Broadcast of Controversial Movie Title (with f-word) Did Not Violate Code, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, March 4, 2009 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning an interview on CTV’s public affairs program Question Period broadcast on June 1, 2008 at noon.  The CBSC concluded that the presence of the f-word in written form (on a bottom of the screen crawl), which was a part of the title of the feature film being discussed, did not violate the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics.

On the June 1, 2008 episode, host Jane Taber interviewed the co-writer and director of the Canadian feature film Young People Fucking on the subject of Bill C-10, a federal law that would, if it had been adopted, deny tax credits to films deemed contrary to the public interest.  The controversial title of the film was not mentioned at any time during the interview; in fact, during the introduction to the interview, Taber stated that the movie’s title was “so explicit I can’t even say it on TV.”  She referred to it as “Young People Making Love”.  CTV did, however, put the caption “Martin Gero, Director ‘Young People Fucking’” (with the film’s title spelled out in full) periodically at the bottom of the screen to identify the interviewee.

A viewer complained that CTV had printed the full name of the film on screen during the interview.  The CBSC National Conventional Television Panel examined the complaint under Clause 10 of the CAB Code of Ethics, which states that coarse language intended for adult audiences shall not be broadcast outside the “Watershed” period of 9:00 pm to 6:00 am.  Although many previous CBSC decisions had determined that the utterance of the f-word and variations thereof would violate the Code when aired outside the Watershed, the Panel concluded that the circumstances of this broadcast constituted an exception to that rule.  It explained its reasoning in the following terms:

The word was not being used as a verb, adjective, adverb or even a reactive interjection.  It was […] the subject of discussion, rather than, in a sense, a participatory term during a discussion.  Moreover, it was the title of the controversial film being discussed, a cultural or artistic property germane to proposed Government legislation.  Although it was central and fundamental to the dialogue during Question Period, both the interviewer and the interviewee were thoughtful enough with respect to their audience not to say the word itself.  Instead, the broadcaster was discreet, relegating the word, in its title context, to printed form.  While it did appear periodically, it was no more present than the name of any director and his or her film’s title would have been.  […]  Nor did the broadcaster highlight the printed appearance of the potentially offensive title or draw any attention to it.  It was just, in the view of the Panel, there.  It was an exceptional, if not a unique, circumstance.  Moreover, the broadcaster handled it particularly well, thoughtfully and respectfully.

The Panel also decided that viewer advisories were not necessary in this case.

Canada’s private broadcasters have themselves created industry standards in the form of Codes on ethics, equitable portrayal, television violence and journalistic independence 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 ethics created by the RTNDA – Association of Electronic Journalists in 1970.  More than 720 radio stations, satellite radio services, 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