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Watchdog clears Sun News' Levant over comments on 'free' housing for artists

Ezra Levant, a lawyer and author of Ethical Oil, is shown in Calgary on Jan. 13, 2011.

Chris Bolin/chris bolin The Globe and Mail

Canada's broadcast ethics watchdog has once again ruled in favour of a Sun News Network host who criticized the artistic community, clearing host Ezra Levant of any wrongdoing after he erroneously slammed a subsidized housing project as providing "free" housing for Edmonton artists.

The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council received 40 complaints about a show aired on July 4, in which Mr. Levant and guest Kathryn Marshall talked about a housing project for artists in Edmonton called "Arts Habitat." Mr. Levant repeatedly called it "free housing," although the artists do pay to live there (it does receive subsidies from the municipal and provincial governments).

"They displayed photographs of the live-work spaces on the screen and described them as 'gorgeous show suites' with in-suite laundry and hardwood floors," the CBSA wrote in its decision. "Levant and Marshall argued that artists already received grants and subsidies to produce their art, so they should not also receive housing."

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Mr. Levant acknowledged a complaint he received via e-mail two days later, agreeing that there was a difference between subsidized housing and free housing and also explaining he had a right to criticize government spending.

The CBSC – which is funded by broadcasters and can force networks to air apologies and explanations for any transgressions – said Mr. Levant did indeed have the right to criticize anything he wants.

It did, however, rule that he violated the rules by basing his critique on bad facts. But since he apologized quickly, it decided not to pursue the matter any further.

"While the host did not act proactively, and half-heartedly recognized his error only in response to an e-mail pointing it out, the panel members recognized that he did do so quickly and publicly," the ruling stated.

It's the second time one of the network's hosts has been the subject of a review since the network launched a year ago. And in both cases, it was the artistic community leading the chorus of complaints.

Krista Erickson, whose interview with Canadian artist Margie Gillis set a record for the number of complaints received by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, was cleared earlier this year.

The watchdog said hosts are allowed "to be biased and aggressive in their presentation of views and questioning of interviewees."

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The decision also said Ms. Gillis "was provided ample time and opportunity ... to state her position."

And while Ms. Erickson had been "somewhat mocking when she waved her hands in imitation of Gillis' dance style," the watchdog said that isn't a breach of the code but rather an issue of "courtesy and politeness."

Earlier this month, the watchdog said Global Television must apologize to its viewers for not warning them about the bloody, drawn-out death of Bugs Bunny at the hands of Elmer Fudd during an episode of Family Guy. It wasn't the violence that bothered the regulator, but the lack of warning.

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