Failure to Air Viewer Advisories and Icons as Required by Codes Is Unacceptable, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, July 20, 2004 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning an episode of WWE aired on TSN from 9:00 pm until just after 11:00 pm on August 18, 2003.  The National Specialty Services Panel reviewed the broadcast in question and concluded that TSN’s broadcast of the WWE wrestling program on that date breached the provisions of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB) Violence Code requiring the broadcast of viewer advisories and classification icons. 

The challenged episode follows the usual pattern of a combination of wrestling matches interrupted by outside-the-ring and behind-the-scenes dramatic segments that weave to some extent into the story line of the whole episode.  At the beginning of the program, the broadcaster aired a visual-only advisory that read as follows: “The following program contains material that may offend some viewers.  Discretion is advised.”  Although no Canadian classification icons were displayed, the American ratings icon “TV 14 DLV” did appear on the screen for 4 seconds at the start of the program and once more for 6 seconds later in the show.  The visual-only advisory was repeated after each commercial break.  A viewer complained about the treatment of women in the program as well as a scene of suggestive violence. 

The National Specialty Services Panel considered the complaint under the provisions of the CAB Voluntary Code regarding Violence in Television Programming and CAB Sex-Role Portrayal Code.  While the Panel expressed its discomfort with some elements in the dramatic scenes, it did not find that the broadcast of any of those scenes constituted a breach of the foregoing Codes.  The Panel did, however, find that the broadcaster failed to adhere to the requirements relating to viewer advisories and classification icons established in the Violence Code.  On the issue of viewer advisories, the Panel concluded that 

TSN’s commitment to broadcast advisories (called “disclaimers” by them) must respect the requirements of the Council’s rules, namely, that they must be presented in audio and video formats whenever they are aired.  The failure to employ both formats in the present matter constitutes a breach of Article 5 of the Violence Code. 

In relation to the use of classification icons, the Panel explained that the exemption from the requirement to display on-screen ratings icons in sports programming did not apply in the challenged WWE programming.  It explained its position in the following terms: 

In general, sports programming is exempt from the requirement for the display of classification icons on Canadian television.  (Note that this is not the case in the United States, where the challenged episode bore the distinctly American “TV 14 DLV” rating.)   As noted earlier in this decision, however, the WWE professional wrestling is a hybrid genre, which includes both sports and dramatic elements.  As the federation’s own attorneys noted, the episodes “are carefully written as soap operas, involving scripted characters performing wrestling.”  It follows that, particularly for the out-of-the-ring segments, the broadcaster must apply classification ratings to the program, in accordance with the AGVOT rules.  In this case, the Panel considers that, not unlike the applicable American rating, it is the “14+” level that would be applicable in Canada.  The failure to have displayed that icon at the start of the program and at the top of the hour at 10:00 pm and 11:00 pm constituted a breach of Article 4 of the CAB Violence Code.  Moreover, the broadcaster should note carefully, for future broadcasts of the program, that the AGVOT system requires that the icon be displayed for 15-16 seconds on each occasion.  The Panel makes this point since the display of the American ratings icon, which was not, and would not have been, appropriate as a substitute for the Canadian icon, was only displayed for 4 seconds at the start of the program and for 6 seconds at 21:55

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 530 radio and television stations and specialty services from across Canada are members of the Council.

– 30 –

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