March 1997

Ottawa, March 25, 1997 — The Ontario Regional Council of the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) released its decision today concerning the Greek-language program, Etho Pou Ta Leme, aired by CFMT-TV (Toronto).

The decision concerns a segment of the program broadcast on a Sunday afternoon in June, 1996. The segment, a parody of children's programming entitled “Curious George”, depicted two actors performing slapstick gags, one of which had one character crawling under a table and trying to set the other character's shoe on fire. A CFMT-TV viewer complained about the program. In her complaint letter, she contended that the segment was in poor taste as it condoned playing with open flames, and its scheduling exposed child viewers to dangerous acts. The station replied, however, that the program was intended for adults and that the segment in question had been clearly identified as satire. The viewer was unsatisfied with this response and asked the CBSC to have its Ontario Regional Council review the matter.

In its decision (attached), the Ontario Regional Council affirmed that, while there are industry standards concerning the depiction of violent acts in programming intended for children, this segment, indeed the program, was not intended for children. The Council noted that the program Etho Pou Ta Leme was a public affairs program that targeted an adult audience. As the Council stated, “while some children might be watching Etho Pou Ta Leme, the program was not directed at children and the segment in question was clearly a parody or satire of children's programming intended for the amusement of adults.” At worst, the Council believed that the scheduling of the program might have been injudicious but the station did not breach the industry's Code regarding television violence.

In addition to administering the Violence Code, the CBSC administers broadcasting industry codes on ethics, gender portrayal and journalistic ethics. Some 400 private sector television and radio stations from across Canada are members of the CBSC.

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Ottawa, March 25, 1997 — The Ontario Regional Council of the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) released its decision today concerning a news story produced by Toronto's CITY-TV.

In June, 1996, CITY-TV reported on the case of a Toronto-area couple who had been charged by police with unnecessary cruelty to animals, fraud, and other offences after a police raid revealed that the couple had some 70 cats and dogs living in their home. The couple in question filed a complaint in which they alleged that CITY-TV's report had been biased, as only representatives of the Toronto Humane Society had been interviewed for their comments, while the couple itself had not been given the opportunity to present its side of the story. CITY-TV, in response, argued that its report had not been misleading and that the complainants had not been interviewed directly because they had not been available for an interview at the time of the preparation of the story. CITY-TV added that it would continue to follow the story through the courts and, in the course of this coverage, the complainants would be given the opportunity to speak to the station's news crews. The complainants, unsatisfied with this response, modified their complaint and requested that the CBSC's Ontario Regional Council review the matter.

The Regional Council, after viewing a tape of the newscast and considering the correspondence, decided that CITY-TV had done nothing improper or out of the ordinary in its presentation of the story. CITY-TV had reported on the arrest but, in the Council's view, the station was not required to present all sides of the case, which could be done by the defendants at the trial. As the Council stated, “if there is any counterpoint to the arrest itself, it is provided by the rules of the criminal justice system.” Where there is a factual and inherently non-controversial news event (such as an arrest), the station is not obligated to present the various points of view; it is merely required to provide information in accurate, comprehensive and balanced manner, which CITY-TV had done. Thus, the Council decided that CITY-TV did not breach either the industry's Code of Ethics or its Code of (Journalistic) Ethics.

The Ontario Regional Council includes representatives of the broadcasting industry and the general public. The Chair, representing broadcasters, is Al MacKay. The Vice-Chair, a public member, is Robert Stanbury; while the other public members are Taanta Gupta and Meg Hogarth. The other broadcasting industry representatives are Madeline Ziniak and Paul Fockler.

The decision is attached.

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Ottawa, March 13, 1997 — The Ontario Regional Council of the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning a clip of police shooting and killing a U.S. woman, aired by CTV.

The final story of a Canada AM newscast was a 22-second news item, which contained a video segment of a woman being shot and killed by California police following a high- speed chase. Several seconds into the news report, CTV's news reader warned the audience of the graphic nature of the segment. A Canada AM viewer complained that the use of the video segment was excessively violent, extremely disturbing, and ultimately, used only for its sensational nature, particularly since the news item had been reported in no other major news medium. CTV agreed with the viewer that in broadcasting the clip, CTV had acted contrary to its own journalistic standards and proposed to review the policy with all its news editors. CTV pointed out, however, that it had aired a warning that would have allowed parents to prevent their children from being exposed to the news item. The viewer, unsatisfied with this response, asked the CBSC's Ontario Regional Council to review the matter.

In its decision (attached), the Regional Council reviewed the provisions of the industry's Code on Television Violence. The Code requires broadcasters to use appropriate editorial judgement in airing pictorial representations of violence in news programs, and use caution in selecting video that depicts violence. The Regional Council decided that CTV's airing of the video clip was a totally unnecessary “pictorial representation of violence” that had sensationalized the news. In the Council's view, there was no context to the clip, no introduction and no follow-up by the news reader. As the Council indicated, “there was no fundamental relevance of this American story to Canadian viewers, nor was there any attempt to establish such a link….furthermore, except for the moment of the shooting, no story was even told.” The Council believed that “the airing of the news item simply turned on the availability of the video component.” It also did not believe that the use of the advisory mitigated the effect of the video segment. The advisory was not placed at the start of the story and thus, scarcely gave any viewers time to respond before the violent clip was actually broadcast. Consequently, the Regional Council decided that CTV breached the industry's Voluntary Code Regarding Violence in Television Programming and the Radio Television News Directors Association's Code of (Journalistic) Ethics. CTV must announce the decision during prime time and provide proof of the announcement to the CBSC in the next 30 days.

Nearly 400 private sector radio and television stations from across Canada are members of the CBSC. The Council also administers industry codes on ethics and gender portrayal.

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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