Comments Made In Documentary Not Abusive to Catholics, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, March 19, 2003 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning a documentary entitled My Feminism broadcast on the W Network. The CBSC National Specialty Services Panel determined that a one-word comment about the Irish Catholic Church made by one of a number of prominent feminists of various cultures and nationalities interviewed was not abusively or unduly discriminatory under the Canadian Association of Broadcasters' (CAB) Code of Ethics. The Panel also concluded that the use of a derivative of the f-word was not problematic in this context.

My Feminism is an essay documentary comprised almost entirely of interviews with those feminists about a variety of issues, such as pornography, marriage and divorce, reproductive rights, women's health, religion, cultural differences and politics. The CBSC received a complaint from a viewer who felt that one word in the statement about the Catholic religion by an Irish feminist was offensive and hateful. In commenting on the role of the Catholic Church in her country, Ireland, she stated “no, of course I don't believe in a religion which can mind-f**k people to that kind of extent.” The viewer complained that this comment was not balanced with comments about other religions and that the use of coarse language was inappropriate.

The Panel reviewed the complaint under the human rights clause of the CAB Code of Ethics, which requires that broadcasters ensure that their programming does not contain any abusive or unduly discriminatory material based on, among other things, religion. The Panel observed that the documentary included one woman's assertion that there are sexist traditions in “Catholicism, Hinduism, Islam [and] Judaism” and also provided information that a feminist writer had been condemned to death by Islamic fundamentalists. Other interviewees had positive things to say about Catholicism and religion, including one who acknowledged her respect for women who were able to maintain their Catholic faith. The Panel concluded that the Irish interviewee's opinion on the Church was in any event well balanced by other remarks about religion.

With respect to the isolated use of the f-word derivative, the Panel concluded that, despite the program's 7:00 pm time slot, the word was acceptable in this unscripted context. The views of the interviewees in this documentary were key to its credibility and purpose.

The film is not merely dependent on the interviewees, it is the interviewees. And their choice of words is theirs, not that of a screenwriter looking for a dramatic jolt or an effect. The words spoken represent the reaction of each individual to the questions put to her. The intensity and emotion of each response is reflected in the words used and the tone of their delivery. The seriousness of the broadcast vehicle, the non-gratuitous use of coarse language, its infrequent presence, the contextual relevance and importance of such words, and the likely lack of appeal to a younger audience will all be factors taken into consideration by a CBSC Panel assessing offensive words in a documentary film.

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All CBSC decisions, Codes, links to members' and other web sites, and related information are available on the CBSC's website at www.cbsc.ca. For more information, please contact the CBSC National Chair, Mme Andrée Noël CBSC Executive Director, John MacNab