CRTC Public Notice

Ottawa, 28 October 1993
Public Notice CRTC 1993-149

Voluntary Code Regarding Violence in Television Programming

Background

In October 1993, the Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB) submitted revisions to its Voluntary Code Regarding Violence in Television Programming (the Code). The revisions follow more than a year of intense discussions generated by growing concern about the phenomenon of violence in society. While television is not the only medium that presents graphic representations of violence (video games, movies, magazines and newspapers all contribute), concerns regarding the portrayal of violence on television have led to an examination, both in Canada and abroad, of the various options for dealing with this difficult problem.

In September 1993, the Action Group on Violence on Television (the Action Group), an organization representing all components of the Canadian broadcasting industry, set out a six- point statement of principles, establishing the basic standards for the depiction of violence in television programming. These standards include a prohibition against the depiction of gratuitous violence; the responsibility that broadcasters have, in scheduling programs, to be sensitive to the concerns for children; and a commitment to provide viewers with adequate information about the subject matter of programs offered. These principles, as adopted by the CAB, are contained in Section III of the Association's Code, which is attached as Appendix A to this notice.

The Action Group also announced that it has established a number of sub-committees to develop a classification system, as well as to initiate educational programs and maintain liaison with parent and teacher groups.

The Commission's Response

The Commission acknowledges the valuable initiatives of the Action Group. It also recognizes the considerable efforts of the CAB, on behalf of private television licensees, to develop responsible guidelines in consultation with representatives of public interest groups. The list of the groups consulted during this process is attached as appendix B to this notice.

The Commission is generally satisfied that the CAB's revised Code achieves the appropriate balance between preserving freedom of expression and protecting the viewing public, especially children, from the harmful effects of television violence.

The Commission notes in particular the CAB's commitment that Canadian private broadcasters will not air programming that contains gratuitous violence in any form; or sanctions, promotes or glamorizes violence.

Other improvements made by the CAB to its Code include:

The Commission's acceptance of the Code, however, is conditional upon the inclusion of a satisfactory system of program classification. Once the Action Group has developed a classification system that is acceptable to the Commission, the Commission will expect the CAB to incorporate the system into the Code and to make any revisions that may be necessary. In this regard, the Commission draws the CAB's attention to the possibility that revisions may be required to Section 3 of the Code, where reference is made to a 9:00 p.m. watershed hour before which programming portraying scenes of violence intended for adult audiences must not be aired.

In light of growing societal concerns about destructive adolescent behaviour (including, among other things, drug abuse and street crime), the Commission also expects the classification system developed by the Action Group to address the classification and scheduling of programming aired at times when this group (those 12 to 17 years of age) is likely to be viewing television.

Once a satisfactory classification system has been approved by the Action Group, the Commission will publish it for comment by all interested parties.

The Commission is pleased that the Code establishes clear guidelines for the depiction of violence in children's programming that take into account the particular vulnerability of young viewers. These guidelines include the following stipulations:

The Commission notes the references in the Code to "realistic scenes of violence", and recognizes that, while most animated fairy tales, fables, and cartoons of slapstick humour do not contain realistic scenes of violence, a number of action cartoons do portray such scenes. Studies indicate that such scenes may alter the emotional reactions of some children to violence, and could result in such effects as desensitization and increased tendencies towards aggressive behaviour. Consequently, the Commission expects broadcasters to be guided by Section 2 of the Code, and to bear these concerns in mind when acquiring or producing animated programs for children.

Implementation of the Code's Requirements

As proposed by the CAB, the Commission will expect the licensees of all privately-owned conventional television stations and networks to be operating in compliance with the provisions of the Code by no later than 1 January 1994. At the time of licence renewal or upon issuance of new licences, the Commission intends to require such compliance as a condition of licence.

Upon application, the Commission would be prepared to suspend this condition of licence for broadcasters who are members in good standing of the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (the Council) which will be overseeing the application of the Code. For the purposes of assessing compliance, the Commission will have regard to Section III only of the Code found in Appendix A of this notice.

The Commission wishes to emphasize that, by sanctioning industry self-regulation with respect to the portrayal of violence on television, it is not relinquishing its responsibility or authority in this area. According to its usual practice, the CRTC will monitor closely the resolution of complaints about television violence, and reminds the public that any interested party not satisfied with a Council decision may ask the CRTC to examine its complaint.

Allan J. Darling
Secretary General