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Watchdog says controversial Sun News interview acceptable

Screen capture from Krista Erickson interview with Margie Gillis.

An interview on Sun News Network this summer, which attracted a record number of complaints to the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, has been ruled acceptable.

In June, the CBSC issued a notice asking the public to stop sending in complaints about the interview that month, in which host Krista Erickson challenged interpretive dancer Margie Gillis about why artists like her deserve government funding. The CBSC investigates every complaint it receives, and said the volume of complaints has no bearing on its findings -- and the organization was becoming bogged down with messages from viewers who believed Ms. Gillis had been mistreated by the interviewer. ( Click here to watch the interview.)

Last week, the CBSC released its decision stating that the interview was not in violation of the Code of Ethics that governs broadcasters in Canada.

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It convened a panel to look into the complaints, focusing particularly on a clause within the code that requires "full, fair and proper presentation of news, opinion, comment and editorial."

In its response, Sun News told the CBSC that it was entitled to be controversial in its programming and that during the 21-minute interview, Ms. Erickson had given Ms. Gillis opportunities to respond to criticism.

The panel agreed, saying in its decision that hosts are allowed "to be biased and aggressive in their presentation of views and questioning of interviewees." The decision also pointed out that while Ms. Erickson spoke over some of Ms. Gillis's comments, she "was provided ample time and opportunity ... to state her position."

The decision further noted that while Ms. Erickson had been "somewhat mocking when she waved her hands in imitation of Gillis' dance style," that concerns over that behaviour fell under considerations of "courtesy and politeness" more than actual breaches of the code.

The CBSC received a total of 6,676 complaints about the broadcast -- more than triple the total number of complaints it typically receives in a year, on a variety of topics.

To investigate such complaints, the CBSC convenes a panel of adjudicators, with representatives from both the broadcast industry and the general public to decide on whether it violated the agreed-upon set of standards for broadcasting in Canada.

"Although somewhat heated, it was a balanced debate on the topic," the CBSC said in a statement.

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