CITY-TV re Blind Date

ONTARIO REGIONAL PANEL
(CBSC Decision 02/03-0570 & -0631)
R. Stanbury (Chair), M. Ziniak (Vice-Chair), J. David, H. Hassan and M. Oldfiel

THE FACTS

During the relevant period, the program Blind Date aired on CITY-TV (Toronto) daily at 5:30 pm.The CBSC's Ontario Panel considered the episodes of February 4, 5, 10 and 11, 2003.

Blind Date is a reality dating program that follows couples on blind dates.  All episodes include two segments, each of which deals with one date.  Every segment begins with separate interviews with the male and female participants, who briefly describe themselves and what they are looking for in a partner.  The program then shows the participants meeting up and doing some sort of activity.  That is then followed by dinner and usually drinks at another location.  The segment concludes with separate post-date impressions from each participant.  The program usually concludes with the presentation by Blind Date's host of a themed “highlight reel” of other dates filmed for the program.

Discussions and activities between the couple sometimes contain sexually suggestive content and sexual innuendo.  For example, in one episode, a male participant describes living in a fraternity house:  “The perks of it is, are partying and getting laid.”  In another episode, the male participant eats a cherry out of his date's cleavage.  Also cartoon bubbles and words appear on screen containing the producers' humorous projections of what the person may be thinking.  Some of these cartoon features also consist of sexual innuendo and sexual suggestions.  One example of this type of content occurred in an episode in which the couple was making hamburgers.  A bubble appears over the male's head with the caption “Love the way she massages that meat.”  In another, the female participant revealed that she also liked women.  Throughout the episode, words alluding to her bisexuality, such as “The Good-Bi Girl”, appeared on the screen.

There are also occasionally scenes of men and women in skimpy clothing or the couples kissing passionately.  Any actual nudity, however, is covered with a cartoon “Censored” sticker.  Sexual activity is sometimes implied by the couple entering a bedroom and closing the door.  Any coarse language is muted out and a “Censored” sticker appears over the person's mouth.

An icon classifying the episodes as PG appeared on the screen at the beginning of each broadcast.  There were no viewer advisories during any of the episodes reviewed for this decision.

The CBSC received a complaint from a viewer dated January 24, 2003 (the full text of that complaint and all other correspondence is included in the Appendix).  He indicated his concern that the series' after-school time slot was “irresponsible” since it was an “adult” program.

CITY-TV's Director of Programming responded to the complainant on January 27.  She suggested that this type of dating reality show was “a new spin on such classic television programs as The Dating Game or The Newlywed Game“, which also contained “thinly veiled references to 'adult' things” and also ran during daytime hours.”  With respect to Blind Date, CITY-TV explained that “[w]hile the language might, at times, be mildly suggestive, profanity is not allowed, nor is nudity.”  CITY-TV noted the program's PG rating which allows for mild or suggestive language and brief scenes of nudity.  The Director of Programming also elaborated on CITY-TV's programming philosophy:

Most of the viewers of these programs are young adults.  Research confirms that there are many adults home at   Over the years, we have built a relationship with our adult skewing urban audience that we take very seriously.  We try to provide programming they want to watch as an alternative to other programming found on some other stations at the same time that is not intended for them.  As such, we have purposely stayed away from children's programming or programs that are intended for young viewers so there can be no mistaking the type of broadcasting we provide.

After learning that the CBSC required specific dates of episodes that concerned him, the complainant provided a number of dates and noted the specific dialogue and captions that he felt were inappropriate.  For the purposes of this decision, the Ontario Regional Panel viewed four of the episodes highlighted by the complainant which were broadcast in early February (the dates have been noted above).  The complainant also elaborated, in various e-mails, on his view that the program content was inappropriate for a 5:30 pm time slot:

5:00 pm is family time, parents are preparing dinner etc., while children are doing homework, playing, watching tv!  Many psychologists would agree some scenes in these shows could result in immediate or long term problems with young viewers.

, Clause 10, Section A, by airing […] Blind Date before the watershed time of

Furthermore these shows, except for their tacky censoring with cartoon images and audio bleeps (which don't leave anything to the imagination) would be sexually explicit!

THE DECISION

The CBSC Ontario Regional Panel examined the complaint under the scheduling and viewer advisory provisions of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters' (CAB) Code of Ethics, as well as the classification provision of the CAB Voluntary Code Regarding Violence on Television Programming.  Those provisions read as follows:

CAB Code of Ethics, Clause 10 – Television Broadcasting

        Programming which contains sexually explicit material or coarse or offensive language intended for adult audiences shall not be telecast before the late viewing period, defined as 9 pm to 6 am.  Broadcasters shall refer to the Voluntary Code Regarding Violence in Television Programming for provisions relating to the scheduling of programming containing depictions of violence.

        Recognizing that there are older children watching television after 9 pm, broadcasters shall adhere to the provisions of Clause 11 below (viewer advisories), enabling viewers to make an informed decision as to the suitability of the programming for themselves and their family members.

CAB Code of Ethics, Clause 11 – Viewer Advisories

To assist consumers in making their viewing choices, when programming includes mature subject matter or scenes with nudity, sexually explicit material, coarse or offensive language, or other material susceptible of offending viewers, broadcasters shall provide a viewer advisory

at the beginning of, and after every commercial break during the first hour of programming telecast in late viewing hours which contains such material which is intended for adult audiences, or

at the beginning of, and after every commercial break during programming telecast outside of late viewing hours which contains such material which is not suitable for children.

CAB Violence Code, Article 4 – Classification System

PG – Parental Guidance

Descriptive
This programming, while intended for a general audience, may not be suitable for younger children (under the age of 8).  Parents/guardians should be aware that there might be content elements which some could consider inappropriate for unsupervised viewing by children in the 8-13 age range.

Programming within this classification might address controversial themes or issues.  Cognizant that pre-teens and early teens could be part of this viewing group, particular care must be taken not to encourage imitational behaviour, and consequences of violent actions shall not be minimized.

Content Guidelines
– might contain infrequent and mild profanity
– might contain mildly suggestive language
– could possibly contain brief scenes of nudity
– might have limited and discreet sexual references or content when appropriate to the storyline or theme

14+ – Over 14 Years

Descriptive
Programming with this classification contains themes or content elements which might not be suitable for viewers under the age of 14.  Parents are strongly cautioned to exercise discretion in permitting viewing by pre-teens and early teens without parent/guardian supervision, as programming with this classification could deal with mature themes and societal issues in a realistic fashion.

Content Guidelines
– could possibly include strong or frequent use of profanity
       – might include scenes of nudity and/or sexual activity within the context of narrative or theme

The Ontario Regional Panel concludes that CITY-TV did not violate Clause 10 of the CAB Code of Ethics in its scheduling of Blind Date.  CITY-TV did, however, violate Clause 11 of the CAB Code of Ethics for its failure to provide a viewer advisory during the episodes, as well as Article 4 of the CAB Violence Code for incorrectly rating the program as PG rather than 14+.

Content Categories

Content cannot be simply considered as falling into one of two categories, namely, either susceptible of broadcast before or after the Watershed hour of 9:00 pm.  Indeed, it is only the latter category that can be understood as cut and dried.  Broadcasts that include material intended exclusively for adult audiences, whether by reason of its sexual, language, violent or other content, may be aired only after 9:00 pm.  On the other hand, broadcasts that are not forced into the post-Watershed time frame may be either suitable to all viewers, on the one hand, or suitable to all viewers except children (defined as 12 years of age or younger), on the other.

There are obligations that attach to broadcasts of each category.  Those that fall into the dramatic category must be rated and carry a classification icon at the appropriate level.  Post-Watershed adult material must also carry a viewer advisory, as must those pre-Watershed programs unsuitable for broadcast to children.  Those programs (broadcast at whatever hour) that are suitable for everyone do not require viewer advisories.

Scheduling of Sexual Content

Bearing the foregoing categorization in mind, the general principle regarding the scheduling of sexual content is that such material as is intended exclusively for adult audiences must be broadcast after the 9:00 pm Watershed.  Where they so categorize programming, CBSC Panels generally have labelled the sexual content as explicit and the measure of that explicitness will be taken by a Panel every time such a complaint is adjudicated.

Where, on the other hand, a Panel classifies the content as merely sexually suggestive or amounting to nothing more than innuendo, the Panel concludes that it is acceptable for broadcast before 9:00 pm.  It must then determine, as the foregoing section has anticipated, whether the sexual content is or is not unsuitable for children.

In the case of the episodes of Blind Date that are the subject of this decision, the Ontario Regional Panel considers that the content is not explicit enough to push it into the post-Watershed category.  It does, however, consider that the program deals sufficiently directly and unsubtly with sexual situations that it is unsuitable for children.  Indeed, the content is consistently sexual, rarely even relying on less obvious double entendres.  In the vernacular, it is very much “in your face”.  The sexual content, while not explicit (which would render it post-Watershed), would be readily understood by everyone (even though not appropriate for universal broadcast).

Viewer Advisories

It follows from the Panel's determination that the episodes of Blind Date are unsuitable for children while otherwise suitable for pre-9:00 pm broadcast, that viewer advisories were required at the start of each episode and coming out of each commercial break.  Since none was included at any point in the above-referenced episodes, the Panel finds the broadcaster in breach of Article 11 of the CAB Code of Ethics.

The broadcaster has included classification icons, as this category of programming requires.  The Panel takes issue, however, with the level of classification chosen.  The PG category provides that

This programming, while intended for a general audience, may not be suitable for younger children (under the age of 8).  Parents/guardians should be aware that there might be content elements which some could consider inappropriate for unsupervised viewing by children in the 8-13 age range.

The Panel considers that this programming is unsuitable, not just for “younger children” but indeed for all children.  Moreover, the Panel takes particular note of the admonition to the effect that “particular care must be taken not to encourage imitational behaviour” in the case of programming falling in this category.  The Panel considers that the content is so unsubtle, so driven by the creators' video choices and the wording in the balloons, that, if anything, the program segments serve as a road map or guidance for viewers on the subjects treated.  On the issue of sexual references, the Panel notes that a PG-rated program “might have limited and discreet sexual references or content when appropriate to the storyline or theme.”  The sexual references in Blind Date are neither limited nor discreet.  In sum, the Panel finds that there is little, if anything, about Blind Date which would make it suitable for a PG rating but nothing, on the other hand, that would force it into an 18+ category.  A 14+ rating would be apt.

Broadcaster Responsiveness

In all CBSC decisions, the Adjudicating Panels assess the broadcaster's responsiveness to the complainant.  Although the broadcaster need not agree with the complainant, it is expected that its representatives charged with replying to complaints will address the complainant's concerns in a thorough and respectful manner.  In this case, the Panel finds that CITY-TV met its responsibilities of membership in this regard.  CITY-TV replied on more than one occasion to the viewer's complaints and queries.  Indeed, CITY-TV did more than was required in order to manifest its respect for the dialogue process with the complainant.

ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE DECISION

CITY-TV is required to: 1) announce this decision, in the following terms, once during prime time within three days following the release of this decision and once more within seven days following the release of this decision during the time period in which Blind Date is broadcast; 2) within the fourteen days following the broadcast of the announcements, to provide written confirmation of the airing of the statement to the complainant who filed the Ruling Request; and 3) at that time, to provide the CBSC with that written confirmation and with air check copies of the broadcasts of the two announcements which must be made by CITY-TV.

The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has found that CITY-TV has breached the clause of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters' (CAB) Code of Ethics which requires the use of viewer advisories in certain circumstances as well as the clause of the CAB Violence Code dealing with program classification.  By failing to provide viewer advisories alerting audiences to consistent sexual content unsuitable for children in several episodes of Blind Date broadcast in February 2003, CITY-TV violated the requirements of Clause 11 of the Code of Ethics.  CITY-TV also incorrectly rated Blind Date as PG, when a 14+ rating would have been appropriate, according to the classification system established in Clause 4 of the Violence Code.

This decision is a public document upon its release by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council.