Film about Adolescent Sexuality Not Exploitative, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, February 9, 2011 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning the film L.I.E. broadcast on OUTtv on May 27, 2010 at 9:00 pm.  The many-layered film told the story of a friendship between a 15-year-old boy and an older man whose sexual interest in young men is clearly a character trait.  The CBSC concluded that the film did not sexualize or exploit children contrary to the provisions of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Equitable Portrayal Code.

L.I.E. is a dramatic motion picture produced in 2001.  The main character is 15-year-old Howie Blitzer, whose mother died in an accident on the Long Island Expressway and whose relationship with his father has since become strained.  As Howie tries to cope with his grief and his transition into adulthood, he develops a relationship, first, with a boy his own age who (it turns out) is a male prostitute, and then with an older man named Big John who has a sexual predilection toward young men.  The film contains conversations about sexual activity which use coarse and vulgar terminology, scenes of heterosexual activity between Howie’s father and girlfriend, and scenes of sexual tension between Howie and Big John; however, no sexual activity ever occurs between Howie and Big John.  The film also included scenes of fist fights and a man (Big John) getting shot.

A viewer complained to the CBSC that it was inappropriate for the station to broadcast this film because it contained scenes of an older man “seducing” and “propositioning” a child.  OUTtv acknowledged that the film contained controversial subject matter, but argued that it was a dramatic exploration of one adolescent’s life.  OUTtv also pointed out that no sexual activity ever occurred between the two main characters, namely, the older man and the adolescent.
The CBSC’s National Specialty Services Panel examined the complaint under the Exploitation Clause of the CAB Equitable Portrayal Code, which prohibits the sexualization or exploitation of children.  The Panel concluded that the broadcast did not violate that clause.  The Panel acknowledged the film’s “complex layering of plot lines and motivations” and found that the movie

dramatizes the lives of the young people in the film, whose activities in fact involve other illegalities, such as theft, and breaking and entering.  There is certainly no overt sexual activity involving children in the film, and at most the suggestion that Big John might have wished to so entice Howie.  There is no indication that he even succeeded off-screen in that wish fulfillment.  The Panel wishes to add that it finds no inherent problem in the complainant’s expressed concern about Big John asking Howie about having a blow-job without there being any follow-through.  […]  In the view of the Panel, the broadcast of L.I.E. does not in any way sexualize or exploit children in contravention of Clause 8 of the Equitable Portrayal Code.

The Panel also noted that the film was appropriately scheduled at 9:00 pm and appropriately rated as 14+, but that OUTtv breached the Viewer Advisories clauses of the CAB Code of Ethics and Violence Code because of its failure to provide detailed information about the potentially offensive content in the wording of the advisories, and to provide the advisories in both audio and video formats.  It also found the broadcaster in breach of the Violence Code for its failure to display the classification icon at the beginning of the second hour of the film.

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