Questions Concerning Broadcast Standards

Index


Why is offensive material allowed to be broadcast?

First of all, what may be offensive to some viewers or listeners may not be to others. Not everyone will be concerned about the same types of program content. Moreover, Parliament anticipated such diversity of tastes by legislating that broadcasters are required, under the Broadcasting Act, to provide a variety of programming which will meet the special likes and desires of the various groups of listeners and viewers in Canadian society. This principle is also reflected in the CAB Code of Ethics. That being said, in order to be sensitive to those people who may wish to avoid certain types of programming, the Codes administered by the CBSC require broadcasters to inform viewers of the content of potentially offensive programming through the use of viewer advisories, the classification system and the Watershed hour. To learn more about these informational tools, you may wish to read the following FAQs: When are viewer advisories required? ; What is the Program Classification System? ; What is the Watershed?

Second, the CBSC’s process is reactive, not proactive. That means that the CBSC does not censor or pre-approve broadcasting that is to be aired. It has neither the mandate nor the resources to do so and such pre-approval would likely be considered offensive to most Canadians, to whom it might appear to be a form of censorship. In any event, broadcasters are expected to make their programming choices in conformity with the existing standards. It is only if a complaint is made about an actual broadcast which has offended a viewer or listener that the CBSC may be called upon to verify the compliance of the broadcaster with the standards. For related information on the CBSC’s complaints-driven process, see also the FAQ Can I complain about an upcoming broadcast?

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What are the limits concerning violence on TV or radio?

Broadcasters are prohibited from airing programming which “contains gratuitous violence” or which “sanctions, promotes or glamorizes violence.” This prohibition applies to both television and radio content. For more information on these prohibitions and the criteria used in determining what constitutes such programming, see the commentary under Clause 1 of the CAB Violence Code (which pertains to television broadcasting) and commentary under Clause 9 of the CAB Code of Ethics (which pertains to radio broadcasting).

The Violence Code also provides for a “Watershed” hour, set at 9 pm. Programming which is exclusively “intended for adult audiences” cannot be aired before that time. Such programming must also be accompanied by viewer advisories. The criteria for determining what constitutes programming “intended for adult audiences” is discussed at length in the commentary under Clause 3 of the Violence Code. See also the related FAQs What is the Watershed? and When are viewer advisories required?

Programming which is not exclusively “intended for adult audiences” but is nevertheless “unsuitable for young viewers” may be aired before 9 pm but must be accompanied by viewer advisories. See the commentary under Clause 5 of the Violence Code and the related FAQ When are viewer advisories required?

The Violence Code also provides for another informational tool, namely, program classification, which is required for all dramatic and children’s programs. Some categories, such as news and sports, are exempted from the program classification system. A program’s rating must be displayed as an on-screen icon and also invisibly embedded in the program itself for use in conjunction with v-chip technology. For further information on the classification system, see Clause 4 of the Violence Code and the FAQ What is the Program Classification System?

The Violence Code also sets out special rules for children’s programming, violence against specific groups and violence in sports programming, among other things. The complete text of the Violence Code is provided on this website along with a commentary section following every Code provision, which provides interpretive notes based on previous CBSC decisions.

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What are the limits concerning sexual content on television and radio?

Clauses 9 and 10 of the CAB Code of Ethics deal with sexually explicit material on radio and television respectively. Radio broadcasters must ensure that the programming on their stations does not contain “unduly sexually explicit material.” What constitutes “unduly sexually explicit material” will be assessed based on criteria set out in the Code, as interpreted by the CBSC. See Clause 9 of the CAB Code of Ethics and the accompanying commentary.

Television programming which contains “sexually explicit material intended for adult audiences” must not be broadcast prior to the Watershed hour of 9 pm. Any such broadcast must also be accompanied by viewer advisories. Programming containing sexual content which is not exclusively “intended for adult audiences” may be aired prior to the Watershed. It must, however, be accompanied by viewer advisories if it contains “mature subject matter or scenes with nudity […] or other material susceptible of offending viewers” which is unsuitable for children. See Clause 10 and Clause 11 of the CAB Code of Ethics and the accompanying commentaries.

The Violence Code also provides for another informational tool, namely, program classification, which is required for all dramatic and children’s programs. Some categories, such as news and sports, are exempted from the program classification system. A program’s rating must be displayed as an on-screen icon and also invisibly embedded in the program itself for use in conjunction with v-chip technology. For further information on the classification system, see Clause 4 of the Violence Code and the FAQ What is the Program Classification System?

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What are the limits concerning the use of coarse language on television or radio?

Clauses 9 and 10 of the CAB Code of Ethics deal with coarse and offensive language on radio and television respectively. Radio broadcasters must ensure that the programming on their stations does not contain unduly coarse or offensive language. What constitutes unduly coarse or offensive language will be assessed based on criteria set out in the Code, as interpreted by the CBSC. See Clause 9 of the CAB Code of Ethics and the accompanying commentary.

Television programming which contains “coarse or offensive language intended for adult audiences” must not be broadcast prior to the Watershed hour of 9 pm. Even when broadcast after that hour, it must be accompanied by viewer advisories. Programming which is not “intended for adult audiences” may be aired prior to the Watershed. It must, however, be accompanied by viewer advisories if it contains “mature subject matter or scenes with […] coarse or offensive language, or other material susceptible of offending viewers” which is unsuitable for children. See Clause 10 and Clause 11 of the CAB Code of Ethics and the accompanying commentaries.

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Are there special rules for children’s programming?

Programming that is intended for children (defined as being under 12 years old) is held up to very high standards under the Codes administered by the CBSC. In general, children’s programming should be of high quality and reflect “the moral and ethical standards of contemporary Canadian society.” It should also contain very little violent content and should only include violent matter is essential to the development of character and plot. Programming for children should deal particularly carefully with themes “that may threaten the children’s sense of security or well-being” as well as with themes“ which could invite children to imitate acts which they see on screen.” Other provisions require that such programming shall not contain realistic scenes of violence which create the impression that violence is the preferred, much less the only, way to resolve conflict between individuals or which minimize or gloss over the effects of violent acts. For further information and the detailed list of children’s programming provisions, see Clause 2 of the Violence Code and Clause 4 of the CAB Code of Ethics and the related commentary sections.

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What are the requirements relating to viewer advisories?

The display of viewer advisories is one of the methods used to inform viewers about different aspects of the content of the program that is about to be broadcast or that is already underway. The function of the viewer advisories is to provide consumers with content information in order to assist them in making knowledgeable viewing choices, especially when programming includes mature subject matter or scenes with violence, nudity, sexually explicit material, coarse or offensive language, or other potentially offensive material. See Clause 5 of the CAB Violence Code and Clause 11 of the CAB Code of Ethics and their accompanying commentary sections as well as the FAQs dealing with violence, sexual content and coarse or offensive language.

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What is the Watershed?

A. The Watershed marks the start of the late evening viewing period, defined as running from 9 pm to 6 am. Television content which contains material “intended exclusively for an adult audience” must be aired after the Watershed. While initially created for the purposes of the Violence Code (see Clause 3 of the Violence Code), the Watershed has been used since its introduction by broadcasters as a general demarcation point for all forms of adult content. This expanded use has now been codified in Clause 10 of the CAB Code of Ethics which requires that programming which contains sexually explicit content or coarse or offensive language be aired post-Watershed.

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What is the Classification System for Canada?

For more information about the television program classification systems in Canada, see the “V-Chip Canada” section of our website.

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Do all broadcasters follow the same rules?

All Canadian broadcasters licensed by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) are subjected to some content regulation (e.g. rules concerning scheduling, viewer advisories and program classification) by the CRTC. Those private broadcasters which are members of the CBSC have all agreed to be subject to the Codes and other standards administered by the CBSC. On the other hand, non-Canadian broadcasters, whose programming is delivered by cable or satellite, are not subjected to any Canadian content regulation, whether legislative or codified.

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My favourite program has been cancelled. Can the CBSC do anything about it?

Program selection is a matter entirely within the broadcaster's discretion so long as the content does not otherwise violate any Code provision. Accordingly, the CBSC cannot deal with complaints about the cancellation of any particular program. You may wish to contact the station directly to let the broadcaster know your views. The CBSC’s site offers direct links to its members’ websites where available.

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Can the CBSC deal with complaints about Internet content?

The CBSC deals with “broadcasting”. To the extent that a station’s broadcast signals are streamed, without alteration, on the Internet, the CBSC will deal with complaints about such programming. The CBSC does not, however, deal otherwise with other Internet content, i.e. websites, message boards, etc, nor does the CRTC regulate content on the Internet. While there is currently no organization in Canada established to deal with such complaints, you may be interested in reading about the Canadian government’s strategy to deal with such issues in its booklet titled Illegal and Offensive Content on the Internet: The Canadian Strategy to Promote Safe, Wise and Responsible Internet Use. You may also wish to contact the Canadian Association of Internet Providers (CAIP), which may have further information on this issue.

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Can the CBSC deal with complaints about advertisements?

The CBSC can deal with certain types of complaints about advertisements.  It CAN deal with radio and television advertising complaints if the concern is the time of day at which the content aired.

The CBSC CANNOT deal with complaints about inaccurate claims, discriminatory content, presentation of dangerous behaviour, etc in advertisements.  Those complaints should be sent to Advertising Standards Canada (ASC).  ASC is the self-regulatory agency established to administer the codes of standards created by the advertising industry and to deal with complaints about advertisements.

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Can the CBSC deal with complaints about newspapers, magazines or other print media?

No.  The CBSC cannot deal with complaints about newspaper or magazine content or any other content in print media.  Those complaints should be sent to your provincial Press Council.

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Can the CBSC deal with complaints about ANY broadcasting issue?

No.  The CBSC can generally only deal with complaints about content that was actually broadcast on air.  The issue must be able to be examined under one or more of the provisions in the Codes administered by the CBSC.

The CBSC CANNOT deal with complaints about the choice to air a particular program; the cancellation of a particular program; repetition of programs; pre-emption of programs and other issues related to program selection.  Program selection is an issue completely at the discretion of the broadcaster, provided the content does not breach any Code provisions.

The CBSC CANNOT deal with complaints about licensing radio and television stations, Canadian content regulations, closed captioning and other similar issues.  Those complaints should be sent to the Canadian Radio-Television ancd Telecommuncations Commission , the government agency responsible for overseeing the Canadian broadcasting system.

The CBSC CANNOT deal with complaints about cable or satellite distribution services (ex. selection of channel packages; poor channel reception; errors on bill).  For complaints about cable and satellite television services, please contact the customer service division of your provider.  The CRTC can deal with complaints about some aspects of cable and satellite television; please consult the CRTC website.

The CBSC CANNOT deal with complaints about telephone or other telecommunications related issues, such as telephone service, telemarketing or signal interference on your telephone.  Some types of telecommunications complaints can be dealt with by the Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services (CCTS) and others can be dealt with by the CRTC.  Please consult the websites of those organizations for more information.

The CBSC CANNOT deal with complaints about the sound volume of commercials or programs.  Those complaints should also be sent to the CRTC.

The CBSC can only deal with certain types of advertising complaints.  Please see the Advertising FAQ for further explanation.

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