Crime Drama Requires Higher Rating and Detailed Viewer Advisories

Ottawa, May 16, 2006 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning an episode of the crime drama program NCIS entitled “Mind Games” which was broadcast by CHCH-TV (CH, Hamilton) at 8:00 pm on October 4, 2005.  An American crime drama, NCIS is broadcast on the CBS network in the U.S. and on CH in Canada.  A viewer complained that an episode, about a serial killer, contained inappropriate scenes of violence that showed mutilated female bodies.  She wrote that this content stereotyped women as victims and was particularly unsuitable for its time slot.  Most scenes presented no problems but some showed the results of the killings; one included a container of human tongues, another showed still photographs of the women from whom they had been taken, and, in a couple of cases, bodies of victims were shown suspended by their wrists from trees.

The Ontario Regional Panel considered the complaint under the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Voluntary Code regarding Violence in Television Programming.  The Panel concluded that the episode did not promote, glamorize or sanction violence against women for the following reasons:

It is to be expected that programming with violent content will involve both women and men as victims.  […]  [B]roadcasters must ensure that women are not depicted as victims of violence unless the violence is integral to the story being told.  […]  [I]t is clear that the violence is material, indeed central, to the plot development.  […]  That the victims were all women tied the serial killings to a theme but that fact is not material in terms of the Code.

As to the issue of glamorization, the Panel does not find a breach. It considers that the murders past and present were depicted as horrible acts and their perpetrators as evil, wicked, and aberrant.  There was not a smidgen of acceptance of the crimes on any level.  In short, the Panel finds no breach of Article 7 of the CAB Violence Code in the broadcast of this program.  

The Panel did, however, conclude that the scenes of violence were sufficiently graphic and disturbing that the episode of NCIS was intended for adult audiences and ought, in normal circumstances, to have been aired after the Canadian industry-recognized “Watershed” hour of 9:00 pm.  This did not, however, constitute a breach because the CAB Violence Code contains an exception for simultaneously substituted programming.  Although that rule means that some mature American programming will appear before 9:00 pm in Canada, it ensures that it is only the Canadian signal will be available and that signal, unlike that broadcast on the American channel, will include the “Canadian ratings icons [and] viewer advisories provided to assist viewers in making informed choices for them and their families.”  This important information would otherwise be absent from the direct U.S. signal.  Given that rule, Canadian broadcasters are expected to provide adequate information about such programming.  CH failed on that account by rating the program PG when it should have been 14+ and by omitting mention of the violence in its viewer advisories.  The Panel found Code breaches for those two errors. 

Canada’s private broadcasters have themselves created industry standards in the form of Codes on ethics, gender portrayal and television violence by which they expect the members of their profession will abide.  In 1990, they also created the CBSC, which is the self-regulatory body with the responsibility of administering those professional broadcast Codes, as well as the Code dealing with journalistic practices first created by the Radio Television News Directors Association of Canada (RTNDA) in 1970.  More than 590 radio and television stations and specialty services from across Canada are members of the Council. 

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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