Repetition of Violent Content Is Gratuitous, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, March 12, 2004 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released a decision concerning CITY-TV (Toronto)’s 9:00 am broadcast of an episode of the Maury Povich Show, which was entitled “Shocking Life or Death Moments Caught on Tape”.  A viewer found that the violent content shown during the morning, with no warnings provided to the audience, was inappropriate for an hour when children could be watching.  The Ontario Regional Panel agreed, and thus found the broadcast in breach of Articles 1 (Content), 3 (Scheduling), and 5 (Viewer Advisories) of the CAB Violence Code.

The June 10, 2003 broadcast dealt principally, although not exclusively with, life or death moments.  The Panel noted that this was not a customary episode of the magazine format show, in that it included graphic segments, many of which resulted in danger, injuries or death.  That made the scheduling even worse for the show’s customary audience and the Panel’s finding was, in any event, that much of the material in the episode was intended for adults and ought not to have aired before 9:00 pm.  This rendered the absence of advisories even more problematic in terms of the Violence Code’s requirements. 

On the issue of the nature of content, the Panel found the amount and the sensationalization of violence in the episode problematic.  A number of the more shocking video segments (such as a clerk being struck hard on the side of the head by a crowbar during a robbery) were repeated at normal speed and in slow motion and were then employed again as teasers going into the commercial breaks.  While the host himself did from time to time provide some indication of the upcoming content, he did this more as a “teaser” to attract audience than as an alert to viewers that they might find any of the content disturbing.  While the Panel did not find that the episode encouraged violence, it considered that the repetition and emphasis on the violent content constituted a gratuitous depiction of violence.  It stated that .

It rather considers that much of the violence in the episode was, by reason of the creators’ editing decisions, gratuitous.  In the Panel’s view, this results primarily from the decision of the program’s producers to replay all of the shocking videos time and again, even repeating them in slow motion to ensure that viewers missed no tragic moment, and finally airing them as teasers going into commercial breaks.  The Panel also notes that there was nothing didactic in the episode.  There was no theme which related to the avoidance of dangerous actions, which could lead to injurious consequences.  The program simply consisted of the threading together of shocking footage, linked by the serendipitous capture on video of shocking and tragic circumstances.

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 530 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