When religious broadcasting crosses the line

When it comes to religion-based broadcasts, it’s not uncommon for people to make bold — but tenuous — statements on air. But when it comes to religious opinions, how far is too far? This sticky question played front and centre in a recent decision by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, and is worth examining.

At issue: A September 2010 broadcast of Sid Roth’s It’s Supernatural, a weekly show on Ontario-based Crossroads Television.

For those that aren’t familiar, Roth’s show focuses on people who believe they have experienced healing, miracles and personal experiences with God. At the end of Roth’s interview, and before the close of each segment, Roth (a Jewish believer in Jesus) tells viewers how they can become closer to God.

During the episode in question, Roth had Joel Richardson, author of The Islamic Antichrist, on air. While both men said things that became subject to complaint, it was Richardson who really stepped in it.

Indeed, he made two comments that the CBSC eventually focused on after a viewer characterized the episode as a “vicious attack on a huge portion of the world’s population, namely Islam.” The viewer added: “The apparent goal of this man’s message is to incite people to share his distorted view of Muslim people.”

Only one of Richardson’s comments, however, was found to violate the broadcast code of ethics. So what was the difference?

The comment for which Richardson was cleared involved the Treaty of Hudaibiya. Here he said, in part, “So the Muslims looked to Mohamed as the premier perfect example that they are to emulate. So now Muslims have as an example, this concept of breaking treaties.”

While that comment and the surrounding discussion may be offensive to some, the CBSC acknowledged, it didn’t break any on air ethical rules:

“The host and his guest had an opinion, indeed several opinions.  As is not infrequently the case (in discussions involving precepts of any religion), there were shadings of perspective by the host and his guest that may be criticized as more tenuous and sceptical.  In the absence of materially misleading underlying content … the Panel considers that Messrs. Roth and Richardson were entitled to hold and to air their point(s) of view.”

But then they crossed the line.

Here’s what Richardson said:

“Let me quote, uh, Islamic tradition, that is the foundation for Hamas and the Palestinians.  It says ‘The day of resurrection will not come until the Muslims fight against the Jews and kill them until there are only a few Jews left hiding behind a tree or a rock and the tree or the rock will cry out and say ‘Oh faithful Muslim, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.’ Muslims believe it is their divine call to eliminate the Jewish people.”

While this statement still falls within the realm of opinion, said the CBSC, it is also a pointed and barbed accusation.  

It continued:

“Even if that were a solid, uncontradicted principle established by one or another of the learned texts that are cornerstones of the Islamic religion, the Panel considers that such an accusation directed in such general terms against, in effect, all Muslims is an abusive or unduly discriminatory comment that violates the proscription against such comments in the Human Rights Clauses of the CAB Code of Ethics and the Equitable Portrayal Code …

“There can be no denying that there are Palestinians living in Israel, Canada, the United States and other nations, as well as in Gaza and the West Bank who believe in the right of Israel to exist and of Jewish families to be as secure in their lives as they, the Palestinian families, would wish to be in their own.  Consequently, to tar all Palestinians with a brush of hatred constitutes, in the view of the Ontario Panel, an unduly discriminatory comment based on their national or ethnic origin.”

The show’s network must broadcast the CBSC decision once during prime time, and once during the same time period that Sid Roth’s It’s Supernatural was broadcast.