Howard Stern didn't do it. Janet Jackson's infamous "wardrobe malfunction" didn't do it. But something has come to Canada's TV screens that has finally brought the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council to its knees: Sun News Network.
The organization that enforces standards on Canada's television and radio broadcasters has published an appeal on its website: No more complaints, please, about TV host Krista Erickson's pugnacious interview with dancer Margie Gillis. It's the first time the CBSC has published such a notice, saying it does not have the resources to handle any more complaints.
Viewers have sent in more than 4,350 complaints since the interview aired on the Sun News program Canada Live on June 1. The CBSC receives on average 2,000 complaints in total in any given year.
Ms. Erickson challenged Ms. Gillis to explain why artists like her deserve public funding. The host shouted over many of her answers, and later criticized Ms. Gillis for commenting in a different interview that society has become less compassionate.
"I personally take exception, and I know some of my colleagues do as well, to your assertion that we are lacking in compassion when we have lost more than 150 soldiers who have served in Afghanistan, who have put their lives on the line," Ms. Erickson told her. "Which is frankly, quite a serious business, okay, compared with people who are dancing on a stage. I just don't get where you get off suggesting that we are lacking in compassion."
The council has a code of ethics governing Canadian broadcasters, which includes a clause requiring "full, fair and proper presentation of news, opinion, comment and editorial." That clause is likely to be at issue in this process, said Ron Cohen, the CBSC's national chair.
The council will now convene a panel of adjudicators to examine the complaints. The panels are usually made up of six or seven people, half of whom are members of the general public and half from the broadcast industry. Until then, just one person – the CBSC's complaints officer – will be charged with going through all of the complaints, doing "triage" in Mr. Cohen's words, and summing up the concerns for the adjudicators. If it's found that Sun News violated any part of the codes, the network will be required to air a statement about the ruling during Ms. Erickson's program, and during one of its prime-time shows. The CBSC does not have the power to fine broadcasters, but this measure is effective enough that the council does not see many repeat offences, Mr. Cohen said.
Representatives from Quebecor Inc., which owns the network, declined requests for an interview. However, in an e-mailed statement, the company pointed out that a campaign was launched on Facebook, encouraging people to complain about the interview.
"Simply put, we will follow the CBSC's complaint process as we do for every complaint," the statement said.