Talk radio is spreading fear and hatred about Syrian refugees

Steve Kowch blog photoFrom where I sit On The Kowch, I have concerns about what right wing talk radio hosts and their listeners are saying about Syrian refugees coming to Canada. Listening to talk radio across the country, I’ve lost count how many times callers refer to the refugees as “terrorists” and the hosts say nothing to distance themselves from these kind of comments.

I don’t know about you, but I expect a bit more – no make that a lot more – from opinion makers with access to a 50,000 watt microphone in 2015.

Check out this post on Facebook:  

“I am (supportive/laughing) at the Trudeau government’s admission they (will continue to work with/failed) their (compassionate/ridiculous) pledge to (resettle/infect) Canada with 25,000 (Syrian/Klingon warrior) refugees.”

Really, these men, woman and children who are fleeing for their lives from terrorists in their homeland and seeking safe haven in Canada are going to infect Canadians. With what? Doesn’t this sound like what Canadians said about the Irish, the Jews, the Italians, the Greeks and all other immigrants who came to Canada after World War II.

Early in 1945 an unidentified immigration agent was asked how many Jews would be allowed in Canada after the war. He replied “None is too many”. Sounds like a good name for the theme of right wing talk show hosts and their listeners these days.

Please tell me today’s Canada is not like this. That talk radio won’t stoop to this kind of on air behaviour that is a throwback to a time of national shame that left a lasting stain on our history. Please tell me that is not what we’re going to hear on the radio between now and when the last of the 25,000 refugees arrive in Canada at the end of February.

Michael Coren is a former right wing broadcaster, who is now firmly planted on the left, said it best in this Facebook post:

Refugees - Coren

I’ve been around talk radio a long time, programming two of Canada’s largest talk radio stations. I understand talk radio is about opinions … strong opinions, unpopular opinions and letting callers vent  about things they disagree with. I don’t have a problem with that.

I understand after the Paris attacks that people are afraid terrorists will sneak into Canada blending in with legitimate Syrian refugees. It is natural to lash out at what scares you.

But it is important to avoid any abusive comment that, when taken in context, tends to or is likely to expose an individual or a group or class of individuals to hatred.

The art of practicing freedom of speech on the radio comes with a heavy burden of rules and regulations enforced by the CRTC and the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC). The code of ethics these two regulatory bodies make obligatory, were written by the CAB and the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA). It is important for anyone who speaks on the radio, in any format, understand all these guidelines.

What we say on air carries a lot of weight by the very nature of the large number of people who listen to the radio at any given time. Living in a multi-cultural society has its challenges for hosts and their listeners.

From where I sit On The Kowch, there is a fine line between letting the caller express their emotional point of view and what might be perceived as the spreading of hatred. Hosts need to keep the heat and the rhetoric down in these circumstances. But at the same time, they need to balance this with letting all sides express their opinions, their fear and their emotions.

Radio consultingWhen a caller starts spewing hatred or racist comments, dump them. The argument that their comments show them for what they are doesn’t wash. It is still the spreading of hatred. If for whatever reason they aren’t dumped, then it is vital the host take the caller to task for their comment and get rid of them.

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Steve Kowch ran two of Canada’s largest newstalk radio stations in Montreal and Toronto for more than 14 years. He was National Director of NewsTalk Radio Programming for Astral Media. He was a professor at two of Toronto’s leading broadcast schools and is the author of   99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Making It BIG In Media   Today Steve is Canada’s leading media coach at kowchmedia helping emerging radio talent chase their dream to become great broadcasters.

Contact Steve at 647-521-6397 or email

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