August 2001

Ottawa, August 31, 2001  — The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning CKX-FM (Winnipeg)'s broadcast of certain jokes about sufferers of psychiatric disabilities during its morning show.  According to a listener these comments were “highly offensive”.  The Prairie Regional Panel considered the complaint under the CBSC's General Principles with respect to the retention of logger tapes as well as the human rights provision of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters' (CAB) Code of Ethics.  Since the broadcaster failed to provide the CBSC with the requested logger tapes of the program, the Panel did not have the opportunity to fully consider the substantive nature of the complaint. The Panel found this particularly regrettable since the retention of logger tapes is a requirement under both the CBSC's terms of membership and the corresponding requirements of the CRTC.

While the broadcaster provided no explanation for the loss of the tapes, it did provide an excerpt from “The Bull Sheet” from which the announcer's comments were drawn.  This was, however well intentioned, inadequate  since the Panel found that these notes were missing the essential dialogue and context that would have enabled the Panel to determine whether the host's comments did or did not breach the broadcaster Codes.  Consequently, the Panel concluded that “it is perfectly clear in this case that by failing to provide the logger tapes the broadcaster is in breach of its undertakings as a member of the CBSC.”  The Panel explained that

its expectation is one of result, not of best efforts.  Barring a natural catastrophe of the nature of a fire, broadcasters must retain and provide the tapes which are the essence of the self-regulatory, and regulatory, investigations.  The failure to comply constitutes a breach of one of the broadcaster's fundamental obligations as a member of the CBSC.

Although the Panel did not have the required evidence to thoroughly investigate the substantive nature of the complaint, it found itself “in a situation in which it appears unfair to the complainant to simply decide that it can make no decision.” The Panel therefore assumed, on the basis of the complainant's concerns, that the announcer comments constituted a breach of the human rights provision of the CAB Code of Ethics that no abusively or unduly discriminatory comments be made regarding persons identifiable on the basis of their mental disability.  In that respect, the Panel concluded that:

If, on the face of the complaint, it does appear that the complainant's concerns could reasonably result in a finding of breach on the substantive issue, in addition to the obvious breach of broadcaster standards by reason of the failure to retain the tapes themselves, the Panel will find against the broadcaster on these grounds as well.  While not on all levels a satisfactory resolution of the problem of lost logger tapes, it seems unreasonable to deny the complainant's allegations by the unilateral mishandling of the material which the broadcaster is obliged to retain and which, ironically, might work to its own advantage in defending its broadcasting choices.

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 470 radio and television stations and specialty services from across Canada are members of the Council.

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Ottawa, August 31, 2001  — The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning CFCF-TV (Montreal)'s broadcast of the premiere episode of The Dark Angel.  The television series about a young woman created as part of a new breed of genetically-engineered “super humans” had originally been scheduled to air from 8:00 – 10:00 p.m. but the station decided to “bump” it down to 7:00 – 9:00 p.m. due to the last minute scheduling of the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Farewell Show by the CTV network from 9:00-11:00 p.m.  A  viewer complained that the type of language in the program “seems entirely inappropriate for such an hour, perhaps at any hour on a network  which broadcasts over the public airwaves.”  The Quebec Regional Panel considered the complaint under the Canadian Association of Broadcasters' (CAB) Violence Code with respect to scheduling (Clause 3) and the use of viewer advisories (Clause 5).

The Panel began by considering whether the type of language in The Dark Angel could be characterized as “intended for adult audiences”, the criterion which triggers the application of the Watershed provision of the Violence Code.  The Panel concluded that

While the language in The Dark Angel may not be entirely appropriate, and is not to be condoned, it is neither profane nor obscene.  The expressions “damn ass”, “kick ass” or “bitch” are used throughout the program in such a way as to emphasize the positive qualities of the persons to whom they refer.  On the one occasion that the use of the word “bitch” can be presumed to have been intended to have a derogatory meaning, it is used by a despicable character to insult the heroine of the program, thus a gesture without significant negative impact.  In any event, the Quebec Panel does not consider that the language used amounts to programming intended for adult audiences.  Consequently, the broadcaster is entitled to air the program in an early evening timeslot.

Although the Panel found that The Dark Angel did not contain language characteristic of programming “intended for adult audiences”, the Panel did conclude that it contained material which was not suitable for children.  While such programming can be broadcast in the early evening, doing so necessitates the use of viewer advisories.

It goes without saying that viewer advisories need only attach to programming that can, according to the broadcaster Codes, be aired.  Their purpose is to alert the audience to the content of programming which, although acceptable, may offend certain viewers.

The Panel found that  “by failing to provide viewer advisories at any time during the early evening broadcast of The Dark Angel, CFCF-12 ha[d] breached the provisions of Clause 5.2 of the Violence Code with respect to the use of viewer advisories.”

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 470 radio and television stations and specialty services from across Canada are members of the Council.

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Ottawa, August 31, 2001 — The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning the broadcast of third and final instalment in a series entitled “Hope for the Homosexual” by the American religious program Focus on the Family on CFYI-AM (Toronto).  The complaint came from a listener who found it “extremely offensive, prejudicial, and bigoted in [its] characterization of gays and lesbians.”

The Ontario Regional Panel considered the complaint under the Canadian Association of Broadcaster's (CAB) Code of Ethics.  It reviewed previous CBSC decisions dealing with the treatment of gays and lesbians, noting in particular the previous ruling against a Focus on the Family broadcast in Alberta.  It did point out that

It should be remembered that gays and lesbians, like all other identifiable groups, are subject to commentary, observation and the expression of opinion which may not always feel entirely comfortable. … Where … the challenged comments are “not directed to the group of persons on the basis of their sexual orientation,” where there is no offending characterization of the group, where the comments are limited to a moral or religious assessment of practices alone, the comments will be unlikely to be viewed as abusively or unduly discriminatory.

In the current matter, the Panel concluded that “there is no place in this entire episode where discriminatory comments about persons in a group identifiable on the basis of their sexual orientation can be found.”

There is discussion about homosexuality but not about homosexuals and then it consists of legitimate points of discussion or debate.  It was not, in the view of the Panel, “bigoted in its characterization of gays and lesbians,” as argued by the complainant.  It did not even go there.  It was not “hate propaganda”.  It was a point of view on a lifestyle subject, not on its practitioners.  It was a very conservative religious view.  It was, it may fairly be observed on the basis of years of CBSC decisions, a view not shared by any Panel of the CBSC, but a view which its supporters were free to espouse in the terms in which they dealt with the issue.

Accordingly, the Panel concluded that there was no breach of Clause 2 in this case.  As for the issue of balance in the expression of opinion on a controversial public issue, the Panel pointed out that

there is no doubt but that the challenged program has a point of view; specifically, it is partial to a Christian world view.  This does not, however, mean that it fails the balance test on that account since it is not necessary to have balance within a program.

Indeed, the expression of a point of view in and of itself does not immediately characterize a program as unfair and discriminatory.  In evaluating the presence of balance in its overall programming, the Panel concluded that:

No suggestion has been made that, in the remainder of its programming, CFYI-AM does not offer the necessary balance to the conservative Christian perspective of Focus on the Family and that is the issue.  The conservative expression should not be penalized but is equally part and parcel of presenting balanced points of view.  Had the discussion become confrontational, abusive, or predatory, the Panel would likely have come to a different conclusion.  It did not.  There is no breach on this account.

Canada's private broadcasters have created industry standards in the form of Codes dealing with gender portrayal, violence and ethical issues such as human rights by which they expect the members of their profession will abide.  They have also established the CBSC, the self-regulatory body responsible for the administration of  those professional  Codes, as well as the Radio and Television  News Directors Code dealing with journalistic practices.  More than 470 Canadian radio and television stations and specialty services are members of the Council.

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Ottawa, August 31, 2001 — The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released two decisions (one decision concerning CKCK-TV and the other decision concerning CKY-TV) concerning the broadcast of promotional spots by CTV owned and operated station CKCK-TV (Regina) and affiliate station CKY-TV (Winnipeg).  The promo broadcast by both CKCK-TV and CKY-TV was for the CTV television series The Sopranos.  The other broadcast by CKY-TV was for the feature film City Hall, a CTV movie-of-the-week and the other aired by CKCK-TV was an advertisement for the theatrical feature film The Watcher.  All the promos were aired prior to the Watershed hour, 9 p.m. local time.

In the Sopranos promo, the audience saw Tony Soprano, the principal character, repeatedly punching a man already on the ground and then another unidentified person was seen being executed by gunshot.  The Prairie Regional Panel considered the promo under the Voluntary Code regarding Violence in Television Programming.  In the CKY-TV decision, the Panel concluded that the content of the promo (which was considered entirely separately from the content of the series) was suitable for adult audiences.

While, due to constraints of time, it is not as graphic or lengthy as in the actual program, the violence is unequivocally present and aggressive.  The Panel has no hesitation in concluding that it is of the variety of violence that ought to play in a post-Watershed time frame.

Reaffirming this conclusion in CKCK-TV's broadcast of the same promo, the Panel also noted that “the rule is that, pre-Watershed, the promos must not be intended for adults; however, it is not required that they be so refined that they fall into the same more precise rating category as the show within which they are shown.  That would constitute an impossibly difficult situation for the broadcaster traffic departments and is unnecessary, as long as the broader Watershed provisions are respected.”  Consequently, the Panel found that, by scheduling a program promo containing scenes of violence intended for adult audiences before 9 pm, both CKY-TV and CKCK-TV breached Article 3.2 of the Violence Code.

The advertisement for the film The Watcher included brief scenes invoking fear more than violence such as a close-up of a woman screaming for her life, another frightened woman hiding under a car and the same woman being yanked from under the car apparently about to be murdered.  The promo for City Hall included a scene of a man about to be shot, a gun wrapped in a newspaper and an obscured dead body floating in a lake.

The Prairie Regional Panel also considered these promos/advertisements under the Violence Code.  The Panel concluded that “the trailer [for The Watcher] contained no actual violence and very little material that could remotely be described as frightening” and that the promo for City Hall did not “contain any elements of violence which would relegate it exclusively to a post-Watershed viewing period.  There are, in fact, no acts of violence in the promo although there are suggestions of violence”.  Consequently, the Panel concluded that neither station was in breach of the Violence Code with respect to the broadcast of these promotional/advertising spots.

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 31, 2001  — The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning the broadcast by Showcase Television of the Canadian film Rats, whose story followed the course of a down-and-out documentary filmmaker's growing obsession with the rodents.  A viewer complained that, upon tuning in to Showcase, she saw an explicit sexual scene between a man and a woman which she deemed inappropriate for early evening broadcast.  The  National Specialty Services Panel considered the film under the Canadian Association of Broadcasters' (CAB) Violence Code.

The Panel first considered whether either of the two lovemaking scenes in the film Rats could be characterized as being “intended for adult audiences,” the criterion which triggers the application of the Watershed provision of the Violence Code.  Referring to previous CBSC decisions and noting that, in this case, the depictions of sexual activity do not include nudity, the Panel stated that

it is sexual activity and not nudity that drives the “adult” characterization.  It is entirely clear that a scene may be sufficiently sexually explicit without nudity that it ought to be accessible to adults to the exclusion of younger family members.  The Panel considers that the second love-making scene in Rats, which lasted for 1 minute and 25 seconds, falls into that category.  It is not merely a romantic encounter or suggestive.  It is erotic, actively demonstrative, extended, and climactic.  It is  inappropriate for airing at 7 pm.  

The Panel concluded that, by broadcasting a movie with sexual scenes intended for adults in the early evening, at 7:00 p.m., rather than after the Watershed hour of 9:00 p.m., Showcase had breached the scheduling provision of the Violence Code.

With respect to the broadcaster's use of viewer advisories, the Panel concluded that Showcase had failed to abide by Clause 5 of the Violence Code: “first, by providing an initial detailed advisory which did not fit with the movie in question [it referred to nudity when there was none and not to sexuality at all] and second, by not providing any useful information in the subsequent viewer advisories following each commercial break.”  The Panel noted that viewer advisories are an essential component of the private broadcasters' panoply of tools to assist viewers in making informed choices as to what they wish to watch or consider appropriate for those in their families to watch.  Consequently, the broadcaster's presentation of the viewer advisories following each commercial break in audio format only and without reference to the actual content was “insufficient to address the full responsibility of the broadcaster in providing fair warning to its potential viewers.”

Finally, the Panel found the PG rating inappropriate for the film in question.  In the Panel's view, the 14+ classification which provides that the program “might include scenes of nudity and/or sexual activity within the context of narrative or theme” is more apt.  Moreover, by failing to show the classification icon at the beginning of the second hour of the film, the Panel finds the broadcaster in breach of clause 4 of the Violence 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 29, 2001  — The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning two episodes of the Howard Stern Show on CILQ-FM (Toronto).  The CBSC acted on two complaints, one from an individual concerning one episode and one from MediaWatch enumerating examples of offensive programming after a month of monitoring the show.  The  complainants expressed concern about sexist and racist comments.  These included Stern's expression of his views on immigration, a segment on the extent to which a Playboy Playmate was prepared to go to appear on the show and Stern's “verbal assault” of a call-in listener.  The Ontario Regional Panel considered the comments under the Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB) Code of Ethics and Sex-Role Portrayal Code.

The Panel found that Stern's discussion of immigration did not constitute unduly discriminatory comment because it was nothing more than the expression of Stern's political opinion.  Contrary to the complainant's contention, the Panel found that Stern had “made no comment whatsoever suggesting that American citizens of other national or ethnic groups be stripped of their citizenship and returned to their countries of origin.  He does not wish new immigrants.  It is a defensible view in terms of the freedom of expression.”

As to the allegations of sexist and degrading comments, the Panel found that the”suggestions” made by Stern to the manager of a Playmate eager to appear on the Show had gone too far. The Panel concluded that “the cumulative effect of the suggestions that the Playmate smell underwear, be rolled up naked in a rug and forced to ride in an elevator, eat a carrot in Stern's lap while she is naked and eat food out of a dog dish while naked is demeaning and degrading in the extreme.”  In the view of the Panel, these comments are in breach of Clause 4 of the Sex-Role Portrayal Code and cannot be “‘gotten away with' on Canadian airwaves.”

Moreover, Stern's treatment of a caller who had phoned in to exclaim her disapproval of the Playmate dialogue also went too far according to the Panel.  Stern had reacted, among other things, by suggesting that the caller “eat a taco out of [his] crotch”, calling her a “big fat cow”, then a “fat, ugly girl who can't get squat”, suggesting she had a mustache, accusing her of living in an apartment with cockroaches and so on.  The Panel concluded that “the comments of the host are both racist and sexist.  These comments are not borderline.  They are extreme.  They have no place on the airwaves in this country.”

Finally, the Panel addressed the issue of repetitive breaches.  The Panel agreed that “objectionable comments are unacceptable.  The [editing] process is not part-time; it is not designed to permit occasional breaches of the Codes.”  The Panel noted, however, that there is “considerable material flowing out of the New York studio where the show originates” and that the CBSC receives edit logs on a daily basis which indicate just what and how much dialogue is excised by CILQ-FM day-in and day-out.  The Panel further took into account the fact that new corporate owners assumed management of the broadcaster only two business days prior to the dates of the challenged broadcasts.  The Panel considered the drop in complaints received since the new corporate ownership to be a “promising sign” but required that the broadcaster provide a written explanation of further steps which it will put in place to ensure that such “gaps” as occurred on July 12 will not recur.

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 470 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