Proper Viewer Advisories and Ratings Icon Display Required for Mature TV Matter, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, February 8, 2005 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning the broadcast of the motion picture Jade on CITY-TV (Toronto).  The movie included some scenes with sexual activity and others with violence, as well as a certain amount of coarse language.  Before the start of the movie, the broadcaster aired an oral and visual advisory alerting viewers to content including “violence, nudity & coarse language” (but not sexuality).  During the broadcast, the content of the oral advisory following each commercial no longer matched the written advisory and, more particularly, ceased to refer to the specific points of potential viewer concern.  The broadcaster also aired an 18+ ratings icon at the beginning of the film for 13 seconds and another at the start of the second hour for 12 seconds.

A complainant alleged that the content of the film was both obscene and pornographic.  The Ontario Regional Panel disagreed.  Referring to the 1992 decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in R. v. Butler, the Panel concluded 

that the sexual activity in this film does not fall within, or even near, the boundaries of pornographic material.  There is sexual explicitness, to be sure, but there is no degrading or dehumanizing context associated with it.  There is violence but it is not associated with the sexuality itself.  In conclusion, in the present matter, the Panel finds no element of pornography present.

On the issue of the duration of the display of the classification icon, the Panel decided that the “12-13 second displays of the ratings icon were insufficiently long and are in violation of the provisions of Article 4 of the Violence Code”, which requires that that source of ratings information for viewers needed to meet the minimum 15-second delay established by the private broadcasters themselves.  The Panel was also concerned about the proper display of viewer advisories, an essential tool by which audiences can make determinations of what is suitable for viewing by them and their families.

Applying these principles to the present matter, the Ontario Regional Panel concludes that the broadcaster has breached the advisory provisions of Clause 11 of the CAB Code of Ethics by failing to refer to the sexual content of the motion picture.  It also concludes that the differing form of the audio and visual advisories coming out of each commercial break constitutes a breach of that clause and of Article 5 of the CAB Violence Code.  It is not that the audio form is not word-for-word identical to the visual form but rather that it provides an inadequate level of information about the content of the film.  There is no reference to any of the violence, coarse language, nudity or sexual content.

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 550 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