Failure to Broadcast Sufficient Viewer Advisories on Adult Programming Breaches Code, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, March 2, 2011 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning an episode of Sexe Réalité, broadcast by specialty service Canal D at midnight on June 18, 2010.  The episode included four segments, each of which dealt with adult-level sexual content.  The program was rated 18+ and a viewer advisory alerting viewers to the sexually explicit content of the program was included at the start of the broadcast, but not repeated.  A viewer complained about the explicit and detailed sexual content in the program, especially the segment dealing with the subject of sodomy.  The Quebec Regional Panel found no breach of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB) Code of Ethics on that account.

The Quebec Panel considered the episode under the terms of Clause 8 of the CAB Code of Ethics, which prohibits the exploitation of either gender.  It concluded

that the genders were treated without exploitation vis-à-vis each other and that the sexual activity, although explicit, was not exploitative.  In addition, it considers that the depiction falls with the General Principle […] that “[n]othing in this Code should be interpreted as censoring the depiction of healthy sexuality.”  The Panel also finds that the sexual content, which was exclusively adult in nature, was broadcast at an entirely appropriate hour, well after the start of the Watershed.  In such circumstances, provided viewers are given sufficient information to enable them to make an informed viewing choice, their choice is to watch or change the channel.

The Panel was, however, concerned with the frequency of appearance of the viewer advisory, which is intended to provide audiences with notice of forthcoming programming that they might not wish to have on their television screens.  The Panel concluded that Canal D had breached the clause of the Code of Ethics that requires viewer advisories to be broadcast at the start of the program and following every commercial break.

On the substantive (content) side, Canal D has been precise.  It has alerted viewers to the sexually explicit nature of the program.  Nothing more was needed as to the content of the advisory.  That said, the rules relating to the frequency of broadcast of the advisories are important and were not, on this occasion, respected.  For a one-hour program exclusively intended for adult audiences and broadcast in the Watershed period, Clause 11 is clear.  The appropriate viewer advisory must appear at the start of the program and following every commercial break.  The reason for that rule is obvious.  People tune in and out of programs.  They channel surf.  The rule was established in the expectation that viewers may not arrive at the start of the show.  They are not on that account less entitled to the information about the program than those individuals who are there from the very beginning of the program.

The Panel also commended Canal D for changing its practices regarding the frequency of the appearance of the viewer advisory to conform with the rule in Clause 11 shortly after receiving the complaint and several months prior to the meeting of the Quebec Panel on this matter.

Canada’s private broadcasters have themselves created industry standards in the form of Codes on ethics, equitable portrayal, television violence and journalistic independence 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 and the pay television Codes, as well as the Code dealing with journalistic ethics created by the RTNDA – Association of Electronic Journalists in 1970.  Nearly 760 radio stations, satellite radio services, 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