TSN re WWF Raw Is War

NATIONAL SPECIALTY SERVICES PANEL
(CBSC Decision 99/00-0607)
R. Cohen (Chair), P. O'Neill (Vice-Chair), S. Crawford, M. Hogarth, E. Holmes,H. Pawley, S. Teicher (dissenting)

THE FACTS

On May 29, 2000, TSN broadcast the wrestling show WWF Raw Is War from 9:00 p.muntil 11:00 p.m. in Vancouver. The program began with the following viewer advisory, whichwas repeated coming out of several, but not all, of the commercial breaks: “Warning:The following program contains material that may offend some viewers. Discretion isadvised.”

The program contained its usual variety of in and out-of-the-ring antics by wrestlers,managers, and wrestling officials alike. It even involved the use of objects such as a bator a pipe (in the introductory sequence), a leather and metal championship belt, hockeysticks, chairs, tables, and the like in some of the fight sequences.

A viewer sent a letter of complaint on May 31, in which he stated, in part, that hebelieved that the content of the program was “vulgar, sleazy, sexist andviolent”. He added:

You cannot get me to watch an entire airing ofthis trash, but I viewed the following actions on May 29th:

– A wrestler dressed as a pimp with his “Ho Train”, women dressed sleazilydepicted as whores.
– The crowd chanting a–hole as Vince McMahon threw barbs with a wrestler in the ring.
– The same wrestler calling McMahon an a–ole into the stage microphone.
– A wrestler calling another scantily clad women a slut.
– A rock band member telling two wrestlers to f— off (bleeped out).
– Excessive violence including chairs smashed over heads, a hockey stick jabbed into thegroin and the usual array of over the top punching, kicking and slapping in and out of thering.
– Vulgar signage in the arena including “Stephanie, You Slut”, “My NutzStink” and “I’m a Ho”.

The full text of this complaint and the broadcaster’s response are provided in theAppendix to this decision. On June 28, the President ofTSN replied in the following terms:

Please let me reiterate some of the points that [the complainant]raised in his letter. Wrestling comprises less than one per cent of TSN’s schedule.The core of our schedule is live, major sports and sports news. [The complainant] alsooutlined that TSN took the responsible step in February to revise our schedule and airwrestling during evening hours only. Finally, he outlined how the program is edited inaccordance with our broadcasting standards with inappropriate scenes and language removed,or as you indicate in your letter, blanked out.

With respect to editing, you may be interested to learn that some viewers suggest moreediting is required, while the majority say too much editing already occurs. We areworking to achieve a balance for everyone concerned.

Let me add that wrestling has been part of the sports television viewing experience for40 years and remains one of broadcasting’s most unique sports entertainmentproperties. Our audience relations department has ongoing contact with viewers whounderstand that the scenes are exaggerated and appreciate the theatrical exhibition ofagility and athleticism.

The complainant was unsatisfied with this response, and requested on July 25 that theCBSC refer the matter to the appropriate Adjudicating Panel. The complainant also alsosubmitted the following note in response to TSN’s reply:

I am not satisfied with TSN’s response forthe following reasons:

– The letter states that wrestling comprises less than 1% of TSN’s schedule. Whatit doesn’t mention is that fully 40% of TSN’s prime time schedule is dedicatedto WWF and WCW programming (9:00 – 11:00 pm Monday and Tuesday as a minimum). In fact, thetime slots provided this programming are among my biggest concerns as prime time draws thelargest number of viewers including many children.

– The letter states that the programming has been edited to reflect a balance of whatviewers would like to see. My understanding was that certain criteria (outlined on theCBSC Web page) have to be met to pass CRTC guidelines. Just because society’slowlifes are demanding more sleaze and violence doesn’t mean the broadcaster canviolate the guidelines.

– The letter states wrestling has been a part of sports television for 40 years.Completely untrue! Fake wrestling has been on television for 40 years but has not beenassociated with sports television until TSN’s partnership with WWF and WCW. Untilthen fake wrestling (in its much more inoffensive existence) was limited to local stationsand two-bit cable operations. Only Vince McMahon’s recent marketing of WWF has led toit being shown in such proliferation on American cable stations. Yet still, no true sportsnetwork shows fake wrestling including the most recognized and arguably best sportsnetwork ESPN. The majority of wrestling today is shown on trash stations like UPN and TNT.TSN, in my opinion, lowers itself to this level by showing fake wrestling.

The Specialty Services Panel has dealt, in its meeting of today’s date,with TSN re WWF Monday Night Raw (CBSC Decision 99/00-0398, January 31, 2001),another WWF-related complaint, in which the subject matter and its conclusion differ fromthe case at hand.

THE DECISION

The CBSCs National Specialty ServicesPanel considered the complaint under the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB)Sex-Role Portrayal Code and Violence Code. The relevant provisions of thoseCodes read as follows:

Sex-Role Portrayal Code, Article 4 (Exploitation)

Television and radio programming shall refrainfrom the exploitation of women, men and children. Negative or degrading comments on therole 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 degradingto either sex. The sexualization of children through dress or behaviour is not acceptable.

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

CAB Violence Code, Article 1 (Content)

1.1 Canadian broadcasters shall not airprogramming which:

! contains gratuitous violence in any form* ! sanctions, promotes or glamorizes violence (*”Gratuitous” means material which does not play an integral role indeveloping the plot, character or theme of the material as a whole).

CAB Violence Code, Article 5.1 (Viewer Advisories)

To assist consumers in making their viewingchoices, broadcasters shall provide a viewer advisory, at the beginning of, and during thefirst hour of programming telecast in late evening hours which contains scenes of violenceintended for adult audiences.

CAB Violence Code, Article 10.1 (Violence in Sports Programming)

Broadcasters shall not promote or exploit violentaction which is outside the sanctioned activity of the sport in question.

The National Panel Adjudicators viewed a tape of the program in question and reviewedall of the correspondence. In the broadcast in question, the Panel considers thebroadcaster to have violated certain provisions of both the Sex-Role Portrayal Codeand the Violence Code.

A Threshold Issue: Wrestling as Sport

The National Specialty Services Panel has dealt with the characterization of wrestlingas a sport in its other decision of this date, namely, TSN re WWF Monday Night Raw(CBSC Decision 99/00-0398, January 31, 2001) and it does not consider it necessary toreview everything which it has said there. Suffice it to cite a portion of thePanel’s conclusion in this regard:

Some may raise the question of the nature of thistype of wrestling, arguing that it is rather entertainment than sport. While there is nodoubt that it does not partake of the nature of Greco-Roman wrestling or even freestylewrestling, which audiences have been accustomed to watch as a part of, say, the OlympicGames or college sports or elsewhere, the National Panel has no doubt about its nature. Itis sport. In the first place, that it may be entertainment does not exclude thepossibility that it is also sport. Not many in the business of broadcasting would arguethat, at the end of the day, they do not wish all of their programming to entertain thatportion of the audience at which it is directed. That the rules have been modified fromtraditional collegiate or Olympic wrestling does not disqualify it from being consideredas a form of sport. Nor is it an argument against wrestling being a sport that some partof the match has been scripted (as TSN advises it has). After all, from the audience’spoint of view, it appears to be a contest. They do not know the outcome. While they maywatch the program in whole or in part for the shenanigans, the action in the ring involvesathletics, competition (however unorthodox) and a winner and loser.

The Panel understands the claim of the complainant that “By absolutely nodefinition can these programs be considered sports or wrestling and the outcomes arestaged and predetermined” but it does not share his view. As this Panel has observedin the other WWF decision of this date, in the view of the Panel, WWFwrestling, however unorthodox, is sport for the purpose of the application of theprovisions of the Violence Code. There are those sports which, by their nature,involve less body contact and those which involve more, those which are not violent andthose which include a violent element at their core. The Panel does not expect that eitherthe codifiers, the broadcast regulator or Canada’s private broadcasters consider thatthe standards established in Article 10 of that Code were created for anything other thanthe purpose of application to all such athletic contests.

The Limits of the Sanctioned Activity of the Sport

This is the first occasion on which the CBSC is called upon to consider Article 10.1 ofthe CAB Violence Code. In that connection, the National Specialty Services Panelneeds go no further than the appreciation of the promotion and exploitation of violentaction. The issue is not, in other words, for these purposes at least, the”dramatic” shenanigans, the preening of the wrestlers, the exhibition ofwomen’s bodies and so on. The issue is the fighting, the wrestling, whether in thering or outside it, or even at some distance from it. In that regard, the Panel’sconcerns relate to the use of a hockey stick, the substantial leather and metalchampionship belt, metal chairs and other such devices to strike other wrestlers. It mustdetermine whether fighting with such instruments falls within the parameters of the Codearticle. In order to make this assessment, the Panel must consider the meaning of the”sanctioned activity of the sport in question.” To do this, it does not considerit necessary to review the technical printed rules of the sport, if such exist at all.This is not what the Panel believes that the codifiers anticipated in their drafting ofthis article. Nor does the Panel believe that the codifiers intended that the Code concernitself with the fine technical issue of whether actions which are recognized but aresubject to a penalty fall within or without the area of “sanctioned activity”.The Panel views the words “sanctioned activity” as constituting a limit (whichthey are meant to assess) of actions which might reasonably be viewed as so egregious asto be beyond its expectation of “sanctioned activity”.

In this respect, then, the Panel understands that the codifiers would have anticipatedthe customary nature of wrestling. The Oxford English Dictionary defines wrestlingas

The action or exercise of two persons grappling orgripping in a contest of strength and adroitness, each endeavouring to throw the other bytripping or overbalancing him; the fact of contending or throwing in this manner.

While freestyle wrestling may permit rougher tactics than traditional Greco-Roman stylewrestling, the Panel does not consider that this Code provision anticipates the use ofdangerous objects, in effect, weapons not customarily in use for the purpose of eitherstyle of wrestling. Whether this is or is not acceptable at actual ringside is not theconcern of the CBSC, which deals only with the broadcast aspects of the wrestlingcontests. In this respect, the Panel has no hesitation in concluding that, in its airingof WWF Raw Is War, the broadcaster is promoting or glamorizing the use of dangerousobjects or weapons in wrestling, something which is egregious in terms of its reasonableexpectation and which, consequently, falls outside of the allowable or sanctioned extentof the sport in violation of the provisions of Article 10.1 of the CAB Violence Code.

The Sex-Role Portrayal Issues

This decision is distinctly different from that rendered today by this Panel in thecase of TSN re WWF Monday Night Raw (CBSC Decision 99/00-0398, January 31, 2001).Of the sequence involved in that episode which was dealt with under the Sex-RolePortrayal Code, this Panel said:

While it is true that Mae is a woman, the rathertasteless sequence which was a part of that episode of Monday Night Raw does notdemean or degrade women or even Mae in particular although, arguably, it is ratherdegrading with respect to the birthing process and experience. It is clear that thesituation in which an older woman is in the wrestling ring in the first place, gives birthat all in the second and has as her progeny a hand is far-fetched, to say the very least;however, the fact that the segment is absurd does not render it exploitative. The genderof Mae is essential to the particular “plot” but no reason is given to suggestthat the demeaning of women was in any way a goal of the producer.

In the present matter, however, the broadcaster has, on at least three occasions, madereferences to women which the Panel considers demeaning and degrading and in violation ofthe provisions of the Sex-Role Portrayal Code. On one occasion, one of thewrestlers calls Stephanie, one of the cast of characters, “a two-dollar walkingslut”. On another, one of the commentators describes one of the scantily clad women”that horny little she-devil, Terry” and on another, Stephanie is admonished to”stop being a filthy, dirty, disgusting, brutal, skanky, bottom-feeding, trashbagho.” In CKAC-AM re The Gilles Proulx Show (CBSC Decision 94/95-0136, December6, 1995), the Quebec Regional Panel spoke of similar demeaning language used on that showin the following terms:

In this case, the language used by the host,Gilles Proulx, was, if anything, coarser, more excessive, gratuitous and abusive withregard to the complainant than that used by Ed Needham in [CFRB re Ed Needham (OWDPublication) (CBSC Decision 92/93-0096, May 26, 1993)]. In exclaiming, for instance,that she was a “petite niaiseuse” (dumb broad), “needs a good lay”,”as ugly as sin,” and “an idiot.” Proulx was aggressively abusivetoward this female listener. The Council believes, furthermore, that this languageconstituted “negative or degrading comments on the role and nature of women” inclear breach of the provisions of Clause 4 of the Sex-Role Portrayal Code.

So, too, in CHOM-FM and CILQ-FM re The Howard Stern Show (CBSC Decision97/98-0001+, October 17-18, 1997), the Quebec and Ontario Regional Panels jointlyconcluded that the host’s use of terms such as “pieces of ass”, “dumbbroads”, “fat cow”, “dikes” and “sluts” in relation towomen was exploitative and in breach of the Code. The language used on the episode of WWFRaw Is War is of a similar nature. It is demeaning and degrading and its useconstitutes a breach of Article 4 of the Sex-Role Portrayal Code.

Viewer Advisories

As noted above, TSN broadcast the following advisory sporadically: “Warning: Thefollowing program contains material that may offend some viewers. Discretion isadvised.” In fact, the advisory was repeated coming out of the 2nd, 4th,8th, and 9th commercial breaks, but not after the 1st, 3rd,5th, 6th, 7th, and 10th commercial breaks. Theresult is clear. The broadcast is in breach of Article 5.1 of the Violence Code. Asthis Panel has said in WTN re Sunday Night Sex Show (CBSC Decision 99/00-0672,January 31, 2001),

Even after the Watershed, which itself serves as aform of generalized advice to viewers that programs airing after that hour maycontain material intended for adult audiences, viewers are entitled to know, both forthemselves and their children, what type of content may be included in a show which couldbe objectionable to them. The advisories provide more pertinent details regarding the typeof material which may be present in the programming about to be, or in the process ofbeing, screened which will enable a viewer, even one tuning in after the start of theshow, to evaluate the appropriateness of the content for his or her tastes.

In that case, as in this, viewer advisories had not been broadcast coming out of eachcommercial break during the one-hour program. Relying on the Ontario Panel’s decisionin CTV re Poltergeist – The Legacy (CBSC Decisions 96/97-0017 and 96/97-0030, May8, 1997), in which that Panel had to evaluate a two-hour pilot which contained advisoriesat the beginning of, and during the second hour, but not otherwise during the firsthour, the National Specialty Services Panel cited the following provision.

The rationale underlying the requirement of vieweradvisories is found in the background section of the Code. Therein it is stated that”… creative freedom carries with it the responsibility of ensuring … that viewershave adequate information about program content to make informed viewing choices based ontheir personal tastes and standards.” The repetition of viewer advisories in thefirst hour serves as a second chance for viewers to receive important informationconcerning the program they are considering watching. The Code takes into account thatmany viewers make their viewing choices in the first few minutes of a program, which attimes leads viewers to miss an initial viewer advisory. The Council is of the view thatCTV’s approach to viewer advisories in this case, i.e. other than the initialadvisory, providing them only in the second hour of the program, is unfair to viewers.

This Panel added the following observations relative to the WTN matter.

Applying these principles to the matter at hand,the Panel considers it important to emphasize the informative value to viewers ofadvisories coming out of every commercial break. It is not reasonable to expectthat viewers who may be channel-surfing or simply turning on their television sets ten orfifteen or more minutes into a show should be deprived of such important viewinginformation.

In the case at hand, while advisories would only have been required coming out of thecommercial breaks during the course of the first hour of the program, even these were notpresent on a consistent basis. There can be no doubt that this constitutes a breach ofArticle 5.1 of the Violence Code.

Broadcaster Responsiveness

In addition to assessing the relevance of the Codes to the complaint, the CBSC alwaysassesses the responsiveness of the broadcaster to the substance of the complaint.In this case, the Council considers that the broadcaster’s response addressed theissues raised by the complainant, albeit not as the complainant would have wished.Consequently, the broadcaster has not breached the Council’s standard ofresponsiveness. Nothing more is required.

Dissenting opinion of S. Teicher I dissent insofar as the decision suggests that the challenged program is in breach ofArticle 10.1 of the CAB Violence Code.

WWF wrestling programming as “sports entertainment” provides a uniquechallenge in that it is neither purely sport nor purely dramatic content, but is rather ahybrid. The use of “dangerous objects” or “weapons”, as cited in thedecision, is, in my view, an integral element of the plot lines and character developmentwhich is a significant part of the WWF programming. To the extent such behaviour does notfall within the “sport” component of the program, it is outside the purview ofArticle 10. To the extent such behaviour falls within the “sport” component ofthe program, I think it is sanctioned by the provider and promoter (WWF), the participants(the wrestlers) and within the expectations of the audience for these programs.

I concur with the majority with respect to the decision relating to the Sex-RolePortrayal Code and and the need for more viewer advisories, as required by the ViolenceCode.

CONTENT OF THE ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE DECISION TSN is required to: 1) announce this decision, in the following terms, once duringprime time within three days following the release of this decision and once within sevendays following the release of this decision during the course of the WWF Raw Is Warprogram; 2) within the fourteen days following the broadcast of the announcements, toprovide written confirmation of the airing of the statement to the complainant who filedthe Ruling Request; and 3) to provide the CBSC with that written confirmation and with aircheck copies of the broadcasts of the two announcements.

The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has found that TSN has breached certainprovisions in the CAB Sex-Role Portrayal Code and the CAB Violence Code inits broadcast of WWF Raw Is War of May 29, 2000. By using certain derogatory anddemeaning terms in referring to women during the broadcast, TSN breached Clause 4 of the Sex-RolePortrayal Code. By using a hockey stick, a wrestling belt and metal chairs to assaultwrestlers, TSN breached Article 10 of the Violence Code. By failing to provideviewer advisories following each of the commercial breaks during the first hour of theshow advising audiences of its violent content, TSN breached Article 5 of the ViolenceCode.

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