V re Les Détestables

quEbec regional panel
D. Meloul (Chair), G. Moisan (Vice-Chair), S. Charbonneau, V. Dubois

The Facts

Les Détestables is a hidden camera comedy program.  Elderly actors (or actors disguised as elderly people) do or say ridiculous or inappropriate things in public and the camera secretly captures the reaction of witnesses or the people to whom they are speaking.

V broadcast an episode of the program on September 20, 2012 at 7:00 pm.  There was no classification icon at the beginning of the broadcast.

The sketches included, among others, one in which an old lady tells a young man, after examining his hands, that she is sure he has a small penis; another in which an old man drives a scooter with an inflatable doll; a third in which an old lady complains that she has not been served and calls the waitress a [translation] “lazy slut”; another in which an old lady insults another woman’s haircut; and finally, one in which an old lady says to a young lady [translation] “You look like you have no hymen.  You’re going to burn in hell.”  The program captures and broadcasts the public’s reaction in these silly situations.

The complainant filed his complaint with the CRTC on the same day as the broadcast and the CRTC forwarded it to the CBSC.  The sketch that concerned him unfolded as follows.  Two elderly women are sitting in a restaurant:

[translation]

Woman 1:         Miss, Miss, the service is taking a long time here.

Waitress:          But it’s a buffet.  When you’re ready, you can go ahead to the buffet, Madam.

Woman 1:         What’s this?  We have to serve ourselves?

Waitress:          But that’s how a buffet works.

Woman 2:         You have no respect for seniors.  Lazy slut.

The complainant mentioned in his complaint that this scene bothered him, that it was [translations] “unacceptable” and showed “a complete lack of manners”.

The broadcaster replied to the complaint on October 30, but the complainant was dissatisfied with the response and requested a ruling on November 2, 2012.  (The full text of all correspondence can be found in the Appendix, available in French only.)

 

The Decision

The Quebec Regional Panel examined the complaint under the following articles:

CAB Violence Code, Article 4.0 – Classification System

[In Public Notice CRTC 1997-80, approving the classification system, the CRTC stated “classifications should be applied, at a minimum, to children’s programming (programs intended for children under 12 years of age), drama, ‘reality-shows’ (reality-based dramatic programs), feature films, promotions for any of these programs and advertisements for theatrical releases”.  They must be selected in accordance with the following levels and be applied in accordance with the Icon Use Protocols and Technical Specifications approved by the CRTC in June 1997 and implemented by the broadcasters in September 1997.]

E – Exempt

Programs exempt from classification.

This classification applies to:

G – General

The program is appropriate for viewing, rental or purchase by persons of all ages.

A classification of “Visa général” does not necessarily mean that the program is of interest to children.  It only means that its content is not likely to be disturbing to young viewers.  However, when a program with a “G” rating might offend the sensibilities of children under eight years of age, the Régie du cinéma adds “Not suitable for young children” to the Visa général classification.

Programs classified as Visa général have only occasional scenes of violence.  These are not overly intense and are not condoned.  The tone and genre of the program are important elements in the decision-making process: scenes of violence in a comedy or adventure program centring on a hero who is larger than life do not have the same impact on children as those in a more realistic program.

Although there may be some nudity, love scenes remain rather discreet.  Depending on the context, some expletives are tolerated.

8+  (General – Not Suitable for Young Children)

These programs are suitable for the general public but could contain mild or occasional violence that may disturb young children.  Viewing with adult supervision is therefore recommended for young children (age 8 and under) who are less able to distinguish between real and make-believe programming.

13+

The program may be viewed, purchased or rented only by persons 13 years of age or older.  Children under 13 may be admitted only if accompanied by an adult.

The Régie classifies in this category programs that require a certain level of judgement.  These programs contain passages or sequences that may offend the sensibilities of younger viewers.

Teenage viewers are more aware of the fact that a program is not reality and are therefore better psychologically prepared to follow more complex or dramatic programs.  Violence, eroticism, coarse language or horror may be more developed and may constitute a dominant characteristic of the program.  However, it is important that the program allow viewers to discern the meaning that should be attributed to the various characters and their actions, because teenagers are not necessarily prepared to face everything.  This is why certain themes (drugs, suicide, troubling situations, etc.) and their treatment are carefully examined.

CAB Code of Ethics, Clause 2 – Human Rights

Recognizing that every person has the right to full and equal recognition and to enjoy certain fundamental rights and freedoms, broadcasters shall ensure that their programming contains no abusive or unduly discriminatory material or comment which is based on matters of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status or physical or mental disability.

CAB Code of Ethics, Clause 6 – Full, Fair and Proper Presentation

It is recognized that the full, fair and proper presentation of news, opinion, comment and editorial is the prime and fundamental responsibility of each broadcaster.  This principle shall apply to all radio and television programming, whether it relates to news, public affairs, magazine, talk, call-in, interview or other broadcasting formats in which news, opinion, comment or editorial may be expressed by broadcaster employees, their invited guests or callers.

CAB Equitable Portrayal Code, Clause 2 – Human Rights

Recognizing that every person has the right to the full enjoyment of certain fundamental rights and freedoms, broadcasters shall ensure that their programming contains no abusive or unduly discriminatory material or comment which is based on matters of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, marital status or physical or mental disability.

CAB Equitable Portrayal Code, Clause 7 – Degrading Material

Broadcasters shall avoid the airing of degrading material, whether reflected in words, sounds, images or by other means, which is based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, marital status or physical or mental disability.

CAB Equitable Portrayal Code, Clause 9 – Language & Terminology

Broadcasters shall be sensitive to, and avoid, the usage of derogatory or inappropriate language or terminology in references to individuals or groups based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, marital status or physical or mental disability.

CAB Equitable Portrayal Code, Clause 10 – Contextual Considerations

Broadcasts may fairly include material that would otherwise appear to breach one of the foregoing provisions in the following contextual circumstances:

[…]

b)         Comedic, humorous or satirical usage:  Although the comedic, humorous or satirical intention or nature of programming is not an absolute defence with respect to the proscriptions of this Code, it is understood that some comedic, humorous or satirical content, although discriminatory or stereotypical, may be light and relatively inoffensive, rather than abusive or unduly discriminatory;

The Panel Adjudicators read all related correspondence and viewed the program in question.  The Panel concludes that V breached Article 4 of CAB Violence Code, but did not breach any other provision of a CBSC-administered code.

The Panel notes that Les Détestables was broadcast without a classification icon.  The Panel, therefore, assessed whether this program was subject to the exemptions set out in Article 4 of the CAB Violence Code.  Having determined that this was not the case, the Panel concludes that V breached Article 4 of the CAB Violence Code by failing to rate this episode of Les Détestables.

The Panel then considered which rating should have been given to this program.  Given its light, innocuous content, the Panel would have given it a “General” rating.  The Panel reminds broadcasters that all programs must be rated (unless they are exempted under Article 4) regardless of the nature of the content and whether or not they contain violence.

With respect to the points raised by the complainant, in the view of the Panel, the challenged comments made by the actors do not constitute in any way “abusive or unduly discriminatory” commentary “based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status or physical or mental disability” 1 , nor are they “degrading” 2 .  At worst, they are in poor taste.  Consequently, the Panel concludes that the broadcaster did not breach any of the other aforementioned codes provisions administered by the CBSC.

 

Broadcaster Responsiveness

In all CBSC decisions, the Panels assess the broadcaster’s response to the complainant.  The broadcaster need not agree with the complainant’s position, but it must respond in a courteous, thoughtful and thorough manner.  In this case, V provided an adequate reply to the complainant, outlining its view of the broadcast.  The broadcaster fulfilled its obligations of responsiveness and, subject to the announcement of this decision, nothing further is required in this regard in this instance.

 

Announcement Of The Decision

V is required to:  1) announce the 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 Les Détestables was broadcast, but not on the same day as the first mandated announcement; 2) within the fourteen days following the broadcasts of the announcements, to provide written confirmation of the airing of the statement to the complainant who filed the Ruling Request; and 3) at that time, to provide the CBSC with a copy of that written confirmation and with air check copies of the broadcasts of the two announcements which must be made by V.

The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has found that V breached Article 4 of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ Violence Code for failing to classify the program Les Détestables broadcast on September 20, 2012.  Under Article 4, television broadcasters are required to display the appropriate classification icon at the beginning of a broadcast.

 

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

1 See the following decisions for other examples:  CITY-TV re Beavis and Butt-Head (CBSC Decision 93/94-0074, June 22, 1994); CFMT-TV re an episode of The Simpsons (CBSC Decision 94/95-0082, August 18, 1995); CILQ-FM re The Howard Stern Show (CBSC Decision 99/00-0717 and -0739, June 28, 2001); and TQS re an episode of Scrap Metal (CBSC Decision 08/09-1711, August 11, 2009).

 

2 See the following decision for another example:  TVA re Les galas « Juste pour rire » 2011 : Le party à Mercier (CBSC Decision 11/12-2033, January 23, 2013).