Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s radio show should be pulled off the air immediately, a city councillor charges in a heated letter to Canada’s broadcast ethics regulator that lists a slew of reasons why he believes the mayor and his brother should not be broadcasting weekly on Newstalk 1010.
Councillor Paul Ainslie’s letter isn’t likely to lead to a dismissal – the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council does not actually have the power to pull a show off the air. But it represents a sharp escalation in the battle between the councillor and the mayor, who have been sparring since Mr. Ainslie voted against Mr. Ford’s Scarborough subway plan earlier this month.
The mayor launched robo-calls in the councillor’s riding criticizing his lack of support, and took to the radio on Sunday to continue to hammer away at the councillor’s position. The mayor’s radio program, co-hosted by Councillor Doug Ford, runs every Sunday for two hours. The conversation centres on city issues, with both men frequently talking critically about their opponents and promoting their own positions.
It has been slapped by the ethics regulator before: The channel was forced to run an on-air apology after a guest on the show made homophobic comments about George Smitherman, who lost to the mayor in the last municipal election.
“[The show] should be removed from the airways immediately and no other such program should be offered or continued for the mayor and/or his brother as they have not demonstrated the responsibility necessary to use the public airwaves for a true and balanced discourse of and about information concerning the city of Toronto,” Mr. Ainslie writes in a letter to the broadcast standards council obtained by The Globe and Mail.
He also says the mayor is “using the public airwaves to damage and attack the integrity of others with impunity” as well as “using the public airwaves to actively campaign for political office and use it as a bully pulpit to unfairly have advantage over potential opponents in the upcoming 2014 election.”
Newstalk 1010 did not immediately return calls, but Scott Henderson, a spokesman for the station’s parent company, Bell Media, said that “we will not comment publicly on what is essentially a private complaint.”
The ethics council is a voluntary organization that handles complaints from listeners. It takes specific complaints about things said during a broadcast, and then has a panel of industry experts rule on whether it violated any of the council’s guidelines for fairness and accuracy.
If it finds a violation, it forces the station to air an explanation. Repeat offenders could find themselves in an awkward spot when their licences come up for renewal and they need to explain to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission why they have veered from the standards and what they have done to ensure that it will not happen again.
“We have codes members must adhere to and if we get a complaint, we will review it,” said executive director John McNab, who could not talk about specific cases. “If we feel there is an issue we haven’t dealt with before, then we send it to a panel to examine. It needs to be fairly specific – something was said at a certain time on a certain day.”
Mr. Ainslie did not refer to a specific comment made on the show, but he says in his complaint that “on October 13, 2013, the mayor and his elected brother as co-hosts of a radio program using public airwaves did malign, distort the truth, slander, attack and threaten myself and others who may or could run for re-election in the 2014 election Toronto municipal election campaign.”
Newstalk’s program director, Mike Bendixen, has acknowledged in the past that the show is likely to draw fire from critics who oppose the mayor, adding that the station would keep him and his brother around as long as they wanted to broadcast. “We’re a live radio station that spends a lot of time talking, so at any given point during the course of the day, people say things that upset people and that’s the nature of running a talk radio station,” he said in June.
The Fords’ broadcast career will need to take a break at some point – the CRTC says political candidates in the midst of a campaign must not be given a privileged platform such as a radio show. Once the brothers file their paperwork to run, which they have vowed to do in January for the election in October, 2014 (although they could wait until the September deadline), they will need to step away from the microphone.
Neither Rob Ford nor Doug Ford could immediately be reached for comment.