CFPL-TV re episodes of Hercules: The Legendary Journeysand Xena: Warrior Princess

ONTARIO REGIONAL COUNCIL
A. MacKay (Chair), R. Stanbury (Vice-Chair), R. Cohen (ad hoc),P. Fockler, M. Hogarth and M. Ziniak

THE FACTS

On February 7, 1999, beginning at 4 pm, CFPL-TV (London) aired
back-to-back episodes of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior
Princess
, both of which are tongue-in-cheek action-packed fantasy shows, loosely based
in Greek mythology. In the particular episode of Hercules viewed by the Council,
the legendary hero travels to a parallel universe where he meets his “evil”
twin. The twin is in love with “The Empress”, a provocatively dressed, ruthless
and impetuous woman who likes to feel her power and who harbours a desire to conquer the
world. The twin is stabbed early on in the episode, leaving the real Hercules to take his
place and attempt to set things right. His efforts to do so force him to take on Aries,
the God of War, in battle, to escape from a large dragon snake and to fight the Empress
herself.

Not surprisingly, there are many scenes depicting violent acts in the
program, but most of these are presented as acrobatic and often as humourous moments. On
the few occasions in which any blood is shown, the scenes do not include the actual
infliction of the wound or the physical wound itself, but rather blood on peripheral
objects to suggest the wound. Examples include the filming of “blood” on a rock
next to which lies the unconcious twin and, later in the show, the knife which killed the
evil twin is shown covered in blood. In addition to scenes including elements of violence,
there are other scenes with obvious sexual overtones and some which merely suggest sexual
activity. While these scenes are often provocative, they are not graphic.

In the episode of Xena viewed by the Council, Xena and her
friend Gabrielle travel to an unknown place which at first impression appears to be
“heaven on earth”. It turns out to be quite the contrary, however, as Xena
discovers that “Aidan”, the guardian of this peaceful world, is “sapping
the goodness” from her friend Gabrielle. The unstable nature of this heaven brings
out Xena’s “dark side” which she struggles to suppress. As Xena’s dark
side emerges, old wounds reappear, her appearance changes and she has visions of Gabrielle
dead. Xena must fight the powerful Aidan to free her friend and regain her old self. There
are fewer fighting scenes in Xena than in Hercules but the violence depicted
in Xena is slightly more realistic and some scenes which depict the aftermath of
violence, whether actual or in flashbacks, could be characterized as disturbing to young
children.

Both programs were rated PG by the broadcaster.

On February 8, a viewer wrote to CFPL-TV stating that:

In our daily routine TV hasbecome quite an issue of discussion over the last number of months, resulting in ouracquiring a new wing-ding TV with VCR built in and rabbit-ear antennae. But with crystalclear colour it becomes clear to me just how shoddy the programming is in this fair city.Your station, being of the venerable Blackburn Vintage with host GM Fair-thee-well fellow,Bill Brady and all, bears singular responsibility for presenting good, fair, wholesomenews, and family viewing, and I might add, timely community news events, which you do sovery very well.

Now let’s take yesterday, Sunday, as an example! My son and Iwatched first Hercules, and then Xena, running from approximately 4 pm towell past 6 pm conflicting directly with the ‘wholesome’ Disney hour. The usual,ups and downs of family life, boy and dad (Chevy Chase out camping, parodying IndianTribal customs, head dresses Tomahawk et al.). Then my boy, remote in hand, flips to Xena.Contrast!! I have summarized this as well as I could, and I was not able to capture itperfectly:

HERCULES: warrior tough guy with Empress queen all in short shortcrimson, thick lips & made up. Lying in bed, tongue… Rolling with sweaty swarthy godfriend of Herc, Venus??, but still under covers, panting and saying again, again. She(wore) only the barest of crimson body corset, down to hip bone only. Then in quicksuccession, 1/2 second shot of crotch from feet upward. Nothing but thighs and a dark V tobe seen. Then a shot from behind, low between her ankles, bearded guy on the floor withViking cap, looking up into… More panting. Then a sword, then back to cool hand Herc”I always consider this to the cross-roads of my life”. In castle passageways.Sparks fly. Somebody teleports through wall, lands on back, (not Herc always on hisfeet)… On and [on] it goes!!

Then comes XENA: Big come-on first. No credits, no information onlycool hand Lukes!! Horse mounted no saddle, and Gabrielle, her girl in tow!

Xena, warrior princess, with companion Gabrielle, visit a meditationguru in ‘Tibetan castle with circular stone window opening on snow capped peak’.He muses and ruses about inner strength, the world in palm of your hand and‘Poof’ there it telematerializes… Next a scene in the grass, Xena’scompanion and she awakens, round thigh, a head, then toes, then armour and shields andleather. (A perfect 69?) Awakening normal conversation. Next scene a gash high in thethigh blood, no puss, she sews herself up, no sound only grim determination. Gabriellewinces and looks on… Then a drop of blood on the foot sole. Grim conversation… Next toa warm mineral bath, just the two women, a gentle shoulder massage while they plot warstrategy. Next: The Guru intones “Will you stay the night?” “I guess wecould” from hesitant Gabrielle. Soon back to blood it goes back and forth. Thensuddenly an enormous burst of flame from Xena’s mouth, huge conflagration, “Takethat you…” Auschwitz? Quickly next a tunnel of death with no light as consolation.(At least Herc’s tunnel has light). A fading scream, a throw, a low mean moan (notmiss a beat, what a great treat. With horses and violence and leather and thighs.

Then suddenly it hits me: “What is going on here? These programsare insidious”!! Greek myths, as you know, are violent, very very violent. ButS&M for kids? On Prime Sunday afternoon children’s time… Do I need to elaboratefurther? Ok I will!

Clash! Spinning clashing circular knives, crash of swords, not evengroan but oh what a moan, then on her feet and away on high and off with his head and highin the sky. Another splash, and thundering chill and my oh my… Why oh why?Children’s stuff? My Ass!!

Flash back time: Turquoise lightning blitz! A mummied [sic]woman lies on the ground. Bound and gagged, one second. A while later repeat. This time awounded ankle. Flash to the hammer held high in the sky, just about to strike on a spikepressed into the ankle, raw flesh!! 1 second long. (Porn Images Here!!)

One hour later after son’s bedtime: I come upstairs my son, aftergoing to bed, but now in our room in a sleeping bag by our bedside, is being cradled in mywife’s comforting arms, sobbing: “Mommy I just want to die. I just want todie… Just take a knife and put through me (meaning my heart) so I can die.” Bothare sobbing, clutching each other. Then wife says, almost desperately:

“Honey I couldn’t live without you. I couldn’t.”

“No. Mommy, I want to die.” Says my son

“No, I mean that, honey, I couldn’t I really couldn’tlive without you.”

Silence.

I am writing in reponse to your letterof February 8 … regarding your concerns about two programs we aired on Sunday, Ferbruary7, 1999 at 4pm and 5pm, Hercules and Xena, respectively. I am also in receipt ofnotification from the CRTC and CBSC that they too are in possession of this samecorrespondance.

As we discussed in some detail during our face to face meeting, onMonday, February 8, 1999, The New PL takes the issues surrounding violence and sexualityon television very seriously. Our expressed mandate is to provide a broad cross-section ofprogramming material specifically catering to the viewing wishes of the residents ofSouthwestern Ontario. In our selection process, we strictly adhere to the CAB VoluntaryCode Rergarding Violence in Television Programming and the CAB Sex Role Portrayal Code,guidelines recognized by both the CRTC and the CBSC. Using these national codes as ourbase, however, we scrutinize our programming further to take into consideration the uniquesensitivities of our broadcast region to ensure that every effort is made to deliver thebest possible service to our viewers. In addition, we also support the Canadian programclassification system prepared by the Action Group on Violence on Television (AGVOT). Ourprogram philosophy combines recognition of community sensitivities with providing viewersa clear advance understanding of program content. We are confident that sharing theresponsibility for program content with the community, by allowing individuals to makeinformed choices, will lead to us successfully fulfilling our mandate. Your raising theseconcerns with us is also part of this same process.

If I may sum up your letter, you feel strongly that Hercules and Xenaare too violent and sexually explicit to be aired in the afternoon. You go as far as tosay these programs are specifically directed at young children and pose the rhetoricalquestion, “S&M for kids?” In fact, it is our assertion that both theseprograms are meant for an audience consisting primarily of older children, teens andadults. For this reason, we schedule them in late afternoon, when this target group isavailable, as opposed to earlier in the day. Hercules and Xena mergestorylines and characters from mythology, history and present day actuality to createclearly fictional action/adventure programming. We provide a PG AGVOT rating at thebeginning of each progam (during the first fifteen to twenty seconds) indicating parentalguidance should be exercised because they do contain some conflict, aggression andinferred sexuality, and also because the complexity of the themes and storylines maypossibly confuse young viewers and require interpretation. The definition of the PG AGVOTis quoted herein:

“This programming, whileintended for a general audience, may not be suitable for younger children (under the ageof 8). Parents/guardians should be aware that there might be content elements which somecould consider inappropriate for unsupervised viewing by children in the 8-13 agerange.” The guidelines go on to state: “Any depiction of conflict and/oraggression will be limited and moderate; it might include physical, fantasy, orsupernatural violence. Any such depictions should not be pervasive, and must be justifiedwithin the context of theme, storyline or character development.”

Recognizing the content in these twoprograms, and with this advisory in place, both Hercules and Xena areappropriate for airplay late Sunday afternoon, a prime family viewing period. I havescreened the two episodes you have specifically identified and find the content consistantwith those aired previously. The programs are produced with very high standards, both inthe writing and production, which is reflected in the over eighty thousand viewers thatwatch the shows, each week. While I respect your personal objections to Herculesand Xena, we feel the handful of complaints received to date does not justifydenying this substantial audience the opportunity to watch the shows at a time they findconvenient.

As you can see by my response, we strongly endorse and promote themonitoring of children’s viewing habits by parents and guardians. In your letter youindicate you viewed both these programs with your son and I commend you for this effort.To assist you in future viewing, I have enclosed an excerpt form the Broadcaster’sAGVOT Manual that may assist you in the interpretation of ratings you are seeing onCanadian English-Language television programming services. You have also indicated yourdesire to pursue studies on the issues of overt violence and sexuality in society. Duringour discussion, I informed you of our support of media literacy and suggested you might,as a starting point, contact two independent organizations we provide funding to, theJesuit Communications Project and the Association for Media Literacy of Ontario. Iunderstand form Father John Pungente, who heads up the JCP, that you have been in touchwith him and he has been of some assistance.

Mr. …, I trust I have clearly conveyed our rationale for airing thesetwo programs on The New PL. I also hope you have been convinced of our commitment toprovide programming which reflects this community’s standards of acceptability andaccessibility. We heavily promote ourselves as being responsive to viewers and are firm inthe belief that listening to concerns such as yours can only lead to continual improvementin programming. Thank you for taking time to raise this matter with us. If you requireclarification or wish to discuss it further, please feel free to write me.

1.1 Canadian broadcasters shall not airprogramming which:

  • contains gratuitous violence in anyform*

  • sanctions, promotes or glamorizesviolence

(*”Gratuitous” means material which does not play an integralrole in developing the plot, character or theme of the material as a whole).

Television and radio programmingshall refrain from the exploitation of women, men and children. Negative or degradingcomments 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 shouldnot be degrading to either sex. The sexualization of children through dress or behaviouris not acceptable.

While the broadcaster did not provideany information as to the violent or sexual content of the Coroner episode inquestion, the Council notes that, in the circumstances, it was not required to do so. Inthe Council’s view, the violent and sexual component of the episode was suggestedrather than manifest or blatant and that, consequently, the broadcast in question did nottrigger the application of Clause 5.2 of the Violence Code, which requires that”broadcasters … provide a viewer advisory at the beginning of, and duringprogramming telecast outside of late evening hours, which contains scenes of violence notsuitable for children”.

In this case, the Council finds that some of the scenes of violence contained in Xena: Warrior Princess, especially the scenes of Xena stitching up a large wound on her leg, of the “visions” of Gabrielle’s death and of the people on crosses, or Xena’s battle with Aidan and his rapid decomposition when pierced by Xena’s sword, were unsuitable for children and a viewer advisory should have been provided to that effect. By failing to provide any advisories, CFPL-TV has breached Clause 5.2 of the Violence Code.

The Council does not find that any of the scenes in Hercules trigger the application of Clause 5.2.

Broadcaster Responsiveness

In addition to assessing the relevance of the Codes to the complaint, the CBSC always assesses the responsiveness of the broadcaster to the substance of the complaint. In this case, the Council considers that the broadcaster’s response addressed at considerable length and with much thoughtfulness all of the issues raised by the complainant. Moreover, the broadcaster had arranged a face-to-face meeting to canvass the complainant’s concerns. Consequently, the broadcaster has amply satisfied the Council’s standard of responsiveness. Nothing more is required.

CONTENT OF THE BROADCASTER ANNOUNCEMENT

The station is required to announce this decision forthwith, in the following terms, during prime time and, within the next thirty days, to provide confirmation of the airing of the statement to the CBSC and to the complainants who filed a Ruling Request.

The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has found that CFPL-TV has breached a provision of the Canadian Association of Broadcaster’s Violence Code in its broadcast of the program Xena: Warrior Princess on February 7, 1999. In the Council’s view, the episode contained scenes of violence unsuitable for children, which necessitated the inclusion of a viewer advisory to that effect. By failing to include such an advisory, CFPL-TV has breached the requirement set out in Clause 5.2 of the Violence Code.