March 2002

“Dance Naked” Radio Station Contest Was Likely To Cause a Public Disturbance, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, March 26, 2002 — The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council today released its decision concerning a radio station contest held in August 2001 by CHRK-FM (Rock 97, Calgary). In order to win tickets to a concert, the male contestant had to dance naked on a major traffic thoroughfare during morning rush hour. The CBSC Prairie Regional Panel found this contest in breach of Clause 11(b) of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters' (CAB) Code of Ethics which prohibits broadcasters from orchestrating contests that are likely to cause a public inconvenience or disturbance:

All station contests and promotions should be conceived and conducted in good taste, and particular care should be taken to ensure that they are not likely to give rise to a public inconvenience or disturbance.

The Panel noted the similarity of this case to another contest examined by the Panel in which a woman had ridden a bicycle down a main Winnipeg street in order to be eligible to win a cash prize. In that decision, the Prairie Regional Panel stated “It is perfectly obvious to the Council that a nude woman (or, the Council assumes, a nude man) cycling down the principal avenue of one of the nation's largest cities could reasonably be expected to constitute a distraction for drivers.” As the Panel pointed out in this case, “When Lady Godiva, with an analogous attention-getting goal, tried the same thing in Coventry's marketplace in 1040 A.D., traffic was not as heavy.” The Panel had no hesitation in concluding that the nude dancing man in the CHRK-FM contest posed an equal distraction for drivers in Calgary. The Panel made the following comments in its decision:

[T]his Panel does not doubt that drivers could be expected to be distracted by a man dancing naked on a major thoroughfare. In such circumstances, the possibility of an accident would not be inconceivable. […] [I]t is clear that the broadcaster's orchestration of a contest encouraging a naked dancing man on a public thoroughfare in Calgary constitutes a public inconvenience or disturbance and is in breach of Clause 11(b) of the Code.

It recognized that the contest stunt was related to the title of John Mellencamp's album “Dance Naked” and that the prize was in fact tickets to a Mellencamp concert. The Panel explained, however, that this background information was irrelevant to its finding of a breach of the CAB Code of Ethics:

The Panel acknowledges that radio contests can be a useful method of attracting and retaining listeners. They can be an amusing way for listeners to interact with a broadcast medium. None of this is, however, inconsistent with the notion that the purpose of the contest code provision is meant not to prohibit contests that may be amusing, novel or unusual; its purpose is only to ensure that contests are conducted fairly and do not jeopardize public safety.

Canada's private broadcasters have themselves created industry standards in the form of Codes on ethics, gender portrayal and television violence 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, as well as the Code dealing with journalistic practices first created by the Radio Television News Directors Association of Canada (RTNDA) in 1970. More than 500 radio and television stations and specialty services from across Canada are members of the Council.

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Ottawa, March 15, 2002 — The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council today released two decisions concerning news broadcasts on last year's Tour de France bicycle race. One decision concerned the 6:00 pm newscast that included an item about a man who drove his car through a crowd of spectators watching the race. The other decision involved a news update relating to this story during the broadcast of the family drama program Touched by an Angel. The CBSC Prairie Regional Panel found no breach of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters' (CAB) Voluntary Code Regarding Violence in Television Programming with respect to the newscast, but did find one with respect to the news update (and teaser for the 11 pm newscast of that story). The news footage in question showed a car ploughing through a crowd of spectators and one person flying over the hood of the car after being hit. In the newscast, the clip was twice replayed in slow motion.

The CAB Violence Code requires that broadcasters use “appropriate judgment in the pictorial representation of violence”, and caution “in the selection of, and repetition of, video which depicts violence.” In its review of the 6:00 pm newscast, the Prairie Panel noted that the CAB Violence Code also provides that broadcasters ought not to sanitize the news; they stated that the story was

unpleasant and uncomfortable but neither too graphic nor too grisly, even in the context of an early evening newscast. […] The Panel draws a distinction between a news item that is, by its nature, sensational and the broadcast of a news report that, otherwise having the ability to stand on its own, has been sensationalized.

The Panel also commented that the triple repetition of the clip was excessive and in poor taste, but not so graphically violent as to be in breach of the Code. It also applauded the broadcaster's commitment to provide viewer advisories during future presentations of similar content.

The Panel reached a different conclusion, however, in terms of the news teaser on the same story. The update appeared during a commercial break at 7:30 pm in the program Touched by an Angel. It featured the same video clip of the car being driven through the crowd and the person being thrown over the car. The Panel found a breach of the CAB Violence Code due to the different expectations of audiences watching a newscast versus a family drama series. With newscasts

[v]iewers are accustomed to bad news, unpleasant news, disturbing news, concerning news and shocking news. While caution and good judgment must be exercised by broadcasters in the video clips illustrating those stories, television viewers are inured to a level of disturbing news hour expectation. In stark counterpoint, audience expectation when parents are watching family-appropriate television […] does not include disturbing news footage, such as that of the car ploughing into spectators at the Tour de France.

The Panel determined that there was no need for the broadcaster to run the video clip at all during Touched by an Angel. Choosing to run the clip a second time in slow motion had further exacerbated the situation.

Canada's private broadcasters have themselves created industry standards in the form of Codes on ethics, gender portrayal and television violence 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, as well as the Code dealing with journalistic practices first created by the Radio Television News Directors Association of Canada (RTNDA) in 1970. More than 470 radio and television stations and specialty services from across Canada are members of the Council.

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Ottawa, March 15, 2002 — The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning the broadcast of an episode of the documentary series The Sex Files entitled “The Rear End”. The CBSC National Specialty Services Panel concluded that the program was not exploitative in any way, but that it did, in any event, require a viewer advisory at the beginning of the broadcast.

The episode, which contained discussions about the place of human buttocks in sexual activity and included scenes of couples engaged in anal sex, aired at 12:00 midnight EST. With respect to the sexual content, the National Panel stated:

The approach of the program is […] informative and enlightening, not salacious or titillating. Men and women are depicted and treated with respect and in a balanced manner. [The provision against exploitation in the Canadian Association of Broadcasters' (CAB) Sex-Role Portrayal Code] is not intended to prevent the presentation of healthy adult sexuality, which is precisely what this program aims to promote.

The episode, however, lacked a viewer advisory alerting audiences to this explicit content at the beginning of the program, although it did feature advisories coming out of every commercial break. Discovery Channel cited the relocation of their master control office as the reason for this oversight. Despite this explanation, the Panel found a breach of Article 5.1 of the CAB Voluntary Code Regarding Violence on Television which clearly states that advisories are required at the beginning of programs containing scenes intended for adult audiences, which includes sexually explicit scenes. The Panel commented that

the obligation to provide such advisories is an obligation of result. Broadcasters must find a way, notwithstanding such indispositions which inevitably arise from time to time, to avoid such errors. The viewing public depends on that and the CAB Violence Code does not allow for exceptions to the rule […].

The Panel also emphasized that the viewer advisory at the beginning of such a program “is obviously crucially important in that it is the first opportunity for viewers to be made aware that upcoming programming may not be to their tastes.” The Panel did, however, commend the single-feed specialty service, Discovery Channel, for airing the program at 12:00 midnight EST, which meant that the show appeared after 9:00 pm in all Canadian time zones.

Canada's private broadcasters have themselves created industry standards in the form of Codes on ethics, gender portrayal and television violence 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, as well as the Code dealing with journalistic practices first created by the Radio Television News Directors Association of Canada (RTNDA) in 1970. More than 500 radio and television stations and specialty services from across Canada are members of the Council.

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Ottawa, March 14, 2002 — The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning the broadcast of the movie Police 10-07 on the specialty service Showcase between 7:00-9:00 pm EST. The CBSC National Specialty Services Panel found that some of the scenes with a threatening component and others showing the results of off-screen violence were not suitable for children, but did not consider theses explicit enough to require that the movie be broadcast only after 9:00 pm. It did find, however, that Showcase failed to air viewer advisories throughout the broadcast alerting viewers to the violent content.

The movie follows the Montréal police squad in its investigation of the serial killing of homosexual men by a method known as auto-erotic strangulation. Many of the scenes with any violent content showed only the results of criminal acts that had occurred earlier and, in any event, the National Specialty Services Panel concluded that the few scenes of violence were integral to the plot development and “did not amount to violence for violence's sake.” While the content and themes in Police 10-07 were not suitable for young children, the Panel reiterated that not all broadcasting fare before 9:00 pm need be appropriate for all audience age groups.

While the movie began with a viewer advisory, advisories did not appear again until the final two commercial breaks in the two-hour broadcast. The Panel determined that this was clearly in breach of the viewer advisory provision of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters' (CAB) Voluntary Code Regarding Violence in Television Programming:

The provision of oral-only viewer advisories towards the end of the film's second hour seems almost to have been an afterthought and was clearly inadequate in terms of the Code requirements. Apart from anything else, the inadequacy of the gesture is exacerbated by the fact that the film was nearing its conclusion and that many of the most disturbing scenes appeared well before these advisories.

The Panel reiterated what the Council has said on numerous occasions, namely, that broadcasters have a duty to provide viewer advisories to assist audiences in making informed viewing choices.

The Panel also expressed its concern with the broadcaster's response to the complainant. Although the complainant did not identify the film title, her description was sufficiently narrow (between 6:00 pm and 8:30 pm) that the broadcaster ought to have been able to identify the film with very little trouble. The Panel concluded that, by failing to make any attempt to identify the program, Showcase did not live up to its CBSC membership requirement of broadcaster responsiveness.

Canada's private broadcasters have themselves created industry standards in the form of Codes on ethics, gender portrayal and television violence 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, as well as the Code dealing with journalistic practices first created by the Radio Television News Directors Association of Canada (RTNDA) in 1970. More than 500 radio and television stations and specialty services from across Canada are members of the Council.

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Ottawa, March 14, 2002 — The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning the broadcast of the feature film Wildcats on June 10, 2001 at 4:00 pm EST on the specialty service the Women's Television Network (WTN). The CBSC National Specialty Services Panel found that the coarse language was inappropriate for broadcast in the afternoon and that the program required advisories alerting viewers to the coarse language and nudity.

The comedy film stars Goldie Hawn as the coach of a high school men's football team. The movie contained two short scenes involving male nudity in one and female nudity in the other. The Panel did not find these scenes problematic even in the afternoon (in the sense of being intended for adult audiences) since the nudity was brief, somewhat humourous in its presentation, and was not, in any case, paired with sexual activity. It did, however, decide that viewer advisories should have been present to alert viewers of the presence of nudity.

The movie also contained numerous instances of coarse language, including the f-word. In a number of cases the broadcaster had gone to the effort of muting the f-word, but on others, for no apparent reason, it had not. The Panel pointed out this inconsistency and explained that the broadcaster had the choice of editing out all instances of the word or of airing the film unedited after 9:00 pm. It is the position of the CBSC that the use of such language renders the film “intended for adult audiences”. Consequently, the 4:00 pm unedited broadcast of Wildcats was in breach of the scheduling provision of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters' (CAB) Voluntary Code Regarding Violence in Television Programming.

The Panel also found WTN in breach for failing to provide any viewer advisories at the beginning of or during the film. While the film was appropriately rated as 14+, as the CBSC has previously explained, classification icons and viewer advisories constitute essential components of a package that are collectively necessary as a part of the broadcasters' Violence Code safeguards for public viewing. They are tools provided to audiences to help them make informed viewing choices on the basis of their and their families' needs and tastes. The absence of any viewer advisories in WTN's broadcast of Wildcats constituted a breach of that Code.

Canada's private broadcasters have themselves created industry standards in the form of Codes on ethics, gender portrayal and television violence 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, as well as the Code dealing with journalistic practices first created by the Radio Television News Directors Association of Canada (RTNDA) in 1970. More than 500 radio and television stations and specialty services from across Canada are members of the Council.

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Ottawa, March 14, 2002 — The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning the broadcast of the feature film The House of the Spirits based on the novel by Isabel Allende. The two-hour long film began at 8:30 pm EST on the specialty service Bravo! Although the great majority of the movie appeared after the Watershed hour of 9:00 pm, the CBSC National Specialty Services Panel determined that a program beginning before this hour will be considered a pre-Watershed broadcast for all relevant Violence Code purposes, which include the presence of violence, sexual activity or coarse language. The National Specialty Services Panel explained its position regarding any

broadcast that straddled the Watershed hour, beginning before it and ending after it and containing, on either one side or the other of it, material intended for adult audiences that ought not to be shown in a pre-Watershed time period. […] It must consider whether the broadcaster would be “protected” by the Watershed principle if the scenes that might be considered to be exclusively adult-oriented only fell after the 9:00 pm limit. It concludes that this was not the intention of the codifiers and that the adoption of such a principle would create a serious blurring of the Watershed, which would be in the interests of neither the public nor the broadcasters.

[P]arents have become entitled to develop a sense of security regarding what they and their families may tune in before that hour. Once they have made their viewing choices on the assumption that the broadcaster's pre-Watershed programming is free of adult matter, the Panel considers that parents are entitled to maintain their confidence in the program they have selected without being shocked by an about-face in the content part way through that broadcast.

Despite reaching the above conclusion with respect to the Watershed issue, the Panel did not, in the end, find that any of the scenes in this particular film, The House of the Spirits, were intended for an exclusively adult audience. It acknowledged that the rape and torture scenes were disturbing and not suitable for children, but not sufficiently graphic as to necessitate their broadcast only after 9:00 pm. Consequently, the Panel did not find Bravo! in breach of any broadcaster Codes.The Panel also underscored the responsibility of viewers to use the tools provided by the broadcasters to facilitate informed viewing choices:

It would not be reasonable to conclude that viewers should abdicate their responsibility to take the fullest advantage of these viewing aids. It may be a question of time and effective media education but it is a step that must be taken. Broadcasters still have their own obligations relating to the Watershed and other Code-related standards but viewers must play their role in the exercise of the viewing options that broadcasters have equipped them to undertake.

Canada's private broadcasters have themselves created industry standards in the form of Codes on ethics, gender portrayal and television violence 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, as well as the Code dealing with journalistic practices first created by the Radio Television News Directors Association of Canada (RTNDA) in 1970. More than 500 radio and television stations and specialty services from across Canada are members of the Council.

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Ottawa, March 13, 2002 — The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning the broadcast of the Canadian film Destiny to Order on February 20, 2001 at 2:00 pm EST on the specialty service Showcase Television.

The feature film follows the life of a fictional rime novelist who is writing a work about a motorcycle gang. As the film evolves, the novelist's characters come to life and attempt to gain control of the plot. The movie contains numerous utterances of very coarse language throughout. It also features violent scenes, such as that in which the villain is supposedly killed by strangulation with a coat hanger and the final “showdown” scene in which the two main characters are shot. Because of the fantasy nature of the film structure, characters are not restricted by their own mortality and thus reappear later in the film unscathed. The Panel determined that such extreme coarse language (the specific examples can be found in the decision text) was inappropriate for a pre-Watershed (i.e. 9:00 pm) time-slot. With respect to the violence, the Panel concluded that the scenes were relevant to the film's plot, but were too graphic and explicit to be shown at 2:00 pm. The Panel also made the following comments regarding the fantasy elements of the story:

[I]n light of the fact that the movie was broadcast in a pre-Watershed time slot, the Panel was concerned about the fantasy aspect of the film, namely, the revitalization of apparently murdered characters, who reappear alive and unscathed. The viewer is offered no real explanation for these resurrections. Thus, in addition to the nature of the violent depictions, the Panel considered that, while adult viewers could reasonably be expected to understand the irony of the fantasy, the depiction of violence without consequences was problematic for broadcast at a time which was not merely pre-Watershed but at an early enough hour that children could be expected to be watching.

The result was that the National Specialty Services Panel concluded that the coarse language and violent scenes constituted material intended for adult audiences, with the consequence that the film should not have aired before 9:00 pm and that Showcase Television was in breach of Article 3 of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters' (CAB) Voluntary Code Regarding Violence in Television Programming which outlines this scheduling requirement. Canada's private broadcasters established 9:00 pm as the “Watershed” hour before which no programming containing scenes intended for adult audiences may be telecast. Canada's private broadcasters have themselves created industry standards in the form of Codes on ethics, gender portrayal and television violence 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, as well as the Code dealing with journalistic practices first created by the Radio Television News Directors Association of Canada (RTNDA) in 1970. More than 500 radio and television stations and specialty services from across Canada are members of the Council.

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Ottawa, March 6, 2002 — The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning the broadcast of the National Film Board documentary film Give Me Your Soul by the specialty service Bravo! from 9:00 pm to 10:30 pm EST. The subject of the documentary was the commercial pornography industry and it included interviews with pornography producers, performers and critics. It also followed an 18-year-old girl's quest to become a pornography star. The result of the broadcast of the documentary from 9:00 pm to 10:30 pm in Ontario, the province of origin, was its availability in British Columbia from 6:00 pm to 7:30 pm. The complainants complained about the broadcast of “such pornographic and inappropriate subject matter when young viewers have access to the TV” in their area.

With respect to the sexually explicit content, the CBSC National Specialty Services Panel determined that the film was not exploitative in any way. It dealt with “men and women neither to the exclusion nor detriment of the other.” Nonetheless, the Panel was clear as to the principal issue of concern, namely, that the film “consists of material which, in the view of the Panel and the complainants, is intended for adult audiences, the criterion which triggers the Watershed requirement.”

The Panel also addressed the principal issue of concern to the complainants, namely, that this adult-oriented documentary appeared at 6:00 pm Pacific time. It dealt with the provision in the Violence Code which prohibits the broadcast of any scenes intended for adult audiences before 9:00 pm, and with the exception to this rule which, taking into account the breadth of Canada, states:

To accommodate the reality of time zone differences, and Canadian distant signal importation, these guidelines shall be applied to the time zone in which the signal originates.

While acknowledging the viewer dilemma that this technological factor creates, the Panel found no breach of the scheduling provision in the Violence Code in light of the exception to the 9:00 pm Watershed rule.

In its decision, the Panel did, however, refer to the CRTC's Policy on Violence in Television Programming, which encourages broadcasters to be sensitive to Canada's time zone differences when scheduling adult programming. The Panel also acknowledged that, regrettably, Western viewers may need to be more vigilant in choosing appropriate programming, but it did underscore “the very good news […] that there are, at the very least, tools available for the purpose of responsible program selection”, which include classification icons, viewer advisories and the V-Chip (which was itself created by a Canadian, Dr. Tim Collings of Simon Fraser University).

Canada's private broadcasters have themselves created industry standards in the form of Codes on ethics, gender portrayal and television violence 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, as well as the Code dealing with journalistic practices first created by the Radio Television News Directors Association of Canada (RTNDA) in 1970. More than 500 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