Discovery re The Devils Ride promotional spot

national specialty services Panel
CBSC Decision 12/13-1516
A. Noël (Chair), M. Arpin, M. Carter, J. Macdonald (ad hoc), T. Tatto (ad hoc), R. Waksman

The facts

The Devils Ride is a reality program that follows the lives of members of two warring motorcycle gangs in San Diego:  the Laffing Devils and the Sin Mob.  At 1:13 pm Eastern Time on April 18, 2013, Discovery broadcast a promotional spot for the program, which itself was going to be airing on the specialty service on April 20 at 11:00 pm.

The 30-second-long promo consisted of short scenes from the program, edited together to create a fast-paced, chaotic montage.  Some of the scenes were black and white close-ups of gang members making comments such as “Our intentions are to start a war with the Laffing Devils”, “Now I’m coming straight for the Sin Mob”, and “We’re going to force the Laffing Devils out of San Diego.  Nobody here will even know they existed”.  Others showed the gang members discussing their plans, fist-fighting in the street, and banging on a van with sticks.  The final scenes showed a man lighting a blowtorch followed by another man flinging a third man down on a table.  There was then a close-up of the blowtorch flame near his tattooed skin and then a close-up of a man’s face as he screamed.

The CBSC received a complaint in May 2013 from viewers in British Columbia who expressed concern about the violent nature of promos that Discovery aired during daytime hours during family-oriented programs such as How It’s Made and Daily Planet.  One example that they cited was The Devils Ride promo described above.  The complainants noted that there were two versions of the promo:  one that featured the blowtorch scene which they stated was very disturbing to their 10-year-old child; and “a shorter version which was not as intensely violent”.

Discovery responded to the complainants on May 31.  The station agreed that “the images used in this on-air promo were not appropriate for daytime viewing” and stated that the promo would not air again.  It also mentioned that it is a single-feed specialty service originating in the Eastern time zone.

The complainants filed their Ruling Request on June 7, expressing concern about the fact that adult-oriented programming broadcast on a single-feed specialty service originating in the Eastern time zone appears earlier in the day in time zones west of Ontario.  They argued that time-shifting should be possible with current technology and that the “current policy seems ‘Toronto-centric’ and ignores the needs of millions of other Canadian families.”  With respect to the specific promo at issue, the complainants described the final scene as a gang member “torturing a man by burning him with a blowtorch in the abdominal or groin area while the man screams in pain.”  They argued that these types of promos are being “shown to children during after-school viewing time” and demonstrated the station’s failure to vet their promos prior to broadcast.  (The full text of the correspondence can be found in the Appendix.)

 

The Decision

The CBSC National Specialty Services Panel examined the complaint under Article 3.2 of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Violence Code which reads as follows:

Promotional material which contains scenes of violence intended for adult audiences shall not be telecast before 9 pm.

The Panel Adjudicators read all of the correspondence and viewed the promotional spot in question.  The majority of the Panel concludes that Discovery did not breach Article 3.2 of the CAB Violence Code.  One Adjudicator dissents.

 

The question for the Panel with regards to this specific promo for The Devils Ride is whether or not it contained any scenes of violence intended exclusively for adult audiences.  In previous decisions involving this issue, the CBSC has noted various factors influence its determination in that regard, including:  whether the violence is actually shown or merely implied; presence and quantity of gore and blood; graphic-ness; realism; quantity and duration of the acts; and overall tone of the ad or promo. 1

With those factors in mind, the majority of the Panel agrees with the complainants (and the broadcaster) that The Devils Ride promo was unsuitable for children to see and was not entirely appropriate for broadcast during an afternoon timeslot.  The Panel concludes, however, that the promo did not contain scenes intended exclusively for adults and therefore can be broadcast outside of the “Watershed” period of 9:00 pm to 6:00 am.  The majority acknowledges that the promo was edited in such a way as to create a menacing, chaotic “feel” which could be disturbing to some viewers, especially younger ones.  The majority also consider that broadcasting the promo during considerably more benign informative programming such as How It’s Made rendered the promo’s impact all the more jarring, again, especially to younger viewers to whom such programs might appeal.

That being said, when examined sequence by sequence, the majority of the Panel notes that, while violence was implied, there was no actual violence depicted.  The final sequence involving the blowtorch was undeniably the most troubling; however, the viewer only saw the torch being held in front of the man screaming, not any actual burning.  In addition, the promo was edited in such a way that the clips of the torch being lit and then being wielded in front of the man were separated by another quick clip.  Discovery, therefore, did not violate Article 3.2 of the CAB Violence Code.

 

Unlike my fellow Adjudicators, I do believe that the promo contained scenes of violence intended exclusively for adult audiences and therefore Discovery should not have broadcast it before 9:00 pm.  There is a violent and aggressive tone throughout the duration of the promo, created by the combination of the quick visual clips and the threatening comments made by the bikers.  This threat of violence then culminates in the final scene involving the blowtorch in which one man throws another onto a table, followed by the blowtorch being wielded in front of a screaming man.  Regardless of the fact that the viewer does not witness precisely if and how the blowtorch is used, the scene is sufficiently frightening and violent as to constitute a violation of Article 3.2.  The broadcast of the promo before 9:00 pm is all the more concerning given that it aired in the afternoon during programming that, although not targeted specifically to children, would clearly appeal to family members of all ages.

I also express concern, along with the complainants, that Article 3.1 of the CAB Violence Code (see below) allows violent programming to be aired prior to 9:00 pm in time zones west of Ontario.  In today’s era of high technology, I firmly believe that the exception noted at the bottom of Article 3.1 in now outdated.

 

Discovery points out that it has only one broadcast feed based in the Eastern time zone.  This means that its programming, which originates in the Eastern time zone, appears three hours earlier in the Pacific time zone, where the complainants live.  The fact that Canada has multiple time zones and most specialty services have only one broadcast feed means that programs broadcast post-9:00 pm in the Eastern time zone appear pre-9:00 pm in time zones west of Ontario.

The Scheduling provisions of both the CAB Code of Ethics and CAB Violence Code state that, for programs, the time zone will be assessed based on the time zone in which the signal originates.  This means that if a single-feed specialty service based in Toronto broadcasts an adult-oriented program at 9:00 pm Eastern, it will appear at 6:00 pm Pacific Time, but the station will not violate the code(s) because it has respected the Watershed requirement in its time zone of origination.  The CBSC has acknowledged that this creates a somewhat unfair situation for Western viewers. 2

This “time zone exception”, however, does not apply to the scheduling of advertisements or promos.  Ads/promos that contain scenes intended exclusively for adults must be broadcast post-9:00 pm (and pre-6:00 am) in all time zones regardless of where the signal originates. 3   This distinction between programs and ads/promos stems from how the wording is laid out in the code provision.  Article 3.0 reads as follows:

3.1        Programming

3.1.1     Programming which contains scenes of violence intended for adult audiences shall not be telecast before the late evening viewing period, defined as 9 pm to 6 am.

[…]

(Note: To accommodate the reality of time zone differences, and Canadian distant signal importation, these guidelines shall be applied to the time zone in which the signal originates.)

3.2        Promotional material which contains scenes of violence intended for adult audiences shall not be telecast before 9 pm.

3.3        Advertisements which contain scenes of violence intended for adult audiences, such as those for theatrically presented feature films, shall not be telecast before 9 pm.

The parenthetical note that sets out the “time zone exception” is placed at the end of subsection 3.1, which means that it applies to the subarticles located above it.  Subsections 3.2 and 3.3 are not only numbered separately, but also are placed after the exception note, meaning that the note does not apply to them.

In any event, in this particular case, Discovery broadcast The Devils Ride promo before 9:00 pm in all time zones, including the time zone of signal origination, so the “exception” and its applicability are not relevant here.  These facts address some of the concerns about western time zones that the complainants raised in their Ruling Request letter.

 

Broadcaster Responsiveness

In all CBSC decisions, the Panels assess the broadcaster’s response to the complainant.  The broadcaster need not agree with the complainant’s position, but it must respond in a courteous, thoughtful and thorough manner.  In this case, Discovery agreed with the complainants that this version of The Devils Ride promo was not appropriate for daytime viewing and committed to remove the promo from rotation.  A broadcaster’s agreement with a complainant does not necessarily mean a code was actually breached. 4   It can, however, demonstrate a broadcaster’s willingness to take audience concerns seriously and take concrete actions to provide responsible programming.  The Panel strongly commends Discovery for its reaction to this complaint.  Nothing further is required in this regard in this instance.

 

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.

 

1 TQS re Scheduling of Advertisements and Promos (CBSC Decision 98/99-0212+, June 23, 1999); CKY-TV re Promos for The Sopranos and City Hall (CBSC Decision 00/01-0071, August 20, 2001); CKCK-TV re Promos for The Sopranos and an Advertisement for The Watcher (CBSC Decision 00/01-0058, August 20, 2001); CIII-TV (Global Television) re an advertisement for the movie Seed of Chucky (CBSC Decision 04/05-0567, April 19, 2005); Global re an advertisement for the movie SkinWalkers (CBSC Decision 06/07-1352, November 29, 2007); Fox Sports World Canada re IFL promotional spot (CBSC Decision 07/08-0012, August 17, 2008); CTV re a promotional spot for Flashpoint (CBSC Decision 08/09-0668, June 25, 2009).

 

2 WTN re Sunday Night Sex Show (CBSC Decision 99/00-0672, January 31, 2001); Bravo! re the documentary film Give Me Your Soul (CBSC Decision 00/01-1021, January 16, 2002); History Television re the documentary film Argentina’s Dirty War (CBSC Decision 00/01-0944, May 3, 2002); History Television re an episode of the series Sexual Century (CBSC Decision 02/03-1495, January 30, 2004); TV5 re Le sexe autour du monde (“Japan”) (CBSC Decision 11/12-1648, October 24, 2012).

 

3 See the following decision in which this principle was first explained:  Space: TheImaginationStation re Drive-In Classics Promo (CBSC Decision 01/02-0699, September 13, 2002).

 

4 Bravo! re the film The House of Spirits (CBSC Decision 00/01-0738, January 16, 2002).