C’est incroyable! (the English title is Most Shocking) is a reality program which shows videoclips of real crimes in progress that were captured by security cameras or by the public on mobile devices. A male narrator describes the action in the clips and provides background information about the situations. There are also occasionally interviews with police officers or people who were involved in the situations.
On January 12, 2012 at 2:00 pm, the specialty television service Canal D broadcast an episode entitled “Malfaiteurs détraqués” (“Criminals Out of Control”). While some of the crimes shown were non-violent (such as theft or car chases), many of them were of a violent nature. For example, in one case, two men entered a restaurant; they hit one man with a baton, kicked a waiter in the crotch, and dragged a woman out by her hair. In another, a man was holding a young girl hostage by threatening her with a large knife in the middle of a busy street. According to the narrator, the blade was 100 centimetres long and the man was holding it to the girl’s stomach. There was a close-up of the blade to illustrate the point. In another, a man violently threw his girlfriend up against a brick wall. There were also scenes of gunfire during an attempted robbery at a grocery store; police officers using a Taser on a man during an arrest; a bloody fistfight between neighbours; two large groups of young men fighting in the street; and so on. In all cases, the videoclips were shown repeatedly, both during each segment and as “teasers” leading into commercial breaks.
Canal D rated the program 13+ and broadcast the following viewer advisory at the beginning of the program and coming out of each commercial break:
Warning: This program contains scenes that might be unsuitable for young viewers. Parental supervision is advised.
The CBSC received a complaint about the broadcast on January 12. The complainant mentioned some of the above-described scenes and asked how this [translations] “extraordinary violence” and “murderous insanity” could be allowed to be broadcast in the middle of the day. Canal D responded to the complainant on January 18 arguing that it aims to deal with controversial subjects and that the program C’est incroyable! [translation] “does not endorse or excuse the violence. On the contrary, the narrator generally emphasizes the absurdity of the actions”. Canal D also noted that it broadcast viewer advisories and a 13+ classification icon in recognition of the fact that [translation] “some segments of the program could be offensive to some people”. The complainant filed her Ruling Request on January 19. In her letter, she added that she would not have a problem with this program if it were broadcast after 9:00 pm, but it was inappropriate to broadcast it during the day when children could see it. She argued that [translation] “violence among young people is simply a reflection of what they can see on television in this type of sensational program” and she gave the example of youth who post videos of fights on the web. She concluded by saying that the warnings did nothing more than encourage youth to watch the program. (The full text of all correspondence can be found in the Appendix, available in French only.)
The Quebec Regional Panel examined the complaint under the following articles of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Violence Code:
Article 1.0 – Content
1.1 Canadian broadcasters shall not air programming which:
- contains gratuitous violence in any form*
- sanctions, promotes or glamorizes violence
- (*“Gratuitous” means material which does not play an integral role in developing the plot, character or theme of the material as a whole).
Article 3.0 – Scheduling
3.1.1 Programming which contains scenes of violence intended for adult audiences shall not be telecast before the late evening viewing period, defined as 9 pm to 6 am.
Article 4.0 – Classification
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.
The program may be viewed, purchased or rented only by persons 16 years of age or older.
At the age of 16, young people enter a transition period between the end of adolescence and the beginning adulthood. They are more independent, and have usually attained a certain level of psychological maturity.
Programs with this rating present troubling themes, situations or behaviours and adopt a more direct point of view about things. They may therefore contain scenes where violence, horror and sexuality are more graphic.
Article 5 – Viewer Advisories
5.1 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 late evening hours which contains scenes of violence intended for adult audiences.
5.2 Broadcasters shall provide a viewer advisory at the beginning of, and during programming telecast outside of late evening hours, which contains scenes of violence not suitable for children.
5.3 Suggested language for suitable viewer advisories is outlined in Appendix A [of the Violence Code].
The Panel Adjudicators read all of the correspondence and viewed the program in question. The Panel concludes that Canal D did not violate Article 1, but the specialty service did violate Articles 3, 4 and 5 of the CAB Violence Code.
Gratuitous Violence, Promoting or Glamorizing Violence
The Panel notes that the theme of the program is based on crime scenes and that the narrator is careful to remind the audience that the criminals in question are always caught. It also wishes to point out that sensationalism is the main objective of these types of programs, but that nothing in the program at issue either constitutes gratuitous violence as defined in the CAB Violence Code, or sanctions, promotes or glamorizes violence. However, the Panel Adjudicators stress that showing the same scenes repeatedly is clearly not desirable and adds nothing to the presentation of the program. The Panel therefore concludes that there was no violation of Article 1 of the CAB Violence Code.
However, the Panel is of the opinion that given its very nature, this program should have aired during the watershed period, namely between 9:00 pm and 6:00 am. The program was indeed made up of numerous scenes of violence and, what is more, these scenes were of actual and not fictitious violence. This type of program is therefore intended for adult audiences and the Panel concludes that by broadcasting it at 2:00 pm, Canal D breached the provisions of Article 3.1.1 of the CAB Violence Code.
Given the quantity and the nature of the violent acts shown during the program, the Panel questioned the 13+ classification assigned by Canal D.
13+: 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. [emphasis added]
16+: Programs with this rating present troubling themes, situations or behaviours and adopt a more direct point of view about things. They may therefore contain scenes where violence, horror and sexuality are more graphic. [emphasis added]
In reviewing the pertinent parts underlined above of the classification system set out in the CAB Violence Code, the Panel Adjudicators came to the conclusion that the broadcaster incorrectly classified this program since it contained a large number of scenes of violence of a graphic nature rather than passages or sequences that would have merely offended the sensibilities of younger viewers. The Panel concludes that the program should have been rated 16+ and that Canal D breached the provisions of Article 4 of the CAB Violence Code.
Finally, the Panel examined the wording of the viewer advisories that were presented verbally and displayed on the screen throughout the program:
Warning: This program contains scenes that might be unsuitable for young viewers. Parental supervision is advised. [emphasis added]
The Panel can draw no other conclusion than that nothing in the viewer advisory referred to the violent nature of the program. The Council’s jurisprudence in this regard has established that viewer advisories must be detailed and not general in their wording. The viewer advisory, then, should have mentioned that the program contained scenes of violence. It is the conclusion of the Panel that Canal D breached Article 5 of the CAB Violence Code in omitting that aspect.
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, Canal D provided an adequate reply, explaining its viewpoint to the complainant. Therefore, 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
Canal D 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 this episode of C’est incroyable! 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 Canal D.
The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has found that Canal D violated the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ Violence Code in its broadcast of C’est incroyable! on January 12, 2012. Canal D violated Article 3 of the Code by broadcasting a program that contained scenes of violence intended for adult audiences before 9:00 pm. It violated Article 4 of the Code by rating the program 13+ instead of 16+ and it violated Article 5 of the Code because it did not mention violence in its viewer advisories.
This decision is a public document upon its release by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council.
 See the following decisions for examples where the CBSC found that the violent content had to be broadcast between 9:00 pm and 6:00 am: CITY-TV re an episode of the Maury Povich Show (CBSC Decision 02/03-1424, February 10, 2004) and TQS re two episodes of Les experts: Manhattan (CSI: New York) (CBSC Decision 08/09-0880, August 11, 2009).
 See TQS re two episodes of Les experts: Manhattan (CSI: New York) (CBSC Decision 08/09-0880, August 11, 2009) for another program that fell into the category of 16+.