Pay the piper, call the tune.

The complainant, Nancy Morgan, thought calling anti-gay statements homophobic was taking sides and showed bias. It was an appropriate labelling of the language. Not everything is relative and reporters can use their judgment.

COMPLAINT

You considered an account on As It Happens of what occurred when a student played her bagpipes while a man was preaching and condemning homosexuals on a Florida campus to be biased. You thought the preacher had a right to state his views, and that they were not homophobic but rather he was “encouraging sexual morality as prescribed in the bible, and what the bible says about sexuality.” The As It Happens host used the term “homophobic slurs” to describe the preaching, and you objected to that characterization:

The bagpiper who is promoting an agenda of leftist/progressivism and pro-homosexuality, and the preacher who is promoting an agenda of bible-based moral conduct and pro-religion. The reason the reporters comments were biased and propaganda were because, as in the definition of propaganda, he or she was using derogatory language ("homophobic slurs") to present a biased report (siding with the bagpiper) in order to promote and publicize the particular political view that the reporter and the bagpiper apparently shared.

The account of the confrontation between the student bagpiper and the preacher ran on As It Happens on September 2, 2016. Your complaint was inadvertently misplaced by the programmers and only answered this summer.

MANAGEMENT RESPONSE

The Executive Producer of As It Happens, Robin Smythe, replied to your concerns and apologized for the delay in responding. She told you the confrontation between the student and the pastor was featured as the programme’s “sound of the day”. She said she listened to the segment and clearly heard the pastor stating that homosexuality leads to sodomy and bestiality. She noted that “Canadian law bans speech that exposes persons or groups to hatred.” She did not think it was editorializing to refer to his language as homophobic.

REVIEW

The segment was brief - it featured the student playing bagpipes and some of the preacher’s exhortations - not all of it audible over the sound of the pipes. The host set it up this way:

For years, a pastor has been preaching outside of Florida Gulf Coast University to anyone who will listen, voluntarily or otherwise. He wears a t-shirt that says “Jesus saves from hell”, which is pretty mild compared to his loud megaphone sermons in which he compares homosexuality to bestiality. One student got fed up with it, she decided it was time for the preacher to pay the piper. Brice Ehmig, a student at Florida’s Gulf Coast, is a bagpiper. She also happens to be gay, and recently she decided to drown out the pastor’s offensive sermons with her wind instrument, as her girlfriend and classmates watched.

Listeners to the programme would then hear the bagpipes and some of the preacher’s language, although it is not all audible over the sound of the pipes. What can be discerned is this:

You guys think it’s a glory to mock the preaching of the gospel. Is that the society that we come to today where you just mock the word of God. God says “don’t mock he says your shame, your sins on your life will be made stronger and you know what homosexuality is the result of it, people get wrapped up in fornication and sex outside of marriage and ...it goes into sodomy, it goes into bestiality, it goes into all these different things...and then what’s the end of that, you’re in chains, you’re in darkness...

Earlier in the incident, he can be heard saying:

“When people won’t turn from homosexuality they won’t turn to God… They know they have to repent.”

Homophobia is generally understood to mean an aversion to or fear of homosexuals and homosexuality. It is singling out and labeling a group of people in negative and hurtful ways.

Reporters are not simply stenographers who report who said what. They have an obligation to put information into context. As you stated, the pastor was exercising his right to freedom of speech to deliver his message. His views may coincide with your understanding of biblical teaching. This man compares homosexuality with bestiality and refers to homosexuals as the embodiment of sin. The bagpiper is quoted in several news reports saying the man had targeted her as she walked by over a period of years, and had made violent comments towards her. By any measure, this is an irrational fear of homosexuals, or homophobia. As many of my colleagues have been pointing out in the wake of the events of the last week, there is a difference between ensuring that facts are reported fairly, that one’s personal views do not distort them and some notion of equivalence; that all views and statements are equal and must be balanced out. As Andrew Seaman wrote in an article for the Society for Professional Journalists, “Objectivity and equivalence are not the same.” The words and message were profoundly anti-gay, and that is homophobic. There is nothing in CBC’s journalistic standards and practices that says journalists must treat every view in the same way. The JSP makes reference to professional judgment - that is what was at work here. It was an appropriate use of the term.

Sincerely,

Esther Enkin
CBC Ombudsman