June 1998

Ottawa, June 25, 1998 — The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning an episode of Seinfeld which aired on CIII-TV (Global Television Network) on December 19, 1996. The episode in question contained a subplot in which Elaine, one of the regular Seinfeld characters, dates a man who has been stabbed by an ex-girlfriend. She decides to continue to date this man despite friendly advice to the contrary, finding it exciting to be dating a man who is “stabworthy”. The subplot ends with an allusion to Elaine's beating of this man in a restaurant. A viewer complained that this male-directed violence was “treated as a laughing matter”and that, had the genders been reversed, the public reaction to the episode would have been different. The complainant added: “Global has run ads on domestic violence, portraying victims as always women and perpetrators as always men. I object to the sexist, double standard for relationship violence.” The Ontario Regional Council disagreed:

If anything, this particular episode of Seinfeld should be seen by him as helping to redress the alleged imbalance resulting from Global's playing of PSAs depicting men as the prime perpetrators of violence in relationships. In any event, the program could even arguably have contained its own internal “balance” in the treatment of men and women, since both men and women had been subjected to ridicule in the course of the episode

The Ontario Regional Council did not find that the program violated either the broadcasters' Code of Ethics or the TV Violence Code. In its view, the scenario was based on a “nearly ridiculous event” which treats the situation as a laughing matter, not the actual violence which is stated to have occurred. The Council also noted that “by dealing with the stabbings as past events not shown in the episode and as not life-threatening, the writers were clearly avoiding any glamorization of such actions.”

In its decision, the Council also noted that the broadcaster's response to the complaint had been “'on the edge' of not fulfilling the obligation of providing a full and fair response to the issues raised by the complainant.” The Council stated that

…the station's reply should reflect its own review of the challenged program in light of the concerns of the complainant and explain in a clear and direct fashion why the program does not violate any of the industry Codes and standards to which the station has agreed to adhere. At the very least, it ought to be responsive to the concerns of the complainant.

The CBSC is the self-regulatory body created by private broadcasters to respond to complaints and administer industry standards on ethics, journalistic practices, gender portrayal and television violence. More than 430 radio and television stations and specialty services from across Canada are members of the Council.

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Ottawa, June 25, 1998 — The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning a report on indoor playgrounds in fast food restaurants in the Edmonton area which aired as an “Eyewitness News Extra” on CFRN-TV on March 3, 1997. The CBSC received a complaint from an executive of one of the restaurant chains, which operated two of the “ball pens” investigated by the report. He alleged that the report was “unduly alarming” and “irresponsible in the extreme” and that the reporter had used “clever editing” techniques to make the report more dramatic, “creating reason for alarm and concern about health safety.”

The Prairie Regional Council did not find the story was as dramatic and “alarmist” as alleged by the complainant. While there was no doubt, in the view of the Council, that “the intention of the news reporter was not to recount a story that would not attract attention, … [t]his alone [did] not mean that her story would be breach of either of the above-noted Codes.” The bottom line for the Council was that the most serious allegation made was that “a viewer recently told us that he believes his son got sick from playing in a ball pen. [Emphasis added.]” The Council concluded: “While this was apparently the motivation to do the story, the Council considers that the implications of it were largely benign. … There was not, for example, any allegation of even a serious illness, much less a death, on the part of any individual in the Edmonton area.” Weighing this case with the CBSC's previous decisions on similar matters, the Council determined that CFRN-TV could not be said to have sensationalized the news item contrary to the Radio Television News Directors Association (RTNDA) Code of (Journalistic) Ethics .

The Prairie Regional Council also assessed the fairness and balance of the on-air portion of the reporter's comments. In its view, the broadcaster's presentation of the report was “full, fair and proper” as required by the Code of Ethics. The Council found that there was full disclosure of the testing process used as a basis for the report and that, in any case, “the issues and consequences were not of such moment that science is material in the determination.” Moreover, interested parties, including the complainant, were extended invitations to appear on air. Even though the complainant chose not to appear, its oral and faxed reactions were included as a part of the report and the restaurant chain's comments were, in fact, the final words spoken by the reporter. The Council concluded:

Although McDonald's would obviously have preferred that the news feature not air at all, the presentation was, in the view of the CBSC, balanced and McDonald's, even though not on air itself, had its point of view fully and fairly presented.

The CBSC is the self-regulatory body created by private broadcasters to respond to complaints and administer industry standards on ethics, journalistic practices, gender portrayal and television violence. More than 430 radio and television stations and specialty services from across Canada are members of the Council.

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Ottawa, June 24, 1998 — The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning a promotional announcement by CIRK-FM, popularly known as K-97, (Edmonton) for the sale of its T-shirts. The advertisement which aired on May 12, 1997, used expressions such as “Kick Ass” and “Life's a Bitch”. A listener complained of the use of “inappropriate language” in the advertisement.

The Prairie Regional Council of the CBSC considered the complaint under the advertising provision of the Code of Ethics which requires that advertising “not offend what is generally accepted as the prevailing standard of good taste”. While acknowledging that the term “good taste” is actually used in the advertising provision of the Code of Ethics, the Council reiterated its position that “questions of bad taste alone will not be sufficient to result in a breach of a provision of one of the Codes”. The Council stated that the term “good taste” as it is used in the Code must be interpreted following the closing words of that paragraph: “shall not offend what is generally accepted as the prevailing standard of good taste.” In the Council's view, this creates a higher test than merely being characterisable as good taste. It stated that “the wording suggests that the material questioned must not be the opposite of good taste to be in breach; it must actually offend prevailing standards to be sanctionable.”

In the view of the Prairie Regional Council, the expressions “Life's a bitch” and “Kick Ass” do not breach the “prevailing standards” test. In explaining how “prevailing standards” are to be assessed, the Council stated that

it cannot be the function of the CBSC or the various Regional Councils to conduct surveys in order to determine what prevailing standards are; it is rather the function of the Councils to apply the reasoning and sense of a balanced group of public and industry representatives to the programming under consideration. It is indeed a reflection of that “balance” that has enabled the various Regional Councils to arrive regularly at conclusions in such matters without dissenting voices, whether the conclusions favour or run against the broadcasters.

The CBSC is the self-regulatory body created by private broadcasters to respond to complaints and administer industry standards on ethics, journalistic practices, gender portrayal and television violence. More than 430 radio and television stations and specialty services from across Canada are members of the Council.

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Ottawa, June 5, 1998 — The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning comments made by the host of Talkback, an open line program broadcast by CJCB-AM weekdays between 9:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m.

On the show of October 1, 1996, a caller outlined her problems with the Children's Aid Society and Home Care Nova Scotia and recounted a meeting with her social worker which she had attended with her Regional Councillor. At this meeting, the social worker refused to discuss the details of her child's case in the presence of the Councillor, despite having been given oral authority to do so by the mother. The host's response to this was to explain that the law in Nova Scotia did not allow the social worker to release confidential information, even with the parent's permission. A listener and frequent caller to the program called in to offer his opinion and assistance on the subject raised by the caller. The host chose, however, not to allow the frequent caller to provide information as to the identity of his organization to the audience. The listener subsequently filed a complaint against the station alleging that the host had made “false statements” concerning Nova Scotian family law and had thereby “misinformed the listening public as to what their rights are.”

The Atlantic Regional Council found that the broadcaster had not breached the provisions of the Code of Ethics. In the Council's view, the issue is not whether the host was absolutely correct in his interpretation of the law, so long as he had been fair and responsible in expressing his opinion. The Council noted that “it is not his responsibility to be a lawyer and he did not represent himself as such”.

As to the entitlement of the broadcaster to deny access to the complainant to provide his phone number and the identity of his organization to listeners, the Council also found that the host's decision was absolutely fair and proper. The Council noted that the broadcaster's first responsibility is to its audience and not to an individual who wishes to be heard. The Council stated that “while balance and the presentation of a diversity of views fall squarely within the basket of broadcaster responsibilities, the inclusion of a particular voice does not.”

The CBSC is the self-regulatory body created by private broadcasters to respond to complaints and administer industry standards on ethics, journalistic practices, gender portrayal and television violence. Nearly 400 radio and television stations and specialty services from across Canada are members of the Council.

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Ottawa, June 2, 1998 — The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning the broadcast on CITY-TV of an episode of Hard Copy, a daily American public affairs program.

On CITY-TV's November 11, 1996 broadcast of the show, at 7 pm, Hard Copy included the story of a nanny who had allegedly abused the child with whose care she had been entrusted. A video evidencing the abuse was shown by Hard Copy first as a “teaser” for the story at the beginning of the program and then, in whole or in part, an additional 9 times during the segment, which lasted only a little over 3 minutes. A viewer complained that CITY-TV should not have shown “a real-life violent attach on an undefended 2 year old during prime time programming” and that repeatedly playing the scene amounted to child pornography.

In dealing with the contention that the violent video should not have been shown at all, the Council found that the video footage contained in the Hard Copy report was integral to the abusive nanny story. Moreover, the Council found that the broadcaster had exercised appropriate discretion and editorial judgment, as required by the Violence Code in regard to news and public affairs programming, in allowing the video to be shown. The Council noted that the reporting of child abuse, just like the reporting of other crimes and issues of general concern, is in the public interest and broadcasters should not be reluctant to deal with this and other controversial subjects for fear that the simple broaching of them may result in a breach of broadcast standards.

While the Council did not find that the content of the video segment was such that it should not have been shown at all, it did find that the repetition of the video segment throughout the report was disproportionate to its relevance in presenting the story. The Council noted that no new information was conveyed in the repetition of the video and no new perspective was provided to the story by the repeated use of the disturbing pictures generated by the hidden surveillance camera. Moreover, the cumulative effect of the excessive repetition of the video was to distort and sensationalize the story. Accordingly, the Council concluded that the repetition of the violent video constituted a breach of provisions of both the Violence Code and of the Radio Television News Directors' Association Code of (journalistic) Ethics).

Finally, the Council also found that, by failing to warn viewers in advance of the upcoming violence scenes, CITY-TV did not meet broadcast standards with respect to viewer advisories. The Council was of the view that the subject of child abuse is a “delicate subject matter” requiring the use of viewer advisories when dealt with in early viewing hours.

The CBSC is the self-regulatory body created by private broadcasters to respond to complaints and administer industry standards on ethics, journalistic practices, gender portrayal and television violence. Nearly 400 radio and 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