Space re Star Trek: Discovery (“Choose Your Pain”)

ENGLISH-LANGUAGE PANEL
CBSC Decision 17/18-0391
2018 CBSC 9
April 18, 2018
S. Courtemanche (Chair), C. Bell, V. Dubois, K. Hesketh, S. Sammut

THE FACTS

Star Trek: Discovery is a science fiction series, set approximately a decade before the original Star Trek television series.  It follows the crew of the USS Discovery spaceship during a war between the Federation and the Klingons.

Space aired the episode entitled “Choose Your Pain” on October 15, 2017 at 8:00 pm.  It contained the following advisory in audio and video formats at the beginning and coming out of all commercial breaks:

This program contains scenes of violence, coarse language and mature subject matter.  Viewer discretion is advised.

There was no classification icon.

In one scene, three members of the ship’s crew are looking at a holograph screen trying to understand how the DNA of a creature they have caught interacts with their “displacement activated spore hub drive”, allowing the ship to teletransport large distances anywhere in the universe.

When the scientific relationship occurs to them, Cadet Sylvia Tilly gets excited and says “You guys, this is so fucking cool!”  Lieutenant Paul Stamets looks at her with a blank expression.  Tilly becomes serious and says, “I’m so sorry”.  Stamets replies, with a slight smile, “No Cadet, it is fucking cool.”

The episode also contained numerous scenes of violence.  Near the beginning of the episode, Discovery’s captain, Gabriel Lorca, is in a small spaceship returning to the main ship after a meeting with his superiors.  A group of Klingons (who are the extraterrestrial humanoid enemies of the Federation) attack the small spaceship.  Lorca and the pilot engage in a fight with the Klingons, with much punching and choking.  One Klingon rips the pilot’s heart out of his chest and he dies.  The Klingons capture Lorca.

Later, Lorca is on the Klingon prison vessel in a cell with two other male inmates.  A group of Klingons enters the cell and tells one of the inmates to “Choose your pain”.  The man points at one of his fellow cellmates, so the Klingons beat that prisoner, slapping, throwing, kicking and dragging him until he is bleeding at the face and seemingly unconscious.

In another scene, the female Klingon leader has Lorca in a room to torture him.  He is strapped to a chair and has a metal device around his face.  The Klingon makes threatening comments to Lorca and then slaps him across the mouth, causing him to bleed.  She puts a metal device on him that holds his eyelids open and shines a bright light into them.  Lorca screams in pain because he has an eye condition that causes heightened sensitivity to light.

Closer to the end of the episode, there is another lengthy fight sequence on the Klingon prison ship.  The Klingons severely beat one of Lorca’s cellmates, Lieutenant Ash Tyler, by punching him in the face repeatedly and throwing him against metal bars.  Tyler feigns unconsciousness, so that he and Lorca can catch their Klingon captors by surprise.  Lorca and Tyler fight with the Klingons, killing one by snapping his neck and the other by strangulation.  Lorca and Tyler manage to get the Klingons’ ray guns and escape the cell.

In the hallway, Lorca and Tyler are swarmed by more Klingons, whom they vaporize with the ray guns.  They fend off more Klingons as they travel through the ship.  Eventually the female Klingon leader appears.  Tyler hurdles towards her, screaming and throwing punches.  The two fight and Tyler throws her to the ground, punching her repeatedly in the face.  After more scuffling, she jumps up to face Lorca, who shoots her in the side of the face with a ray gun.  She screams and falls down as part of her face sizzles and smokes.  (A more detailed description of relevant scenes can be found in Appendix A.)

The CBSC received an email complaint about this episode on October 29.  The complainant explained that he was a long-time Star Trek fan, “most of all due to integrity for cleanliness of story-line and language as good sci-fi entertainment for the family.”  He expressed concern about the use of the word “fucking” during the October 15 episode, suggesting that the context in which it was used “should NOT be allowed on Sunday night prime time without some better warning than the normal generic pre-start of each segment after commercial break”, and asked when the rules had changed.  On November 5, he provided further precisions regarding his complaint, namely the station on which he had seen the episode and the time at which it had aired.

Space responded to the complainant on November 17.  It stated that “it has a strict process in place whereby all programs with any content concerns are viewed prior to airing.  Following the evaluation of the content, viewer advisories, program ratings (AGVOT) and time period are all considered to ensure viewers can make an informed decision as to the appropriateness of the program for their families and themselves.”

After having viewed the episode prior to airing, Space acknowledged that the use of the word “fuck” “was surprising given the series and franchises’ previous 51 year track record of being fairly clean with regards to its content.”  The broadcaster further explained that the “Star Trek franchise has an extremely loyal and engaged fan base so we took into consideration how the coarse language was used and we decided to air the episode uncut and uncensored in order to deliver the content our Space viewers expect.”

Space also noted that the scene in which the offensive language was used involved two characters who are very excited by the scientific breakthrough they have just made and the use of the term was not done in a derogatory way against another character or done in a graphic manner.

Space believed that its 14 + rating of the episode using the AGVOT classification rating system that contained coarse language was appropriate as this “warns viewers there may be, ‘mature themes’ and ‘strong or frequent use of profanity’.”

The broadcaster concluded with the following:  “We realize that coarse language should not air before 9 p.m. but felt challenged with the idea of editing such an iconic show with a cult following especially in light of how the coarse language was used”.  Space concluded with an apology for offending the viewer.

The complainant filed his Ruling Request on November 17, stating that Space’s response was “unacceptable” because they knew about the profanity before airing the episode and made no effort to modify their advisory to inform viewers of the “extreme language” which has never been used in any of the other Star Trek series or movies.  (The full text of all correspondence is in Appendix B.)

THE DECISION

The English-Language Panel examined the complaint under the following provisions of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics and Violence Code:

CAB Code of Ethics, Clause 10 – Television Broadcasting (Scheduling)

a) Programming which contains sexually explicit material or coarse or offensive language intended for adult audiences shall not be telecast before the late viewing period, defined as 9 pm to 6 am. Broadcasters shall refer to the CAB Violence Code for provisions relating to the scheduling of programming containing depictions of violence.

CAB Violence Code, Article 3.0 – Scheduling

3.1       Programming

3.1.1   Programming which contains scenes of violence intended for adult audiences shall not be telecast before the late evening viewing period, defined as 9 pm to 6 am.

CAB Violence Code, Article 4.0 – Classification

Icon Use Protocols

Frequency

The rating icon is to be keyed over the first 15-16 seconds of the program.

The Panel Adjudicators read all of the correspondence and viewed a recording of the challenged broadcast.  The Panel concludes that Space breached Clause 10(a) of the CAB Code of Ethics and Articles 3.1.1 and 4.0 of the CAB Violence Code.

The questions put to the Panel were:

Did Space breach Clause 10 of the CAB Code of Ethics for broadcasting the word “fucking” (twice) before 9:00 pm?

Did this episode of Star Trek contain scenes of violence intended exclusively for adult audiences and, therefore, should have been broadcast after 9:00 pm consistent with the scheduling provision of the CAB Violence Code?

Did Space breach the CAB Violence Code when it failed to include a classification icon?

Coarse Language and Violence Intended for Adult Audiences

The CBSC has consistently stated that the uncensored broadcast of the word “fuck” and its variations is not acceptable before the 9:00 pm Watershed period.[1]  The only exceptions made were in relation to live event programming and French-language programming.  Neither of these circumstances apply here.  The CBSC has also stated that the popularity or critical acclaim of a program does not factor into its assessments in this regard.[2]

The Panel considers that the use of coarse language in this episode was inappropriate.  Given that Space had reviewed the particular episode prior to broadcast and decided to air the program at 8:00 pm, it should have eliminated the coarse language by bleeping the word “fucking” to be compliant with the CAB Code of Ethics.  The Panel understands that Space wanted to air this episode “uncut and uncensored in order to deliver the content our Space viewers expect.”  This objective could have been accomplished by scheduling the program after 9:00 pm.  Accordingly, the Panel finds that the broadcast of the word “fucking” twice in this episode of Star Trek: Discovery was contrary to Clause 10 of the CAB Code of Ethics.

The CBSC, when adjudicating a matter, will review the entire program to ensure that it complies with applicable codes.  Although not raised by the complainant, the Panel reviewed the episode to determine whether it contained scenes of violence “intended exclusively for adult audiences”.  The CAB Violence Code contains a scheduling provision which requires such content to be broadcast after 9:00 pm (and before 6:00 am).

The CBSC, in past decisions, has had to determine what constitutes scenes of violence “intended exclusively for adult audiences” and, therefore, must be broadcast after 9:00 pm.  Each program is assessed on a case-by-case basis and, although there is not a precise mathematical formula used, the CBSC has said that it will consider factors such as frequency, suspense, gore, explicitness, implied versus actually shown violence and the overall theme of the program.

As noted earlier, the Star Trek: Discovery series is the latest in the Star Trek franchise.  The series is a far darker and more intense version and its overall theme is much edgier and more graphic than what was previously aired on other Star Trek series.  The intensity of the series extends to the scenes of violence contained in the program.  In this particular episode, there were several scenes of actual and explicit violence and gore.

The CBSC recently reviewed a science fiction program to determine whether the level of violence in the episode was contrary to the scheduling provision of the CAB Violence Code.[3]  The program contained various violent scenes, including one of a man being stabbed to death in the abdomen by a piece of metal rebar, scenes of beatings and one in which a man is killed by being repeatedly hit in the head with a metal ball followed by a close-up of the victim’s bloody face.  The majority of adjudicators concluded that given the large number and graphic nature of the scenes the program was intended exclusively for adult audiences and should have been broadcast after 9:00 pm.

In another decision involving a science fiction television series, the CBSC explained that the scheduling provision of the CAB Violence Code is intended is to balance freedom of expression with the desire to protect children by the establishment of the watershed hour after which programming intended for adults may be shown.[4]

Moreover, the fantastical nature of a television series does not obviate the need to meet the scheduling requirements of the CAB Violence Code.  Where the broadcaster respects this provision there will not be a finding of breaching the code.[5]

With regards to scenes of violence contained in fantasy programming, such as characters having their throat slit or strangled to death by a coat hanger or where there was an attempt to burn an individual at the stake but was instead shot in the head, the CBSC further explained how it had assessed whether the violence was “intended exclusively for adult audiences”[6]:

  • Whether the scenes of violence were relevant to the development of the plot;
  • Whether the scenes of violence were gratuitous in terms of its presence in the program;
  • Whether the scenes of violence were graphic and explicit;
  • When the scenes of violence in a fantasy program depict violence without consequences, whether children that could be watching could reasonably be expected to understand the irony of the fantasy.

The CBSC has also considered the scheduling provision of the CAB Violence Code in a number of different programs such as action movies.  In the film The Mechanic, there were many scenes of extreme violence, such as the main character shooting his mentor point-blank with a gun and the strangling of a man with a strap and then hanging the body on a door and then putting on a pornographic video to make the death look like auto-erotic axphyxiation.  Given that the majority of the scenes throughout the film were of this nature and it was scheduled at 3:00 pm, the CBSC determined that this was a breach of the scheduling provision of the CAB Violence Code.[7]

As noted earlier, the assessment is done on a case-by-case basis.  Even if the program includes violent content and may be shocking to younger viewers, this does not necessarily force it into the 9:00 pm time slot.[8]

In the present circumstance, there were several scenes of violence throughout the episode that were of a graphic and explicit nature, such as multiple beatings with much punching and choking; characters having blood on their face as a result of violence; scenes of torture; death by the snapping of the neck; and, a scene where the heart of a character is ripped out.

Although the violence was relevant to the development of the plot, throughout the episode, there were many scenes that contained graphic and explicit violence which, in the Panel’s view, were “intended exclusively for adult audiences”.  Accordingly, the broadcast of this episode of Star Trek: Discovery at 8:00 pm was contrary to the scheduling provision of the CAB Violence Code.

The Need for a Classification Icon

Star Trek: Discovery is considered a dramatic program and, as such, is required to display a classification icon.  Although Space contends that it had displayed a classification icon of 14+, there is no classification icon on the logger file provided by the broadcaster.  The CBSC has consistently determined that failutre to display a classification icon constitutes a breach of Article 4.0 of the CAB Violence Code.[9]

The code requires that the rating icon be keyed over the first 15-16 seconds of the program.  The rating icon is a key tool to permit viewers to gauge whether the content of the program is appropriate for all family members and, it is for this reason that it is a requirement under the CAB Violence Code.

The Panel has determined that the absence of a classification icon, in the present circumstances, constitutes a breach of Article 4.0 of the CAB Violence Code.

Broadcaster Responsiveness

In all CBSC decisions, the Panels assess the broadcaster’s response to the complainant.  The broadcaster need not agree with the complainant’s position, but it must respond in a courteous, thoughtful and thorough manner.  In this case, Space has, in its response, satisfied its obligation to respond adequately to the complaint. The broadcaster fulfilled its obligations of responsiveness and, subject to the announcement of this decision, nothing further is required in this regard in this instance.

ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE DECISION

Space is required to:  1) announce the decision, in the following terms, once during prime time within three days following the release of this decision and once more within seven days following the release of this decision during the time period in which Star Trek: Discovery was broadcast, but not on the same day as the first mandated announcement; 2) within the fourteen days following the broadcasts of the announcements, to provide written confirmation of the airing of the statement to the complainant who filed the Ruling Request; and 3) at that time, to provide the CBSC with a copy of that written confirmation and with air check copies of the broadcasts of the two announcements which must be made by Space.

The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has found that Space breached the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ Code of Ethics and Violence Code in its broadcast of Star Trek: Discovery on October 15, 2017 at 8:00 pm.  The program contained coarse language and violence intended for adult audiences which should only have been broadcast after 9:00 pm as required by Clause 10 of the Code of Ethics and Article 3 of the Violence Code.  A classification icon should have appeared at the beginning of the program as required by Article 4 of the Violence Code.

This decision is a public document upon its release by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council.

[1] Showcase Television re the movie Destiny to Order (CBSC Decision 00/01-0715, January 16, 2002); WTN re the movie Wildcats (CBSC Decision 00/01-0964, January 16, 2002; Showcase Television re The Cops (CBSC Decision 01/02-0682, January 30, 2004); Showcase Television re the movie Muriel’s Wedding (CBSC Decision 02/-03-0882, January 30, 2004); Bravo! re the movie Perfect Timing (CBSC Decision 03/04-0928, December 15 , 2004); Bravo! re the movie Ordinary People (CBSC Decision 03/04-1187, December 15, 2004); Bravo! re the film RKO 281 (CBSC Decision 04/05-0584, July 20, 2005); Global re an episode of fatbluesky (CBSC Decision 05/06-1611, January 8, 2007); BBC Canada re The F-Word (CBSC Decision 08/09-1516, April 1, 2010); BITE TV re The Conventioneers (CBSC Decision 10/11-0627, July 12, 2011); Sportsnet Ontario re Party Poker Premier League Poker (CBSC Decision 14/15-0908, October 21, 2015); GameTV re Eastern Promises (CBSC Decision 15/16-1652, December 21, 2016).

[2] CKMM-FM re a song entitled “The Bad Touch” (CBSC Decision 99/00-0521, February 21, 2001); CJKR-FM re the song “Highway Girl (Live) by The Tragically Hip (CBSC Decision 00/01-0832, January 14, 2002); Review of the Atlantic Regional Panel decision in CHOZ-FM re the song “Money for Nothing” by Dire Straits (CBSC Review of Decision 09/10-0818, May 17, 2011).

[3] TVA re Le dôme (“Le Crépuscule du dôme”) (CBSC Decision 15/16-1277, January 31, 2017).

[4] CIHF-TV (MITV) re an episode of The X-Files (CBSC Decision 96/97-0043, February 14, 1997).

[5] CTV re Poltergeist – The Legacy (CBSC Decision 96/97-0017 & -0030, May 8, 1997).

[6] Showcase Television re the movie Destiny to Order (CBSC Decision 00/01-0175, January 16, 2002).

[7] HIFI re 10 000 BC, The Mechanic & Trailer Park Boys (CBSC Decision 16/17-0474, August 9, 2017).

[8] VRAK.TV re Charmed (Dead Man Dating) (CBSC Decision 02/03-0365, July 17, 2003).

[9] TQS re an episode of Coroner (CBSC Decision 98/99-0162, June 23, 1999); TSN re an episode of WWE (CBSC Decision 02/03-1656, May 11, 2004); Family Channel re two episodes of the Amanda Show (CBSC Decision 03/04-0486 and -0792, May 11, 2004); Comedy Network re Puppets Who Kill (“The Island of Skip-Along Pete”) (CBSC Decision 05/06-0383, March 30, 2006); GameTV re Eastern Promises (CBSC Decision 15/16-1652, December 21, 2016).


Appendix A

Star Trek: Discovery is a science fiction series, set approximately a decade before the original Star Trek television series.  It follows the crew of the USS Discovery spaceship during a war between the Federation and the Klingons.

Space aired the episode entitled “Choose Your Pain” on October 15 at 8:00 pm.  It contained the following advisory in audio and video formats at the beginning and coming out of all commercial breaks:

This program contains scenes of violence, coarse language and mature subject matter.  Viewer discretion is advised.

There was no classification icon.

The captain of the ship is Gabriel Lorca, who suffers from an eye condition causing acute sensitivity to light.  He conscripted First Officer Michael Burnham (a female, despite the name) to help him even though she was found guilty of mutiny while on another ship.  Not everyone is pleased with her presence.  Cadet Sylvia Tilly has a bubbly personality and tries to be friendly with Burnham.  There is also Lieutenant Paul Stamets who is one of the main scientists, as well as other characters who are not significant in the scenes at issue here.

The ship has a “displacement activated spore hub drive” which allows it to teletransport itself anywhere in the universe.  Previously, the crew was unable to control where the ship would materialize with the drive.  In a prior episode, they captured a large creature called a Tardigrade and discovered that something in the Tardigrade’s DNA interacted with the spore drive, so that they could now control where the ship would go and could teletransport farther and faster than before.  Burnham, however, believes that with every “jump” the ship makes, the health of the Tardigrade (which she named Ripper) deteriorates.

The episode contains coarse language and multiple scenes of violence:

20:02:42-20:03:12

Burnham is at a console.  A double of herself is in a chamber across from the console.  There are probes poking into the double’s sides and a blue glow fills the chamber.  Burnham pushes a button at the console.  Her double in the chamber screams as the probes push further into her sides.  Burnham at the console is also screaming.  Burnham is then seen waking up in bed suddenly, indicating that it was a dream.

20:08:20-20:08:41

Lorca is in a small spaceship on his way back to Discovery after a meeting with Admiral Katrina Cornwell who had ordered him to limit the use of the spore drive during battles.  There is only Lorca and a pilot on the small ship.  Klingons attack the ship.  A group of Klingons barge in through the door carrying large ray guns.  Lorca and the pilot engage in a fight with them, with much punching and choking.  One Klingon rips the pilot’s heart out of his chest and he dies.  The Klingons march Lorca away.

20:15:09-20:15:40

Lorca is in a Klingon prison vessel.  There are two fellow inmates.  One is Harcourt “Harry” Mudd who is flippant and annoying.  The other is a nameless man who is huddled in a corner in the fetal position.  Harry tells Lorca that the man is crazy.  A group of Klingons walks in and one says “Choose your pain”.  Harry points at the man in the corner, so one Klingon grabs the man by the hair and pulls him into the centre of the room.  As Lorca goes to take a step to help the man, a Klingon points a gun at him and he stops.  Another Klingon slaps the man’s face, throws him against the wall, then drags him by the hair on the ground.  The man is lying on the ground seemingly unconscious and the Klingon kicks him in the face, causing his face to bleed.  The Klingons drag him out of the room and shut the cell door.

Afterwards, Harry explains to Lorca that the Klingons do this “Choose your pain” exercise frequently.  The chosen prisoner can either accept a beating himself or choose one of his fellow inmates to receive it.  According to Harry, the purpose is to prevent the prisoners from bonding.

20:21:19

Lorca has noticed that there is another prisoner in the cell.  He says his name is Lieutenant Ash Tyler.  Tyler says to Lorca:  “Shit, you’re a captain?”

20:26:07-20:26:21

Tilly, Stamets & Burnham are looking at a holograph screen trying to understand how the Tardigrade and spore drive interact to allow the ship to jump such distances.  When the scientific relationship occurs to them, Tilly gets excited and says “You guys, this is so fucking cool!”  Stamets looks at her with a blank expression.  Tilly gets serious and says, “I’m so sorry”.  Stamets replies, with a slight smile, “No Cadet, it is fucking cool.”  They all smile about their discovery and plan.

20:26:26-20:28:15

Lorca has been taken to meet with the Klingon leader.  He is strapped to a chair and has a metal torture device around his face.  The female Klingon’s name is L’Rell.  She says “Have you ever been tortured, Captain?”  L’Rell speaks to him in a threatening manner and strokes his face.  They exchange barbs and L’Rell slaps him across the mouth causing it to bleed.

She reveals that she is aware that Lorca has problems with his eyes, causing him to have extreme sensitivity to light.  She puts a metal device on him that holds his eyelids open.  She says “Glory must be earned through sacrifice and pain.”  She then flicks a switch to shine a bright light in Lorca’s eyes and he screams in pain.

20:39:09-20:42:36

Two Klingons come into the prison cell and invite Lorca to “Choose your pain”.  Tyler tells Lorca to choose him, so Lorca reluctantly points at Tyler.  One Klingon grabs Tyler and punches him in the face repeatedly.  The Klingon then throws Tyler against some metal bars.  The Klingon drags Tyler across the floor, who appears to be unconscious.  Both Klingons look at Lorca.  As one Klingon turns back around to kick Tyler, Tyler jumps up, surprising him.  Lorca strikes the other Klingon while Tyler fights the first.  Lorca manages to get the one Klingon’s gun and strangles him with it.  Tyler has the other Klingon in a choke hold and snaps his neck.  Both Klingons are on the floor, dead.  Lorca grabs another gun off of one and throws it to Tyler.

Lorca & Tyler move to leave the holding cell.  Harry assumes he is going with them, but Lorca is angry that Harry was feeding information about them to the Klingons, so Lorca tells Harry they are not letting him escape with them.  Lorca hits Harry in the face with his weapon.  Harry’s lip is bleeding and he begs Lorca to let him come with them.  Tyler and Lorca exit the cell and push the button to close the door on Harry.

Tyler and Lorca make their way down the hallway of the Klingon prison ship.  The first Klingons who jump out to stop them are vaporized by the ray guns Tyler & Lorca took from the other Klingons.  Other Klingons jump out at them, but they manage to fend them off.  A Klingon manages to injure Tyler, so Lorca half carries Tyler further down the hallway.

Tyler can go no further, so Lorca leaves him in an alcove along the side of the hallway.  When Lorca turns the corner, L’Rell comes out of a door and says to Tyler “Did you really think you could leave me?  After all we’ve been through.”  Tyler stands up as she approaches him then hurdles towards her, screaming & throwing punches.  The two fight and Tyler manages to throw L’Rell to the ground.  He punches her repeatedly in the face.  Another Klingon comes out of the door, but Lorca has returned and vaporizes that Klingon with his ray gun.  L’Rell head-buts Tyler and throws him off of her.  She jumps up to face Lorca who shoots her in the side of the face with the ray gun.  She screams and falls down as part of her face is sizzling and smoking.  Lorca & Tyler run for the docking bay to escape.

Appendix B

The Complaint

The CBSC received the following complaint via email on October 29, 2017:

Subject:         Prime time profanity

I’ve been a Star Trek fan for years; most of all due to integrity for cleanliness of story-line and language as good sci-fi entertainment for the family.

With that in mind, I looked forward to the new Star Trek: Discovery series.  That was until the airing of October 15th, an episode called “Choose Your Pain”.  Twenty-five minutes in (+ about 37 seconds ) they used the expression “that’s so fucking cool”.  She, after saying aforementioned statement, took a few seconds to realize what she said, then said “so sorry” to which the reply was “no cadet, it is fucking cool”.

I do believe that Gene Roddenberry turned over in his grave at this point!

I know the word has become more commonplace in our deterring-lack-of-morality society and even at times have said the word when extremely angered or in times of great physical pain.  But, to use it in such circumstances as where they did here should NOT be allowed on Sunday night prime time without some better warning than the normal generic pre-start of each segment after commercial break.

When did these rules change??

Please respond,

Thank you for your immediate attention and response.

The CBSC informed the complainant that it needed the broadcaster name and time of the episode in order to pursue his complaint.  He provided that information on November 5:

The channel was Space and if memory serves me correctly it was 20:00hrs (8pm).  Rest of information requested by you was included in first email.

Broadcaster Response

The broadcaster responded to the complainant on November 17:

The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) has forwarded to us a copy of your correspondence dated October 29th, 2017, regarding the series Star Trek: Discovery which aired on Space on October 15th, 2017, at 8:00pm EST, for our attention and response.

Before we address your specific concern, it should be noted that Space follows the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics (herein referred to as The Code), Equitable Portrayal Code, Voluntary Code Regarding Violence in Television Programming and the AGVOT (Action Group on Violence On Television) rating classification system approved by the CRTC and used by Canadian broadcasters.  (If you would like to view the CAB codes, you may do so at www.cbsc.ca).

Star Trek: Discovery is an American television series created for CBS: All Access, an online subscription streaming service which offers original content, of which Star Trek: Discovery is one of their newest properties.  The series is a branch of the Star Trek franchise, revolving around the Federation – Klingon war while following the crew of the USS Discovery.

Space endeavours to provide our viewers with exclusive and unique programming.  It is not Space’s intention to offend any of our viewers so Space has a strict process in place whereby all programs with any content concerns are viewed prior to airing.  Following the evaluation of the content, viewer advisories, program ratings (AGVOT) and time period are all considered to ensure viewers can make an informed decision as to the appropriateness of the program for their families and themselves.

After viewing the episode in question entitled “Choose Your Pain” it included 2 instances of the word “fuck” which was surprising given the series and franchises previous 51 year track record of being fairly clean with regards to its content.  The Star Trek franchise has an extremely loyal and engaged fan base so we took into consideration how the coarse language was used and we decided to air the episode uncut and uncensored in order to deliver the content our Space viewers expect.

The scene in which the coarse language appears involves two characters who make a scientific breakthrough and punctuate their excitement with the use of the “f word” in an enthusiastic exclamation regarding their discovery.  It should be noted that while spoken, the term was not used in a derogatory way against another character or in an otherwise graphic manner.  Although agreeably inappropriate, the scene involves two characters caught up in the exhilaration over a scientific discovery and it was not used in an offensive or insulting way.

As per The Code and understanding that the program contained coarse language and may not be appropriate to all viewers, Space aired this program with the following viewer advisory which appeared at the start of the program and during every commercial break:

“This program contains scenes of violence, coarse language and mature subject matter.  Viewer discretion is advised.”

The program was rated with an AGVOT (Action Group on Violence On Television) classification code of 14+ which warns viewers there may be, “mature themes” and “strong or frequent use of profanity”.

As broadcasters, we have found both the AGVOT rating system and viewer advisories to be very effective tools for concerned viewers such as yourself to provide guidance in your programming decisions. (For more information about the AGVOT classification system, please visit www.cbsc.ca/english/agvot/index.php.)

We realize that coarse language should not air before 9 p.m. but felt challenged with the idea of editing such an iconic show with a cult following especially in light of how the coarse language was used.  We would like to emphasize that your comments are taken seriously and we hope that our explanation on how our decision was made has been helpful.  It is never Space’s intention to offend any of our viewers so we apologize to you in that regard.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact us and I hope this response has been helpful.

Additional Correspondence

The complainant filed his Ruling Request on November 17 with the following comments:

Their response was unacceptable.  Their knowledge of profanity was acknowledged before airing yet made no attempt to change advisory to inform viewers this extreme language (in my opinion and others I’ve spoken with) than that of other programs that never use the “f-bomb” on a family-watched program that has NEVER used the word in ANY of the other series or even the many movies produced under the Star Trek label. [sic]