Insufficient Use of Otherwise Excellent Viewer Advisories Breach of Violence Code, Says Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, May 24, 2001 — The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning the broadcast of eight episodes of the television series The Sopranos on CTV.  Numerous complaints were received by the CBSC concerning the program, which follows the life of a fictional New Jersey Cosa Nostra boss, most of udity contained in the show.  In addition, though, some complainants took issue with twhich focussed on the extremely coarse language,  violence and sex and nhe series' portrayal of Italians.

The National Conventional Television Panel considered the complaints under the CAB Code of Ethics, the CAB Sex-Role Portrayal Code and the CAB Violence Code.  The Panel concluded that the series does not violate any of the program content requirements of these codes.  With respect to the complaints that Italians suffer discrimination as a result of the programming, the Panel acknowledged that “no national or ethnic group would wish any of its members to be portrayed as criminal.  That, though, cannot be the determinative matter since all criminals have gender, skin colour, national origin and other characteristics.”

It is an entire perspective of the good and the bad, seen as a whole, the domestic and “business” sides of the life, it should be remembered, of one family, not an entire community.  And that family is hardly representative.  It is, on the business side of its paterfamilias, a criminal family. …  The Panel does not consider that there has been any attempt whatsoever to suggest that the creators' or broadcaster's view of this microcosm is to be understood as reflective of the nature, habits or practices of an entire people.

The Panel also took no issue with the use of coarse language, violence, sex and nudity in the program.  In the Panel's view, such language and scenes all had “relevance to the story being told”.   With respect to the “occasional graphic brutality”, the Panel noted that the “violence is relatively infrequent” and is not “either gratuitous or glamorized in the context of the challenged episodes.”  Moreover, the Panel was satisfied that the program was “relegated to a post-Watershed broadcast” and was “accompanied by very specific viewer advisories”.

While the Panel lauded CTV for having gone beyond the prescribed wording of viewer advisories to warn viewers of the “extreme nature of the programming” and for having broadcast this advisory twice before the program begins, it found that CTV failed to meet all the requirements of Article 5.1 of the Violence Code regarding the frequency of the use of viewer advisories for all but the initial two episodes.  The Panel noted that “where advisories are required, they must be shown coming out of each commercial break” and that this is not “a simple ‘technical' issue.”  The Panel stated: “The foregoing rules are a package.  They are not meant to be separated.  They are collectively essential to the operation of the broadcasters' Violence Code safeguards for public viewing.” 

Canada's private broadcasters have created industry standards in the form of Codes dealing with gender portrayal,  violence and ethical issues such as human rights by which they expect the members of their profession will abide.  They have also established the CBSC, the self-regulatory body responsible for the administration of  those professional  Codes, as well as the Radio and Television  News Directors Code dealing with journalistic practices.  More than 460 Canadian radio and television stations and specialty services 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