Sportsnet Ontario re Party Poker Premier League Poker

CBSC Decision 14/15-0908
2015 CBSC 9
A. Noël (Chair), M. Arpin, M. Carter, P. Gratton, D.-Y. Leu, P. Sévigny, R. Waksman

The Facts

Party Poker Premier League Poker is a program that shows poker matches between some of the world’s top poker players. It also features behind-the-scenes footage of the players interacting with each other outside of the matches as well as short interviews with the players.

Sportsnet Ontario aired an episode of the program on February 9, 2015 at 4:00 pm. There were no viewer advisories during the broadcast.

The episode contained the f-word in an opening segment showing the arrival of a player who goes by the name Devilfish. One of the other players scolded him for arriving late and Devilfish replied, twice, “Go fuck yourself”. He then used the f-word in response to a comment from another player during this exchange. Devilfish also used the f-word on at least four other occasions during the actual poker match to express frustration about or emphasis on how the game was progressing. (A transcript of the relevant comments can be found in Appendix A.)

A viewer complained via the CBSC webform on February 9, 2015. The complainant indicated that this was the second time that he had complained about the coarse language and lack of viewer advisories on Sportsnet’s Premier League Poker broadcasts. After the first complaint, the station had assured him it would rectify the situation and the complainant was concerned that it had not.

Sportsnet responded to the complainant on February 27. The station agreed that the language was inappropriate for a 4:00 pm broadcast. It noted that it had instituted a new policy following this viewer’s first complaint, but that this episode had unfortunately been missed under that new policy. Sportsnet wrote that it had removed Premier League Poker from its schedule until it could be assured that all episodes were suitable for its audience. It wrote that it is “completely committed to ensuring this mistake is not repeated again.”

The complainant filed his Ruling Request on March 5, with a copy of a message he had sent to Sportsnet. He indicated his concern that removing only Premier League Poker from its schedule would not ensure that offensive language did not appear in other programs. He questioned the station’s commitment to quality control with respect to coarse language given that it had committed to rectify the situation subsequent to his first complaint, but had failed to do so. He questioned whether any steps had really been taken. (The full text of all correspondence can be found in Appendix B.)

The Decision

The National Specialty Services Panel examined the complaint under the following provisions of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics:

Clause 10 – Television Broadcasting

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. […]

Clause 11 – Viewer Advisories

To assist consumers in making their viewing choices, when programming includes mature subject matter or scenes with nudity, sexually explicit material, coarse or offensive language, or other material susceptible of offending viewers, broadcasters shall provide a viewer advisory

a) at the beginning of, and after every commercial break during the first hour of programming telecast in late viewing hours which contains such material which is intended for adult audiences, or

b) at the beginning of, and after every commercial break during programming telecast outside of late viewing hours which contains such material which is not suitable for children.

The Panel Adjudicators read all of the correspondence and viewed a recording of the challenged broadcast. The Panel concludes that Sportsnet Ontario violated the two aforementioned Code provisions by broadcasting the f-word unedited.

Coarse Language

The CBSC has consistently found that the f-word constitutes language “intended exclusively for adult audiences” and therefore can only be broadcast during the “Watershed” period of 9:00 pm to 6:00 am. 1 If the f-word appears in a program broadcast outside the “Watershed” period, it must be edited or muted. 2

The Panel Adjudicators find that in this case, the f-word was used a number of times during the broadcast which started at 4:00 pm, therefore outside the “Watershed” period, and that it was neither muted nor edited in some other way. Consequently the Panel Adjudicators conclude that the broadcaster breached Clause 10 a) of the CAB Code of Ethics.

Viewer Advisories

As mentioned above, the complainant also stressed that there were no warnings concerning the use of coarse language during the broadcast. The Panel Adjudicators note that no viewer advisories were broadcast before the program was aired and after each commercial break as is mandated by Clause 11 of the CAB Code of Ethics. 3 Therefore, the Panel Adjudicators can only conclude that the broadcaster breached Clause 11 of the CAB Code of Ethics by failing to broadcast viewer advisories concerning the use of coarse language.

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, the complainant was annoyed that Sportsnet had not fulfilled the commitment it had made to prevent the broadcast of coarse language following his first complaint. Sportsnet acknowledged the lapse in its newly-instituted policy and therefore took the more drastic measure of removing entirely the offending program from its schedule. Although this did not satisfy the complainant because he remained concerned about the appearance of coarse language in other programs, the CBSC considers that this was a very conscientious approach on the part of Sportsnet. The broadcaster has thus 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

Sportsnet Ontario 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 Party Poker Premier League Poker 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 Sportsnet Ontario.

The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has found that Sportsnet Ontario breached the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ Code of Ethics in its broadcast of Party Poker Premier League Poker on February 9, 2015. The 4:00 pm broadcast contained the f-word, contrary to Clause 10 of the Code. Sportsnet did not broadcast viewer advisories alerting viewers to the coarse language, contrary to Clause 11 of the 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 01/02-1076, February 28, 2003); CTV re a segment featuring Eminem at the Junos (CBSC Decision 02/03-1130, January 30, 2004) Bravo! re the movie Perfect Timing (CBSC Decision 03/04-1719, December 15, 2004); Bravo! re the movie Kitchen Party (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 ReGenesis (“Baby Bomb”) (CBSC Decision 04/05-1996, January 20, 2006)

2 WTN re the movie Wildcats (CBSC Decision 00/01-0964, January 16, 2002); Showcase Television re the movie Frankie Starlight (CBSC Decision 02/03-0682, January 30, 2004); Showcase Television re the movie Muriel’s Wedding (CBSC Decision 02/03-0882, January 30, 2004); CTV re a segment featuring Eminem at the Junos (CBSC Decision 02/03-1130, January 30, 2004); Bravo! re the film RKO 281 (CBSC Decision 04/05-0584, July 20, 2005); Global re ReGenesis (“Baby Bomb”) (CBSC Decision 04/05-1996, January 20, 2006); BBC Canada re The F-Word (CBSC Decision 08/09-1516, April 1, 2010)

3 Showcase Television re The Cops (CBSC Decision 01/02-1076, February 28, 2003); CTV re the Green Day performance during Live 8 (CBSC Decision 04/05-1753, January 20, 2006); Global re an episode of fatbluesky (CBSC Decision 05/06-1611, January 8, 2007)