Canadian Broadcast Standards Council Studies Use of N-Word in Subtitles

Ottawa, December 13, 2012 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning the use of the word “nigger” in English subtitles on a Spanish-language drama.  The CBSC Panel was evenly split on whether the word was acceptable in the context of the program.

TLN en Español broadcasts a Spanish-language telenovela called El cartel de los sapos.  The program is produced in Colombia and follows the lives of drug cartel members.  One of the cartel members is black and his friends refer to him by the nickname “el negro”.  English subtitles appear on the program and translate that term as “Nigger”.

The CBSC received a complaint from a viewer who wrote that “black man” would be a more accurate and appropriate translation than the derogatory “n-word”.  TLN en Español explained that the subtitling is done in Colombia, not North America, and the word is used in the program in a friendly way to designate one specific character, not to make derogatory remarks about an entire group.

The CBSC’s National Specialty Services Panel examined the complaint under Clause 9 of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Equitable Portrayal Code which requires broadcasters to avoid the use of derogatory or inappropriate terminology in references to individuals or groups based on race (among other categories).  The Panel also considered Clause 10 of that Code which acknowledges that some offensive language may be acceptable in certain program contexts.

Three adjudicators concluded that the “n-word” is unacceptable for broadcast, regardless of the context and even in subtitles.  Three other adjudicators concluded that a different translation would have been advisable, but there was no pejorative connotation to the word used in the particular context of this program.  Because the Panel was evenly split on the issue, TLN en Español was deemed not to have violated the Code.

The CBSC was created in 1990 by Canada’s private broadcasters to administer the codes of standards that they established for their industry.  The CBSC currently administers 7 codes which deal with ethics, equitable portrayal, violence, news and journalistic independence.  Nearly 760 radio stations, satellite radio services, television stations and specialty and pay television services 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