Timber Kings is an hour-long Canadian reality television program that follows a British Columbia-based construction company which specializes in custom log buildings. It features interviews with crew members and footage of the workers on job sites as they construct and assemble the dwellings.
HGTV aired an episode of the program on January 8, 2015 at 7:00 pm. A PG classification icon appeared for 19 seconds at the beginning of the program. There were no viewer advisories aired at any point during the broadcast.
The episode contained 15 instances of the word “shit”, all within expressions such as “oh, shit!” and “holy shit” as the workers conveyed their surprise or frustration at difficult aspects of the construction.
There was also one instance of “This thing’s a bitch” when one worker described the difficulty in maneuvering a backhoe and one exclamation of “Jesus!” to express surprise.
There were two instances where a beep noise masked other instances of coarse language.
The CBSC received a complaint from a viewer on January 8, 2015. She complained that the words “shit” and “bitch” appear excessively in this program, which she considered inappropriate particularly because the programming on HGTV is generally family-friendly at all times. She indicated that she would not have a problem with such language if it were aired later in the evening. HGTV responded to the complainant on February 9. The station pointed out that “the show captures the crew in a candid and up-close manner, and documents their real-life experiences and raw emotions” and that it was rated PG. HGTV acknowledged that the broadcast should have included a viewer advisory and assured the complainant that such an advisory would appear on future episodes. The complainant wrote back on February 17. She noted that she had subsequently seen the advisories on the program, but she still felt that such language should only be aired late at night, not during prime time. (The full text of all correspondence can be found in the Appendix.)
The National Specialty Services Panel examined the complaint under the following provisions of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics:
Clause 10 – Television Broadcasting
a) Programming which contains sexually explicit material or coarse or offensive language intended for adult audiences shall not be telecast before the late viewing period, defined as 9 pm to 6 am. […]
Clause 11 – Viewer Advisories
To assist consumers in making their viewing choices, when programming includes mature subject matter or scenes with nudity, sexually explicit material, coarse or offensive language, or other material susceptible of offending viewers, broadcasters shall provide a viewer advisory:
b) at the beginning of, and after every commercial break during programming telecast outside of late viewing hours which contains such material which is not suitable for children.
The Panel Adjudicators read all of the correspondence and viewed the challenged broadcast. The Panel concludes that HGTV did not breach Clause 10, but it did breach Clause 11 for failing to include viewer advisories on the January 8 episode.
Scheduling of Coarse Language
The Panel Adjudicators recognize that the broadcast of such words as “bitch” and “shit” might be considered in poor taste by some viewers. The test for the Panel, however, is: does the language amount to coarse or offensive language intended for adult audiences under Clause 10 (a) of the CAB Code of Ethics? Where language amounts to that intended exclusively for adult audiences, it must only be broadcast during the “Watershed” period (that is only after 9:00 pm and before 6:00 am). Where the language does not fall into that category, it can be broadcast at any time with the relevant rating and viewer advisories.
In previous decisions, similar usages of mild coarse language such as those found in this episode of Timber Kings have been determined as acceptable for broadcast at any time of day. 1 The Panel finds likewise in this instance.
The Panel Adjudicators are of the view that the language used in Timber Kings, although not intended exclusively for adult audiences as described in Clause 10 above, is sufficiently coarse as to require viewer advisories.
The broadcaster rated the show PG, the appropriate rating, as that rating level allows for mild profanity. However, the broadcast included no advisories that would alert viewers to the presence of such language in the broadcast.
The Panel wishes to remind broadcasters that rating alone, PG for parental guidance in this case, does not provide sufficient information to alert viewers to the type of mature content (e.g. violence, sex or coarse language) that is contained in the broadcast. It is the combination of the rating and the advisory that gives viewers who might have different sensitivities the information necessary to make viewing choices. Further, the combination of the two maximizes information for the viewers and it is the reason why broadcasters enjoy the privilege to broadcast this type of content on a 24-hour basis. 2
The broadcaster acknowledged that advisories should have been in place and the complainant acknowledged that they were broadcast during subsequent episodes.
The Panel Adjudicators agree that the broadcaster should have inserted viewer advisories concerning coarse language, at the beginning and after each commercial break during the broadcast of Timber Kings. Failure to do so constitutes a breach of Clause 11 (b) of the CAB Code of Ethics.
In all CBSC decisions, the Panels assess the broadcaster’s response to the complainant. The broadcaster need not agree with the complainant’s position, but it must respond in a courteous, thoughtful and thorough manner. In this case, HGTV provided a reply to the complainant, outlining its view of the broadcast. In addition, it acknowledged its failure to include viewer advisories and committed to doing so in future. The broadcaster fulfilled its obligations of responsiveness and, subject to the announcement of this decision, nothing further is required in this regard in this instance.
Announcement of the Decision
HGTV is required to: 1) announce the decision, in the following terms, once during prime time within three days following the release of this decision and once more within seven days following the release of this decision during the time period in which this episode of Timber Kings was broadcast, but not on the same day as the first mandated announcement; 2) within the fourteen days following the broadcasts of the announcements, to provide written confirmation of the airing of the statement to the complainant who filed the Ruling Request; and 3) at that time, to provide the CBSC with a copy of that written confirmation and with air check copies of the broadcasts of the two announcements which must be made by HGTV.
The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has found that HGTV breached the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ Code of Ethics in its broadcast of Timber Kings on January 8, 2015. HGTV failed to broadcast viewer advisories alerting viewers to coarse language, as required by Clause 11 of the Code.
This decision is a public document upon its release by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council.
2 CFCF-TV re the premiere episode of The Dark Angel (CBSC Decision 00/01-0183, August 22, 2001);VRAK.TV re Charmed (“Dead Man Dating”) (CBSC Decision 02/03-0365, July 17, 2003); Prime re the film Smokey and the Bandit (CBSC Decision 05/06-1575, January 8, 2007); Séries+ re CSI: Miami (CBSC Decision 09/10-1730, January 25, 2011); The Comedy Network re South Park (CBSC Decision 09/10-1432 & -1562, October 5, 2010); TVA re Les jeunes loups (CBSC Decision 13/14-0808, September 10, 2014)