(Note offensive language in third paragraph)
By David Ljunggren
OTTAWA, May 25 (Reuters) - Canada’s public broadcaster was wrong to show a skit that joked about the possible assassination of U.S. President Barack Obama and suggested he could be a thief, an industry panel ruled on Monday.
The New Year’s Eve “Bye Bye” comedy program — shown by the French-language Radio Canada network — generated more than 200 complaints. In one segment, two hosts discussed Obama’s election in November 2008. Obama, who took office in January, is the first black U.S. president.
“We’re not racists. It will be good to have a Negro in the White House. It will be practical. Black on white, it will be easier to shoot him,” one of the show’s hosts remarked.
The Canadian Broadcasting Standards Council said it found “nothing redeeming in the allegedly comedic notion that an American president should be shot, still less that this would be easier to achieve because of the color of the president’s skin. It was a disturbing, wounding, abusive racial comment”.
The show also featured an interview with an actor pretending to be Obama. The host said, “The blacks, you all look alike,” and then warned viewers to hide their purses.
The council said the comments and sketches breached regulations, adding they went “too far in terms of Canadian broadcast standards.”
The producers of the show denied the skits had been racist, saying they had meant to mock the characters making the offensive remarks.
Complaints about Radio Canada are usually handled by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). In this case the CRTC asked the council — which deals with commercial channels and has more experience in handling such complaints — for advice.
The CRTC, which is due to conduct its own probe into the show, does not have the power to fine Radio-Canada but can issue a public reprimand.
A spokeswoman for the commission said such reprimands could cause problems for networks when it came time for them to seek renewal of their broadcasting license. Radio-Canada is due to apply for a license renewal in 2011.
Polls regularly show that Canadians like Obama far more than they do their own leaders. Tens of thousands turned up to cheer him when he made a brief visit to Ottawa in February. A spokeswoman for the U.S. embassy said she did not know whether the White House had complained about the show.
Reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Peter Galloway and Frances Kerry