Broadcast of Violence Inappropriate for Children before 9 pm Requires Advisories But Coarseness of Language Will Be Judged by Local Standards

Ottawa, Sept. 12, 2003 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning two VRAK.TV broadcasts, one of an episode of Charmed (the French version of the episode titled “Dead Man Dating”) and the other of a French promotional spot for Godzilla. One complainant protested the unnecessary violence in the episode of Charmed and the other complainant was concerned about the use in Godzilla of language he found offensive. The CBSC's Quebec Regional Panel concluded that the episode of Charmed breached Article 5.2 of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters' (CAB) Violence Code regarding viewer advisories. With respect to the Godzilla promotion, the Panel found that the broadcaster did not violate either the special children's programming rules of the Violence Code or the Watershed requirements applicable to the use of offensive language in the CAB Code of Ethics.

The episode of Charmed began with a viewer advisory and a 13+ classification icon. The icon was rebroadcast following each commercial break; the advisory never reappeared. The action began with the shooting of a young man, whose ghost rose from his body and watched the killers pour gasoline over the corpse and set it afire. Otherwise, there was little else of a violent nature in the episode. The Quebec Panel found that, while some of the violence may have been shocking to young viewers, it was essential to the plot development and not gratuitous. Moreover, while the Panel found the episode “far from being exclusively intended for adult audiences,” it concluded that it was inappropriate for young children. Consequently, while VRAK.TV could air the episode prior to 9:00 pm, it needed to do so with appropriate audience alerts:

In the matter at hand, the Panel considers that the level of violence, while certainly not extreme, is inappropriate for young children. […] The broadcaster as much as acknowledged that fact by including an advisory at the start of the program. It should be noted that the Panel's conclusion applies to the specific episode considered here and only to such other episodes of Charmed (or other programs) as may include comparable content. Such decisions regarding the provision of viewer information must be made from time to time as they may be called for by the content of individual episodes. […] VRAK.TV appears to have confused the required frequency of icons and advisories […] In the result, the viewer advisories were not repeated following each commercial break. Consequently, VRAK.TV has breached Article 5.2 of the CAB Violence Code.

In Godzilla, the French animated promotion showed frightened people escaping from a huge snake and yelling for help; it contained panels on which allegedly coarse and offensive words were written. The complainant indicated that these words were offensive and not proper in France, his land of origin. In this case, the Panel concluded that, while the words used in the Godzilla promo may well be offensive in France, they “are trivial and insignificant in the Canadian context and certainly do not rise to the level of a breach of the Code clauses [4 and 10].” The Panel explained that the standards to apply for judging coarse language are set by the community that the broadcaster serves. It stated:

Content appreciation is a local, not an international, question. Standards relating to coarse or offensive language or other such issues will be judged in local, not international, terms. This is not to say that the same view on a particular point may not be universally held. It may, of course, but it is local sensibilities which are germane and by which the matter in each instance must be judged. It is, after all, on that basis that the Codes were developed in the first place. The job of broadcasters in respecting the breadth of local tastes and concerns is difficult enough. The skills they apply in this regard must be finely honed. It would be unreasonable that they also be held to standards from outside their expected audience ambit.

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 530 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