CIII-TV re The Bugs Bunny and Tweety Show (“Hansel and Gretel”)

ONTARIO REGIONAL COUNCIL
(CBSC Decision 97/98-1260)
A. MacKay (Chair), R. Stanbury (Vice-Chair), R. Cohen (ad hoc), P. Fockler,M. Hogarth and M. Ziniak

THE FACTS

On July 25, 1998, The Bugs Bunny and Tweety Show onCIII-TV (Global Television, Toronto) which aired at 5 p.m., included a recounting of the”Hansel and Gretel” fairy tale à la Bugs Bunny. The short cartoon wasentitled “Bewitched Bunny”. In this revisionist version, Bugs Bunny stumblesupon a witch who is in the process of luring two children into her house, presumably inorder to eat them for dinner. Bugs Bunny intervenes and allows the children to escape but,in so doing, he upsets the witch who resolves to have Bugs Bunny for dinner instead. Achase inevitably ensues and the heroic hare narrowly escapes death by dinner by using abag of “Magic Powder” as a type of grenade. The bag explodes on impact and outof the cloud of dust emerges a beautiful female rabbit. Bugs Bunny, smitten by this newlyincarnated female, takes her by the arm as they walk into the “happily everafter”.

The complaint stems from the last line of the cartoon. As the happycouple walks away, Bugs turns to the camera and says: “Ah sure, I know! Butaren’t they all witches inside?”

The Letter of Complaint

On August 10, a viewer wrote to the President of Global Televisionstating that:

This is a complaint concerning thetelevised cartoon Bugs Bunny re-telling “Hansel and Gretel.”

This cartoon portrayed Bugs as rescuing the children and thenattempting to evade the witch. In the final scene, Bugs finds “Magic Powder” andthrows in onto the witch who turns into a seductive female rabbit. Bugs responds to thefemale rabbit, starts to go off with her, then stops, looks into the camera and says”I know, but aren’t they all witches inside?”

Televising this anti-woman cartoon demands that you personally offer atelevised apology to woman viewers of Global Television. This can best be done during the”First National” news program and repeated at the 11 p.m. news program. A copyof this complaint is being mailed to the CRTC.

The Broadcaster’s Response

The Director of Regulatory Affairs replied to the complainant onSeptember 5, 1998 with the following:

We are in receipt of your letter datedAugust 10, 1998, in which you raise concerns regarding a Bugs Bunny cartoon episoderetelling the story of “Hansel and Gretel.”

In your letter, you raise concerns about the closing scene of thisclassic Bugs Bunny cartoon where Bugs Bunny transforms a witch into a “seductivefemale rabbit”, turns to the camera and says: “I know, but aren’t they allwitches inside?”

We are sorry that this episode offended you, but we disagree with yourcharacterization of this cartoon as “anti-woman.” First, with all of ourprogramming, we are diligent in ensuring that contents meet established guidelines of theSex-Role Portrayal Code. According to the Code, “negative or inequitable sex-roleportrayal” refers to “language, attitudes or representations which tend toassociate particular roles, modes of behaviour, characteristics, attributes or products topeople on the basis of gender…”

In the episode you refer to, one could argue that the female character(the witch) is portrayed as strong and intelligent, while the males are seen as weak andsomewhat naive. While Bugs Bunny warns the witch that “any rabbit’s too smartfor you”, she actually outwits the rabbit, not once, but three times in attempting tocatch him. While he knows that she wants him for dinner, he nonetheless eats the poisonouscarrot she offers him, after which he falls into a deep sleep. Bugs Bunny is then saved bythe Prince from “Snow White”, who seems dazed and confused about which fairytale he’s supposed to be in. Finally, as Bugs Bunny tries to escape, the witch onceagain corners him, at which point his only recourse is to break the glass case whichreads: “break in case of emergency”, and use the magic powder to transform herinto a rabbit. Given this, we do not believe that this episode of “Bugs Bunny”portrays women in a negative way, nor that it contravenes any provision of the Sex-RolePortrayal Code.

We thank you for the time you expended in expressing your views, andhope that you will continue to enjoy Global’s programming in the future.

The complainant was unsatisfied with the broadcaster’s responseand requested, on September 15, 1998, that the CBSC refer the matter to the appropriateRegional Council for adjudication. With her request, the complainant added a short notewhich further explained her position.

Global’s explanation of the cartoonin question is inadequate.

First, they claim the witch, a female figure, is strong andintelligent. They fail to address the witch’s evil attempt to eat children andterminate Bugs. This is not a negative portrayal?

I did not complain about the witch! She was behaving like a witch, nota woman!

I complained about the statement by Bugs in regard to the attractivefemale rabbit, “aren’t they all witches inside?” Implying that all femalesare evil and destructive.

This is the basis of my complaint.

If the audience had been adults, perhaps we could chuckle and forgetit. This cartoon was aimed at children who are forming their attitudes to men and women.Therefore, this cartoon is not only offensive to women, but gives a wrong idea of women toimpressionable children: women are evil inside. “Aren’t they all witchesinside?” This means I am a witch inside, Charlotte Bell is a witch inside, and Gretelof the cartoon is a witch inside. Misogynistic attitudes do not belong in children’scartoons.

THE DECISION

The CBSC’s Ontario Regional Council considered the complaint underthe Code of Ethics and the Sex-Role Portrayal Code of the CanadianAssociation of Broadcasters (CAB). The relevant clauses of those Codes read as follows:

CAB Code of Ethics, Clause 2 (Human Rights)

Recognizing that every person has aright to full and equal recognition and to enjoy certain fundamental rights and freedoms,broadcasters shall endeavour to ensure, to the best of their ability, that theirprogramming contains no abusive or discriminatory material or comment which is based onmatters of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, marital status orphysical or mental handicap.

CAB Code of Ethics, Clause 3 (Children's Programs)

Recognizing that programs designedspecifically for children reach impressionable minds and influence social attitudes andaptitudes, it shall be the responsibility of member stations to provide the closestpossible supervision in the selection and control of material, characterizations and plot.Nothing in the foregoing shall mean that the vigour and vitality common to children'simaginations and love of adventure should be removed. It does mean that programs should bebased upon sound social concepts and presented with a superior degree of craftsmanship;that these programs should reflect the moral and ethical standards of contemporaryCanadian society and encourage pro-social behaviour and attitudes. The member stationsshould encourage parents to select from the richness of broadcasting fare, the bestprograms to be brought to the attention of their children.

CAB Code of Ethics, Clause 15 (Sex-Role Stereotyping)

Recognizing that stereotyping images canand do cause negative influences, it shall be the responsibility of broadcasters toexhibit, to the best of their ability, a conscious sensitivity to the problems related tosex-role stereotyping, by refraining from exploitation and by the reflection of theintellectual and emotional equality of both sexes in programming.

Sex-Role Portrayal Code, Clause 4 (Exploitation)

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

The Regional Council members viewed a tape of the program in questionand reviewed all of the correspondence. The Council considers that the program in questiondoes not violate any of the aforementioned clauses.

The Content of the Program The Council understands, and is sympathetic to, the complaint of theviewer. There is an undeniable innuendo in the closing line “But aren’t they allwitches inside?” which some may find offensive. That being said, the Council is notof the view that a breach of one of the broadcast Codes it administers is entailed. In thefirst place, the line is a throwaway and is not reflected, as to its substance, at anyother moment of the episode. It is, in a sense, an “out-of-the-blue” comment.Second, it is, if anything, contradicted by every other aspect of the program. It cannot,in fact, even be seen as a serious comment in the sense that the line is uttered in thecontext of a happy couple walking off arm-in-arm into the sunset. Moreover, there isnothing in the demeanour of Bugs Bunny or any other character or element of the episode ofthe Bugs Bunny and Tweety show which suggests a program attitude which couldbe broadly interpreted as constituting “negative or degrading comments on the roleand nature of women”, contrary to the Sex-Role Portrayal Code, or abusivelydiscriminatory comment, contrary to the human rights provision of the Code of Ethics.While the Ontario Regional Council does not approve of the line ofdialogue, particularly in the context of children’s programming, it does not considerthat its use, in the context of this case, constitutes a breach of either of the CAB Codesreferred to above.

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 ofthe complaint. In this case, the Council considers that the broadcaster’s responseaddressed fully and fairly all the issues raised by the complainant, even if thecomplainant did not agree with its substance. It has long been the position of the Councilthat it is not necessary for the broadcaster's perspective to be that of the complainant.Indeed, it is that difference in perspective which results in the matter coming to thisstage of the Council’s process. Consequently, the Council considers that thebroadcaster has not breached the Council’s standard of responsiveness. Nothing moreis required.

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.