L’instant gagnant is a television call-in contest program broadcast on V from 11:30 pm to 6:00 am. The program is produced and paid for by a company known as TeleMedia InteracTV. It features hosts who present quizzes and puzzles on the screen and who ask the viewers to phone the program for the chance to solve them and win cash prizes. Each call costs $1 regardless of whether or not the call is transmitted to the host. That information appears at the bottom of the screen and the host repeats it several times during the broadcast. The prize amount is generally around $100 at the beginning of the program and increases progressively as the program continues. The numbers to call, for both land lines and mobile devices, remain on the screen throughout the broadcast. Each episode is preceded by a message in audio and video formats: [translation] “The following program is a paid commercial announcement.”
At the end of each contest segment, the host opens a sealed envelope and announces the answer; the solution is also shown on-screen. However, no explanation is given as to how to arrive at the solution.
Two viewers complained that this call-in show is fraudulent and that some of the contests lacked transparency. Among the many puzzles they identified, three are the subject of this decision. (A description of some of the relevant puzzles can be found in Appendix A, available in French only.)
The first complaint concerns a puzzle inviting viewers to [translation] “Add all the figures and numbers in the picture!” which aired on February 15, 2014. The complainant argued that it involved multiplying by 0 to arrive at the answer of 1,917. He also felt that this is an implausible solution and pointed out the lack of transparency on the part of the broadcaster. He also called into question the reliability of the telephone call assignment system, arguing that the host told the viewers there were no callers when it was, in fact, difficult for those calling in to get through.
In turn, the second complainant noted problems concerning puzzles broadcast in four distinct episodes of L’instant gagnant. The Panel1 examined two of them, specifically puzzles aired on May 2 and 8, 2014 asking viewers [translation] “What is the sum of the figures and numbers in the picture?” The complainant pointed out what he deemed to be numerous instances of deception in those puzzles.
V provided the complainants with answers containing relatively detailed explanations of the solutions to the puzzles in question. In its reply to the first complainant, V rightly explained that the object of the puzzle was not to solve the equation but to add up all the figures and numbers in the picture. With respect to the call system, V emphasised that a message appears on-screen warning viewers that participants are randomly selected and that this information is also verbally conveyed by the host of the show. In addition, the broadcaster indicated that the random nature of participant selection is verified by an organisation known as les firmes internationales Veritas société d’audit Promo, self-described as a world leader in evaluating compliance and certification.
The CBSC Secretariat viewed the episodes at issue and found that the solutions to the puzzles provided by V were ambiguous in some respects. Not satisfied with the explanations given by the broadcaster, it asked V to provide additional explanations on the solutions to the three puzzles.
V sent documents to the CBSC offering more extensive explanations concerning the specific aspects raised by the CBSC Secretariat. (The correspondence can be found in Appendix B, available in French only.)
The Quebec Regional Panel examined the complaint under Clause 12 (Contests and Promotions) of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics:
All on-air contests and promotions shall be conceived and conducted fairly and legitimately and particular care shall be taken to ensure that they are not misleading, potentially dangerous or likely to give rise to a public inconvenience or disturbance and that any prizes offered or promises made are what they are represented to be.
The Panel Adjudicators read all of the correspondence and viewed the three episodes in question. The Panel concludes that V breached Clause 12 of the CAB Code of Ethics regarding the programs of February 15, May 2 and May 8, 2014. With respect to the February 15, 2014 broadcast, the Panel again concludes that it cannot rule on off-air elements. It does not have the jurisdiction to comment on off-air issues, such as the telephone call assignment system.2
Program aired on February 15, 2014
Insofar as the complaint concerning the program aired on February 15, 2014 is concerned, the Secretariat was unable to validate the solution provided by the broadcaster and asked for further explanations on July 14, 2014. These were provided by the broadcaster on July 31 who stressed that the length of the hyphen between the words “call” and “now” that scrolled in a loop at the top of the screen differed between the two images and maintained that [translation] “given the difference, subtle though it may be, this remains a legitimate difference. Consequently, the explanations we provided validate the calculations and the solution we submitted in the reply previously given to the complainant in connection with this file.”
The Panel Adjudicators cannot concur with this explanation. The difference is barely visible on the still image that the broadcaster provided in its additional reply. It is absolutely imperceptible in a scrolling line on the screen. While certain tricks, such as the use of Roman numerals, are legitimate, distinctions based on the length of a dash or the space between certain characters clearly contravene the terms of Clause 12 stipulating that contests be fair and legitimate and not misleading.3 Therefore, the Panel concludes that the broadcaster breached the provisions of Clause 12 of the CAB Code of Ethics by airing this puzzle in the February 15, 2014 program.
With respect to the aspect of the complaint concerning the fact that all callers are billed $1 per call, regardless of whether or not the call is transmitted to the on-air host, the Panel notes that throughout the program the broadcaster scrolls a warning emphasising that calls are selected on a random basis and that the hosts also verbally express this caveat during the program. The random nature of participant selection is itself verified by an external audit firm. The Panel notes that on many occasions the CBSC has reiterated that it has no jurisdiction to rule on off-air elements.4
Programs aired on May 2 and 8, 2014
Here again, the complaints concerning these two programs deal with puzzles requiring participants to provide the sum of all the numbers appearing on the screen. Upon request by the Secretariat which was not satisfied by the rationale given to the complainant, the broadcaster provided more ample explanation in both cases on October 20, 2014. The Panel is of the opinion that rather than justify the accuracy of the solutions provided, the additional explanations provided by the broadcaster demonstrated the producer’s use of misleading strategies in order to make the problems unsolvable when viewed on a television screen.
The “differences” mentioned in the broadcaster’s supplementary explanations are so subtle that they cannot be seen on the screen and a still image provided by the broadcaster in its letter containing further explanation is needed in order to detect them ever so slightly. For example, V maintains that the number “8” appearing in an apple must not enter into the calculation because [translation] “the space is broader… the left corner of the number is incomplete.” Or, alternatively, [translation] “the letter ‘M’ in the word MINI is definitely broken. That is why the Roman numeral ‘V’ was included in the solution”.
The explanations given for the puzzle presented on May 8 were in the same vein.
Consequently, the Panel concludes, just as it did in the case of the program aired on February 15, 2014, that the broadcaster breached the provisions of Clause 12 of the CAB Code of Ethics by airing the puzzles in the May 2 and 8, 2014 broadcasts.
The Panel notes that this is the third time within the reference period that the broadcaster has breached Clause 12 of the CAB Code of Ethics, within the same program. V has breached this very provision in the following cases: V re L’instant gagnant (CBSC Decision 12/13-0130, April 16, 2013) and V re L’instant gagnant (CBSC Decision 11/12-1452+, December 20, 2012), contrary to the long-standing CBSC policy as outlined in the CBSC Manual for broadcaster members under the heading “Responsibilities of Membership”: “Broadcaster members which join the CBSC do so voluntarily and, by doing so, agree to (b) avoid the recurrence of any breach of the Codes which have previously been decided against them with respect to a particular program or series.”
Every case involved the program L’instant gagnant.
Consequently, the broadcaster is required to provide, within 30 days of the release of this decision, a plan to the CBSC indicating how it will ensure that no other breaches of the provisions of Clause 12 of the CAB Code of Ethics occur at V. This plan must be acceptable to the CBSC and if the latter does not receive an acceptable plan by the given deadline, it will determine whether there is any reason for which V should be entitled to remain a member of the CBSC benefiting from the operation of the self-regulatory mechanism.5
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 a reply to the complainant, outlining its view of the broadcast. The broadcaster fulfilled its obligations of responsiveness with respect to these specific files. Aside from announcing the result of this decision in the terms set out below and submitting to the CBSC a course of action for rectifying its repetitive breaches as explained above, nothing further is required with respect to responsiveness in this file.
The Panel took note of the fact that in order to meet its obligations as a CBSC member more fully, V and the program’s producer made the commitment to no longer air certain puzzles and to provide more specific explanations to viewers on the puzzles presented in the program as of fall 2014. It also recognizes V’s decision to reduce the length of the program to one hour, with the result that as of September 1, 2014 L’instant gagnant has been airing from 11:30 pm to 12:30 am instead of from 11:30 pm to 6 am.
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 L’instant gagnant 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 Clause 12 of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ Code of Ethics in its broadcasts of L’instant gagnant on February 15, May 2 and May 8, 2014. The games presented on these episodes lacked transparency and were misleading.
This decision is a public document upon its release by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council.
1 The complaints concerning the episodes aired on March 11 and April 6, 2014 were not retained as they were made more than 28 days after the air dates. Consequently, this decision does not deal with any of the aspects of the complaints relating to those episodes.
2 TQS re Call TV (CBSC Decision 08/09-1834 and -1856, August 11, 2009); V re Call TV (version 2) (CBSC Decision 09/10-1563 and -1735, January 25, 2011); and V re L’instant gagnant (CBSC Decision 11/12-1452+, December 20, 2012).
4 See the following CBSC decisions for similar situations: TQS re Call TV (CBSC Decision 08/09 -1834 and -1856, August 11, 2009); and V re Call TV (version 2) (CBSC Decision 09/10-1563 and -1735, January 25, 2011).
5 The CBSC has taken this measure in some other previous cases. See: CFNY-FM re the Dean Blundell Show (Wrestling) (CBSC Decision 12/13-0791 and -0818); TQS re an episode of the program Faut le voir pour le croire (CBSC Decision 99/00-0460 and 00/01-0123, August 29, 2000); Showcase Television re the movie Frankie Starlight (CBSC Decision 02/03-0682, January 30, 2004); CJAY-FM re Forbes and Friends (graphic discussion) (CBSC Decision 03/04-0157, April 16, 2004); TQS re the movie Film de peur (CBSC Decision 02/03-0940, April 22, 2004); and CKAC-AM re an episode of Doc Mailloux (Childless by Choice) (CBSC Decision 05/06-1671, December 11, 2006).