Remarks about Duchess of Cambridge's pregnancy

Review from the Office of the Ombudsman | English Services


The complainant objected to comments about the Duchess of Cambridge's pregnancy which he felt were offensive and insulting. The remarks pushed the boundary of taste, but were quickly stopped when the co-host of the program intervened.

This is a response to your [William J. Doyle] request for a review of remarks made by Kevin O'Leary about the Duchess of Cambridge's pregnancy on the Lang & O'Leary Exchange edition of December 3, 2012.

As part of a round-up of the news of the day, Amanda Lang announced that Kate Middleton, wife of the heir to the British throne, was pregnant and had been hospitalized for acute morning sickness. Ms Lang went on to observe that the gossip columns had been speculating about a pregnancy for months, and that likely the Duchess had found the situation stressful. Kevin O'Leary responded by saying “I am thrilled for her, I just hope it's his is all.” Ms Lang immediately chastised Mr. O'Leary for his remarks. O'Leary's last rejoinder was to say “come on Amanda you know what's going on in the palace these days. It's crazy over there.”

You wrote to say you were deeply offended by Mr. O'Leary's remarks, characterizing them as “vile sexual innuendo.” Robert Lack, executive producer of the Lang & O'Leary Exchange, responded to your complaint. You asked why he did so, and why the Ombudsman did not. To clarify: the complaints process allows for programmers to first address a concern within a reasonable period of time. The Ombudsman conducts a review if the complainant is not satisfied and requests one. In his reply, Mr. Lack apologized that the remarks had offended you. He noted that Mr. O'Leary made the remark with a broad grin, and added: “It was intended as a jest.” He also said Mr. O'Leary “commonly exaggerates for effect and offers outrageous remarks.”

That would seem to be the case here. As my predecessor has noted on several occasions, Mr. O'Leary's role is unique in CBC news and information programming. It is clear in the context of the program, he is not a journalist. He is hired to bring his professional opinions and experience to business and financial topics. By all appearances, he also is there for his colorful language and his provocative take on a range of topics. These unscripted exchanges often involve Mr. O'Leary making very broad statements, and Ms Lang providing a counterpoint. While this provides him some latitude, there certainly are limits to taste.

CBC‘s Journalistic Standards and Practices does provide guidance on language and taste, although its intent is really in the context of news and information reporting, not banter between presenters. This is what it says:

We use the language of accessible, articulate everyday speech.

We respect and reflect the generally accepted values of society. We are aware that the audiences we address do not all have the same definition of good taste. We choose a tone that will not gratuitously offend audience sensitivities. In particular we avoid swearing and coarse, vulgar, offensive or violent language except where its omission would alter the nature and meaning of the information reported.

Humor is highly subjective and often does involve pushing the bounds of taste. This remark did push that boundary, but Ms Lang quickly stopped Mr. O'Leary on behalf of audience members who might find the remark distasteful. And that is what makes it tolerable from the perspective of policy.

I understand you feel very strongly about this, and the programmers as well as their supervisors are aware of that fact.

Esther Enkin
CBC Ombudsman