CTV re PSA (Family Abuse Crisis Exchange)

ONTARIO REGIONAL COUNCIL
(CBSC Decision 95/96-0140)
A. MacKay (Chair), R. Stanbury (Vice-Chair), R. Cohen (ad hoc), P. Fockler, M. Hogarth, M. Ziniak

THE FACTS

This complaint involves a 30-second Public Service Announcement (PSA) for the Family
Abuse Crisis Exchange (F.A.C.E.) which ran on the CTV Network on February 8, 1996.
The only visuals were a doll house and a doll with bandages. A voice-over dealt with the
topic of domestic violence. It told that the doll's child-owner was never touched, but that
the abuse of the child's mother was itself a source of injury to the child. The text of the PSA
was as follows:

First he started drinking, then calling his wife stupid, ugly. It escalated. He started pushing
her. Sadly enough, she wasn't the only one traumatised. Although he never raised a hand
to their four year old daughter [pause], this is her doll. Domestic violence hurts everyone.
Please help us to help the victims of abuse.

The Letter of Complaint

On February 9, 1996, a viewer complained about “Canada's sexist double standard
regarding violence against men on television.” The complainant's letter read as follows:

I am writing regarding an advertisement on CTV for “FACES” which I saw at 11 pm on
Thursday Feb 8, 1996 on their Ottawa station. The ad accused fathers of beating their
wives and implied that this damaged the child, also portrayed as a female.

I am sure that you realize that virtually all the portrayals of domestic violence victims are
shown on Canadian Radio and TV to be female and the perpetrators to be male.

This is a highly emotional issue and this ad promotes sexual hatred and degradation for the
purpose of fund raising for a facility which excludes men from its services on the basis of
their gender.

Regional police have discovered two men murdered by their wives within the last few weeks
in Ottawa. I volunteer at Men's Support Services which provides counselling for men who
have survived relationship violence, most at the hands of mothers, wives and their
girlfriends. Governments refuse to fund men's services because they say domestic violence
against men doesn't exist. TV and radio news reserve the use of the term “domestic
violence” for women victims. Although there are more of them, male murders are described
as “unusual” or “strange” or it is implied that the (male) victim had guilty involvement.

I have read the CRTC's policy on sex role portrayal in Radio and TV and it seems to me that
these CTV ads on domestic violence consistently and flagrantly violate the spirit and the
letter of your policy. I quote from your guidelines: “Negative or inequitable portrayal of
women and men can be both explicit or implied.” From what I have seen, all negative
representation in domestic violence on TV have been [sic] men: language in ads and
programming labels men always as perpetrators.

Your policy on changing interaction states,”Women and men shall be portrayed … in a wide
range of roles, both traditional and non-traditional, in paid work, social, family and leisure
activities” and further states, “Men should not always be portrayed as the aggressor in
personal relationships.” What percentage of portrayals of domestic violence show women
as the aggressor? Does the figure zero on CTV advertising conform to your policy?

Your policy on commercial messages states, “The various aspects of sex-role portrayal
dealt with in the appropriate clauses of the Code shall apply to portrayal in commercial
messages.” Do you not agree that this ad, like the ads of the Ontario government on
domestic violence, violates your policy? Where is the balance? Where is the diversity?

Of course, TV stations claim women don't beat men because men are not coming to police
and laying charges, or going to shelters because of domestic violence. That's true, but men
are more likely to be arrested by the policy than get help if they have been bruised and
battered by a wife. And there aren't men's shelters and few support services for abused
men.

According to Winnipeg family violence researcher Reena Sommers, women admit to
beating their men more often and more severely than men hitting women. Radio and TV
portray women in non-stereotyped roles, but why do you let them get away with not
portraying men as victims of violence, especially in this area?

Do you have any representation from men's groups on your studies into this policy, or have
you reserved input, consultation and funding only for women's groups to implement this
policy in a one-sided fashion? I note your policy lists input from women's groups only, all
of whom have received substantial government funding.

I thank you for your attention to this serious matter about Canada's sexist double standard
regarding violence against men on television.

Sincerely,

P.S. I suggest a fair remedy would be require TV and Radio stations to give equal time to
Men's Support Services to show the other side for balance.

The Broadcaster's Response

In her letter of February 22, CTV's Vice President, Corporate Communications, and
Director of Programming, said:

The “advertisement” you mention in your letter is actually a public service announcement
for Family Abuse Crisis Exchange (FACE). CTV provides airtime free of charge for public
service announcements which meet with the following criteria. They are of national interest,
of broadcast quality, be approved by the Telecaster Committee and for a not-for-profit
organization.

In your letter you suggest that CTV is discriminating against men's groups. This is not the
case. CTV will air any public service announcement which meets the above mentioned
criteria. The only reason that we do not air public service announcements for men's groups
is because we have never been asked by a men's group to do so.

CTV is aware that the problem of domestic violence is not only against women. As you will
see from the enclosed video cassette, CTV News ran a story on “Battered Husbands” on
March 11,1995.

If your support group would like to provide us with a public service announcement which
meets the above mentioned criteria, we would be pleased to telecast it to help raise public
awareness of this problem.

The complainant was unsatisfied with this response and requested, on February 29, 1996,
that the CBSC refer the matter to the appropriate Regional Council for adjudication.

The CBSCs Ontario Regional Council considered the complaint under the Sex Role
Portrayal Code for Television and Radio Programming,
clauses 1 and 4, which read in part
as follows:

(1)

Changing Interaction:

Broadcasters recognize the changing interaction of women and men in today's society. Women and
men shall be portrayed, in programming, in a wide range of roles, both traditional and
non-traditional, in paid work, social, family and leisure activities.

Guidance: The roles and opportunities for both sexes are becoming more diverse due to
such factors as the elimination of female-only and male-only occupations, changing patterns
of parenting and lifestyles. Women and girls should be portrayed in a range of roles as
diverse as that shown for men and boys. Men should not always be portrayed as the
aggressor in personal relationships. Women and men should be portrayed as working
together in circumstances where the “power” balance does not always favour the man by
virtue of his position or personal attributes.

(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 Regional Council members viewed a tape of the PSA in question and reviewed all of
the correspondence. The Council considers that the PSA in question does not violate any
of the provisions of the Sex-Role Portrayal Code.

The Content of the Program

While the F.A.C.E. PSA depicts the perpetration of domestic violence by a man against
a woman, the Ontario Regional Council does not consider that this PSA was unfairly or
unjustifiably negative. It did not create fear nor contain any material which could be
considered offensive or hateful. Its spoken words and visuals were seen by the Council
to be neutral. While the Council understands that some viewers could be troubled by
PSAs that depicted men as the only aggressors, this PSA was only one in a series which
was created to alert the public to several widespread social problems. It considers that
this PSA achieved that result without a generalized negative or degrading portrayal of
men.

Even if the PSA in question could be seen to have some implicit negative implications, the
Ontario Regional Council does not conclude that this portrayal misrepresents the problem
of family violence. It is accepted by the Council that men are most often, although not
always, the perpetrators of abuse. Moreover, since the “power” balance in abusive
relationships is more often than not in favour of the man, the Council is satisfied that this
PSA was a realistic and justifiable presentation of a societal problem. Furthermore, it
cannot be forgotten that one of the purposes of the Sex-Role Portrayal Code is to charge
broadcasters with the responsibility of addressing the issue of power imbalance, as this
PSA does.

While it is fair on the part of the complainant to point out that, as the Guidance section in
Clause 1 provides, that “Men should not always be portrayed as the aggressor in personal
relationships,” the isolation of a single PSA (which was not, for its own internal dramatic
reasons, abusively discriminatory or exploitative) cannot fall afoul of this provision. In fact,
the point of this statement in the Guidance section relates to larger issues of balance
which CTV directly addressed by raising the story entitled “Battered Husbands” which it
had aired on March 11, 1995.

The Broadcasters Response

While it is a responsibility of membership in the CBSC to be responsive to audience
complaints, in this case the station was seen as not only meeting, but exceeding its
responsibilities. In CFOX-FM re The “Larry And Willie” Show (CBSC Decision 92/93-0141,
August 30, 1993), the first decision of the CBSC which discussed the responsibility of the
broadcaster to be responsive as well as to respect the provisions of the various CBSC-administered Codes, the broadcaster went as far as inviting the complainant to present a
commentary of its choice with a commentator of its choice to counter-balance the Irish
jokes to which the complainant had objected. The B.C. Regional Council considered this
approach by the broadcaster to be

of a thoughtful and collaborative nature and, indeed, exemplary in the fulfilment of
broadcaster responsiveness to a complainant, despite the fact that the station itself did not
consider that it had acted in a racist or offensive manner.

Correspondingly, the Ontario Regional Council finds that CTV's express offer to telecast
a PSA from the complainant's support group to be equally generous and exemplary.
Nothing more is required.

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.