CFJP-TV (TQS) re été sensuel

QUEBEC REGIONAL COUNCIL
(CBSC Decision 95/96-0233)
Y. Chouinard (Vice-Chair), R. Cohen (ad hoc), M. Gervais, S. Gouin, P. Tancred

THE FACTS

Every Saturday night, Télévision Quatre Saisons (TQS) airs an erotic film under the series
title Bleu Nuit. On July 27, 1996 at 11:30 p.m., CFJP-TV (Montréal) broadcast Été
sensuel
. Suffice it to say, for the purposes of this decision, that there were many scenes
of sexual activity and considerable nudity during the course of the movie and that these
were manifest from the beginning of the film.

The film was preceded by the following on-screen viewer advisory: “[translation]
WARNING: This film contains erotic scenes that may not be suitable for young children.
Parental discretion is advised”. The advisory, which was also initially presented in audio
form, was repeated only once, at 12:15 a.m., when it was scrolled across the bottom of the
screen. A “13+” rating icon appeared on-screen at the start of the film and was repeated
at the first commercial break.

The Letter of Complaint

The complainant sent her letter of concern to the station on the day following the
broadcast.

[Translation] Could you please explain to me why you only present erotic movies. Why other
television stations respect people and you don't. On July 27th, 1996, at exactly 11:30 p.m.,
you presented the movie Été sensuel, which, by the way, you rated as 13+. That means that
a 13 year old child can see nude girls caressing boys throughout the entire movie and you
find this type of broadcast acceptable.

As a broadcaster, I consider that you are not facing up to your responsabilities and that you
are not very imaginative. Do you think that it's interesting to note that a television station
isn't able to respect women and that it uses this as a way to increase ratings? This is quite
simply disgusting.

You used to present these idiotic films once a month, and only as of 12:30 a.m. Not only are
you disrespectful of people like myself and of many other people, but you no longer respect
anything. Do you have the mandate to give the province of Québec its sexual education?

THE DECISION

The Broadcaster's Response

At the time of the meeting of the Quebec Regional Council at which this decision was
taken, the response of the broadcaster was missing. It appears from the CBSC file record
that a response may never have been sent by the broadcaster to the complainant but the
state of its older records is such that the Council cannot so conclude definitively. In the
particular circumstances of this file, the Quebec Regional Council does not draw any
conclusion from the absence of such a letter.

In any event, the complainant viewer filed a Ruling Request on August 30, thereby
requesting that the CBSC refer the matter to the appropriate Regional Council for
adjudication.

The Decision

The CBSC's Ontario Regional Council considered the complaint under the Sex-Role
Portrayal Code
of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB). Clause 4 of that Code
reads as follows:

(4) Exploitation:

Television and radio programming shall refrain from the exploitation of women, men and
children. Negative or degrading comments on the role and nature of women, men or
children in society shall be avoided. Modes of dress, camera focus on areas of the body
and similar modes of portrayal should not be degrading to either sex. The sexualization of
children through dress or behaviour is not acceptable.

Guidance: “Sex-ploitation” through dress is one area in which the sexes have traditionally
differed, with more women portrayed in scant clothing and alluring postures.

The Regional Council members viewed a tape of the program in question and reviewed
the complainant's letter. The Quebec Regional Council considers that the program does
not breach the Sex-Role Portrayal Code.

The Content of the Program

The Quebec Regional Council takes no issue with the assertion by the complainant that
the film in question is an erotic film. The only question, however, which it is called upon
to decide here is whether the film is exploitative. The other contentions of the complainant
which relate to whether this film or other such films are “idiotic” and whether or not the
broadcasting of such a film is “disrespectful of people like myself” are marketing questions.
They relate to the broadcaster's choice of material to air. If there is no breach of a Code
(or, of course, the Broadcasting Act or Regulations or other laws of the land), the
broadcaster is entitled to put the film on its airwaves. In a world which has become
increasingly oriented toward niche broadcasting, any station or network appreciates that
its choices will never appeal to everyone. This does not mean that such choices should
not be made but only that, in making such choices, the broadcaster knows that only some,
but not all, of the public will be pleased. It goes without saying that the broadcaster hopes
always to make the correct choices but, where no Code is breached, the viewer is always
free to go elsewhere. That is, in the end, the viewer's only option and it is, from society's
perspective, a fair option, provided that society's codified values have not been breached.

In the case of Été sensuel, the Council finds that there is none of the degradation of either
sex which would be characteristic of a film which could be classified as exploitative.
Fundamentally, the purpose of the Sex-Role Portrayal Code is to prevent “negative or
inequitable sex-role portrayal of persons” but not “the depiction of healthy sexuality”. The
Council considers that the treatment of sexuality in this film, while perhaps not of the
highest cinematic level, is not in breach of the Code.

The Question of Classification

The complainant also raised the question of the classification of the film as “13+”, which
she found insufficiently restrictive.

It should first be noted that, at the time of the broadcast of Été sensuel, there was no
formal CRTC requirement for broadcasters to employ a classification system.
Consequently, whatever ratings designation was broadcast was a voluntary provision of
additional information by TQS. The formal CRTC-mandated system did not come into
effect until September 1997, pursuant to the CRTC's “Classification System for Violence
in Television Programming” (Public Notice CRTC 1997-80, June 18, 1997). It should also
be noted that, while the thrust of the required policy was toward violence in television
programming, the Public Notice also provided the Commission's recognition that the
proposal of the Action Group for Violence on Television (AGVOT) went further.

The Commission notes AGVOT's intention to incorporate the violence classification system
into a comprehensive ratings system for television programs that will also include
information about such other content elements as coarse language, nudity and sex.

The Commission also noted that “AGVOT continues to work … on harmonizing its
classification system with the provincial ratings sysems used by pay television and pay-per-view services, and with the Régie du cinéma system used by French-language
broadcasters in Quebec.” Pursuant to that CRTC Policy, AGVOT had agreed, on behalf
of the industry, that the CBSC would, from September 1997, act “as an arbitrator in
disputes regarding the classification of television programs.” The film in question here
was, however, broadcast prior to the coming into effect of the CBSC's arbitration role for
such issues.

It should also be noted that the broadcaster employed the ratings classification for the
program which had been made in accordance with the terms of the “Classement des
oeuvres cinématographiques” of the Régie du Cinéma du Québec, which had determined
that the rating of 13 ans et plus was appropriate. In their decision of June 11, 1993, they
provided their reasons for the classification in the following terms:

[translation] The plot in this movie gets off to a slow start. At the outset, emphasis is put
on the creation of ambiance. A climate of well-being, of gentleness and tenderness reigns.
This atmosphere, particularly conducive to dreams, memories and fantasies, allows for
erotic scenes. In general, the descriptive treatment of these scenes is relatively
conventional. Furthermore, the overall theme of the movie conveys a perfectly moral
message. However, contact with this form of sensuality requires, on the part of the
spectator, the beginnings of maturity. The jury therefore rates this movie “13+” and requires
that the rating be accompanied by the word “erotic”.

These reasons may have more relevance when supplemented by the general terms
applicable to the various classifications in the Régie's document entitled “Film
Classification in Quebec”. In that respect, the Régie's terms of reference for films rated
“13+” are the following:

The developing sexuality of adolescents still in the troublesome puberty stage calls for a
certain restraint when classifying films in this category. Scenes of sexual intimacy of a
dominant nature, for example, or the portrayal of unconventional sexual relationships, may
not be suitable for this age group.

In order to fall into the “16+” category, the Régie's terms of reference provide:

Whatever the genre – comedy, suspense, drama – this sexual dimension, depending on its
importance, may often determine a classification of 16 years and over. Treatment, as
ever, is the ultimate consideration, each film being unique in its own right.

To fall into the “18+” category, “explicit sexual activity” would be required.

In summary, the broadcaster was voluntarily providing additional useful information to
viewers by presenting as an on-screen icon the rating bestowed on the film by the Régie
du cinéma. Since the period in which the rating was applied pre-dated the participation
of the CBSC in the classification arbitration process, the Council is not in a position to
question the rating given. (Nor, by that statement, should the Council be understood as
saying that it would have done so, had the film been broadcast after September 1997.)
In consequence, the Council considers that the broadcaster has, by providing both the
ratings icon and the viewer advisory (which in accordance with the decision of the Régie,
was accompanied by a reference to the presence of erotic scenes in the film) provided a
benefit to viewers. It would, as the Council has noted in other recent decisions, been
helpful to viewers generally to have the advisory repeated, at least in on-screen form, at
each commercial break during the first hour of the broadcast; however, this is not required
in the case of advisories not dealing with violent elements in a television broadcast.

Broadcaster Responsiveness

The CBSC always reviews the question of broadcaster responsiveness following the
discussion of the substantive issues raised by the broadcast in question; however, as
noted above, the Council is uncertain whether the absence of the broadcaster's response
in the file was due to the non-fulfilment by the broadcaster of its obligation or the
administrative fault of the Council itself. In the circumstances, it makes no comment on
this issue.

This decision is a public document upon its release by the Canadian Broadcast Standards
Council. It may be reported, announced or read by the station against which the complaint
had originally been made; however, in the case of a favourable decision, the station is
under no obligation to announce the result.