August 2000

Ottawa, August 31, 2000  — The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released two decisions (first & second) concerning CILQ-FM's (Toronto) broadcast of the Howard Stern Show.  Both complaints dealt with Stern's use of the term “retard”, and, in the second case, with comments concerning mentally challenged persons.

The Ontario Regional Council considered the complaints under the human rights provision of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters' (CAB) Code of Ethics.  In the first case, the Council found that the use of the term by a belly dancer to describe the man who took her virginity at the age of 15 and then by Stern to state that most “retards” listen to his show and that he is the “King of Retards”, was not abusively discriminatory.  The Council noted, referring to a previous decision, that

the usage of the word “retard” in this case is even further removed from a breach of the Code because it is not even conveying the meaning of mental deficiency.  Its use in this case, by both the belly dancer and by Howard Stern, refers to the street level colloquial meaning which the word now carries.  The word is now sometimes used interchangeably with such other insults as “jerk”, “idiot” and “creep”. …

In the end, while the Council deplores the crude, offensive, infantile and irresponsible terminology used by the host and, on a general societal level, deplores the fact that a word such as “retard” has developed into such a “street term”, the Council must conclude that the only issue raised in this case is one of taste, something the Council has always held should be left for listeners to decide via the on/off switch.

In the second case presented to the Ontario Regional Council, comments were made by Stern and his staff to the effect “that ‘a retarded home' will diminish surrounding property values, that ‘retarded' persons do cruel things to animals, that ‘retarded' persons are more prone to commit rape and do socially unacceptable things in public and so on.”  The Council had “no hesitation” in concluding that Stern and his cohorts has “made fun of the protected group” in this case and thus breached Clause 2 of the CAB Code of Ethics.

The Council further noted that while CILQ-FM's editing process to excise commentary which might be viewed as being in breach of Canadian private broadcaster standards was  “working to a considerable extent”, it noted that, in this case, “the broadcaster's Stern Show producer was not as cautious in the editing of the segment” and, indeed, had been edging closer to the line with respect to such commentary.  The Council concluded that “[i]f the only way for the broadcaster to ensure that it does not cross the line is for it to err on the side of caution, removing more of the continually tasteless commentary than it might otherwise remove, then this is the course of action it must take.”

Canada's private broadcasters have themselves created industry standards in the form of Codes on ethics, gender portrayal and television violence by which they expect the members of their profession will abide.  In 1990, they also created the CBSC, which is the self-regulatory body with the responsibility of administering those professional broadcast Codes, as well as the Code dealing with journalistic practices first created by the Radio Television News Directors Association of Canada (RTNDA) in 1970.  More than 430 radio and television stations and specialty services from across Canada are members of the Council.

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Ottawa, August 29, 2000  — The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning the 8 p.m. broadcast of the feature film Double Team by CHMI-TV (Winnipeg).   A viewer had complained that the film depicted “cold blooded premeditated murder” and the “wanton mass murder of children”.

The Prairie Regional Council considered the complaint under the Canadian Association of Broadcasters' (CAB) Violence Code.  The Council began by noting that the violent scenes were “plot-driving events and motivational in terms of character development” and were “thus not gratuitous under the Violence Code.”  On another level, though, it concluded that the “nature and extent of the violence included in the film [were] intended for adult audiences.”  Accordingly, the Council found that the film should not have been broadcast prior to the 9 p.m. watershed hour.

With respect to the use of viewer advisories (which were found to be present only preceding the film and after the first, third and fifth commercial breaks), the Council noted that the Violence Code requires that advisories be present “at the beginning of, and during programming telecast outside of late evening hours, which contains scenes of violence not suitable for children.”  The Council concluded that, ironically, having decided to air the film prior to the watershed hour, the broadcaster had “created a heavier burden on itself with respect to advisories,” since, in those circumstances, advisories needed to be aired “coming out of every commercial break during the entire program [emphasis in original].”  Since advisories were not present coming out of the second and fourth commercial breaks, the broadcaster was found in breach of Article 5.2 of the Violence Code.

Finally, the Council also considered the PG rating for the film to be inappropriate, stating that a 14+ rating would have been better suited for the violent content of the film:

[I]n the category description for the PG rating, it is stated: “This programming, while intended for a general audience, may not be suitable for younger children (under the age of 8).  [Emphasis added.]”  Second, under the Violence Guidelines, it is provided that “any depiction of conflict and/or aggression will be moderate and limited” and that “any such depictions should not be pervasive.”  In the view of the Council, …, the film is decidedly not intended for a general audience.  It is intended for an adult audience.  Moreover, the violence in the film cannot possibly be described as “moderate and limited”. …  The Violence Guidelines for the 14+ category allow that “violence could be one of the dominant elements of the storyline” and that the programming may even “contain intense scenes of violence.”

Canada's private broadcasters have themselves created industry standards in the form of Codes on ethics, gender portrayal and television violence by which they expect the members of their profession will abide.  In 1990, they also created the CBSC, which is the self-regulatory body with the responsibility of administering those professional broadcast Codes, as well as the Code dealing with journalistic practices first created by the Radio Television News Directors Association of Canada (RTNDA) in 1970.  More than 430 radio and television stations and specialty services from across Canada are members of the Council.

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Ottawa, August 16, 2000 — The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning a promo for the late night SexTV show, broadcast by CITY-TV (Toronto) at 7:15 p.m. The promo began with the message “The average male has a sexual thought every 8 seconds”, followed by a scene in which the camera panned slowly over the body of a nude woman, lying sideways, facing the camera, with her legs and arms discretely covering her breasts and genitalia. The promo ended with the message “But who is counting?”. A viewer complained that the promo is “morally wrong, degrading to women, and harmful to children to see and think about how often their fathers, uncles, grandfathers think about sex.”

The Ontario Regional Council considered the decision under the Sex-Role Portrayal Code, as well as the scheduling provision of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters' Violence Code. The Council found no breach of either Code, ruling that the promo was not demeaning to either women or men, and that its broadcast prior to the 9 p.m. watershed hour was permissible.

With respect to the portrayal of the naked woman, the Council found that, while “the advertisement perpetuates to some extent the stereotype of the woman as sexual object, … many elements of the depiction of the woman in the promo, such as the strong eye contact of the woman with the camera (and thus the viewer), go a long way to attenuating the objectification of the woman as a sexual play-thing.” On the issue of the promo's negative or degrading commentary regarding men, the Council did not find that the promo portrayed men as “unidimensionally sex-obsessed”. It stated that

On balance, […] it would be unreasonable to conclude that the promo suggests that there is no other side to men than their sex drive. Moreover, the promo is obviously tongue-in-cheek and attempting to solicit the interest of the viewer to plumb the male sex drive and other “mysteries” of the sexual world.

As to the scheduling issue, the Council noted CITY-TV's acknowledgment that the promo in question had run at 7:15pm as a result of an error in the cataloguing of the show's two promos but it did not find that CITY-TV had thereby breached the scheduling provision of the Violence Code. The Council stated that, so long as the content of the promo is not “intended for adult audiences to the exclusion of a non-adult audience, … a show which can itself only air in a post-watershed time frame … in the originating time zone, can be promoted prior to the watershed.” In this case, the Council concluded that, while “it would be more appropriate not to run such promos at a time when children could be expected to be watching,” the promo's pre-Watershed broadcast was not in breach of the Code.

Canada's private broadcasters have themselves created industry standards in the form of Codes on ethics, gender portrayal and television violence by which they expect the members of their profession will abide. In 1990, they also created the CBSC, which is the self-regulatory body with the responsibility of administering those professional broadcast Codes, as well as the Code dealing with journalistic practices first created by the Radio Television News Directors Association of Canada (RTNDA) in 1970. More than 430 radio and television stations and specialty services from across Canada are members of the Council.

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Ottawa, August 9, 2000 — The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning the title of a cooking show entitled “Gwai Lo Cooking” broadcast by CFMT-TV in Toronto.  The historic Cantonese expression “gwai lo”, which translates literally as “foreign devil” or “ghostly fellow”, refers to the show's host, who, although of Caucasian, rather than Oriental, descent, speaks Cantonese and offers North American and European cooking recipes to the Cantonese-speaking Chinese Canadian community.  A viewer complained that the title of the show discriminated against non-Orientals because “[i]n Chinese, this expression isn't too far removed from other racist English expressions”.

The Ontario Regional Council considered the decision under the Canadian Association of Broadcasters' Code of Ethics, marking the CBSC's first occasion to determine whether a program title itself could be in breach of the human rights provision of the Code.  The Council found no Code breach, stating that the expression “gwai lo”, as it is understood today, is not inherently abusive, nor does the context in which it is used in this case render it such.

Despite the Council's finding that the expression discriminates by referring to “a specific group characterized by race and skin colour”, it decided that “gwai lo” has taken on a more benign meaning, akin to such North American nicknames such as “Canuck” or “Yankee”:

While historically, “gwai lo” may have been used by Chinese people as a derogatory remark concerning foreigners, particularly Caucasian Westerners, the persons consulted by the Council indicate that it has since lost much of its derogatory overtone.  The Council finds that the expression has also lost most of its religious meaning, so that “foreign devil” no longer carries the theological significance it once did.  Based on its research, the Council understands that the expression has gone from being considered offensive to, at worst, merely “impolite”.  In the circumstances, the Council does not conclude that the expression is inherently abusively discriminatory.

The Council further found that the context in which the expression is used does not either render the term abusively discriminatory.  In the Council's view, the use of the title by the Caucasian host to describe himself, “has the effect of diminishing the discriminatory aspect of the expression”.  The Council concluded that “[b]y using the expression as he does, the host transforms it from one of we/them polemic to one of self-identification and inclusion.”

Canada's private broadcasters have themselves created industry standards in the form of Codes on ethics, gender portrayal and television violence by which they expect the members of their profession will abide.  In 1990, they also created the CBSC, which is the self-regulatory body with the responsibility of administering those professional broadcast Codes, as well as the Code dealing with journalistic practices first created by the Radio Television News Directors Association of Canada (RTNDA) in 1970.  More than 430 radio and television stations and specialty services from across Canada are members of the Council.

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All CBSC decisions, Codes, links to members' and other web sites, and related information are available on the CBSC's website at www.cbsc.ca. For more information, please contact the CBSC National Chair, Mme Andrée Noël CBSC Executive Director, John MacNab