Religious Terms Used as Expletives Not in Violation of Broadcast Code, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, May 3, 2006 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning a Comedy Network episode of Puppets Who Kill, which contained the expressions “Jesus” and “Jesus f****ing Christ” used as interjections. The CBSC National Specialty Services Panel concluded that the broadcast of those expressions did not violate the Human Rights clause of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics. It did find, however, that the Comedy Network should have broadcast a classification icon at the beginning of the program and a more detailed viewer advisory.

Puppets Who Kill is a comedy program intended for adults that focuses on the activities of four untraditional puppets, who, in their back story, had been convicted of various criminal acts and sent to a half-way house for rehabilitation. The challenged episode, entitled “The Island of Skip-Along Pete”, was broadcast at 10:00 pm on September 9, 2005. A viewer complained that the use of religious terms as swear words was offensive and disrespectful. The National Specialty Services Panel found that the episode did not contain any abusive or unduly discriminatory material on the basis of religion:

Given that there were no comments made that were directly focussed on an identifiable group based on its religion, the question is whether the use of admittedly religious epithets could obliquely be reasonably considered to be the equivalent. The Panel considers that it is not. [It referred to an earlier decision of the Quebec Panel in which corresponding French epithets were found to have been] “merely used as expletives without any intended reference to things religious.” […] Moreover, in the present instance, the Panel finds that the words were not used in an abusive or even aggressive way vis-à-vis the religion or its practitioners. There was, in other words, no attempt to discriminate on the basis of religion. The Panel considers the two incarnations of the epithet used in this episode of the program tasteless and regrettable but not in violation of the Human Rights Clause.

The Panel found a violation of Clause 11 (Viewer Advisories) of the CAB Code of Ethics because the advisories provided were generic and non-specific and did not mention the presence of coarse language (in addition to the religious terms, the f-word and other offensive words were present). It also found a violation of Article 4 of the CAB Violence Code because the Comedy Network failed to provide any classification icon indicating the intended audience age group at the beginning of the episode. The Panel determined that 14+ would have been the appropriate rating as the result of the presence of “strong or frequent use of profanity”.

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 590 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