Useful Viewer Tools such as Advisories and Classification Icons Must Be Aired with Appropriate Format, Frequency and Duration, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, June 10, 2004 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released three decisions concerning three TQS broadcasts.  The Quebec Regional Panel reviewed broadcasts of Film de peur, two episodes of Sex Shop, and one episode of Loft Story. The Panel concluded that, although the content of each of the broadcasts conformed to all private broadcaster standards, TQS had breached various provisions of the codes requiring the provision of adequate information to enable audiences to make informed viewing choices for themselves and their families.  

The first of the broadcasts (at 6:30 pm on March 22, 2003) was of the motion picture Film de peur (the dubbed version of the American film Scary Movie). As a spoof on horror films, it includes scenes of rather bloody (frequently exaggerated) violence, numerous sexual situations and references, as well as vulgar language.  A viewer complained that the film included gratuitous violence and unsuitable and degrading language and that it played too early in the evening.  

The Quebec Regional Panel disagreed with the complainant regarding the nature of the violence and language.  It concluded that the violence was not gratuitous.  It also concluded that the nature of the violence, language and sexual content was not intended exclusively for an adult audience, and that, consequently, the broadcaster was justified in airing the movie before 9 pm.  The Panel also assessed the content of Film de peur under Article 4 of the Sex-Role Portrayal Code and found no breach since “there [we]re no comments that degrade[d] either gender relative to the other.”  It did, however, decide that the coarse level of violence, sexual content and coarse language used was not suitable for children, with the consequence that. 

Although TQS had in fact broadcast a viewer advisory at the start of the movie, it only repeated it once during the rest of the broadcast, and then only as a horizontal crawl at the bottom of the screen (without an audio component).  The broadcaster had also provided a 13+ classification icon at the start of the broadcast and following each commercial break, for 8, 9 or 10 seconds, on each occasion.   

The Panel found that TQS failed to respect the frequency and format requirements for viewer advisories, as these are provided by the CAB Codes: 

In the matter at hand, the broadcaster did include a viewer advisory at the start of the film but only one other advisory was displayed during the entire broadcast and it was in video form only, done as a crawl at the bottom of the screen.  Since viewer advisories need to be provided coming out of every commercial break, the failure of the broadcaster to provide these with that frequency constitutes a breach of Article 5.2 of the Violence Code and Clause 11(b) of the CAB Code of Ethics.

 […] Oral-only advisories are inadequate to satisfy the requirements of Article 5 and Clause 11 and video-only advisories are no better.  When viewer advisories are required, they must be presented in both video and audio formats at the start of the program and following the commercial breaks (either during the first hour or for the entire program, depending on factors dealt with elsewhere in this decision).  Consequently, TQS is in breach of the foregoing clause by reason of its failure to broadcast the requisite number of advisories and advisories in the correct format. 

In relation to the rating icons, while the Panel found that the 13+ classification was the appropriate choice for the broadcast, it concluded that the duration of the display of the required icon was clearly insufficient.  It explained that  

The broadcasters’ rules provide that the icon must be displayed for 15-16 seconds at the start of the program and at the top of each subsequent hour.  In the case of Film de peur, the display of the pre-program icon was for 9 seconds, the 7:00-pm display was for 8, and the 8:06-pm display was for 10.  Each of these displays was insufficient and constituted a breach of the technical requirements of the classification system, as established pursuant to Article 4 of the Violence Code. 

The Panel reached a similar conclusion in its examination of two episodes of the “docutainment” program Sex Shop which aired on October 11 and November 15, 2003, at midnight.  Both episodes featured adult-entertainment stars and contained sexually explicit scenes.  Two viewers complained that the program exploited and demeaned women.  The Quebec Panel disagreed.  It found no aspect of the content of either two episodes in question to be problematic in terms of Article 4 (Exploitation) of CAB Sex-Role Portrayal Code.  Nor did it find any problem with the very late night scheduling choice made by TQS. 

On the information side, a viewer advisory was presented both on screen and in audio format at the beginning of each episode.  Thereafter, a viewer advisory in the form of a crawl at the bottom of screen was shown coming out of each commercial break.  The Panel did find, however, that the failure of the broadcaster to provide advisories in both audio and video formats constituted a breach of Clause 11 of the CAB Code of Ethics.  Although this type of program is exempt from classification because it falls within the category of “documentaries and other information programming”, the broadcaster did take the useful step of displaying an 18+ classification icon with the extra mention of “érotisme” at the beginning of the program as well as following each commercial break. 

The last broadcast examined by the Panel was an episode of the reality series Loft Story, which aired at 7:00 pm on October 22, 2003.  All of the public concern focussed on the concluding moments of the episode during which, somewhat obscurely, on a split screen, the lofters were seen in a hot tub, kissing, changing partners, and some removing their bikini top (although no nudity was actually shown).  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 advisories. 

The Panel found that the scene was not sexually explicit and did not require viewer advisories.  It explained its position in the following terms: 

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.

The Panel did, however, find that, by airing the icon for only 5 to 6 seconds at the beginning of the show, TQS has breached the technical requirement of the classification system.  It explained that “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.”

Canada’s private broadcasters have themselves created industry standards in the form of Codes on ethics, gender portrayal and television violence by which they expect the members of their profession will abide.  In 1990, they also created the CBSC, which is the self-regulatory body with the responsibility of administering those professional broadcast Codes, as well as the Code dealing with journalistic practices first created by the Radio Television News Directors Association of Canada (RTNDA) in 1970.  More than 530 radio and television stations and specialty services from across Canada are members of the Council.

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All CBSC decisions, Codes, links to members' and other web sites, and related information are available on the CBSC's website at www.cbsc.ca. For more information, please contact the CBSC National Chair, Mme Andrée Noël CBSC Executive Director, John MacNab