No Breach of Contest Standards on the New Version of Call TV broadcasts, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, May 11, 2011 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning the new version of the game / contest program entitled Call TV that V began broadcasting in April 2010.  The premise of the program was found in its name, Call TV; viewers were encouraged to call the on-screen 1-900 number or text (SMS) their solutions to the various puzzles that appeared on the screen in order to try to win cash prizes.  The CBSC had previously released decisions (in August 2009 and August 2010) dealing with an earlier version of the program.  In both those cases, the Quebec Regional Panel had found breaches of Clause 12 of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB) Code of Ethics on the grounds, in brief, that the lack of transparency rendered certain of the games and contests neither fair nor legitimate.  The Quebec Panel found no breach in the new version of the program.

As was the case with the complaints received about the earlier version of the program, many of the complaints relating to the more recent version commented on the program in general or raised questions about matters such as telecom company billing, which do not fall under the jurisdiction of the CBSC.  Of the 22 complainants whose files would have been eligible for consideration by the Quebec Panel, only two submitted Ruling Requests to the CBSC in the end.

The Panel continues to disagree with the broadcaster’s characterization of Call TV as an infomercial.  “The Panel acknowledges that [Call TV] is paid programming, but not an infomercial; it considers that Call TV is nothing more or less than an on-air contest and fully subject to the rules of Clause 12 of the CAB Code of Ethics.”  In response to the broadcaster’s assertion that as [translation] “an infomercial presented and paid for by Mass Response […] the latter is required to comply with all applicable regulations,” the Panel observed:

There is, of course, no inherent problem in the broadcaster’s attributing responsibility to Mass Response, as long as that is not done in any attempt to deflect its own responsibility for what it has broadcast.  While V appears to have directed the complainants to Mass Response and Mass Response’s website for answers and explanations, it has not, on these occasions as it has in the past, denied its own responsibility for the content it has broadcast.  That is a marked improvement.

Details relating to the substantive issues surrounding the very contests at issue on the April 2010 episodes can be found in the decision.  The Panel’s conclusion regarding the several contests it reviewed was as follows:

There was nothing obscure, tricky, misleading or requiring further explanation in order to achieve the required level of transparency that would satisfy Clause 12 of the CAB Code of Ethics.  As to the nature of the contests included in the two challenged episodes, the Panel finds no breach of Clause 12 by reason of a lack of transparency.

Finally, the Panel discussed a couple of issues related to “the principle of transparency” that were “understandably important to the complainants.”  These related to “matters like the ‘luck lines’, the ‘hot buttons’, the allegedly random selection of callers/texters as on-air contestants, the allegedly genuinely lengthy periods without a single call from a contestant, and the allegedly coincidental timing of the late-in-the-program contestants.”  As to those issues, the Panel said:

The Panel appreciates the complainants’ doubt about the randomness of the selection of participants.  While the broadcaster’s representative has explained that there is no human intervention in the selection of contestants, this does not, of course, mean that there has been no creation of a computerized or programmed method of selection.  The Panel simply has no method of verifying the true randomness, fairness and transparency of the contestants’ access to the contest process.  […]  While the presence in the process of an internationally-known accounting firm and the apparent application of Statement on Accounting Practices No. 70 […] breed a measure of confidence, even that must depend on what the firm is being asked to audit or verify.  In other words, it is not clear to the Panel what the substance of SAS 70 is or how pertinent it is to the concerns expressed by the complainants.  Moreover, no copy of SAS 70 has been supplied to either the complainants or to the CBSC.  The bottom line for the Panel is that all of those concerns of the complainants, which leave an element of doubt or concern in their minds (and the Panel’s, to some extent), go to off-screen process issues, and such matters do not fall within the Panel’s jurisdiction.  The Panel can do no more than express its understanding of the basis for the complainants’ concerns. […] In the absence of hard information on this point, the Panel has no basis to question the off-air issues, which do not fall within the jurisdiction of the CBSC.  That said, there is no doubt that the provision by the producer and broadcaster of information that would confirm the pertinence of SAS 70 and the role of the respected accounting firm on the issue of transparency would be reassuring.

Canada’s private broadcasters have themselves created industry standards in the form of Codes on ethics, equitable portrayal, television violence and journalistic independence 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 and the pay television Codes, as well as the Code dealing with journalistic ethics created by the RTNDA – Association of Electronic Journalists in 1970.  Nearly 760 radio stations, satellite radio services, 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