Broadcast of F-Word before 9:00 pm Breaches Broadcast Standards, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, August 16, 2005 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning the broadcast of the movie RKO 281 on the specialty service Bravo! at 2:00 pm Eastern Time on November 20, 2004. The broadcast contained numerous utterances of the f-word and other coarse language. The CBSC National Specialty Services Panel concluded that the broadcast contravened Clause 10 of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics, which requires that programs containing “coarse or offensive language intended for adult audiences” be broadcast only after 9:00 pm.

The made-for-television movie RKO 281 is a dramatized account of the events leading up to, and the writing and production of, the 1941 feature film Citizen Kane by Orson Welles and RKO Studios. It traces Welles’ development of the movie and the opposition to it by newspaper publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst, who was, by all accounts, the inspiration for Citizen Kane. The broadcast contained a number of instances of unedited coarse language, including the f-word and variations thereof. A viewer complained that he had come across this movie while searching the dial for cartoons as he was babysitting a neighbour’s child. He questioned whether such language was appropriate for broadcast on a Saturday afternoon.

The National Specialty Services Panel examined the complaint under Clause 10 (Television Broadcasting) of the CAB Code of Ethics which states that “programming which contains sexually explicit material or coarse or offensive language intended for adult audiences shall not be telecast before the late viewing period, defined as 9 pm to 6 am.” The Panel noted that Bravo! did include viewer advisories during the broadcast but, based on previous CBSC decisions, the Panel concluded that the presence of the f-word in RKO 281 necessitated a post-9:00 pm time slot, “or, if the broadcaster prefers, the bleeping, editing out or muting of the offending words. And the foregoing rule applies to all conventional or specialty service broadcasters […]. Even though [Bravo!], and the other specialty services […], are all ‘available on a discretionary basis … not an over-the-air free television service,’ there is no separate differentiated codified standard currently applicable in terms of the use of coarse or offensive language.”

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 550 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