TQS re an episode of Loft Story

QUEBEC REGIONAL PANEL
(CBSC Decision 03/04-0200 & -0242)
G. Bachand (Chair), T. Rajan (Vice-Chair), R. Cohen (ad hoc)and R. Parent

THE FACTS

On October 22, 2003, at 7 pm, TQS broadcast an episode of the reality series Loft Story, a game show in which contestants (all young adults, both male and female), known as “lofters”, are sequestered in an apartment where they are filmed 24 hours a day.  Clips of the day's footage were edited together to create a half-hour broadcast, which was shown every evening on TQS.  To win the game, lofters had to remain an inhabitant of the loft.  Each week the “lofters” chose two people from the group who would be subject to the audience's vote, the result being that the winner of the most votes would remain in the loft while the other would be asked to leave.  It flows from the contest's concept that a good strategy for winning the game would involve a fair dose of “playing to the camera” in order to develop a loyal audience following. 

In the episode in question, the lofters apparently went through some emotional turmoil as two of the lofters decided of their own volition to leave the game prematurely.  Most of the episode focussed on discussions amongst the lofters concerning those unexpected departures and the effect they could be expected to have on the game.  Nothing in those moments of dialogue attracted any complaints to the CBSC.  All of the public concern focussed on the concluding moments of the episode.  As the credits rolled on a split screen (with the credits on the left and less than a totally clear depiction of the lofters' activities on the right half of the screen), the lofters were seen ending their day relaxed in a hot tub.  The lofters could be seen kissing, changing partners and kissing some more.  One woman was seen playfully covering her eyes with her bikini top while another threw her bikini top out of the hot tub, without, in any event, revealing her breasts. The entire scene lasted less than a minute.     

The episode carried a 13+ classification icon at the beginning of the program and following each commercial break, for a period of 5 to 6 seconds on each occasion.  TQS did not broadcast any viewer advisories. 

The CBSC received 28 complaints about Loft Story around the date of this episode, either directly or via the CRTC.  Some of these focussed on this episode; others were general in nature and concerned the series as a whole.  The CBSC explained to those complainants that the Council required more detailed information in order to for a complaint to be brought against a broadcaster.  Seven complaints identified the specific episode broadcast on October 22 and were provided with the opportunity to request a ruling by a CBSC Adjudicating Panel but only two of these complainants returned the signed form requesting a ruling by the CBSC. 

The first of these two complainants was particularly concerned with the fact that two women were shown kissing.  Her letter stated in part (the full text of this and all other correspondence can be found in the Appendix to this decision):  

The other complainant wrote that she happened upon the show while she was babysitting a 7 year-old.  She stated, in part: 

The broadcaster's Vice-President of Communications responded on November 7 and explained that, while the scenes were somewhat daring, they were not too sexually explicit to be intended exclusively for an adult audience.  The response, which can be found in the Appendix to this decision, also emphasized the fact that a 13+ icon was shown at the beginning and after each commercial break in order to aid the viewers' selection process. 

 

THE DECISION

The CBSC Quebec Regional Panel examined the complaint under the scheduling and viewer advisory provisions of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters' (CAB) Code of Ethics, as well as the classification provision of the CAB Voluntary Code Regarding Violence on Television Programming.  Those provisions read as follows: 

CAB Code of Ethics, Clause 10 – Television Broadcasting 

CAB Code of Ethics, Clause 11 – Viewer Advisories 

CAB Violence Code, Clause 4.0 (Classification System for French-Language Broadcasters)

The Quebec Regional Panel reviewed all of the correspondence and viewed a tape of October 22 episode of Loft Story.  While the Panel takes no issue with the scheduling or the absence of viewer advisories, it finds that TQS has breached Article 4 of the CAB Violence Code for failing to display the classification icon for 15 to 16 seconds at the start of the broadcast.    

A Preliminary Matter: The Type of Sexuality Presented 

The Panel notes that both complainants mentioned as part of their objection to alleged sexual explicitness, that they saw two women kissing.  In fact, all of the complaints received concerning this episode beg the question whether viewers would have been as offended had there only been men and women kissing each other.  The Panel therefore considers it important to leave no doubt as to the material aspects of this issue, namely, that relating to the degree of explicitness of the sexual acts shown.  Whether the activity is homosexual or heterosexual in nature is irrelevant to the Panel's determination under Clause 10 of the CAB Code of Ethics.  Sex, not the gender of the participants, is the issue.  As stated in Showcase Television re an episode of Queer as Folk (Episode /209) (CBSC Decision 01/02-0759, February 28, 2003)

The Explicitness of the Sexual Activity Depicted

With respect to the core issue of the level of sexual explicitness presented in the Loft Story episode in question, the Panel notes that the only scene that could be described as remotely sexual occurs at the very end, while the credits roll and the screen is shrunk to half its customary size.  While there is clearly kissing and hugging going on in the hot tub amongst the lofters, there is no nudity shown nor is there anything else shown that would lead viewers to conclude that the intimate activity goes any further than the kissing.  All in all, the Panel considers that the scene is sufficiently innocuous to be acceptable at the time it was shown without the requirement of additional safeguards such as viewer advisories.  The Panel understands that some viewers may not consider it appropriate for these young adults to be doing what they were doing but this level of morality is not what the Panel needs to judge.  Anyone who would have wanted to avoid such programming would have been alerted by the 13+ classification. 

Displaying the Classification Icon 

TQS rated the broadcast of this episode of Loft Story as prescribed in Clause 4 of the CAB Violence Code.  French-language broadcasters in Canada use the classification system established by the Régie du cinema du Québec.  In this case, while the Panel considers that a lower rating might also have been acceptable, the 13+ rating selected by TQS is appropriate as that conservative decision manifests a measure of sensitivity to its audience. 

Unfortunately, TQS has not, however, respected all the other rules relating to the classification icon's display.  By airing the icon for only 5 to 6 seconds at the beginning of the show, TQS has clearly breached the technical requirement that the icons be displayed for 15-16 seconds at the beginning of the broadcast (and at the top of each subsequent hour of broadcast, which is not a matter at issue in this case).  The fact that TQS aired the icon more frequently than was necessary (TQS displayed the icon coming out of each commercial break although there is no requirement for it to do so) does not relieve the broadcaster from its responsibility to respect the duration requirement.  The Quebec Regional Panel has made a similar finding in a decision of this same date, namely TQS re the movie Film de peur (CBSC Decision 02/03-0940, April 22, 2004).   

Repetitive Nature of the Broadcaster's Breaches 

The Panel also deals in that decision with the repetitive nature of the broadcaster's breaches relating to the use of classification icons (and the use of viewer advisories, not a matter of pertinence in this case).  The Panel does not consider it necessary to reiterate those points here. 

 

In all CBSC decisions, the Adjudicating Panels assess the broadcaster's responsiveness to the complainant.  Although the broadcaster need not agree with the complainant, it is expected that its representatives charged with replying to complaints will address the complainant's concerns in a thorough and respectful manner.  In this case, the Panel finds that TQS met its responsibilities of membership in this regard.

 

 

TQS is required to: 1) announce this 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 Loft Story is broadcast; 2) within the fourteen days following the broadcast of the announcements, to provide written confirmation of the airing of the statement to the complainants who filed the Ruling Request; and 3) at that time, to provide the CBSC with that written confirmation and with air check copies of the broadcasts of the two announcements which must be made by TQS. 

The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has found that TQS has breached the clause of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters' (CAB) Violence Code relating to the display of classification icons.  The Code provides that, in order to properly inform audiences of the information contained in such icons, their display must be for 15-16 seconds.  By broadcasting the classification icon for only a brief part of the required time, TQS has breached the article of the Code incorporating the Canadian classification system. 

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