Even Predictable Level of Violence Needs Viewer Advisories, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, April 16, 2004 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning the broadcast of an episode of the Ultimate Fighting Challenge (UFC) aired on TSN on May 26, 2003, at 8:00 pm.  A viewer complained that the content was too violent for the time at which it was shown.  Recognizing the nature of the sport and the anticipated nature and level of violence, the National Specialty Services Panel found no breach of Articles 3 (Scheduling) and 10 (Violence in Sport Programming) of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB) Violence Code.  It did find, however, that the failure to air viewer advisories breached Article 5 (Viewer Advisories) of the Code. 

The program depicted two combatants fighting for the UFC championship in Mixed Martial Arts.  Without any of the customary boxing gear, the fighters hit each other on different parts of the body, especially on the head and in the face.  Bleeding lips, noses and foreheads were shown on screen.  Takes of the “hitting strategies” were repeated after each round.  In its decision, the Panel noted that the nature of the fighting is different from wrestling for it appears (and likely is) more brutal and realistic but it also noted that there was no indication that what was broadcast involved violence which would fall outside the sanctioned limits of the sport.  It explained the following:

While fighting in another sport (such as baseball, football, hockey or basketball, to provide some popular professional examples) may fall outside that sport’s sanctioned limits, that can hardly be said to be the case when fighting is the very nature of the sport.  This would, in principle, be true of boxing, wrestling, judo, ju-jitsu, and other similar sports.  It does not mean that just any level of violent activity in any such pugilistic sport can be broadcast without the provision of the audience tools which the broadcast industry has put in place to enable viewers to make informed viewing choices.  It should, however, be noted that classification icons would not be required since sports broadcasting is exempt from the requirement to apply ratings.  This does not mean that the provision of such ratings would not be informative and a positive gesture; broadcasters are not, however, obliged to provide such information.

The Panel also explained that, even though the fighting breached no Code provisions, broadcasters were still required to comply with the other provisions of the Code and alert viewers as to possibly inappropriate content.

Where, therefore, a certain level of violence is predictable given the nature of the sport, broadcasters will be expected to deal with this level of “predictable” violence in the same way as they would any other type of programming.

Thus, in the circumstances of the present complaint, the Panel finds the level of violence of this sport unsuitable for children (although not exclusively intended for adults, the consequence being that it is suitable for broadcast before 9:00 pm).  It follows that TSN’s broadcast of Ultimate Fighting Challenge should have been accompanied by the appropriate viewer advisories, alerting audiences to the coming content so that they would be in a position to make informed viewing choices.  Since TSN has not supplied those advisories here, the Panel concludes that the broadcaster is in violation of Article 5.2 of the Violence Code.

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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