On March 6, 1995, CITY-TV (Toronto) ran a commercial at 11:30 pm for Adults Only Video, apparently a group of video stores. In the commercial, the proprietor of Adults Only Video, seated on a stool in his shop, made the following statement:
Canadians enjoy the fundamental right to choose. And at Adults Only Video, we've designed our stores based on your right to exercise your personal choice, because we recognize that we're not for everyone. If you don't want to shop at our store, hey, that's okay but, for those of you who do want to make this your entertainment choice, we offer you quality selection and friendly service. So make us your choice. Adults Only Video, it's a matter of choice.
The Co-Founder of People against Pornography sent a letter to the Advertising Manager at CITY-TV and a copy to the CRTC. She said:
We are writing to voice our concerns regarding a particular advertisement viewed on local CITY-TV. The advertiser was [the] owner of Adult Video Stores across this province. He was “pitching” his product of “top quality porno videos” to the late night audience.
Our concern – our issue – is that [the owner], along with a store clerk is currently up on charges of obscenity under the Criminal Code in Durham Region. … We question the ethics and integrity of local television stations, advertising committee and panels, in allowing this person commercial time, due to the ongoing circumstances.
The letter of complaint was forwarded to the CBSC, which, in turn, remitted it to the broadcaster for reply. The General Sales Manager of CITY-TV responded to the letter on March 25. He said:
I can assure you that we make every effort to take into account the sensitivities of our viewing audience when deciding whether or not a commercial is suitable for broadcast. We belong to the broadcaster-supported Telecaster Committee which pre-screens all commercials before they go to air on member stations. The Adult Video commercial was approved by the Telecaster Committee.
Aside from rejecting commercials that are in obvious and extremely bad taste, we do not feel it is our rightful role to act as a censor board. However, your comments are appreciated as they help us to define that which is acceptable to our viewing audience.
It should be noted that the commercials never aired prior to 8:00 pm and provided no provocative footage or descriptions of specific titles.
The viewer was unsatisfied with this response and requested, on March 30, that the CBSC refer the matter to the appropriate Regional Council for adjudication.
Recognizing the service that commercial sponsors render to listeners and viewers in making known to them the goods and services available in their communities and realizing that the story of such goods and services goes into the intimacy of the home, it shall be the responsibility of member stations and their sales representatives to work with advertisers and agencies in improving the technique of telling the advertising story so that these shall be in good taste, simple, truthful and believable, and shall not offend what is generally accepted as the prevailing standard of good taste.
The Regional Council members viewed a tape of the commercial in question and reviewed all of the correspondence. The members consider that the commercial in question does not breach the terms of Clause 8 of the CAB Code of Ethics.
While it is generally true that the CBSC does not deal with advertising-related complaints, this is a question of practice rather than mandate. In the first place, broadcasters are as responsible for the advertising content which they transmit as they are for the dramatic, journalistic and other content on their airwaves. Second, as stated immediately above, the CAB Code of Ethics contains a provision dealing in express terms with advertising content. Although not relevant to this case, it might be noted that the Voluntary Code Regarding Violence in Television Programming also provides an advertising-related mandate to the CBSC in Clause 3.3.
It is thus no longer necessary to discuss whether the CBSC is entitled to deal with those advertising matters which it is called upon to treat from time to time. The Council considers this a settled matter.
In order, then, for the broadcaster airing the commercial to fall afoul of Clause 8, it is necessary that the telling of the advertising story be such that the commercial is not “in good taste, simple, truthful and believable” or that it does “not offend what is generally accepted as the prevailing standard of good taste.” In this case, it cannot be denied that the commercial in question is neutral in its presentation. Since the Council is always extremely reluctant to deal with questions of good, middling and bad taste, it is pleased not to have to broach this issue in this case; in its view, a person sitting on a stool reciting the words quoted above does not even give rise to an evaluation of taste.
The issue, therefore, reduces itself to whether the commercial is “simple, truthful and believable”. Of this, the Council has no doubt. Moreover, the Council considers that the frank observation by the stores' proprietor that “we recognize that we're not for everyone” is more than fair. For those, on the other hand, who “do want to make this your entertainment choice,” all he said was “we offer you quality selection and friendly service.” The Council considers that the fundamental issue for the complainant is that she does not want to see such stores in operation. This, however, is not an issue for the broadcaster or the Broadcast Standards Council. It is a matter to take up in another forum.
As to whether the pendency of proceedings against the proprietor, an employee or the stores themselves, ought to prevent the running of such advertising, the Council equally has no doubt. If, indeed, the broadcaster had not agreed to run the advertising, this might have constituted an infringement of the store owner's freedom of expression. In the end, this was not the case here.
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.