Dramatic Program Containing Graphic Violence Requires 18+ Rating, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, March 15, 2005 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning an episode of the dramatic series The Eleventh Hour broadcast on CTV. The CBSC’s National Conventional Television Panel concluded that the episode “Hard Seven” should have been rated 18+ rather than 14+ due to scenes of graphic violence and considerable coarse language.

The violent scenes in the challenged episode of The Eleventh Hour, a drama about investigative reporters, about which a complaint was received, involved a suicide by hanging, a prison rape and a shooting. The National Conventional Television Panel concluded that the violence was integral to the development of plot and characters, and therefore not gratuitous under the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Voluntary Code Regarding Violence in Television Programming. It also determined that CTV scheduled the program appropriately, that is, after the industry-recognized “Watershed” hour for adult programming of 9:00 pm. It also concluded that CTV aired adequate viewer advisories during the broadcast; however, it found that CTV had incorrectly rated the program 14+. Due to the graphic nature of the violence and the amount of coarse language, the Panel decided that an 18+ rating was required under the classification system designed by the Action Group on Violence on Television. The Panel explained the circumstances in which violent programming may be broadcast.

The Panel agrees with the complainant that the scenes of violence were both graphic and brutal. The question is what the consequences of such violence are in terms of programming. The reality of the Canadian broadcasting system is that violence determined to be either gratuitous or glamorized cannot be broadcast at any time of the day […]. Programming including all other types of violence may be aired […]. [Such programs] may not be permissible before the beginning of the Watershed hour but they will, even if graphic and brutal, be permissible after 9:00 pm.

Despite the fact that, as the Panel agreed, there is no mathematical formula available to determine the applicable rating, the Panel did explain the distinction between the 14+ and 18+ ratings as it applied to the challenged program.

There is not, in other words, the provision by the codifiers of an adjective or other word to distinguish this descriptor from the 14+ “intense scenes of violence” descriptor. Notwithstanding the absence of guidance from the codifiers, the CBSC has in the past used the word “graphic” to describe violence that, in the view of the adjudicating Panel in question, was a level above “intense”. […]

In the episode of the Eleventh Hour under consideration, the National Conventional Television Panel does consider that the violence is, in both prison occurrences, brutal and graphic. […] [W]here the content of a program is very close to the line between 14+ and 18+, the decision to go with the more conservative of the ratings choices might generally be considered a sensitive option on the part of the broadcaster. In any event, the graphic nature of the violence, coupled with the frequent use of extremely coarse language, necessitates the use of an 18+ icon in this episode of the Eleventh Hour.

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