Watchdog Clears ‘Immigrant-Bashing’ Radio Rant

Watchdog clears 'immigrant-bashing' radio rant

Broadcast board's decision on promoter Bruce Allen and CKNW raises ire of listeners who say justice wasn't served

The Globe and Mail
July 17, 2008

VANCOUVER — Star music promoter Bruce Allen has made a name for himself on radio by shooting from the lip in a series of brash, irreverent commentaries on CKNW meant to get people talking.

But a muddled, 90-second clip he did last fall on “immigrant-bashing” created more buzz than perhaps he ever wanted, generating a flood of complaints about racism and leading to calls that he be fired by CKNW and replaced as a volunteer on the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympics.

In a decision released yesterday, however, the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council found that while Mr. Allen's self-described “rant” was “jumbled, unclear … and not skillfully crafted,” it did not violate the broadcasters' code of ethics.

The council did not call for any disciplinary or corrective action by either Mr. Allen or CKNW, leading to complaints on a multicultural radio station that justice had not been served.

In his segment last Sept. 13, Mr. Allen talked about the difficulties Sikhs had getting acceptable passport photos, while “wearing those handkerchiefs,” and an Elections Canada controversy over identifying Muslim women wearing burkas. He also mentioned “the turban-wearing Mounties problem.”

It was unclear what Mr. Allen, who represents international stars Bryan Adams, Michael Bubl and Anne Murray, thought about those issues. He would later say he was being critical of such “immigrant bashing.” But at the time it sounded like he was using those as examples of problems caused by immigrants.

“This is all very simple. We have laws in this country. … If you are immigrating to this country and you don't like the rules that are in place, then you have the right to choose not to live here. But if you choose to come to a place like Canada, then shut up and fit in,” he said.

“If you don't like the rules … we don't need you here. You have another place to go; it's called home. See ya,” Mr. Allen said before signing off.

The council ruled Mr. Allen's comments did not breach its human rights standards, nor did they violate a standard that requires broadcasters to treat controversial subjects fairly.

But the six-member panel was split on a third decision about whether Mr. Allen breached a standard that requires “the full, fair and proper presentation of news, opinion, comment and editorial.”

On that point, three adjudicators felt the broadcast was “on the edge of acceptability and three consider that it was over the edge.”

A majority is required to find a breach of standards.

While Mr. Allen may have escaped formal sanction by the council, he didn't get off without some harsh comments.

Adjudicators described his statements as “bullying, ignorant … offensive … [and] regrettable, if not reprehensible.”

They said Mr. Allen incorrectly cast new immigrants as outsiders when, in fact, they are just as Canadian as he is.

“While there is room for a legitimate debate on the current Canadian rules relating to turbans and helmets, burkas and voting … it is not on the 'us and them' basis he has chosen. It is these incorrect and divisive statements that the Panel finds improper,” the ruling states.

Harjinder Thind, host of a current affairs show on a popular multicultural radio station known as RedFM, said his callers yesterday were upset by the decision.

“The community is still angry. They still feel hurt,” he said. “They feel that's not fair. He should have been punished for his comments.”

Speaking as a broadcaster, however, Mr. Thind said he appreciated the ruling because it clarified just how far he can go on the air.

“It re-enforces freedom of speech,” he said.

“But at the same time, he has said something nasty that still hurts me, as an immigrant.”

Mr. Allen declined comment, with a spokesperson saying he preferred to let the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council have the final word.

In the ruling, Christy Clark, a CKNW talk-show host, is praised for challenging Mr. Allen on air, and providing a stage for his critics to speak. The station is also commended for responding “quickly and thoughtfully” to each of the 176 people who complained.

The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council is a non-governmental organization created by the Canadian Association of Broadcasters to administer the standards of its more than 600 member radio and television stations.