Civil Liberties

Stern Measures


In staid, law-abiding Canada, market forces have led a couple of radio stations to defy, for the first time ever, the Canadian government's voluntary broadcast decency code.

The problem is New York talk radio bad boy Howard Stern, who has also drawn the wrath of (and around $1.7 million in fines from) the U.S. Federal Communications Commission. Stern began broadcasting in Canada last September and, in typical attack-dog style, started insulting the Quebecois. He's called them, among other things, "the biggest scumbags on the planet" and suggested they should either "go back to France…or learn to speak English."

When such prominent Quebecois as Attorney General Serge Menard complained about Stern's "racist" rants, Canada's Broadcast Standards Council suggested Stern be removed from the nation's airwaves. The two stations that broadcast Stern (located in Montreal and Toronto) said no–the first time in Canadian history broadcasters have refused such a request. The stations, which have added around a million new listeners since picking up Stern, value their audience more than cooperation with the council.

The Canadian Radio and Television Commission, which can enforce its will by revoking station licenses, may step in. Stern's talk might run afoul of a Canadian law making it a criminal offense to "willfully promote hatred" against "identifiable group[s]" of people. "We respect free speech here," Ron Cohen, chairman of the Broadcast Standards Commission, told The Boston Globe. "But we don't worship it."