A sharp rebuke from the country’s broadcast ethics regulator hasn’t chastened Sun News Networks’ Ezra Levant, who said there’s no reason for him or his network to apologize for an on-air Spanish slur that roughly translates into “go have sex with your mother.”
Mr. Levant railed against Chiquita Brands International in December, after it said it would stop using fuel from Alberta's oil sands. Mr. Levant challenged the company's ethical record, but the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council was more concerned with a portion of the show when he stared into the camera and told a company executive "Hey you, yeah you, Manuel Rodriguez. Chinga tu madre."
The network initially argued the word “chingar” has several meanings, including "get lost” and “stop bothering me.” But Mr. Levant said Wednesday that he used the term in the most literal sense.
“Of course I did,” he said, arguing that there is no law against swearing on television. “Are you telling me that this is illegal to say in Canada?”
The ethics panel – which is funded by broadcasters – received 22 complaints, all of them referring to the slur.
“The complainants noted that the phrase is one of the harshest insults in the Spanish language and that it was utterly inappropriate for Levant to directly insult an identified individual in this manner,” the ruling stated. “Sun News acknowledged that Levant had ‘intended to be both profane and offensive [... by] ‘calling out’ the person he was attacking by name’ but that broadcasting rules allow for the expression of strong opinions on any topic.”
While the network tried to justify Mr. Levant's use of the term, the ethics panel said that only made things worse.
"He provided a scholarly etymological discussion on the origins of the word ‘chingar,’ but avoided using it with the words ‘tu madre,’ ” it stated, pointing out that Mr. Levant said on air a month later that he had used the term at least 2,000 times since the original segment aired. “The Panel considers that this was seemingly an attempt to obfuscate the facts and avoid addressing the complainants’ concerns about the use of the specific phrase in the precise.”
The network must air a statement during prime time announcing that it violated the voluntary code of conduct to which broadcasters adhere. Membership in CBSC is mandatory under the network’s licence, but the actual code broadcasters adhere to is written by members.
Violations could be problematic for the broadcaster when it applies at the CRTC to have its licence renewed, Mr. Levant argued.
“This is serious stuff,” Mr. Levant said. “It’s not just the cost of lawyers. The entire licence itself is in jeopardy. Tens of millions of dollars rides on this. To call this a judicial ruling is absurd. This is personal opinion - swears are not banned on TV.”
Earlier this year, the watchdog ruled in favour of Mr. Levant after complaints that slammed a subsidized housing project as providing “free” housing for Edmonton artists. Mr. Levant and guest Kathryn Marshall talked about a housing project for artists in Edmonton called “Arts Habitat.” Mr. Levant repeatedly called it “free housing,” although the artists do pay to live there (it does receive subsidies from the municipal and provincial governments).
In that case, the ethics panel ruled he had the right to criticize freely.
It did, however, rule that he violated the rules by basing his critique on bad facts. But since he apologized quickly, it dropped the case.
Sun News host Krista Erickson, whose interview with Canadian artist Margie Gillis set a record for the number of complaints received by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, was also cleared earlier this year.
Earlier this year, the watchdog said Global Television must apologize to its viewers for not warning them about the bloody, drawn-out death of Bugs Bunny at the hands of Elmer Fudd during an episode of Family Guy. It wasn’t the violence that bothered the regulator, but the lack of warning.
An earlier online version of this story incorrectly stated: "Violations could be problematic for the broadcaster when it applies at the CRTC to have its licence removed." It should have stated: "to have its licence renewed." This online version has been corrected.