CITY-TV re Fashion Television

(CBSC Decision 93/94-0176)
M. Barrie (Chair), S. Fish, P. Fockler, D. Luzzi, R. Stanbury


Fashion Television deals with the fashion industry and the models involved in it. The program in question aired January 23, 1994, contained interviews with celebrities, models and members of the public relating to how women view fashion and the importance of cultivating a personal style. It also dealt with the new fashions and lifestyles in Miami Beach, Florida. Finally, the program covered a New York showing of a well-known designer’s fashions.

A viewer wrote to the station, with a cover copy to the Canadian BroadcastStandards Council (CBSC). The letter, dated January 29, 1994, outlinedseveral specific clips to which the complainant objected, and stated in part:

The camera is constantly zooming in on women's body parts,showing us crotches, thighs, bums, cleavage, and plenty ofbreasts – naked or otherwise. I find the bold, invasive style of thecamera especially offensive.

…what we're seeing on this program is not fashion, it'spornography.

The message being conveyed on Fashion Television is thatwomen's bodies must be young. taut, cellulite-free. thin, perfectlyrounded, and as naked as possible, because all this makes menhappy and it makes them like us….We women don't have to “do”or “accomplish” anything. We just have to look good and showbare skin and make sure men look at us.

I find this all horribly degrading and oppressive.

The viewer further described her personal experiences of trying to rebuild herself-esteem after trying for so long to conform to the beauty myth. Shesummed up her objection to the program by stating that:

… the beauty obsession is based on something superficial andself-limiting, and can build no lasting sense of identity. Powerthrough beauty signals subordination and dependency, leavinga person vulnerable, insecure, and often mentally andemotionally under-developed.

The CBSC sent the complaint to the broadcaster for response.

On February 21, 1994, the Program Manager for ClTY-TV replied to thecomplainant, explaining that:

We report on fashion shows as they happen and we do notequate nudity with pornography. Fashion and photography toour mind are art and we would no more condemn designers andphotographers and their stylists than we would any other artistwho chooses to represent the human form.

The Program Manager also addressed the complainant's concerns regardingthe depiction of women in general, noting that Fashion Television had runstories on “the power of being a woman and the power that comes frombelieving in yourself not just in your physical being”. She also noted thatmany runway models are aware that “'looking good' is not as important aswhat they have personally accomplished”, and felt that the majority of theviewing audience felt the same way.

In closing, the Program Manager stated that “fashion is eye candy' and onlymeant to entertain and to be artistically expressive – we have never suggestedthat people should sacrifice substance for style”. She apologized for anyinadvertent offence the complainant had felt.

The complainant wrote to the CBSC on March 7, 1994, stating that she wasdissatisfied with the station's response, and requesting that the CBSC OntarioRegional Council consider the complaint. She also explained her concernsabout the program in general, stating:

I would like the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council torecognize that my complaint is about Fashion Television in itsentirety, not about a single episode that happened to offend meat one particular moment. Fashion TV promotes a way ofthinking and behaving that is detrimental to women and tosociety, and that doesn't happen in just one episode, it happensin all of them.

Television and radio programming shall refrain trom theexploitation of women, men and children. Negative or degradingcomments on the role and nature of women, men or children insociety shall be avoided. Modes of dress, camera focus onareas of the bady and similar modes of portrayal should not bedegrading to either sex. The sexualization of children throughdress or behaviour is not acceptable.

Guidance: “Sex-ploitation” through dress is one area in which thesexes have traditionally differed, with more women portrayed inscant clothing and alluring postures.

The five Regional Council members present (broadcaster Al MacKay beingabsent) reviewed the correspondence and screened the logger tape of theprogram in question. The Regional Council considered that the program didnot contravene the Sex-Role Portrayal Code.

All members present agreed that CITY-TV's Fashion Television wasentertainment which highlighted the fashion industry in a manner similar toother programming on the same subject. They felt it did not exploit women orpresent a negative or degrading portrayal of them. Indeed they indicated thatthe message conveyed in the first part ot the program was that women shoulddevelop a personal style, based on their individual preferences (rather thanthose of society). As a result, the program did not constitute a breach of theCode.

The Regional Council members further noted that the complainant's concernwas really the fashion industry in general, a concern which the station cannotbe expected to address. The Regional Council also noted that the completeand considerate response from CITY-TV, explaining the station's position andoutlining its other efforts to promote women's self image, was exemplary.

This decision is a public document upon its release by the CanadianBroadcast Standards Council and may be reported, announced, or read bythe station against which the complaint had originally been made; however,in the case of a favourable decision, the station is under no obligation toannounce the result.