06/13/2012 05:21 EDT | Updated 08/13/2012 05:12 EDT

Broadcast watchdog calls out Sun TV, Ezra Levant for on-air insult

TORONTO - In a war over words, Canada's broadcast standards council is striking down Sun News Network's defence of an on-air insult.

The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has decided talk show host Ezra Levant crossed a line and violated a voluntary code of ethics when he aimed a "personal and particularly coarse" insult at the executive of a multinational food company.

"Defending one’s opinions with vigour and even some aggression is not to be confused with personal insults and coarseness," the council said in a decision released Wednesday.

Levant, however, has lashed out at the council, calling the body "stupid" and a "censor."

"Some bullies think they can turn my show off, even if you want to keep your TV on," he said on air Wednesday. "They've decided to simply ban my point of view."

The council's decision centres on a Dec. 22 episode of Levant's talk show, "The Source," where he discussed Chiquita Brands International's move to avoid fuel derived from Alberta's oilsands.

The food giant made a decision a week earlier in what it said was an effort to reduce its carbon footprint. The council noted that the move prompted some who supported Canadian oil companies — including Levant — to encourage a boycott of Chiquita products.

When addressing the issue on his show, the council said Levant accused the multinational company of being "anti-Canadian bigots" because it was refusing to use oil from Canadian oil sands, but was willing to use crude from countries with more questionable environmental and humanitarian records.

Levant then named a Chiquita executive who wrote a letter to a representative of Alberta oil companies.

He repeatedly referred to the letter writer, who had a Spanish name, as a "liar" and then addressed the executive directly saying, "Chinga tu madre."

The CBSC received 22 complaints about the broadcast, all of which explained that the Spanish phrase was a strong insult that uses an obscenity and means "go have sex with your mother."

"The complainants noted that the phrase is one of the harshest insults in the Spanish language and that it was utterly inappropriate for Levant to directly insult an identified individual in this manner," the council said.

Sun News responded to all complainants arguing that the word "chingar" had multiple meanings, as did the specific phrase used by Levant, which it said translates into "get lost" and "stop bothering me."

Levant even invited a native Spanish speaker on his show to discuss the word in January.

The network went on to argue that Levant had intended to be "both profane and offensive" by calling out the person he was attacking by name, but, Sun News said, broadcasting rules allowed for the expression of strong opinions.

The council disagreed with that reasoning.

"Ezra Levant was completely entitled to cast doubt on the sincerity of the Chiquita company ... However ... he indulged in language excesses that widely overstep the limits of what is acceptable in dealing with a controversial issue, even from a biased point of view."

The council also took issue with the network's defence of Levant's specific choice of words.

When legal counsel for the network replied to those who had complained, the council said he explained the origins of the Spanish word "chingar" but avoided using it with the words "tu madre" as Levant had done.

"This was seemingly an attempt to obfuscate the facts and avoid addressing the complainants’ concerns about the use of the specific phrase in the precise context of the December 22 broadcast," the council said.

"The host’s attempt to explain himself on January 17, 2012 only served to exacerbate the insult, particularly in light of the admission that he had used the term in a blatant attempt to attack the Chiquita executive."

As a member of the council, the network — which is owned by media giant Quebecor — must inform viewers of its ethics violation on air.

Levant railed against the requirement Wedneday and questioned whether the council threatened free speech.

He also repeated the Spanish phrase at the core of the complaints which triggered the council's decision.

"Instead of debating me they just think they can just order me to recant and repent," he said. "They can't convince me I'm wrong."

This isn't the first time the network has courted controversy.

An interview between "Canada Live'' host Krista Erickson and Quebec-born dancer Margie Gillis last year went viral after Erickson quizzed Gillis about whether it was appropriate that she receive government grants to support her dance work.

The segment from the afternoon news show drew a record number of complaints from viewers who felt Erickson was being unfair, but the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council eventually ruled the "aggressive'' interview was acceptable.