Documentary about Porn Industry Requires Viewer Advisories, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, September 13, 2005 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning the broadcast of the documentary film Sex: The Annabel Chong Story on The Documentary Channel on May 10, 2005 at midnight Eastern time. The CBSC National Specialty Services Panel determined that the film did not violate any Code provisions regarding the broadcast of sexually explicit material or unduly discriminatory material directed against an identifiable group but it did conclude that the broadcast should have included viewer advisories alerting audiences to the sexually explicit content and coarse language.

The subject of Sex: The Annabel Chong Story was Grace Quek, a pornographic movie actress who performed under the screen name Annabel Chong. The film included interviews with Quek herself, as well as with friends, family, teachers and employers. It also featured clips from some of Chong’s porn movies and sexually explicit dialogue. A viewer complained that this sexually explicit program was not a documentary at all because of its subject matter, was inappropriate broadcast fare for a serious documentary channel, and was degrading to women in general and Asian women in particular.

The CBSC National Specialty Services Panel examined the complaint under the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics and Sex-Role Portrayal Code for Television and Radio Programming. The Panel observed, first, that nothing in the subject matter of the film was incompatible with its status as a documentary; there was no reason why a documentary “cannot also be, by way of example, a comedic, musical, or even particularly sexually explicit documentary.” As the Panel decided, “the subject of the film does not change the nature of the program form” and The Documentary Channel was fully entitled to broadcast a documentary with a sexual theme.

It also concluded that, although the documentary was about the porn industry, it was not exploitative of women. In addition, although the film acknowledged Chong’s Asian heritage, the Panel did not find any “negative statement being made about [her] on the basis of her race.” Notwithstanding the foregoing substantive determinations, the Panel did underscore that adult-oriented programming must not be broadcast before 9:00 pm and must carry viewer advisories. Although The Documentary Channel had respected the 9:00 pm Watershed hour in all time zones by broadcasting the film at midnight Eastern time, it violated the CAB Code of Ethics by failing to include any viewer advisories (even though the broadcaster explained that the failure had resulted from a technical problem).

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 550 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