Promotional Spot Should Not Have Glamorized Violence against Elderly Women, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, November 3, 2010 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning The Comedy Network’s promotional spot for The Roast of Joan Rivers broadcast during September 2009.  The promo featured elderly women being beaten up by young men.  The CBSC found the promo in violation of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Violence Code.

The tag line in the promo was “No one wants to see an old lady get taken down.  Until now.”  The line was a reference to 76-year-old American comedienne Joan Rivers, who was going to be roasted in the program being promoted.  The promo itself, however, featured a series of anonymous elderly women performing everyday tasks such as looking a greeting cards, dining in a restaurant, knitting and gardening.  In each case, a young man came out of nowhere and punched, kicked or tackled the woman.

A viewer complained that the promo showed elderly women being physically assaulted without provocation.  The Comedy Network explained that the promo was meant to be a humorous twist on the tag line of “taking down” an old lady, with “mild shock value at seeing older women brawling, which is unusual.”  The station also acknowledged that some viewers could find it disturbing and assured the complainant that it would not air again.  The complainant pointed out that the promo did not show two old ladies fighting each other, as The Comedy Network implied.

The CBSC’s National Specialty Services Panel examined the complaint under Article 7 of the CAB Violence Code, which prohibits content that “sanctions promotes or glamorizes violence against women” and Article 8, which makes the same prohibition of the depiction of violence based on age and gender (among other identifiable categories).  The Panel determined that the broadcast of the promo violated both Articles because it sanctioned, promoted or glamorized violence against persons based on both their age and their gender.  The Panel made the following observations:

In the matter at hand, the Panel understands the humorous goal of the broadcaster on a comedy network […].  That the Panel understands the goal does not mean that it believes the promo was the right approach.  […]

This was a promotion reflecting an imbalance of power between young men and old ladies.  It was not, as the broadcaster said in its letter “older women brawling”, which implies a kind of balance or equality, and which, as the broadcaster admitted, would itself have been unusual.  The complainant himself observed in his reply to that point made by the broadcaster that the promo was not “a cheerfully demented scenario like two old ladies having a boxing match or ultimate fighting cage bout.”  […]  The broadcaster had to find a different way to promote the Joan Rivers Roast, one that did not involve men physically beating up elderly ladies.  It was bad enough that the elderly women were beaten up, but having it done in each of the seven instances on a gender basis, that is to say, by men made the matter worse.  Moreover, the extent to which it was out of place is reflected in the fact that there was no violent content whatsoever in the program being promoted.

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.  More than 735 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