CKVU-TV re an episode Nightstand

BRITISH COLUMBIA REGIONAL COUNCIL
(CBSC Decision 96/97-0140)
E. Petrie (Chair), R. Cohen (ad hoc), B. Edwards (ad hoc), R. Mackay

The Facts

CKVU-TV (UTV) (Vancouver) broadcast an episode of Nightstand entitled “A Green Dick”
at midnight on February 20,1997. Although the program follows the format of a talk show,
it differs significantly from the typical talk show in that it is essentially a parody of the genre
and the guests are all actors. The episode in question included “Nancy”, her “father” and
her boyfriend “Stone” for the first half hour, the segment complained of. These actors told
Dick Dietrick, the “host” of the show, the contrived story of the death of Nancy's mother
during a bear attack.

The presentation of the sketch included, as a part of its backstory, the historical conflict
between Nancy and her father, the owner of a logging company at which Stone worked.
Dick introduced Nancy as an environmentalist “who likes to wear flannel and hiking boots
but surprisingly is not a lesbian.” In the various plays on words, the host referred to a male
logger's “morning wood” and implied that he would like to see her “forest”. The climax of
the sketch involved an obvious tall tale (described below in the complainant's letter) which
permitted the writers to lead to the conclusion that the bear “had your wife and ate her too.
Sir, that is one grisly story.”

THE LETTER OF COMPLAINT

The letter of complaint, dated February 27, 1997, was sent directly to the station and
copied to the CBSC, among others. It stated:

I viewed this show last Thursday and was quite frankly appalled. In one of his many sick
“Dickumentaries”, Dick describes how a “man's daughter laments the death of her mother
by a bear. Her father explains how he tied her mother to a tree nude and spread-eagled
because they were both horny and wanted to have wild sex. He covered his wife's naked
body with honey, then went back to the car when he realized he had forgotten his bull-whip.
When he got back, a bear had licked all the honey off her, then had sex with her. So I
guess you could say the bear had his wife and ate her too.

I believe this kind of programming is insulting, degrading and debasing as well as repulsive
and disgusting. It is clearly in violation of the “Sex-Role Portrayal Code” of the Canadian
Broadcasting Standards Council.

THE BROADCASTER'S REPLY

On behalf of CKVU-TV, the National Program Director of Canwest Global wrote to the
complainant on March 12, 1997. He stated that

“Nightstand” is a program written, acted and intended to be a comedic parody of the
television talk show genre. The interpretation of comedy is highly subjective, whether a
situation comedy, stand-up, satire or parody. The vast variety of comedic programs on the
air permits viewers to determine their favorites and enjoy those programs which appeal to
each. We strive to present a wide range of comedy series, from “Frasier” to “Friends”, from
“Seinfeld” to “Saturday Night Live” for our viewers.

The content in the program you refer to was merely an anecdotal parody and not a depiction
of gratuitous harm toward individuals in a sexual context, pursuant to General Principles,
Subsection (d) of the Sex-Role Portrayal Code for Television and Radio Programming to
which we are bound as a condition of licence. Further, with reference to Subsection (e), our
scheduling of “Nightstand” as a late-night program reflects our sensitivity to [the] adult
orientation of the program.

Although the program may be considered by some individuals to be in bad taste, we do not
believe that it crosses the line into the promotion of sexual hatred or degradation.

Viewer perceptions of programming which we air varies with the individual. As responsible
broadcasters it is important for us to reflect the needs and concerns of our viewers. We are
one part of the process, a process which begins with the producers of the programs we
broadcast. Accordingly, we will be sending a copy of your letter along with this reply to the
producers of “Nightstand”, through Worldvision Enterprises, the Canadian distributor of the
program.

The interpretation and determination of what is appropriate for broadcast is an issue we are
continually evaluating, both as an industry and as broadcasters serving our individual
markets. It is through viewer feedback like yours that we are able to ensure the proper
evolution of our standards, and in what manner we will mirror the needs and concerns of our
society.

The viewer was not satisfied with this response and, on March 14, 1997, requested that
the CBSC refer the matter to the appropriate Regional Council for adjudication.

The CBSCs B.C. Regional Council considered the complaint under Clause 4 of the Sex-Role Portrayal Code for Television and Radio Programming. The relevant clause of the
Code reads as follows:

4.

Exploitation

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

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

The Regional Council members viewed tapes of the episode in question and reviewed the
correspondence. The Council considers that, for the reasons given below, the program
is not in violation of the CAB Sex-Role Portrayal Code.

THE CONTENT OF THE PROGRAM

The Council understands the program to be rather straightforward comedy. It also
considers that the sketch is question is far-fetched and clearly unrealistic. This does not
mean, of course, that the show cannot be in breach of the Sex-Role Portrayal Code;
however, where a show is clearly comedic rather than serious in nature, the CBSC has
previously decided that there may be a different level of expectation on the part of the
listener or viewer. In CHUM-FM re Sunday Funnies (CBSC Decision 95/96-0064, March
26, 1996), the Ontario Regional Council explained this distinction in the following terms:

There is an essential distinction to be drawn between the serious and humorous dialogue.
Each has its content limitations but what those limitations are will vary according to the
nature of the broadcast in question.

The Council believes that it is essential to draw a distinction between a broadcast which is
intended to be serious or at least leaves the impression that it intends to be serious and one
which clearly does not. It is not that the standard to be applied to the potentially offending
statement will be different. It is rather the question of audience perception. The Brian
Henderson and Dick Smyth commentaries foundered on that rock.

The situation is different where the context is clearly comedic. After all, where the
audience is given no reason to expect that the substance of the comments made is serious,
their attitude could reasonably be expected to be different. A remark which might
reasonably be assessed as abusive in a serious context and thus in breach of the Code of
Ethics
may not be so viewed in the comedic environment.

Furthermore, humour is commonly based on national, ethnic, racial or gender traits, as often
as not related to background matters best-known to the comedian. Even stereotypes are
not unknown in such a context. Such issues cannot alone be the cause of a broadcast
sanction. They must be coupled with another defining criterion; namely, they must be
abusive or discriminatory.

The issue, ultimately, is to decide when a humorously intended comment may reasonably
be viewed as having gone too far.

The view of the B.C. Regional Council is that, at worst, the segment was in very poor taste,
but it did not exploit women. It was an extended pun, styled in some respects along the
lines of what used to be called “shaggy dog” stories. The humour may have been childish
and somewhat sexual or off-colour but it was no more exploitative of the one sex than of
the other. As the CBSC has long established, it will not measure questions of taste in
terms of the Codes it administers; such questions are to be left for the resolution of the
audience by means of the on/off switch. It is only when matters of taste pass the threshold
of the Codes by reason of their abusive or discriminatory nature or other Code-offending
nature that the Council will measure them against the Codes. This is not the case here.
Moreover, the program was aired in a very late time slot, when there was no risk that
persons other than adults would be watching. Consequently, there was no breach of the
Sex-Role Portrayal Code.

BROADCASTER RESPONSIVENESS

The CBSC always recognizes the broadcaster's obligation, as a CBSC member, to be
responsive to complainants. In this case, the Regional Council considers that the
response from Canwest Global's National Program Director dealt thoroughly with the
viewer's concerns, even though not as the complainant would have wished. Consequently,
the station did not breach the Council's standard of responsiveness.

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.