The Comedy Network re Dream On (Martin Tupper in “Magnum Farce”)

ONTARIO REGIONAL COUNCIL
(CBSC Decision 97/98-1181)
A. MacKay (Chair), R. Stanbury (Vice-Chair), R. Cohen (ad hoc), P. Fockler,M. Hogarth and M. Ziniak

THE FACTS

Dream On is a half-hour situation comedy which is more risqué than
most conventional network television fare. It airs most weeknights at 9:30 p.m. on The
Comedy Network. The episode which aired on May 12, 1998, was titled “Martin Tupper in
Magnum Farce”, after the main protagonist of Dream On, publishing house editor
Martin Tupper. In the episode in question, one of Martin’s authors seeks revenge on
her husband for having had an affair by having sex with Martin and this sets off a chain
reaction of “revenge by sex”.

As might be expected by the nature of the storyline, the episode was
replete with sexual content. The sexually suggestive and/or explicit scenes involve Martin
and his girlfriend, then the author and Martin, then Martin’s girlfriend and the
author’s husband. The scenes included some nudity: partial frontal views which showed
a woman’s breasts and a full side view of a naked woman.

As with previous episodes of Dream On reviewed by the Council,
the Council notes that a viewer advisory preceded the episode in question. The advisory
stated “The following program may contain material that some viewers may find
offensive.” The episode was also rated “18+” and an on-screen icon to that
effect appeared at the beginning of the episode.

The Letter of Complaint

On May 28, a viewer wrote to the Secretary General of the CRTC stating
that:

Last evening on The Comedy Network, at9:30pm, there was a show on called Dream On. Not being familiar with this program Iwatched to see what it was about. Within 1 minute of viewing the man and woman on thescreen were undressed, completely and the woman was sitting on top of the man’s hipshaving sexual intercourse! I was so shocked I turned to another station and tried tocollect myself, but decided to turn back to see just how far and how long this would goon. When I turned back the woman was full frontal close-up nude, getting dressed. Againshocked I turned away but getting angry now turned back to see what else they had tooffer. Now there are more people on the screen and they are all using the f— word backand forth. Well I had certainly seen and heard enough by this time and shut it off. I wasso upset I could hardly sleep. It is unbelievable that shows like this are even broadcaston Canada’s cable TV, but at the very least they should be on after midnight whenmost unsuspecting morally conscious people and innocent children are more apt to be inbed. I control the TV programs my children watch but there certainly could be an occasionwhen they are still up at 9:30 at night. Certainly my 13 year old who lives alone with hisDad, has a TV in his room and I know he watches The Comedy Network at times and it makesme absolutely sick to my stomach that he may have watched that show last night. There arelots of kids out there that are in the same situation. The Networks and the CRTC have tobe more responsible. The kids that are out there that don’t have parents making surethat what they are watching on TV is not harmful are being damaged even more bytelevision!

I hope that this will be looked after quickly. I have already spoke toThe Comedy Network and their initial response was that 9:30 is an adult time slot and theydon’t consider that show to have been x-rated material. I am hoping my letter willconvince them they are wrong.

I also hope that the CRTC can do something about preventing any othershows that might have this sort of content from being aired (such as some things on theTeletoon Network but at least they were on at a much later hour). What about having arating on the screen the whole time the show is on if it is a restricted subject matter.Why are these sorts of shows on mainstream cable TV anyway? But certainly no show, withcontent even near what Dream On contains should be on before midnight if at all butcertainly not 9:30pm!

In the normal course, this complaint was forwarded by the CRTC to the
CBSC to be dealt with in accordance with the Council's customary procedures.

The Broadcaster’s Response

The Vice President of Programming at The Comedy Network replied to the
complainant on June 5, in the following terms:

We have received your letter of May 13,together with a copy of your letter of the same date to the Canadian Radio-television andTelecommunications Commission (CRTC) and the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC)regarding the program “Dream On” which aired on The Comedy Network on May 12,1998.

From the beginning, The Comedy Network has set out to present a programschedule that is adult, irreverent and alternative to much of the mainstream comedy thatis available on conventional broadcasters. As a consequence, our programming tends to bemore risqué and controversial.

As you may be aware, 9:00pm is generally accepted as the watershed inprime time where adult material appears. After 9:00pm, broadcasters may presentprogramming which portrays adult situations and explicit language. Such programmingusually includes an advisory at the beginning of the show which alerts audiences tomaterial which may be offensive to some viewers. Such is the case with this program.

In addition, all Canadian broadcasters have adopted a comprehensiveclassification system to provide guidance to audiences regarding program content on suchmatters as violence, language, nudity, sexuality and/or mature themes. All of our programsutilize this ratings system and specifically, after 9pm, a number of shows use the”18+” icon which advises viewers that the program may contain graphic languageand element intended for adult audiences. The “18+” icon was used on thisprogram, in addition to our program disclaimer and voice-over advisory at the top of theshow.

Further, The Comedy Network provides two separate program feeds of ourschedule – one Eastern Time and one Pacific – in consideration of the various time zonesacross Canada and the program context being transmitted.

Nevertheless, the opinions of our viewers are of concern to us. Wecompile viewer feedback and consider trends and suggestions. We are interested inunderstanding what our audience likes and dislikes. We make our programming choices oradjustments with this knowledge in mind.

With regard to your specific concern, I regret that the programoffended you. Reactions to comedic material are subjective and what one person findsoffensive, others do not.

In conclusion, I again regret that the program offended you, but I hopethat you may find entertainment value in some of the other programs in our telecastschedule.

The complainant was unsatisfied with the broadcaster’s response
and requested, on June 16, that the CBSC refer the matter to the appropriate Regional
Council for adjudication. With her request, the complainant added a brief note addressed
to the CBSC which further explained her position.

Thank you for your swift response to mycomplaint. In this day and age of ‘anything goes’ there certainly must be a lotof letters you are receiving bemoaning our country’s moral decay.

I would just like to add along with the ruling request that thisparticular show Dream On is in no way normal ‘adult ’ viewing. Ireiterate the one show I saw was what I would consider to be x-rated and has no place ontelevision before 11:00pm. I also would like the Council to consider having a vieweradvisory visible on the screen for the entire program for people who have tuned in afterthe beginning of the show. I hope that you will consider my recommendation so that peopleare not exposed to something that they do not want to see.

I am sure that once you view this particular show I am bringing yourattention to, you will agree that it is unsuitable in that time slot and I thank you inadvance for your very careful attention in this matter. I will look forward to hearingback from you.

THE DECISION

The CBSC’s Ontario Regional Council considered the complaint under
the Sex-Role Portrayal Code and the Violence Code. The relevant clauses of
those Codes read as follows:

Sex-Role Portrayal Code, Clause 4 (Exploitation)

Television and radio programming shallrefrain from the exploitation of women, men and children. Negative or degrading commentson the role and nature of women, men or children in society shall be avoided. Modes ofdress, camera focus on areas of the body and similar modes of portrayal should not bedegrading to either sex. The sexualization of children through dress or behaviour is notacceptable.

Guidance: “Sex-ploitation” through dress is one areain which the sexes have traditionally differed, with more women portrayed in scant clothing and alluring postures.

Violence Code, Clause 3 (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. 3.1.2 Accepting that there are older children watching television after 9 pm, broadcasters shall adhere to the provisions of article 5.1 below (viewer advisories), enabling parents to make an informed decision as to the suitability of the programming for their family members. 3.1.3 In order to provide viewers with the benefit of Canadian program classification and viewer advisories not available on foreign distant signals, broadcasters who have CRTC-permitted substitution rights over programming which is imported into their markets before the late evening viewing period, may employ substitution, notwithstanding article 3.1.1. 3.1.4 Broadcasters shall exercise discretion in employing substitution in accordance with article 3.1.3 and shall at no time avail themselves of substitution rights over programming which contains gratuitous violence in any form or which sanctions, promotes or glamourizes violence. 3.1.5 Broadcasters shall take special precautions to advise viewers of the content of programming intended for adult audiences which is telecast before 9 pm in accordance with article 3.1.3

(Note: To accommodate the reality oftime zone differences, and Canadian distant signal importation, these guidelines shall beapplied to the time zone in which the signal originates.)

3.2 Promotional material which contains scenes of violence intended foradult audiences shall not be telecast before 9 pm.

3.3 Advertisements which contain scenes of violence intended for adultaudiences, such as those for theatrically presented feature films, shall not be telecastbefore 9 pm.

Violence Code, Clause 4 (Classification)

Canadian broadcasters are in the processof co-operatively developing with other segments of the industry, a viewer-friendlyclassification system, which will provide guidelines on content and the intended audiencefor programming.

Once complete, the classification system shall complement thisVoluntary Code. As it is recognized that a classification system will have a bearing onprogram scheduling, the provisions of article 3.0 above shall be reviewed at that time.

Violence Code, Clause 5 (Viewer Advisories)

5.1 To assist consumers in making theirviewing choices, broadcasters shall provide a viewer advisory, at the beginning of, andduring the first hour of programming telecast in late evening hours which contains scenesof violence intended for adult audiences.

The Regional Council members viewed a tape of
the program in question and reviewed all of the correspondence. The Council considers that
the program in question does not violate any of the Code provisions mentioned above.

The Content of the Program

The Council notes that it has previously dealt with the
“mature” content of another episode of Dream On in The Comedy Network re
Dream On
(CBSC Decision 97/98-0571, July 28, 1998). In that case, the complaint, similarly
to this one, dealt with sexually explicit content. While the scenes in this episode
are somewhat more graphic than those dealt with in the previous decision, the Council
finds that the rationale underlying that decision also applies in this case.
Accordingly, the Council considers it appropriate to quote at length from that decision:

The Ontario Regional Council recognizesthat Dream On is a comedy intended for adult audiences. By broadcasting the show ina 9:30 p.m. time slot, it is clear that the program is not marketed to children. This is areason for the creation of the watershed hour in the first place, namely, thedifferentiation of programming which precedes the 9:00 p.m. watershed hour fromthat which follows the watershed. After 4œ years of Canadian experience with thewatershed (which has become used by broadcasters as the border between programmingdestined for the family and programming intended for adults, even beyond the originallyintended concern for programming containing violent material suitable for adultaudiences), members of the public have had much opportunity to become familiar with theheads-up provided by the arrival of 9:00 p.m. That being said, the Council understandsthat some children may, despite reasonable efforts by concerned parents, tune in to theshow, whether advertently or inadvertently. This does not mean, however, that noprogramming considered inappropriate for children can be broadcast because of that risk.It is one of the costs associated with the rapid advance of the communications industry,whether on television, via the Internet or otherwise. The major steps taken bybroadcasters to put systems in place to assist with parental vigilance, such as thebroadcast Codes, the watershed, the classification system, on-screen icons, vieweradvisories and the coming V-chip technology, set Canada far ahead of most Westerncountries in this area.

On the other hand, the Council must take into account the apparently(in this case) countervailing requirement laid down in the fundamental legislativeexpression of the will of the Parliament of Canada, namely, the Broadcasting Act.As stated in CIII-TV (Global Television) re Before It’s Too Late (CBSCDecision 95/96-0172, October 21, 1996),

Canadian broadcasters are required to offer a diversity of programming to meet the needs and desires of all Canadian men,women and children. The Broadcasting Act provides that, as part of the broadcastingpolicy for Canada

(i) the programming provided by the Canadian broadcasting systemshould

(i) be varied and comprehensive, providing a balance of information,enlightenment and entertainment for men, women and children of all ages, interests andtastes.

The Council notes that specialty programming services play an importantrole, service by service, in the provision of diverse programming to Canadian audiences.

A similar point was made by the QuebecRegional Council in CFJP-TV (TQS) re été sensuel (CBSC Decision 95/96-0233,August 14, 1998). In that decision which dealt with an erotic film aired under TQS’slate-night series titled Bleu Nuit, the Quebec Regional Council confirmed Canadianprivate broadcasters’ right to cater to the tastes of some members of itsaudience with programming which might be offensive to others.

The Quebec Regional Council takes noissue with the assertion by the complainant that the film in question is an erotic film…. If there is no breach of a Code (or, of course, the Broadcasting Act orRegulations or other laws of the land), the broadcaster is entitled to put the filmon its airwaves. In a world which has become increasingly oriented toward nichebroadcasting, any station or network appreciates that its choices will never appeal to everyone.This does not mean that such choices should not be made but only that, in making suchchoices, the broadcaster knows that only some, but not all, of the public will be pleased.It goes without saying that the broadcaster hopes always to make the correct choices but,where no Code is breached, the viewer is always free to go elsewhere. That is, in the end,the viewer’s only option and it is, from society’s perspective, a fair option,provided that society’s codified values have not been breached.

The Council has no hesitation inconcluding that such programming as Dream On has a place on Canadian television. Inthis case, the Ontario Regional Council does not consider that any provisions of the Codesadministered by the CBSC has been breached by the Comedy Network, and, accordingly, is ofthe view that the broadcaster did not err in broadcasting the episodes of Dream Onin question.

The Ontario Regional Council does not consider that it is necessary to add to its comments in the earlier decision on the same subject since there is nothing so different in the sexual situations depicted in this episode of the series that would justify further explanation.

Broadcaster Responsiveness

In addition to assessing the relevance of the Codes to the complaint, the CBSC always assesses the responsiveness of the broadcaster to the substance of the complaint. In this case, the Council considers that the broadcaster’s response addressed fully and fairly all the issues raised by the complainant. Consequently, the broadcaster has not breached the Council’s standard of responsiveness. Nothing more is required.

This decision is a public document upon its release by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council. It may be reported, announced or read by the station against which the complaint had originally been made; however, in the case of a favourable decision, the station is under no obligation to announce the result.