TQS re the movie Les Girls de Las Vegas (Showgirls)

QUEBEC REGIONAL PANEL
(CBSC Decision 01/02-0478)
G. Bachand (Chair), R. Cohen (ad hoc), R. Parent, T. Rajan (ad hoc) and P. Tancred

THE FACTS

On January 19, 2002 at 9:00 pm, TQS broadcast the French dubbed version of the feature film Showgirls (Les Girls de Las Vegas), which tells the story of a young woman (Nomi Malone) who heads to Las Vegas to realize her dream of becoming a dancer.  Beginning her career as a stripper, Nomi eventually wins a role in a more elaborate erotic dance production.  The film is replete with scenes featuring the bare breasts of the dancers both backstage in their dressing rooms and in performance.  In the first of two scenes of sexual activity in the film (each of approximately three minutes duration), Nomi strips naked, straddles a clothed male character named Zack, and gyrates in his lap until he reaches orgasm.  The second depicts the same couple naked and having frenetic sex in a swimming pool.  At one point in the plot development, Nomi's friend Molly is raped.  The broadcast does not include the actual rape; it is suggested by the approach of two menacing men at a party, followed by a later scene in which a disoriented Molly is seen stumbling out of a bedroom with blood on her legs.

The broadcast was preceded by a viewer advisory in audio and visual format stating, “[translation] This film contains scenes of violence and eroticism that may not be suitable for young children.  Parental discretion is advised.”  This advisory was scrolled across the bottom of the screen during the film at 9:49 pm.  The broadcast also featured a classification icon of “16+, Violence, eroticism” at the beginning of the film and again at 10:04 pm and 11:08 pm.

The CBSC received a complaint about this broadcast on January 23 (the full text of the complaint and all other correspondence can be found in the Appendix to this decision, in their original French).  The complainant stated that adult programming should not be broadcast at 9:00 pm since children are still awake at that hour, particularly on a week-end. He wrote that it was unfair for children to be exposed to such content, suggesting that it amounted to “harassment”.  He complained about the numerous scenes of partial and total nudity present in the film, as well as the scenes involving the lap dance, the implied rape and the “frenetic coupling” in the swimming pool.  He also offered other examples of sexual content broadcast on TQS.

The Vice-President of Communications for TQS responded to the complaint on February 15.  She explained that the broadcast of Les Girls de Las Vegas had included a viewer advisory, repeated once during the program, and a 16+ classification icon, shown a total of three times during the broadcast.  She explained that the film was broadcast at 9:00 pm, which is the industry-established “Watershed hour”, and that TQS had edited out some scenes that were particularly “indecent”.

The complainant requested on March 1 that the matter be referred to the Quebec Regional Panel for adjudication; he provided his own copy of a tape of the broadcast.

THE DECISION

The Quebec Regional Panel considered the matter under various provisions of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters' (CAB) Voluntary Code Regarding Violence in Television Programming relating to classification icons, viewer advisories and violence against women, as well as the exploitation clause of the CAB Sex-Role Portrayal Code:

CAB Violence Code, Article 4.0 (Classification System):

Description of the Régie du cinéma du Québec classifications

16 +
By the age of 16, young people have reached a transition period bridging the end of adolescence and the beginning of adulthood.  At this stage, they are more independent and have generally reached a certain level of psychological maturity.  Films classified in this category present troubling themes, situations or behaviours and adopt a more direct view of things.  They may consequently contain scenes in which violence, horror and sexuality are more detailed.

18 +
Films for adults are often essentially based on the presentation of explicit sexual activity. They can also be films containing a greater level of violence with extremely realistic scenes of cruelty, torture and horror.

CAB Violence Code, Article 5.1 (Viewer Advisories):

To assist consumers in making their viewing choices, broadcasters shall provide a viewer advisory, at the beginning of, and during the first hour of programming telecast in last evening hours which contains scenes of violence intended for adult audiences.

CAB Violence Code, Article 7.0 (Violence Against Women):

        7.2 Broadcasters shall not telecast programming which sanctions, promotes or glamorizes any aspect of violence against women.

        Broadcasters shall ensure that women are not depicted as victims of violence unless the violence is integral to the story being told.  Broadcasters shall be particularly sensitive not to perpetuate the link between women in a sexual context and women as victims of violence.

CAB Sex-Role Portrayal Code, Article 4 (Exploitation):

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

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

Panel adjudicators viewed the logger tape of the broadcast in question and reviewed all of the correspondence.  The CBSC Secretariat also viewed the copy of the program provided by the complainant and noted that its content was the same as on the logger tape provided by TQS.  The Panel finds that TQS is in breach of Article 5.1 regarding viewer advisories, but not in breach of the other articles listed above.

Sexual Content

The CBSC has frequently been called upon to deal with the question of sexual exploitation in the context of similar programs.  In one of these cases, TQS re été sensuel (CBSC Decision 95/96-0233, August 14, 1998), the Québec Regional Panel dealt with a complaint about an erotic film broadcast as part of TQS' Bleu Nuit series.  This Panel said that it

takes no issue with the assertion by the complainant that the film in question is an erotic film. The only question, however, which it is called upon to decide here is whether the film is exploitative.  [.]  If there is no breach of a Code (or, of course, the Broadcasting Act or Regulations or other laws of the land), the broadcaster is entitled to put the film on its airwaves.  In a world which has become increasingly oriented toward niche broadcasting, 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 such choices, 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.

In the case of été sensuel, the Council finds that there is none of the degradation of either sex which would be characteristic of a film which could be classified as exploitative.  Fundamentally, the purpose of the Sex-Role Portrayal Code is to prevent negative or inequitable sex-role portrayal of persons but not the depiction of healthy sexualityThe Council considers that the treatment of sexuality in this film, while perhaps not of the highest cinematic level, is not in breach of the Code.

See also CITY-TV re the movie Eclipse (CBSC Decision 97/98-0551, July 28, 1998).

The Panel appreciates that the concern of the complainant is not primarily oriented toward the issue of exploitation but rather toward the frequency and explicitness of the on-screen sexual activity.  In this regard, the Panel cannot be of further assistance to the complainant.  Nearly a decade ago, Canada's private broadcasters and the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) established the Watershed hour, which required that all programming containing scenes with violent content intended for adult audiences was restricted to broadcast hours after 9:00 pm.  In the intervening years, the CBSC has, in its decisions, most notably TQS re L'inconnu (Never Talk to Strangers) (CBSC Decision 98/99-0176, June 23, 1999), extended that principle to programming including all types of material intended for adult audiences.  The effect of this principle is that broadcasters cannot play adult-oriented sexual material before 9:00 pm but that, once that hour has passed, they can, provided that they advise their audience that they are about to broadcast programming that viewers may wish to avoid (more about the issues of advisories and classification icons below).  While the Quebec Panel readily acknowledges that Les Girls de Las Vegas included considerable nudity and some erotic content, it recognizes equally that the subject of the film was an aspect of the sex/eroticism industry which is not in violation of the law.  It is to be expected that the film's content would reflect this; the Panel finds nothing that cannot be properly aired in the post-Watershed time period, which is where TQS has situated the broadcast.

The Rape Scene

Although rape itself is a grievous assault, it is only those depictions of it that are gratuitous or glamorized that are in breach of this provision.  See, for example, CHCH-TV re the movie Strange Days (CBSC Decision 98/99-0043 and 0075, February 3, 1999).  The Panel considers that the rape scene in this film, which is suggested rather than shown and dramatically relevant to the character development of the principal protagonist, is not in violation of Article 7 of the CAB Violence Code.

Advice to Viewers

As noted in the previous section, the private broadcasters and the CRTC established a balanced system in 1993, one which respected the rights of both broadcasters and viewers.  The codifiers understood that the fundamental principle underlying all civic activity in Canada is freedom of expression and that an important principle underlying the Broadcasting Act is that “the programming provided by the Canadian broadcasting system should be varied and comprehensive, providing a balance of information, enlightenment and entertainment for men, women and children of all ages, interests and tastes [emphasis added].”  They equally understood that the goal was not to so open the door that viewers would not themselves have some control over what was on their television screens.  In order to achieve that balance for the benefit of viewing audiences, they established tools to enable viewers to exercise their television tuning choices on an informed basis.

The initial tool was the viewer advisory, the provision of information regarding the issues likely to be of concern to some viewers: violence, coarse language, nudity, sexual content and even mature themes, on occasion.  For maximum effectiveness in an age of remote control channel-surfing, the codifiers required that the advisories be broadcast at the start of the program and following each commercial break (during the first hour of post-Watershed programming).  In the broadcast of Les Girls de Las Vegas, the broadcast included the following viewer advisory at the start of the program:

[translation] This film contains scenes of violence and eroticism that may not be suitable for young children.  Parental discretion is advised

There was, however, only a single occasion when any form of advisory reappeared, namely, at 9:49 pm, and then as a crawl across the bottom of the screen.  There was no audio component to the second advisory.  In a post-Watershed broadcast, there ought to have been an advisory present at the start of the film and coming out of each commercial break.  In failing to provide such advisories, the broadcaster has breached Article 5.1 of the CAB Violence Code.

There is then the question of the advisory format to consider. The present broadcast, having only offered a video-format advisory at 9:49 pm, differs from the circumstances of Showcase Television re the movie Police 10-07 (CBSC Decision 00/01-0613, January 16, 2002) and Showcase Television re the movie Caniche (CBSC Decision 01/02-0032, May 3, 2002). In the first of the Showcase decisions, the National Specialty Services Panel ruled that the use of an advisory in audio form alone “was clearly inadequate in terms of the Code requirements.” That position was followed in the second Showcase decision. It is the view of the Quebec Panel that an advisory in video format only is equally inadequate. In other words, whenever viewer advisories are required, they must be presented in both video and audio formats. Here, too, the Panel finds the broadcaster in breach of Article 5.1 of the CAB Violence Code. Viewer Advisory Problem Revisited

The Quebec Panel considers it important to underscore its concern regarding TQS and the viewer advisory issue.  In its decision in TQS re two episodes of Sexe et confidences (CBSC Decision 01/02-0329, April 5, 2002), the Panel found that TQS had breached the requirements of the CAB Violence Code to provide viewer advisories on the two episodes of the afternoon talk show.  Since the date of the film under consideration here preceded the date of the Sexe et confidences decision, the Panel is aware that the broadcaster could not have acted to prevent the breach in the case of Les Girls de Las Vegas on the basis of that CBSC decision; however, the Code is clear.  Moreover, this is the second occasion on which the broadcaster has erred over the same issue.  The Panel expects that all of TQS's broadcasts hereinafter will diligently respect this provision of the CAB Violence Code as well as Clause 11 of the revised CAB Code of Ethics which came into effect following the date of the broadcast under consideration but prior to the rendering of this decision.

Classification

The second viewer tool created by the broadcasters to enable viewers to exercise their television watching on an informed basis was the classification system, with on-screen ratings icons.  In the case of Les Girls de Las Vegas, the broadcaster adopted “16+, V, eroticism”, the classification level applied to the film by the Régie du cinéma.  As in the case of TQS re Faut le voir pour le croire (CBSC Decision 99/00-460 and 00/01-0123, August 29, 2000), the Panel concludes:

Although the 18+ category includes films showing explicit sexual activity, it is the view of the Council that the 16+ rating would be appropriate.

There is no breach of this provision of the Code.

Broadcaster Responsiveness

It is a fundamental obligation of broadcasters to be responsive to complainants who take the time to express in writing their concerns about programming they have heard or seen on the airwaves.  It is the duty of the CBSC Panels to assess the thoughtfulness of the broadcaster replies on each occasion that they adjudicate a file.  In this case, the broadcaster's letter does deal in sufficient detail with the substantive issues raised by the complainant and the Panel finds that it is a satisfactory response.  Nothing more is required of TQS in this respect on this occasion.

ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE DECISION

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 in the time period in which Les Girls de Las Vegas was broadcast; 2) within fourteen days following the broadcast of the announcements, to provide written confirmation of the airing of the announcements to the complainant 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= broadcast of the film Les Girls de Las Vegas on January 19, 2002 breached a provision of the CAB Violence Code.  By failing to provide viewer advisories following every commercial break during the first hour and by failing to broadcast one of the two advisories in both audio and video formats, TQS breached the article of the Code which requires such information to be provided so that the audience can make the necessary viewing choices for themselves and their families.

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