The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council published its decision in the complaints against Sun News Network’s Krista Erickson’s interview of dancer Margie Gillis.
As we wrote, Erickson’s June interview with Gillis was under fire for being unfair. In the 20-minute interview, Erickson is both complimentary and confrontational with Gillis and in some instances interrupted or talked over Gillis. Gillis requested during the interview that Erickson “treat me with a little bit of respect” and commented that Erickson was “belittling” the dance and arts community. Erickson also challenged the government funding of the arts.
Shortly after the interview aired, Erickson said she had “been the subject of that bullying” for her interview. In the same segment, as we wrote, her network gave a “Sunnies award” to one of its viewers who submitted a video mocking Gillis’ dance style.
Michel Raymond from Gillis’ Dance Foundation described to iMediaEthics the interview as a “personal attack on Margie Gillis and her artform.” In July, the CBSC told viewers to stop filing complaints over the interview because at the time it had 4,300 complaints, which “exceeds the Council’s resources.” At the time, the Globe and Mail reported that the CBSC usually receives about 2,000 complaints annually, so the complaints about the interview with Gillis were particularly noteworthy.
The CBSC’s ruling, available here, determined that Erickson didn’t violate the CBSC’s ethics code.
According to the CBSC’s ruling, it “received 6,676 complaints” over the interview, “primarily as a result of a campaign orchestrated on the social media website Facebook.” Further, CBSC noted that Sun News defended against the complaints and “provided a lengthy and detailed reply.”
The CBSC’s ruling explained that it reviewed the interview through “full, fair and proper presentation,” and “controversial public issues.”
Concerning “fairness and balance,” the CBSC wrote:
“Almost all of the complainants took the view that host Krista Erickson had attacked Margie Gillis and treated her unfairly. On that specific point, the CBSC has explained in previous decisions that hosts of discussion programs are allowed to reveal their opinions on the topics being discussed, even if those opinions are controversial, unpopular and provocative. Hosts are also fully entitled to determine the course of an interview and to raise topics that an interviewee might not have anticipated.”
The CBSC noted that even though “Erickson was somewhat mocking when she waved her hands in imitation of Gillis’ dance style…these issues relate more to courtesy and politeness and do not constitute Code breaches.”
Further, the CBSC wrote that precedent cases “allow for hosts to be biased and aggressive” as long as they don’t make “nasty personal insults.”
Since Gillis was given “ample time and opportunity” to talk, “held her own” and stayed for a second segment after the commercial break the CBSC found the report wasn’t in violation of balance requirements – despite the “moments when Erickson and Gillis were both talking at the same time.”
While the CBSC found that there was some “misrepresentation” of the “funding and grants received by the Margie Gillis Dance Foundation,” it was “minor and did not impact the overall debate.”
That misrepresentation was the inclusion of an endowment fund in “list of taxpayer-funded grants.”
Michel Raymond, the director of the Margie Gillis Foundation, told iMediaEthics by e-mail that the foundation “feel the CBSC decision, released to the media late on Friday, February 3, was meant to go as unnoticed as possible by the general public. Of course, we are very disappointed with the decision supporting this kind of disrespectful interviewing. We think it is sad for the future of what is reflected of Canadian society on television and for the example it sets for the conduct of social debates. Aggression in dialogue escalates violence.”
Raymond went on:
“In the decision, we were blamed for having ‘organized a campaign against Sun News’ on Facebook. This accusation is completely unfair in light of what the interview triggered in the public. So much antagonism was generated after the interview that we were flooded with messages from supporters of the arts asking what could be done. We also received some pretty cruel hate mail. We felt that the only responsible thing to do was to propose to people the peaceful, legal and proper response. The appropriate social way to express opposition to what had been said and done on Sun News was by writing to the CBSC and to the sponsors of the show. We absolutely did not want to encourage fueling hatred with more hatred. We only did our best to calm the language and offer, once again, the appropriate, proper and legal ways to respond.”
He described the Sun News interview as “a set-up” and noted that “Gillis had been assured that although the questions could be tough, they would be respectful and on topic – which was ‘public funding of the arts’, not on the Margie Gillis Dance Foundation funding specifically.”
He told iMediaEthics that the foundation is still receiving “touching positive reactions from outraged people” about the interview.
“The CBSC decision is not about the arts. It is about television and its treatment of debates. It is about how far television can go to excite an audience and create ‘entertainment value’. We have decided not to publicize the incident further and to let the interview stand for itself as most people have not thought it acceptable.
“When you validate bullying and disrespectful discourse, you invite ruffians to come out of the woodwork and feel emboldened. Not exactly the kind of society we were hoping for ourselves and for our children.”
We have written to the CBSC, and Sun News Network for comment and will update with any response.