CFMT-TV re an episode of the Jerry Springer Show

ONTARIO REGIONAL COUNCIL
(CBSC Decision 98/99-1092)
A. MacKay (Chair), R. Stanbury (Vice-Chair),P. Fockler, M. Hogarth, and S. Whiting

THE FACTS

The episode of the Jerry Springer
Show in question, entitled “I'm Dumping My Lover!”, aired at 10
pm on June 9, 1999 on CFMT-TV (Toronto). It was preceded by the following
on-screen viewer advisory: “The Jerry Springer Show may contain adult
themes or strong language. Parents are cautioned that this program may not be
appropriate for children.” It should be noted, in the opening words to the
decision regarding this episode, that, unlike the case of episodes dealt with by
the Atlantic and Quebec Regional Councils in CIHF-TV and CKMI-TV re The Jerry
Springer Show
(CBSC Decision 97/98-1277, May 28, 1999), this episode
contained no physical violence component whatsoever.

As is customary, the various guests on
this episode of the show had sexual or relationship stories to recount. Since
the accounts of three of the four guests were neither the subject of the
complaint nor raised any particular concerns for the Regional Council, they will
not be described here or dealt with in the decision. Suffice it to say that they
generally raise bizarre, abnormal and antisocial behaviour patterns on the part
of the show's guests.

Insofar as the particular issue which
was the subject of the complainant's letter is concerned, “Jessica”,
the guest, is “disgusted by her boyfriend's fetish”. Apparently,
“Lance” gets aroused by throwing up on Jessica during sex. Although
she is disgusted by the practice, she claims not to want to leave Lance because
she loves him. Then Lance comes onto the stage and describes how and why he
throws up. The audience is then introduced to “Octavia”, Lance's new
lover, who apparently shares Lance's fetish. She is greeted on stage by Lance
who proceeds to vomit on her. The two lovers are seen covered in green bile. As
the three guests talk, the camera periodically focuses on the green bile
splattered on the set.

The complainant registered his concerns
about the show in an e-mail of June 10, which was sent to the CRTC and forwarded
to the Council in due course. (The full text of the complaint can be found in
the Appendix to this decision.) After describing the segment in question, the
complainant stated:

While I find the Jerry Springer showdistasteful in general, I found that this particular segment to be disgusting,repulsive, degrading and dehumanizing, and for these reasons I believe theshow to be in contravention of Canadian broadcast standards. If the Springershow can show this, what will they show next? Urination? Defecation?

The Executive Vice President of CFMT-TV,
who responded to the complainant on July 7, did not actually treat the
individual concern relating to the vomiting fetish in any more detail than this.

We agree with your basic point ofview that the topic of the program was in bad taste and stretched theboundaries of even late night television.

He added some more general comments
relating to the station's concerns about the show itself which are relevant to
this decision. (The full text of the letter is available in the Appendix to this
decision.)

As a result of this particularbroadcast, CFMT has decided to put “The Jerry Springer Show” underserious review beginning with the Fall season 1999 for 90 days of evaluation.

You may or may not know that thedistributors and producers of the program have made a commitment at this timeto alter the direction of the content of the program. …

These two developments have made”The Jerry Springer Show” very much a watch file for our programmingpeople and we will be waiting for these results to make our decision. …

Inasmuch as CFMT takes your points toheart and the program will be under additional scrutiny this fall, we mustpoint out that the program has a reputation for being “over thetop,” outrageous and somewhat sensational. However it does not contravenethe CBSC standards and is run after the 9 p.m. watershed hour for adultthemes. We also ran the appropriate disclaimers at the beginning of theprogram in accordance with CBSC standards.

We know “The Jerry SpringerShow” is not to everyone's taste but many, many viewers are loyal andconsider it entertainment.

The complainant was unsatisfied with
the broadcaster's response and requested, on July 19, that the CBSC refer the
matter to the Ontario Regional Council for adjudication.

THE DECISION

The Ontario Regional Council considered
the matter under Clause 6(3) of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB)
Code of Ethics
and Clause 4 of the CAB Sex-Role Portrayal Code. The
Regional Council members viewed tapes of the programs in question and reviewed
all of the correspondence. The Council does not consider that the program in
question is in breach of either of the foregoing Codes.

The Content of the Program

While the previous decision of the
Atlantic and Quebec Regional Councils in CIHF-TV and CKMI-TV re The Jerry
Springer Show
(CBSC Decision 97/98-1277, May 28, 1999) ultimately turned on
the question of violence, which is not at issue here, the Ontario Regional
Council does consider that there is some relevance in citing a part of that
decision which it believes pertains equally to the episode of the show which
they were required to review.

The situations in which the show'sinvitees find themselves, at least in the shows complained of, generallyrevolve around bizarre sexual relationships, if not improprieties in generalsocietal terms. … There are aspects of the shows which are … suggestivebut, in the view of the Councils, they do not extend beyond that. This is notto say that the Councils approve of the content of the shows or consider themappropriate for young people but only that, in general, the subject matterdealt with does not fall afoul of any of the private broadcaster Codes.Indeed, to the extent that the Councils are troubled by the subject matter, itresults primarily from their concern that the broadcasting of such aberrantbehaviour as generally characterizes the show has the effect of desensitizingthe viewers (of any age) to the disregard of normative social behaviour. Whilethis may be a regrettable result, it does not constitute a breach of any Code.

As this Council said in The Comedy
Network re The Tom Green Show (CBSC Decision 98/99-0291, June 17, 1999), in
which the prop of a dead pigeon was used as the source of humour for the host on
that occasion,

While The Tom Green Show may be unpalatable for some, it may also be meeting the special likes and desiresof others. That is a question to be determined, on the one hand, by thebroadcaster in its decision to put the show on the air and by the viewer, onthe other hand, in deciding to watch or not watch the program.

In this case, the Council does not find
that the complainant's characterization of the episode in question is
exaggerated when he observes “this particular segment to be disgusting,
repulsive, degrading and dehumanizing,” but this is not the determinative
issue for the Council in the assessment of the broadcast in question. In the
conflict between bad taste and free speech, the Council always comes down
on the side of speech. See e.g. CHOM-FM and CILQ-FM re The Howard Stern Show
(CBSC Decision 97/98-0001+, October 17-18, 1997). Consequently, however bizarre
the guest's behaviour may have been, the Ontario Regional Council adopts the
view of the Atlantic and Quebec Regional Councils in concluding that it does not
amount to a breach of any of the broadcast Codes which the CBSC administers.
Such electronic exemplification of social misfits may not add to society's
knowledge base but such questions of judgment and taste must be left to the
viewer to subscribe to or reject on his or her own.

The Applicability of the Sex-Role Portrayal Code

Although not raised as a principal
issue by the complainant, the Ontario Regional Council has considered the
question of the prohibition of negative and degrading comments as laid down in
Article 4 of the CAB Sex-role Portrayal Code. In this respect, it views
the finding of the Prairie Regional Council in CKX-TV re National Lampoon's
Animal House
(CBSC Decision 96/97-0104, December 16, 1997) as apt.

While the portrayal of the women inthe film is not overly flattering, it cannot either be said that the portrayalof the men is any better or advantages them in any way. All in all, thepresentation of almost every one of this group of young college people is asunflattering as one might expect from a film emphasizing the frivolous,narcissistic, often gross, occasionally disgusting portrait of collegefraternity life which can best be characterised as high farce. The question ofportrayal inequality does not come into play.

The demeaning nature of the acts and
words of the participants is equally administered, from a gender and sexual
orientation perspective and any resulting harm is largely, if not wholly,
self-inflicted.

Some Special Circumstances in this Case

It is not customary for the Council to
take note of events arising between the time of a complaint and the meeting
giving rise to a decision, on the one hand, and the date of drafting, on the
other. In this case, however, the broadcaster had itself indicated in its letter
of response that it was, in effect, putting the show on probation for the fall
season. In the circumstances, the Ontario Regional Council considers it relevant
to note that, in the intervening three weeks since the date of the Ontario
Regional Council meeting and the release of this decision text, the broadcaster
has made the following public announcement (on November 30):

CFMT Television announced today thateffective December 20, 1999 , back-to-back situation comedies Newsradioand Frasier will replace The Jerry Springer Show … CFMT-TV'sfinal broadcast of Springer will air December 17, 1999 at 10:00 p.m.

The Jerry SpringerShow under review since the beginning of the fall 1999 season, monitoringaudience numbers and the changing direction of its content. In recent weeks,the number of viewers tuning into Springer has decreased – comparedto audience figures from last season over the same time period.

The JerrySpringer Show at 10:00 p.m., well past the 9:00 p.m. “watershed”for adult-oriented material, it has chosen to voluntarily remove the programfrom its broadcast schedule. Springer no longer fits with plans themulticultural/multilingual broadcaster currently has in development.

CFMT-TV has reviewed with interest,recent decisions made by the Quebec and Atlantic Regional Councils of theCanadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) in connection with The JerrySpringer Show. CFMT is also aware that the CBSC is dealing with a furthercomplaint against Springer at the present time.

CFMT-TV actively supports the CBSC,and is a long-standing member. It fully embraces self-regulation and the CBSC'sbroadcast codes and standards. CFMT intends to continue to fully co-operatewith the Council.

In this sense, the broadcaster has, the
Council must assume, provided the ultimate solution to the complainant in
question. As the Council has often said in the past, such action on the part of
a broadcaster is not an admission of any breach of a Code but, among other
things, an example of responsiveness to its audience's concerns.

Broadcaster Responsiveness

The CBSC always recognizes the
broadcaster's obligation, as a CBSC member, to be responsive to complainants. In
this case, the Regional Council considers that the response from the broadcaster
to the complainant was fair and frank, among other things, in its declaration
that it had “decided to put The Jerry Springer Show under serious
review beginning with the Fall season 1999 for 90 days of evaluation.”
Moreover, by then taking the final step of removing the show from the air and
declaring publicly why it had chosen to do so, the broadcaster, as noted above,
has provided the ultimate response to the complainant. In the circumstances, it
is impossible to find a clearer example of the fact that the station was in more
than full compliance with the Council's standard of responsiveness.

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.