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Dr. Laura in Breach of Canadian Broadcast Ethics
Show's comments 'abusively discriminatory':  Broadcast Standards Council

Judgment Day
THE Dr. Laura Schlessinger Show has been found by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council to contain comments which violate the Human Rights and 'Full, Fair and Proper Presentation' provisions of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters Code of Ethics.

The decision was released late last night in a 21-page (plus appendices) document.  It is the result of Regional Councils in Ontario and Atlantic Canada having been convened to investigate detailed complaints by members of the public with regards to the Dr. Laura show being broadcast by CFYI-AM in Toronto and CJCH-AM in Halifax.  The investigation involved particular broadcasts between April and August, 1999.

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Distinguishing the law and constitutional provisions for free speech in Canada from those in the United States, the Regional Councils in their joint decision - which represents a standard for private broadcasters in Canada who are members of the Council and not a court ruling or government regulation - described freedom of expression as a relative principle:

"The CBSC has frequently observed that freedom of expression is the basic rule which it applies in the rendering of its decisions but it believes that this principle is not absolute ... Free speech without responsibility is not liberty; it is licence.  The freedom to swing one's arm ends where it makes contact with one's neighbour's nose.  The length of that arc is what the CBSC determines from case to case."

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, which regulates the industry and issues licenses, acknowledges that Council findings are "rules ... to which private broadcasters have chosen to adhere" in addition to "public rules ... to which broadcasters must adhere."  Notwithstanding, the CRTC "fully supports the objective of the Council."

Many complaints regarding the show's treatment of gays and lesbians were received, but not all could be examined due to insufficient detail having been provided.  Where complaints did indicate particular broadcasts, tapes of those broadcasts - which radio stations are required to keep - were examined.

The Council did not focus on the technical correctness of Dr. Laura while making her comments but, rather, on her treatment of the issues.

On gays and lesbians being 'sexual deviants'

I am gratified that the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has issued such a strong condemnation in response to mine and others' complaints [to statements] made by Dr Laura Schlessinger.  On the other hand I am disappointed that supposedly responsible journalists such as Larry King allow her to deny that she made such remarks as she did Wednesday May 3 ... and I am disappointed that there are no real consequences for violating the code of ethics.

The CBSC said in the case of this program " it is clear that broadcasters must find a way of ensuring that this show not continue to make abusively discriminitory comments on the basis of sexual orientation."  I look forward to seeing how this is accomplished.

For me personally, I have declared May 11 'Dr. Laura free day.'  Tonight I'm REAL PROUD to be a Canadian.

Other than listening to the required broadcast of their breach of the code, I will no longer listen to the show unless she acknowledges her comments and apologizes.  I note that in the last several months CJCH has reduced her show from 7 hours each weekday to four and Dr. Laura is no longer quite so nasty with her comments and I commend each for these actions.

The really sad part is Dr. Laura has a lot of good things to say on many issues but she no longer has my respect.  She is as she proved on Larry King last Wednesday - a liar and a hypocrite.

-Ian D Crowe, CA
Halifax, Nova.Scotia.

It's one hell of a decision ... it's absolutely amazing.  It calls her to task on every single issue of concern to the community.  Her use of the word "doctor" to describe herself, her descriptions of gays as deviants and errors, and the paragraph about Matthew Shepard....
John Aravosis,

I thank the CBSC from the bottom of my heart for showing Laura Schlessinger and those radio stations that choose to air her program in Canada that she is crossing the line from opinion into discriminatory and potentially dangerous hate-speech.  It is my hope that radio stations across the country will consider demanding a change of format in her program or dropping her show entirely.
Michael Fein,

Her comments on gays and lesbians as 'sexual deviants' were particularly condemned by the Councils over several pages of discussion and included:

[T]he host consistently and vehemently asserted, on numerous occasions in the episodes complained of, that the sexual behaviour of gays and lesbians is either abnormal, aberrant, deviant, disordered, a biological error or dysfunctional, despite the fact that the professional associations responsible for such issues do not consider that homosexuality is even sufficiently abnormal to be characterized as pathological or diagnostically relevant.

Without being exhaustive regarding those instances, on April 12, she challenged the characterization of homosexual love as "normal".  On the 14th, she referred to it as a "disordered behaviour" and as an "aberrant sexual orientation".  On April 16, it was framed several times as "sexual deviation" and on June 10 as "sexual deviancy" and frequently as "deviant sexual behaviour".

The extent of her abnormality and dysfunction argument can also be appreciated in the context of her position that reparative therapy is required to restore gays and lesbians to "normalcy":

I would like homosexuals to have the ability to get reparative therapy so they could live quote "normal lives" and have the benefits of a heterosexual relationship.

The Councils went further in their discussion to provide context for such beliefs:

In the end, she is utterly rigid about a fundamental issue which goes to the nature, the essence of gays and lesbians.  It is the view of the Councils that the host's argument that she can "surgically" separate the individual persons from their inherent characteristics so as to entitle her to make comments about the sexuality which have no effect on the person is fatuous and unsustainable.  As the Supreme Court has said, where an identifiable group of persons is "defined by an innate or unchangeable characteristic", it will be protected by the human rights provision of the broadcasters' Code of Ethics in Canada just as all Canadians are protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  The sexual practices of gays and lesbians are as much a part of their being as the colour of one's skin or the gender, religion, age or ethnicity of an individual.  To use such brutal language as she does about such an essential characteristic flies in the face of Canadian provisions relating to human rights.

Since the sexual practices of gays and lesbians define them as homosexuals and are inseparable from their personas, any attempt by the host to justify her statements on the basis that she is speaking about the practices rather than the individuals must fail.  In other words, the Councils have no hesitation in concluding that the statements are discriminatory vis-à-vis gays and lesbians on the basis of their sexual orientation.   While there may be uses of the terms "abnormal", "aberrant", "dysfunctional", "disordered", "deviant", "an error" and so on which could, in some circumstances, be reasonable, their sheer weight in these programs and the host's unremittingly heavy-handed and unambiguously negative characterisation of those sexual practices is abusively discriminatory and in breach of the Code.

On an inordinate proportion of gays being 'paedophiles'

The Councils' discussion and conclusions were such:

The link apparently drawn by the host between male homosexuality and paedophilia seems tenuous.  To suggest that homosexual paedophilia is more prevalent than  heterosexual paedophilia is not supported in a significant way by the authorities which she has cited, despite the implication to that effect in what she has said.  Moreover, the position is not supported in any of the recent editions of the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

To the extent, however, that a broadcaster might air any generalized allegation by this or any other host that, at the broader level, paedophilia is more common among members of the gay community than the heterosexual community, without some support or substantiation of that position, there would be a risk that such broadcast could be in breach of Clauses 2 and 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics.  Her straightforward assertion on August 13 that the statement that "‘Paedophilia and child molestation have zero to do with being gay, homosexual orientation' ... is not true" is an inaccurate and prejudicial statement ... the effective assertion by the host that paedophilia has to do with being gay is, in the view of the Councils, an abusively discriminatory comment based on sexual orientation in violation of the CAB Code of Ethics.

Other issues

The Councils also examined complaints regarding Dr. Laura's treatment of the issues of 'a gay agenda,' 'gay culture,' fatherless homes,' and the death of Matthew Sheppard.

While remarking that her comments indicate such things as "her reluctance to enter the current era," "the host's views on this issue appear to be out-of-step with the times," and "the host's monolithic approach to the subject is clearly narrow," the Councils did not find that Dr. Laura's comments on these issues contravened any provision of the broadcasters' Code of Ethics.

The findings of the Councils did identify, however, two general practices of Dr. Laura which serve to exacerbate those instances of where her comments do breach the code.

Characterizing her insistence upon using the preposition "Dr." as a threshold concern, the Councils stated:

... the use of terms such as "aberrant", "deviant", "a [biological] error", "disordered" and "dysfunctional", which appear to have a medical connotation to them, is exacerbated by the host's insistence on describing herself as Dr. Schlessinger, when the degree which she has earned has no relevance to the opinions which she expresses.  Schlessinger may have a technical entitlement to so describe herself.  Nonetheless, it is the Councils' view that it is the societal cachet of  the term "Dr." which Laura Schlessinger chooses to exploit with a view to adding weight to the positions she espouses.  She may, by virtue of other training, be qualified to speak to the issues which she regularly addresses; however, it is an exaggerated, if not manipulative or misleading, choice which she makes to underscore the "Dr." association on a constant basis ... The Councils regret the deceptive effect that this must have on her audience, particularly in the context of the gay and lesbian issue at hand ....

And writing that they are "very conscious of the cumulative water-dripping on a stone effect of the host's perspective on the various gay and lesbian issues which she broaches on an ongoing basis ...

... the Councils are left with the uneasy sense that there is an understandable cumulative effect of Schlessinger's positions on so many matters which concern the gay and lesbian communities.  The result of this perspective may well be that, while she does not herself advocate any of the homophobic hostility or, worse, brutality, which can be found in criminal corners of society, from her powerfully influential platform behind a very popular microphone, Schlessinger may well fertilize the ground for other less well-balanced elements, by her cumulative position, to take such aggressive steps.  With the power emanating from that microphone goes the responsibility for the consequences of the utterances.  It is for such reasons, among others, that the respect of Canadian broadcast standards assumes such great societal importance.

Broadcasters have 30-days in which to ensure that future broadcasts of the Dr. Laura Schlessinger Show, if any, "not continue to make abusively discriminatory comments on the basis of sexual orientation."  They are to broadcast a prescribed version of the Councils' announcement during peak hours forthwith.