Broadcast of F-word at Live Event in Violation of Code

Ottawa, March 16, 2006 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning CTV’s broadcast of the Live 8 concert special on July 2, 2005.  One of the performing groups at the international concert event uttered the f-word, which was broadcast by CTV at midday.  The CBSC’s National Conventional Television Panel concluded that the unedited broadcast of the f-word during the day violated the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics.  The Panel also found CTV in violation of that Code for the broadcaster’s failure to air viewer advisories during the broadcast.

CTV provided live coverage of the concert event known as “Live 8”, which featured musical acts performing at venues around the world in order to raise awareness about world poverty.  The CBSC received a complaint from viewers in New Brunswick who were concerned that the performance by American pop-punk band Green Day had included the f-word.  They had seen the broadcast at 12:23 pm Atlantic Time.  CTV explained that it had not had time to prepare for the broadcast and put the necessary technical measures in place to avoid such an occurrence.

The National Conventional Television Panel noted that the CBSC has consistently stated that the f-word should not be broadcast before the industry-recognized “Watershed” hour of 9:00 pm and that the broadcast of coarse language must be accompanied by viewer advisories.  The Panel recognized that the broadcast was live, but nevertheless found CTV in violation of the CAB Code of Ethics.  It made the following comments:

The Panel considers that it would have been disingenuous on the part of CTV not to anticipate that there might be coarse language by one or another of the divergent mix of performing artists.  Even Seamus O’Regan, CTV’s own host, anticipated on-the-edge, if not over the edge, possibilities.  “What’s going to happen?  Who knows.  Throw out the rule book.  We have.”  CTV’s responsibility was not to throw out the rule book.   It was to plan for the avoidance of the occurrences already anticipated.  It could have done so.  It chose not to.  The eventuality became a reality.  The broadcast of the coarse language intended for adult audiences in the early afternoon constituted a breach of Clause 10(a) of the CAB Code of Ethics.

[…]

[T]he Panel considers that CTV had sufficient reason to anticipate that some “untoward” event would occur.  […]  It was, of course, possible that nothing of the sort might occur, in which case the advisories would have proved unnecessary, particularly coming out of every commercial break over the course of an unusually long program. […]  Ironically, had the offending language been edited out, there would be no requirement for the advisories discussed in this section; however, the unnecessary eventuality having come to pass, CTV does in the end also find itself in breach of its obligation to include viewer advisories in accordance with the terms of Clause 11(b) of the CAB Code of Ethics

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 590 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