CITY-TV re Fashion Television (The Erogenous Zone)

(CBSC Decision 93/94-0021)
M. Barrie (Chair), A. MacKay (Vice-Chair), S. Fish, P. Fockler, R. Stanbury


As a segment of its Fashion Television program, CITY-TV aired a story entitled “The Erogenous Zone” at 6:30 p.m., on September 19, 1993. About two minutes into the segment, following an introduction and explanation of the material to follow, the broadcaster aired a viewer advisory: “Due to the subject matter of the following item, viewer discretion is advised.”

The program involved discussions with designers and fashion commentatorson which areas of the female anatomy were currently being focused upon andwhich areas will receive more attention in the future. The program alsoshowed clips of runway models in a variety of outfits, including some thatexposed their breasts; one model quickly lifted the skirt of her dress showingher pubic area. The program also included interviews in which part of theaudio was censored. The station had also edited a still photograph of apartially nude model, using a black bar to cover her lower torso.

A viewer wrote to the CRTC on September 23, 1993 complaining about theprogram stating in part:

I was sick to my stomach at what I saw and heard. They werediscussing how showing women's breasts is no longer titillating.Now, they will focus on exposing the woman's vagina!!!!! … Isthis really necessary? Have we not been degraded enough?When will it stop? It is not enough to say “if you don't like whatyou see, turn the channel, that is the same as ignoring theproblem and I am tired of ignoring because the problem is gettingworse.

As CITY-TV is a member of the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, andthe issues raised by the complainant fell within the Council's mandate, theCRTC referred the complaint to the Council for consideration. The Councilsent the complaint to the broadcaster for response.

On October 15, 1993, the Producer of Fashion Television wrote to thecomplainant, explaining that “all the top designers agree that their job is toconstantly find new ways for women to look titillating…our purpose was to findout and report on how they do it”.

Fashion Television considered that the subject was handled in astraightforward way, and not in a gratuitous manner; however, CITY-TV,understanding that the topic might be too frank for some viewers, prefaced thestory with an advisory: “due to the subject matter of the following item, viewerdiscretion is advised.”

The Producer also addressed the complainants concerns about the depictionof women in general on television. He added, “many of the designers in theErogenous Zone story are women who believe that they and their femalecustomers have every right to behave and dress in any manner they choose”.

The complainant wrote to the Council on October 25, 1993, stating that shewas dissatisfied with the station's response, and requesting that a CBSCregional council consider her complaint. She stated in her letter that she wasdissatisfied with the response because it “basically states that they are sorrythat I was offended by the show, but they will continue to broadcast it in theirusual perverse way”.

Television and radio programming shall refrain from 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 on areasof the body 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 Regional Council (composed of five members, broadcaster representativeDon Luzzi being absent) reviewed the correspondence and screened an air-check tape of the segment in question. The Regional Council considered thatthe program did not contravene the Sex-Role Portrayal Code.

The program was typical of depictions of international fashion shows, validlyportraying fashion news. The fact that CITY-TV aired a story on the place ofwomen's breasts in today's fashion was not exploitative. The Council furtherconsidered that the brief glimpse of one model's pubic area had more to dowith an adjustment of her skirt as she walked down the runway. Other shotswhich would more purposefully have exposed models' pubic area as afunction of the design of the clothes were blocked out over that area. TheCouncil felt that the concern of the complainant may be with what theinternational fashion designers are doing, but Council's view was that thereporting of those design trends did not exploit women or present a negativeor degrading portrayal of women. As a result, the program did not constitutea breach of the Code.

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.