CHCH-TV re an episode of Baywatch

ONTARIO REGIONAL COUNCIL
(CBSC Decision 94/95-0045)
M. Barrie (Chair), A. MacKay (Vice-Chair), P. Fockler, T. Gupta, R. Stanbury

THE FACTS

Baywatch is a television series featuring lifeguards who, during each show, spend most
of their time on the beach. On November 14, 1994 at 8:00 p.m., CHCH-TV aired an
episode of Baywatch entitled “K-GAS, The Groove Yard of Solid Gold” which told the story
of a treasure hunt sponsored by a local radio station being held on the beach. The search
for clues leads many “hunters” to put themselves in danger, thereby requiring the
assistance of the lifeguards.

The episode in question focused on two of the lifeguards, a male and a female, who, in
lending their assistance, fall upon many of the clues in the treasure hunt and become
excited at the prospect of winning the prize money. This excitement sends the female
lifeguard into a “dream sequence”, a dramatic device familiar to watchers of the Baywatch
series. In this sequence, which is set to a mournful jazz song, she imagines herself first
as Marilyn Monroe (in the renowned photo of her flying skirt over a sidewalk grate), and
then posing in various other sensual and alluring postures and attires. These include her
sitting down in a satin and fur nightgown, lying and rolling naked under red satin sheets,
standing amidst bales of hay with two guns in hand and a thin veil of a dress falling off her
shoulder, standing on the beach in a bikini thong and furry sweater, standing on rocks and
looking rugged in a tassled leather bikini top and skirt.

A parallel story line evolves around the disc jockey responsible for the treasure hunt. He
appears to fall in love at first sight with the female lifeguard central to the story. When he
sees her working on the beach he exclaims “Holy Mother of Pearls” and throughout the
episode he calls her his “Angel of the Sea”. He is also featured in a dream sequence in
which he imagines her running on the breach in a white lace dress and himself, in lifeguard
attire, running towards her. They meet and dance in the sunset.

The Complaint

On November 16, 1994, the complainant wrote to the CBSC to express her concerns with
the Baywatch series and the November 14 episode in particular. In her letter she wrote:

I was flipping through stations trying to find a family show for my son and I to watch.
Thankfully my son was out of the room when I came across the show Baywatch in which
one of the show's main characters, a blonde Brigitte Bardot look alike [sic] private parts
were paraded before the camera and “zoomed” in on for a considerably lengthy time.

There are occasions when my 12 year old son is home alone. This type of soft-porn was
more hard-core than many of the 1-800 sex phone limes advertisements which I also
disagree with, but if it's any consolation they are aired after 11:30 or 12:00 am.

I raise my children to have high moral standards and have respect for women and I am
outraged when a broadcaster brazenly enters the intimacy of my home and that of society's
and in the flash of an eye demoralizes women and helps to perpetrate the myth that they
are these hot, horny, brainless, busty creatures whose main goal is to get “f_____d”. It may
sell your “Babewatch” but it costs women their dignity, honour and quite often their lives!!”

The Broadcaster's Response and Subsequent Correspondence

The CBSC forwarded a copy of the complaint to its member station CHCH-TV, whose
Executive Vice-President and General Manager responded in a letter dated December 8,
1994. In that letter, he stated that

Your comments concerned an episode of “Baywatch” that aired on our station on November
14, and contained both general and specific complaints regarding the program. Both our
Programming Supervisor and I have reviewed the program, and have the following
comments.

The specific complaints stated that “a blonde Brigitte Bardot look alike [sic] private parts
were paraded before the camera and 'zoomed' in on for a considerably lengthy time”. I can
find no example of this action in this program. Perhaps we are using different
interpretations of the phrase “private parts” because there certainly are many scenes in
which both female and male actors ae photographed in bathing suits, and in the case of the
females, those suits are bikinis. This scene is repeated on virtually every beach in the
western world on every day that the weather allows. Surely the parts of the anatomy that
are exposed when wearing a bathing suite cannot reasonably be described as “private
parts”.

Your more general comment describes this program as “This type of soft-porn was more
hard-core than many of the 1-800 sex phone lines advertisements which I also disagree
with…”. In the entire episode in question there was not even one scene in which kissing was
shown, let alone any greater degree of sexual contact. There was no sexual innuendo,
certainly no coarse language, and absolutely no violence. I have difficulty understanding
how the photographing of healthy, attractive young adults in beach wear can possibly be
described in the terms you chose.

CHCH-TV provides our viewing audience with a variety of programming, the great majority
of which is for the family, and we make extensive use of disclaimers to inform viewers when
any topic or action in our programming may offend certain portions of that audience. We
simply would not air programming that is soft-core pornography, let alone hard-core. We
have a policy of extensive pre-screening of our programs to identify any problem areas, and
either edit those areas of the program, inform viewers of the type of material to be seen or
decide to not air the program at all, determined by the appropriateness of the particular
scene to the overall context of the program in question.

The complainant was unsatisfied with this response and requested, on December 14,
1994, that the CBSC refer the matter to the appropriate Regional Council for adjudication.

The CBSC's Ontario Regional Council considered the complaint under clause 4 of the
Canadian Association of Broadcasters' Sex-Role Portrayal Code. This clause 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.

Having viewed a tape of the program in question and reviewed all of the correspondence,
the Ontario Regional Council considers that the program does not violate the provisions
of the CAB's Sex-Role Portrayal Code.

The Content of the Program

Baywatch is set on a beach and focuses on the lifeguards who work on this beach.
Accordingly, it is reasonable to expect that characters depicted in this program will often
be seen in swimming attire, i.e. bathing suits. The Council does not consider that it is
stretching the point to suggest that the producers of the program have chosen this setting
in the belief that young persons in bathing suits may be likely to attract audience attention.
This, however, is the prerogative of producers, who are entitled to look for formulas to
create commercially successful television programming. The only issue for the CBSC is
to determine whether or not the choice in any particular case “crosses the line” and
breaches one of the Codes administered by the CBSC.

In this case, the Council agrees with the broadcaster that “the parts of the anatomy that
are exposed when wearing a bathing suit cannot reasonably be described as 'private
parts'.” Unless and until genitalia become publicly exposed, these anatomical parts remain
private. The Council acknowledges that the taste and viewing habits in some, if not many,
homes would lead parents to wish to avoid programs such as Baywatch but the view of the
Council is not that such programming is so inherently unacceptable as not to be entitled
to be shown on television. In this connection, the CBSC generally considers that the
depiction of men and women in bathing suits does not in and of itself constitute exploitation
in violation of the Sex-Role Portrayal Code, or “soft-porn” as contended by the
complainant. The Council does not consider that the mere showing of partially clothed
persons can, by any reasonable definition, be said to be equivalent to pornography,
whether hard or soft. See also the Ontario Regional Council's decisions on analogous
matters in CITY-TV re Fashion Television (CBSC Decision 93/94-0021, February 15, 1994)
and CITY-TV re Fashion Television (CBSC Decision 93/94-0176, June 22, 1994).

In the context of the Sex-Role Portrayal Code, the Council was less comfortable with the
dream sequence (which lasted very close to 3 minutes) in which the female lifeguard
poses in scanty clothing and alluring postures. Although, in the Council's view, this
sequence was used as an opportunity to make use of the stardom of the actress playing
the lifeguard character in the program by drawing a parallel with her modelling career, the
Council does not conclude that the sequence in question constitutes exploitation contrary
to Clause 4 of the Sex-Role Portrayal Code. While the dream sequence may have
exploited the actress' modelling career, it did not exploit her as a woman nor was it
degrading to her or to women in general. The Council notes that the female character in
question is portrayed in this episode, and throughout the series, as an exceptional
lifeguard with many fine moral and intellectual attributes. In this episode, she is the one
who hesitates in joining the treasure hunt, unwilling to compromise her duties as a
lifeguard. She is also seen saving the life of the disc jockey at the very end of the episode.
Accordingly, the Council does not consider that a breach of the Code has occurred.

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. It is
a responsibility of membership in the CBSC to be responsive to audience complaints. In
this case, the Council finds that the broadcaster's response in this case was lengthy and
thoughtful, thereby fulfilling the CBSC's requirements with regard to station
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.