendix
A (available in French only).
Bouchard: This Media Release is about Cuba, a free nation of the Americas. Forty-five years of revolution in spite of the U.S. embargo, despite everything. Universal health and education systems that are the envy of wealthy countries. Today, July 26th, Cuban National Day is being celebrated in Quebec City. [...] The Vice-President of the Quebec Association of Friends of Cuba is Mr. Michael Walsh. Mr. Walsh, good morning.
Bouchard: So, you'll be yelling, um, "Viva Fidel!" in the streets of Quebec City, is that right?
Walsh: Among other things, yes, certainly.
Bouchard: Can the Cubans, because, you know, in life, all opinions are entitled, from my perspective, to be expressed. Can the Cubans, today at noon when you'll be yelling "Viva Fidel" in the streets of Quebec City; can the Cubans who do not agree with Fidel Castro yell out "Down with Fidel" in, um, Havana?
Walsh: Um, certainly, certainly.
Bouchard: Is that so?
The host, whose point of view regarding Cuba was clear from the start of
the interview, continued putting his challenging, even occasionally sarcastic,
questions to the Vice-President of the Quebec branch of the Friends of Cuba,
Bouchard: Okay, I"ve got one
here, Mr. Walsh. A news item about
a Mr. Gomez, Daniel Gomez, who went before the communist headquarters to express
his dissatisfaction. He was beaten
by the police and when his wife came to his defence, she was also beaten.
In response to this particular accusation, Michael
Walsh raised a theme that was to return in his part of the dialogue on several
Walsh: It is making the
news - um, a few, 20 or 30 Cubans were stopped, arrested, questioned, released,
etc. It has been making the headlines
for the last two or three days. Now,
we know very well that, and we're not the ones [???]. If you check the Internet, these are people
who are paid by the United States, who
are directed, guided, and, um, um, in fact.
Walsh also referred on a few occasions to the "criminal
embargo" of Cuba by the United States. There were other challenges to the Cuban regime
by the program host.
Bouchard: [.] You state in
your Media Release that Cuba has a, the universal health and education system
that is the envy of wealthy countries. And
it is true on that score I think; there is a consensus that the Cuban health
system is in fact very effective and efficient. Each year, I see on TV - tell me if these are
genuine - Cubans, women and children, who get on these wretched rafts, at
the risk of their lives, to reach the Florida coast. And I have yet to see a single American attempt
to enter Cuba by the same, um, the same means. How do you account for that?
Walsh: [.] Well, that's,
there have been, there have been surveys on this; 95% of Cubans who leave
for the United States do so for economic reasons, not political reasons.
There is supposedly opposition to Cuba.
There is no opposition. It's an opposition fabricated by the United
The two went back and forth on money, Cuban salaries,
what and whom the Americans can buy, and related financial issues. Sensing the direction of the discussion, which
was not toward the substance of his Media Release, namely, Cuba's National
Day (except for the brief reference in the host's introduction of his guest),
Walsh challenged the host regarding his real purpose in calling the Vice-President of the Quebec branch of the Friends
of Cuba, Michael Walsh for an interview.
Walsh: Why are you calling me then? Do you want to talk about the Cuban National Day?
Bouchard: I'm calling you because I find -
Walsh: . to put down the Cuban system. You're calling me to put down the Cuban system.
Bouchard: You bet I'm calling you for that, and I have the right to do so because I'm not in Cuba. If I were in Cuba, I couldn't call you because you would be controlling all the information, but since I'm in Quebec, I find it sick to go celebrate a Cuban day in Youville Square.
Walsh: No, no.
Bouchard: I am expressing myself, sir. I have the right to disagree with you.
Walsh: You are ignorant
of the Cuban situation. You are totally
ignorant of the Cuban situation.
Then, following another sarcastic question by Sylvain
Bouchard, Michael Walsh found a way to retaliate. The host took the bait and became unpleasant.
Bouchard: Mr. Walsh, Mr. Walsh, the little 14-year-old girl who prostitutes herself in Cuba, is she also paid by the United States?
Walsh: The little 14-year-old girl who prostitutes herself in Cuba. You can find prostitution in any country, and Cuba is the place where it is the least prevalent, my dear friend.
Bouchard: For five bucks?
Bouchard: For five bucks, the little girl who sells her body, for five bucks in Cuba?
Walsh: Is that who you were with?
Bouchard: [laughs] You are so twisted, you little bastard. You are such a bastard when you're on the ropes. That's a blow below the belt. A news report. A news report.
Walsh: Is that a good tip, or what?
Bouchard: Well, I'll tell
you. You can make all the accusations
you want. You're acting like a bastard.
It just goes to show that you've run out of arguments.
[Walsh laughs] You are totally
down on the ground.
The discussion evolved into a charged exchange
over why Michael Walsh was even living in Quebec (rather than Cuba). After repeating the challenge "Why don't you
live there?" a couple of times, the host reformulated the semi-rhetorical
question, leading to the following back-and-forth:
Bouchard: No, no, I'll ask you the question again. What are you doing in Quebec, in a capitalist environment? What are you doing here?
Walsh: I toil for justice, my dear friend.
Bouchard: Well, no, let me ask the question again. What are you doing in Quebec?
Walsh: Well, the same as you. I eat, I live and, um, I raise my family.
Bouchard: No, no, your job.
Walsh: What a question to be asking me.
Bouchard: What do you do for a living?
Bouchard: What do you do for a living?
Walsh: I worked in the government for 35 years.
Bouchard: You worked in a capitalist government, you're a traitor, you're a traitor to the communist concept. Why didn't you go to Albania? Go to Albania or North Korea or Cuba. If you're really proud of your communist principles, go there. What are you doing here?
Walsh: I do go, I do go.
Bouchard: Go there and stay there. Don't come back here.
The dialogue became more personal.
Bouchard: The country is being manipulated by Miami terrorists connected to the drug trade. All those who don't think the same way as you do are paid by the Americans.
Walsh: [sarcastically] That's right, that's right.
Bouchard: That's some reasoning.
Did you really work in the government?
[Walsh laughs] Holy cow! You
were actually paid for years?
host felt the tables turned on him and asked a couple of times: "Do you have any more personal attacks to make,
Mr. Walsh?" Sylvain Bouchard then laid
down the rules of the game to Walsh:
Bouchard: Do you decide what will be discussed on the radio, or do I? Or is it both? Am I the interviewer, or do you decide the questions I should ask you? How does it work in your wonderful country of Cuba? Is that how it works in your communist mind? Do you decide on the topics that will be addressed? It doesn't work that way here, sir. I'm asking you questions and you are making personal attacks, and well, that's how it goes.
Walsh: No, I'm not making personal attacks.
Bouchard: Well, you act like a fool. That sums it up. You act like a fool and a bastard.
Walsh: I'm not making personal attacks. Let me answer. Let me answer.
Bouchard: No, no, no.
The interviewee was unable to get back into control. Faced with that prospect, he hung up. The host had the final word.
Bouchard: [laughs] Oh boy, it's going to be rough! You know how they turn into bastards as soon
as you challenge their fixed ideas a bit.
Those people aren't accustomed to the confrontation of ideas. [...].
The CBSC received a complaint about the broadcast from a listener on July
26. The listener disapproved of the
host's treatment of his guest, Michael Walsh, in the following terms (the
full text of all correspondence can be found in Appendix
B, available in French only):
The interview heats up at the point where the host calls his guest a "Castroite" because he is organising a Cuban celebration in the streets of Quebec City while scores of Cubans are being tortured in Cuba.
Mr. Walsh attempts to defend his point, but he realises that he has fallen into a trap as the host, Mr. Bouchard, did not call him live to discuss the Cuban National Day as anticipated, but to challenge him on the Castro regime.
Mr. Walsh therefore ends the telephone call and as soon as he has hung up, the host Sylvain Bouchard calls him a "dirty bastard" on the air.
Everyone has an opinion and the fact that it differs from that of a radio host does not warrant being called a dirty dog on the air.
Please uphold my complaint so
that this station acts accordingly.
The station responded to the complainant on August 4, explaining the context
of the broadcast in the following terms:
After receiving a Media Release concerning a march to celebrate the Cuban National Day, support the Republic of Cuba and demonstrate in front of the American Consulate in Quebec City, and after contacting Michael Walsh, Vice-President of the Quebec Association of the Friends of Cuba, for a live telephone interview, the host called Mr. Walsh. A long discussion ensued between the host and Mr. Walsh concerning the reasons for supporting the Republic of Cuba and pointing out the merits or shortcomings of the political regime in that country. Mr. Walsh was free to end the telephone conversation any time he wished. When the host broached the subject of child prostitution in Cuba, Mr. Walsh suggested that the host was well aware of this problem as he had availed himself of the services of child prostitutes in Cuba. The host saw a personal attack in that statement and then qualified that insinuation, but not the caller himself, through the use of the popular expressions "you bastard" and "you're acting like a dirty bastard". We regret this sideslip and we apologise for it. The telephone conversation then continued for several minutes in a more measured fashion and without insult until Mr. Walsh put an end to the conversation.
We regret that the content of
the challenged program or its broadcast offended you and we sincerely apologise.
However, following a detailed examination of the issue and given the
preceding comments, we believe we have fully complied with the standards that
apply in the circumstances. We also wish to assure you that we have drawn
your complaint to the attention of Sylvain Bouchard so that he might keep
your concerns in mind in the future.
The complainant was not satisfied with that response and filed his Ruling
Request on August 5, along with the following note:
It appears that the General Manager of 93.3 is suggesting that the guest of the program, Mr. Walsh, was disrespectful toward the host Sylvain Bouchard. Not once did Mr. Walsh show anything less than complete respect toward the host. This station's General Manager has given a deplorable reply which at the same time gives its host the right to be disrespectful and opens the door to the scurrilous treatment of those who do not share his opinions. Although I do not personally share Mr. Walsh's philosophy, I am dumbfounded by the fact that a host would call someone who is identified on the radio a "dirty bastard" with total impunity and complete protection from his superior.
I am asking the CBSC to listen
to the recording and to issue a decision or an opinion in this file, so that
contrary to the contention of the General Manager of 93.3, this manner of
speaking and of discussing on the air will not be considered "normal and ordinary",
but incorrect and disrespectful.
The Quebec Regional Panel examined the complaint
under Clause 6 (Full, Fair and Proper Presentation) of the Canadian Association
of Broadcasters' (CAB) Code of Ethics,
which reads as follows:
It is recognized that the full,
fair and proper presentation of news, opinion, comment and editorial is the
prime and fundamental responsibility of each broadcaster. This principle shall apply to all radio and
television programming, whether it relates to news, public affairs, magazine,
talk, call-in, interview or other broadcasting formats in which news, opinion,
comment or editorial may be expressed by broadcaster employees, their invited
guests or callers.
The Quebec Panel Adjudicators reviewed all of the
correspondence and listened to a recording of the challenged broadcast.
The Panel concludes that certain parts of the broadcast were in breach
of Clause 6.
The Direction and Tone of the Interview
The interviewee, Michael Walsh, was clearly offended by the direction of
the interview. He, presumably in good
faith, if somewhat naïvely, expected that his Media Release on the Cuban National
Day would lead to interviews on that subject. The Panel assumes that, when the CJMF-FM interview
did not begin that way (other than with the brief recognition in the host's
introduction), Walsh thought that he should continue since it might lead to
the result he sought. That was not
to be. Sylvain Bouchard saw in the
Media Release an opportunity to chasten the Vice-President of the Quebec Association
of the Friends of Cuba for the sins (as he saw them) of Cuba itself. Consequently, that was the theme he pressed
and, when he asked Walsh rhetorically, essentially, who gets to decide the
course of the interview, you or I, the interviewee or the interviewer, there
was only one possible answer. Bouchard.
At that point, Michael Walsh had two choices, to stay or to go.
He chose the latter. He hung
up the telephone.
On the issue of the choice of direction of the interview, the Panel agrees
with the position of the broadcaster. The
choice of subject to discuss was that of the host, not the interviewee.
As the Ontario Regional Panel said, in CITY-TV re Hard Copy (CBSC Decision
96/97-0055, May 8, 1997):
CBSC has frequently decided that it is up to the broadcaster to choose the
story it will tell or the "angle" from which it will present a story.
And, as this Panel said in TVA
re J.E. en direct (Alternative Medicine) (CBSC Decision 97/98-0580, September 24, 1998),
to what is an "event of importance", a matter entitled to be treated by a
broadcaster, the orientation of the broadcaster's approach to the subject
and so on, the CBSC has been very supportive of broadcaster choices, as it
should be. Barring some dramatically
incorrect choices, the CBSC expects that broadcasters, having their feet on
the journalistic ground, will make the appropriate determinations regarding
the stories to tell. In furtherance
of this expectation, previous CBSC decisions have upheld the general principle
that the choice to tell a story and the manner in which it is told remains
entirely within the discretion of the broadcaster.
The Panel can see no reason to interfere with Sylvain Bouchard's choice
of subject matter to pursue in his interview with Michael Walsh. Moreover, Mr. Walsh and others who seek media
coverage for an event must always understand that it is not they who
control the topic that may flow from the issuance of a Media Release. If the seeker is lucky, the media will see the
subject the way he or she does. If
less lucky, the event announcer will receive air time but only on an aspect
of the event. It is then that the on-air
jockeying for substantive position begins.
The point, though, is that the broadcaster was entitled to make that
choice. The only recourse for the interviewee
was to choose to disembark. Mr. Walsh
did, perhaps later than he might have wished, but, on this part of the issue,
it was his only option.
Are There Limits to the Language of Criticism?
There are two other matters to consider, however. One of these relates to the treatment of the
subjects discussed and the other to the method, style, tone and language of
With respect to the first issue, it is clear that the views of the host
toward Cuba, its health and education systems, the plight of its people, the
political structure and strictures, the lack of broadcast alternatives, the
absence of real freedom of expression and so on were, to say the least, sceptical.
Moreover, Bouchard's questions were frequently more than rhetorical;
they were sarcastic, even barbed. Even
so, the guest did have the opportunity to respond to most of these challenges,
even if from a disadvantaged position. In
the context of the type of show Bouchard en parle is, the Panel has
no difficulty with the host's personal biased perspective on Cuban policy
in those areas. As this Panel said in CHOM-FM
and CILQ-FM re the Howard Stern Show (CBSC Decisions 97/98-0001+, October 17-18, 1997) when
dealing with that host's comments relating to France and Canada, there is
great importance in
between insults aimed at identifiable groups and comments related to the political
or historical environment in Canada and in France. The breach they find is limited to the comments
mentioned in the foregoing section. Those
comments relating to the state of radio in Canada, the use of English in Quebec,
the value of French culture, Canada as an appendage of the United States,
the role of the vanquished French in Vichy France, the issues relating to
separatism, and so on, are the host's opinions and, unless utterly and irresponsibly uninformed, as in the
case of CKTB-AM re the John Michael
Show (CBSC Decision 92/93-0170, February 15, 1994), they are his to espouse.
[.] In general, the Council's review
of the first two weeks of the Stern show discloses that the bulk of the commentary
relating to Quebec, France and Canada following the September 2 debut was
of this nature [.]. It is the view
of the [Quebec and Ontario] Regional Councils that these political and historical
comments fall squarely within the bounds which freedom of expression is meant
It is the second issue that was of concern to the
complainant. It is as well to the Panel.
The host of a show inevitably wields the power of the microphone.
It is a mighty power. With very
rare exception, the broadcaster has a disproportionate advantage over the
caller. Knowing this, skilled and considerate
hosts ought not to exercise that advantage unfairly or improperly.
The reasonable outside observer expects that they will be good with
words and argument, and experienced enough to maintain their cool despite
occasional setbacks with callers. They ought, in other words, to be deft and relatively
unflappable. They ought to be able
to so moderate their method,
style, tone and language that they will not succumb to even the poor exercise
of those very skills on the part of a caller or callers. Even if Michael Walsh intended to even the score
with the host by his comments relating to the young prostitute, Bouchard overreacted.
He called his interviewee a "dirty bastard" and added variations on
that theme on several occasions. The Panel wishes to make clear that the broadcaster's
reaction to the complaint in its letter of August 4 was not correct.
The General Manager asserted:
host saw a personal attack in that statement and then qualified that insinuation,
but not the caller himself, through the use of the popular expressions "you
bastard" and "you're acting like a bastard".
When, however, he said "but not the caller himself",
that was simply wrong. Sylvain Bouchard
had insulted the caller directly and personally by saying "You are so twisted,
you little bastard. You are such a
bastard." The subsequent comments cited
immediately above were, in a sense, the icing on the cake. The host had already classified the Vice-President of the Quebec branch of the Friends of Cuba as
a "bastard"; he now accorded himself the opportunity of expressing that thought
in other ways. The Panel finds his
comments strikingly similar in nature to those of Daniel Séguin, with which
it dealt in CJRC-AM
re an interview by Daniel Séguin on L'Outaouais ce matin (CBSC Decisions 03/04-2082
and 04/05-0023, April 4, 2005). Although
some of the language used in that broadcast was closer to a technical "swear
word", the Panel's comments regarding the insults are applicable here.
Until this point, the Quebec Regional Panel believes that the host was within his rights. Such, it appears, was also the attitude of the interviewee, who would even have accepted the more contentious statements that are the subject of this decision. ("[translation] Ah, yes. You have the right. As far as we are concerned, we accept that you have the right to do it.")
his attack was harsh, Séguin's target was both present and a practitioner
of the art of giving little or no quarter.
In the match-up, it is clear that Daniel Séguin was faring well and
had the upper hand. It is particularly
for this reason that the Quebec Panel does not understand why the host descended
from the relatively high road to the level of a personal attack using the
expressions "[translation] I was really looking forward to [...] telling you
literally to fuck off" and "[translation] And it's my turn to tell you to
fuck off Mr. Demers, and I do so with pleasure this morning." In the entire dialogue, it is here and only
here that the Quebec Panel takes issue with the broadcast of that morning. The Panel considers that the use of the two
foregoing expressions was overkill and, in terms of the broadcaster's ethical
obligations, unduly coarse and offensive, on the one hand, and improper, on
the other. The Panel recognizes fully
that Daniel Séguin wished to give Patrice Demers some of his station's own
medicine but this Panel did not find similar language acceptable in CHOI-FM re Le monde parallèle de Jeff Fillion (CBSC Decision 02/03-0115,
July 17, 2003) and it does not find it acceptable in the present case.
It considers the use of the coarse and offensive language cited in
this paragraph in breach of Clause 9 of the CAB Code of Ethics.
It also considers that the use of such aggressive language to insult
his invited guest was improper and in breach of Clause 6 of the Code.
On the issue of the use of the term "dirty bastard" and its variations,
the Panel finds the broadcaster in breach of Clause 6 of the CAB Code of
It is the practice of all CBSC Adjudicating Panels
to assess the broadcaster's responsiveness to the complainant. Although it is, of course, the case that the
broadcaster need not agree with the complainant, it is expected that its representatives
charged with replying to complaints will address the complainant's concerns
in a thorough and respectful manner. In the matter at hand, although the broadcaster's
response characterized the host's comments incorrectly in part, the Panel
views this as no more than an attempt to tilt the understanding of the host's
language in a favourable way. In all
other respects, the Panel considers that the Directeur général's response
to the complainant was acceptable. The
Panel finds no breach of the broadcaster's obligation of responsiveness on
of the decision
CJMF-FM is required to: 1) announce
the decision, in the following terms, once during peak listening hours within
three days following the release of this decision and once more within seven
days following the release of this decision during the time period in which
Bouchard en parle was broadcast;
2) within the fourteen days following the broadcast of the announcements,
to provide written confirmation of the airing of the statement to the complainant
who filed the Ruling Request; and 3) at that time, to provide the CBSC with
a copy of that written confirmation and with air check copies of the broadcasts
of the two announcements which must be made by CJMF-FM.
The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has found that CJMF-FM has breached Clause 6 of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters' Code of Ethics. By insulting a guest interviewee on the morning program Bouchard en parle and broadcasting offensive language in response to comments made by that guest, CJMF-FM breached the provisions of the clause of the Code of Ethics which requires the presentation of fair and proper comments and opinions.
This decision is a public document upon its release by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council.