What is the CBSC?

The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) is an independent, voluntary organization created and funded by Canada’s private broadcasters to administer the broadcasting standards established by those broadcasters. Although the CBSC is a non-governmental agency, it operates with the approval of the federal regulator, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). Consequently, complaints made by members of the public to the CRTC will be referred to the CBSC for resolution when they concern stations that participate in the CBSC. For further information about the CBSC-CRTC connection, see the FAQ What is the relationship between the CBSC and the CRTC?

To whom does the CBSC answer?

The CBSC is a self-regulatory body which operates at arm’s length from its funders, Canada’s private broadcasters, as well as from the government agency responsible for broadcasting in Canada, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). The CBSC nevertheless reports on its activities throughout the year to the general public, its associates and the CRTC through its annual report, which is published on the CBSC website as soon as it is available. For more information on the relationship between the CRTC and the CBSC, see the FAQ What is the relationship between the CBSC and the CRTC?. For more on the issue of the CBSC’s independence from its associates, see the FAQ Who decides whether a broadcast has met the standards?

What is the relationship between the CBSC and the CRTC?

While the CBSC is, on the one hand, a voluntary self-regulatory body created by its broadcaster associates, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) is, on the other hand, the government body mandated to oversee the entire broadcasting industry pursuant to the Broadcasting Act. Although it is not germane to the activities of the CBSC, the CRTC is also responsible for the oversight of the entire telecommunications industry pursuant to the Telecommunications Act. In its 1991 Public Notice, the CRTC declared its full support for the CBSC and announced that complaints it might receive concerning CBSC associates and regarding issues covered by the industry codes administered by the CBSC would be referred by it to the CBSC for action. Complaints about broadcasters which do not participate in the CBSC are dealt with by the CRTC. The CRTC also acts as an “appellate” body for anyone who is dissatisfied with a decision rendered by the CBSC and would like to have that decision reconsidered. For more information on appealing a CBSC decision, see the related FAQ Can I appeal a CBSC decision?

Which broadcasters participate in the CBSC?

The CBSC’s list of associates includes nearly all of Canada’s private broadcasters, including radio and television stations, networks and specialty services. A complete list of CBSC associates is available on this site.

Where does the CBSC get its funding?

The CBSC funding is received from the membership fees charged to Canadian private radio and television stations. The CBSC is NOT a government agency and therefore does not receive any taxpayer money.

What is the CBSC Secretariat?

The CBSC Secretariat administers the day-to-day operations of the Council. It is composed of the Chair and other administrative staff as required.


Broadcasting Standards

Why is offensive material allowed to be broadcast?

First of all, what may be offensive to some viewers or listeners may not be to others. Not everyone will be concerned about the same types of program content. Moreover, Parliament anticipated such diversity of tastes by legislating that broadcasters are required, under the Broadcasting Act, to provide a variety of programming which will meet the special likes and desires of the various groups of listeners and viewers in Canadian society. This principle is also reflected in the CAB Code of Ethics. That being said, in order to be sensitive to those people who may wish to avoid certain types of programming, the Codes administered by the CBSC require broadcasters to inform viewers of the content of potentially offensive programming through the use of viewer advisories, the classification system and the Watershed hour. To learn more about these informational tools, you may wish to read the following FAQs: When are viewer advisories required? ; What is the Program Classification System? ; What is the Watershed?

Second, the CBSC’s process is reactive, not proactive. That means that the CBSC does not censor or pre-approve programming that is to be aired. It has neither the mandate nor the resources to do so and such pre-approval would likely be considered offensive to most Canadians, to whom it might appear to be a form of censorship. In any event, broadcasters are expected to make their programming choices in conformity with the existing standards. It is only if a complaint is made about an actual broadcast which has offended a viewer or listener that the CBSC may be called upon to verify the compliance of the broadcaster with the standards. For related information on the CBSC’s complaints-driven process, see also the FAQ Can I complain about an upcoming broadcast?

What are the limits concerning violence on TV or radio?

Broadcasters are prohibited from airing programming which “contains gratuitous violence” or which “sanctions, promotes or glamorizes violence.” This prohibition applies to both television and radio content.

The Violence Code also provides for a “Watershed” hour, set at 9 pm. Programming which is exclusively “intended for adult audiences” cannot be aired before that time. Such programming must also be accompanied by viewer advisories. The criteria for determining what constitutes programming “intended for adult audiences” is discussed at length in the commentary under Clause 3 of the Violence Code. See also the related FAQs What is the Watershed? and When are viewer advisories required?

Programming which is not exclusively “intended for adult audiences” but is nevertheless “unsuitable for young viewers” may be aired before 9 pm but must be accompanied by viewer advisories. See the related FAQ When are viewer advisories required?

The Violence Code also provides for another informational tool, namely, program classification, which is required for all dramatic and children’s programs. Some categories, such as news and sports, are exempted from the program classification system. A program’s rating must be displayed as an on-screen icon and also invisibly embedded in the program itself for use in conjunction with v-chip technology. For further information on the classification system, see Clause 4 of the Violence Code and the FAQ What is the Program Classification System?

The Violence Code also sets out special rules for children’s programming, violence against specific groups and violence in sports programming, among other things. The complete text of the Violence Code is provided on this website.

What are the limits concerning sexual content on television and radio?

Clauses 9 and 10 of the CAB Code of Ethics deal with sexually explicit material on radio and television respectively. Radio broadcasters must ensure that the programming on their stations does not contain “unduly sexually explicit material.” What constitutes “unduly sexually explicit material” will be assessed based on criteria set out in the Code, as interpreted by the CBSC. See Clause 9 of the CAB Code of Ethics.

Television programming which contains “sexually explicit material intended for adult audiences” must not be broadcast prior to the Watershed hour of 9 pm. Any such broadcast must also be accompanied by viewer advisories. Programming containing sexual content which is not exclusively “intended for adult audiences” may be aired prior to the Watershed. It must, however, be accompanied by viewer advisories if it contains “mature subject matter or scenes with nudity […] or other material susceptible of offending viewers” which is unsuitable for children. See Clause 10 and Clause 11 of the CAB Code of Ethics.

The Violence Code also provides for another informational tool, namely, program classification, which is required for all dramatic and children’s programs. Some categories, such as news and sports, are exempted from the program classification system. A program’s rating must be displayed as an on-screen icon and also invisibly embedded in the program itself for use in conjunction with v-chip technology. For further information on the classification system, see Clause 4 of the Violence Code and the FAQ What is the Program Classification System?

Are there special rules for children’s programming?

Programming that is intended for children (defined as being under 12 years old) is held up to very high standards under the Codes administered by the CBSC. In general, children’s programming should be of high quality and reflect “the moral and ethical standards of contemporary Canadian society.” It should also contain very little violent content and should only include violent matter is essential to the development of character and plot. Programming for children should deal particularly carefully with themes “that may threaten the children’s sense of security or well-being” as well as with themes“ which could invite children to imitate acts which they see on screen.” Other provisions require that such programming shall not contain realistic scenes of violence which create the impression that violence is the preferred, much less the only, way to resolve conflict between individuals or which minimize or gloss over the effects of violent acts. For further information and the detailed list of children’s programming provisions, see Clause 2 of the Violence Code and Clause 4 of the CAB Code of Ethics.

What are the requirements relating to viewer advisories?

The display of viewer advisories is one of the methods used to inform viewers about different aspects of the content of the program that is about to be broadcast or that is already underway. The function of the viewer advisories is to provide consumers with content information in order to assist them in making knowledgeable viewing choices, especially when programming includes mature subject matter or scenes with violence, nudity, sexually explicit material, coarse or offensive language, or other potentially offensive material. See Clause 5 of the CAB Violence Code and Clause 11 of the CAB Code of Ethics, as well as the FAQs dealing with violence, sexual content and coarse or offensive language.

What is the Watershed?

The Watershed marks the start of the late evening viewing period, defined as running from 9 pm to 6 am. Television content which contains material “intended exclusively for an adult audience” must be aired after the Watershed. While initially created for the purposes of the Violence Code (see Clause 3 of the Violence Code), the Watershed has been used since its introduction by broadcasters as a general demarcation point for all forms of adult content. This expanded use has now been codified in Clause 10 of the CAB Code of Ethics which requires that programming which contains sexually explicit content or coarse or offensive language be aired post-Watershed.

What is the Classification System for Canada?

For more information about the television program classification systems in Canada, see the Ratings Classifications section of our website.

Do all broadcasters follow the same rules?

All Canadian broadcasters licensed by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) are subjected to some content regulation (e.g. rules concerning scheduling, viewer advisories and program classification) by the CRTC. Those private broadcasters which participate in the CBSC have all agreed to be subject to the Codes and other standards administered by the CBSC. On the other hand, non-Canadian broadcasters, whose programming is delivered by cable or satellite, are not subjected to any Canadian content regulation, whether legislative or codified.

My favourite program has been cancelled. Can the CBSC do anything about it?

Program selection is a matter entirely within the broadcaster's discretion so long as the content does not otherwise violate any Code provision. Accordingly, the CBSC cannot deal with complaints about the cancellation of any particular program. You may wish to contact the station directly to let the broadcaster know your views.

Can the CBSC deal with complaints about Internet content?

The CBSC deals with “broadcasting”. To the extent that a station’s broadcast signals are streamed, without alteration, on the Internet, the CBSC will deal with complaints about such programming. The CBSC does not, however, deal otherwise with other Internet content, i.e. websites, message boards, etc, nor does the CRTC regulate content on the Internet. There is currently no organization in Canada established to deal with such complaints. You may wish to contact the Canadian Association of Internet Providers (CAIP), which may have further information on this issue.

Can the CBSC deal with complaints about advertisements?

The CBSC can deal with certain types of complaints about advertisements. It CAN deal with radio and television advertising complaints if the concern is the time of day at which the content aired.

The CBSC CANNOT deal with complaints about inaccurate claims, discriminatory content, presentation of dangerous behaviour, etc in advertisements. Those complaints should be sent to Ad Standards Canada. Ad Standards is the self-regulatory agency established to administer the codes of standards created by the advertising industry and to deal with complaints about advertisements.

Can the CBSC deal with complaints about newspapers, magazines or other print media?

No. The CBSC cannot deal with complaints about newspaper or magazine content or any other content in print media. Those complaints should be sent to the relevant Press Council.

Can the CBSC deal with complaints about ANY broadcasting issue?

No. The CBSC can generally only deal with complaints about content that was actually broadcast on air. The issue must be able to be examined under one or more of the provisions in the Codes administered by the CBSC.

The CBSC CANNOT deal with complaints about the choice to air a particular program; the cancellation of a particular program; repetition of programs; pre-emption of programs and other issues related to program selection. Program selection is an issue completely at the discretion of the broadcaster, provided the content does not breach any Code provisions.

The CBSC CANNOT deal with complaints about licensing radio and television stations, Canadian content regulations, closed captioning and other similar issues. Those complaints should be sent to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommuncations Commission , the government agency responsible for overseeing the Canadian broadcasting system.

The CBSC CANNOT deal with complaints about cable or satellite distribution services (ex. selection of channel packages; poor channel reception; errors on bill). For complaints about cable and satellite television services, please contact the customer service division of your provider. The CRTC can deal with complaints about some aspects of cable and satellite television; please consult the CRTC website.

The CBSC CANNOT deal with complaints about telephone or other telecommunications related issues, such as telephone service, telemarketing or signal interference on your telephone. Some types of telecommunications complaints can be dealt with by the Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services (CCTS) and others can be dealt with by the CRTC. Please consult the websites of those organizations for more information.

The CBSC CANNOT deal with complaints about the sound volume of commercials or programs. Those complaints should be sent to the CRTC.

The CBSC can only deal with certain types of advertising complaints. Please see the Advertising FAQ for further explanation.


Complaints Process

How do I make a complaint?

All complaints must be made in writing. They can be sent via the webform, postal mail, or fax. Addresses for each method of communication as well as further information on what should be included in your complaint can be found at Making a Complaint. Complaints must be received within 28 days of the date of broadcast.

What information must be included in a complaint?

Both the CBSC and the broadcaster need to know what concerns you in order to be able to respond. It is, therefore, most important to include information that will identify the broadcaster (such as its name or call letters), the name of the program, if possible, and the date and time at which the offending material ran. You should also tell us what bothered you about what you saw or heard. Please note that it is essential that you must have personally seen or heard the offending material. Reporting what someone has told you was broadcast will not trigger the CBSC’s process. Please note that everything you submit including your contact information will be forwarded to station management.

Why is it necessary to put my complaint in writing?

The CBSC’s complaints resolution process is admittedly more burdensome on complainants than a simple phone call; however, a written complaint suggests thoughtfulness and a genuine concern on the part of the complainant, rather than a passing, impulsive, knee-jerk reaction. It also leaves no doubt as to the substance of the complaint. It is also essential for the CBSC to be able to forward the complaint to the station and permits the CBSC to require that broadcasters send a written response to the complainant. They must equally respond to complainants in writing. This is the basis for a more productive dialogue between the broadcaster and its audience, a point of considerable importance to the CBSC’s complaint process. Moreover, the written complaint creates a record which will enable the CBSC to assess the merits of the substantive complaint as well as the broadcaster’s responsiveness. See the related FAQ Why is the broadcaster being asked to respond to me? Why can’t the CBSC just decide the matter?

What happens after I make a complaint?

The CBSC will acknowledge receipt of your complaint and forward a copy to the broadcaster in question, asking that it respond to your concerns. If you have provided sufficient information about the programming that offended you (the time and date of the broadcast and the name or call letters of the station), you will be provided with a Ruling Request form which you can return to the CBSC if you are unsatisfied with the broadcaster’s response. Please note that it is only upon receipt of a Ruling Request form that the CBSC will begin its substantive review of any given matter. For further information on what happens after the filing of a Ruling Request, see the FAQs under the heading “CBSC Decisions”.

Why is the broadcaster being asked to respond to me? Why can’t the CBSC just decide the matter?

The dialogue between the broadcaster and its audience members is a cornerstone of the CBSC’s complaints resolution process. The broadcaster benefits from the exchange by learning about the concerns and the level of tolerance of its audience and has the opportunity, if appropriate, to institute changes to its programming decisions. The complainant receives a personal response from the broadcaster explaining the reasons underlying the station's broadcasting choices, which may satisfy his or her concerns. Since that dialogue frequently satisfies the complainant, it is a method of resolution of the complaint without the need for adjudication of the matter. For the CBSC, this “dialogue” process enables the "building of the record", i.e. the presentation of arguments for and against the broadcast in question, which is important if the matter will be sent to the next stage of the process. The arguments on both sides are often invaluable to the Panel Adjudicators when they are called upon to review the actual broadcast for its compatibility with the Codes.

What is a Ruling Request and why do I need to file one if I’m not satisfied with the broadcaster’s response?

A Ruling Request is a form which indicates to the CBSC, first, that you have considered the response given to you by the broadcaster about whose program you have complained and, second, that you are not satisfied with that response. It means that you would like the CBSC to rule on the matter. Unless the CBSC receives a Ruling Request, it will not bring a complaint to the adjudication stage.

Can I complain about an upcoming broadcast?

No. The CBSC does not have any pre-clearance process. In fact, there is no such process for vetting programming in the Canadian broadcasting system. Moreover, generally, there is no way to be certain what will happen in the case of live broadcasting and, in the case of pre-packaged dramatic programming, for example, any broadcast may be edited by the station or accompanied by viewer advisories and classification icons, which can have an effect on the appropriateness of what is actually broadcast. Consequently, the CBSC can only deal with complaints about programming that has already been aired.

Can I get copies of the programming that concerned me?

Not from the CBSC. Because copies of programming are the property of the broadcaster, which furnishes them to the CBSC solely as a part of the complaints resolution process, the CBSC does not consider itself at liberty to provide copies to complainants or other members of the general public. While broadcasters are required to provide copies of programming to the CBSC (or the CRTC) pursuant to filing of a complaint, they are under no obligation to provide copies to complainants themselves. Some broadcasters will provide recordings to the public upon request as a courtesy or for a fee. Note, though, that they generally do not retain such records for more than 30 days following the broadcast.

In the interest of accuracy and completeness, the CBSC usually provides either a thorough description or, where relevant, a written transcript of the challenged programming in its decision or in an appendix thereto.

Can I submit a complaint anonymously?

No. The CBSC approaches this subject in a way which is similar to the letters to the editor page in a newspaper. Just as the newspaper editor will not publish an anonymous letter on that page, the Council wants a complainant to stand behind the complaint that he or she makes. For the CBSC to pursue a complaint you may wish to make, it must receive your full name and civic address or e-mail address. If the CBSC receives an anonymous complaint, it will request that information from the complainant before proceeding further.

The CBSC considers the dialogue process between the complainant and the broadcaster to be a key part of the complaints resolution procedure. The Secretariat considers that, if the complainant is reluctant to provide an accurate name and address, it is not reasonable for the Council to request that the broadcaster seriously devote its time to a thoughtful reply to the complainant. By definition, “Dialogue” involves two people.

If, on the other hand, you have specific concerns about revealing your name to a broadcaster, please explain these in your complaint. The CBSC Secretariat will examine your request for anonymity and may allow it in exceptional circumstances. If it does not agree with your reasons, you will be free to withdraw your complaint.

In any event, broadcasters are NOT allowed to announce your name on air. The CBSC would consider such an action to be an extremely serious breach of broadcasting standards.

Moreover, the complainant’s name and other identifying information DO NOT appear in the CBSC’s decision or appendix to the decision. It is also CBSC policy NOT to release that information to journalists who may be reporting on the decision. The one exception to that principle is made by the CBSC when the complainant is an organization whose relationship to the file is materially significant and the Secretariat has reason to believe it is in the interests of the organization to be publicly associated with the complaint. Individual complainants are themselves free to contact the press at the time a decision is released, in the event that they wish their interest in the file to be made public.

Is there a time limit on filing a complaint?

Yes. You must file your complaint within 28 days of the broadcast date. Broadcasters are only required to keep copies of their programming for 28 days. Even if you have your own copy or the content remains available online, the CBSC must use the official broadcaster logger copies and these are only available for 28 days following the broadcast.

I intend to take legal action against the station. Can I still make a complaint with the CBSC?

No. If you choose to take legal action and pursue your complaint in the court system, you cannot also make a complaint with the CBSC at the same time.

I don’t have specific dates and times of the program I found offensive; I find the content of a specific program offensive every time I tune in. Why can’t the CBSC deal with my complaint?

When the CBSC receives a complaint, we contact the station that aired that particular program and ask them to hold the logger files of the program in question. We require specific dates and times in order to follow this procedure so that the Council can review the program in question, if necessary.

Can the CBSC deal with complaints about ALL broadcasters available in Canada?

No. The CBSC can only deal with complaints about Canadian private radio and television stations that are associates of the CBSC. The CBSC therefore CANNOT deal with complaints about the national public network CBC or publicly-owned provincial educational broadcasters, such as TVOntario, Télé-Québec, BC Knowledge Network, etc. The CBSC CANNOT deal with complaints about content on stations that originate in the United States or elsewhere outside of Canada. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), which is the government agency responsible for overseeing the Canadian broadcasting industry, deals with those complaints. There are also a few private Canadian radio and television stations who have chosen not to participate in the CBSC. The CRTC deals with complaints about their programming as well. For a list of CBSC associates, please click on Associates.

What is a logger file?

A logger file is a recording that contains exactly what was broadcast, including commercials. Television logger files also contain viewer advisories, classification icons and usually a time counter that shows exactly what time the programming was aired. It is the logger file that the CBSC reviews for its decisions.

I have already contacted the station and was not satisfied with their response. What happens when I complain to the CBSC?

The CBSC will acknowledge receipt of your complaint. If you contacted the station by telephone, the CBSC will ask the broadcaster to respond to you in writing, since the CBSC requires written documentation of correspondence. If you are unsatisfied with their written response, you can ask the CBSC to investigate further.

If you already received a written response from the broadcaster, the CBSC will offer the broadcaster a second opportunity to respond in writing in case they want to add any more information now that the CBSC is dealing with the complaint. If they do write to you a second time, and you are not satisfied with that response, you can ask the CBSC to investigate further. If the broadcaster tells the CBSC that the first letter covers everything they want to say, the CBSC will consider that their official response and the CBSC will investigate further.

The process then follows the normal process outlined in “What happens after I make a complaint?”

Can I complain in a language other than English or French?

Yes. You can write your complaint in whatever language you are most comfortable. If the CBSC does not have a staff member who understands that language, it will have the letter translated by professional translators.

You can also complain about a program that was broadcast in a language other than French or English. The CBSC will obtain translated transcripts of the program from objective, independent translators and/or consult with speakers of that language if necessary.

Can I submit a petition to complain? Will this make a difference?

Yes, the CBSC will accept complaints in the form of a petition, but it will only respond to one person (usually the person who started the petition, if the CBSC can determine who that is). The CBSC requires an address (email or regular mail) at which it can contact someone directly. If the CBSC receives a petition via a website and does not have direct contact information, it will not respond in any way and will not take any further action regarding the complaint. The CBSC will not post responses to websites, blogs or social media sites.

Filing a petition, however, will not make any difference to the CBSC’s process or conclusions. Only a single complaint from one person is necessary for the CBSC to investigate a broadcast. The CBSC makes its determinations based on whether or not a broadcast breached a Code, not on how many complaints it receives or how many people sign a petition to protest a broadcast.



What happens after I request a CBSC ruling?

The CBSC will order logger file copies of the broadcast from the broadcaster and review the issue.

If your complaint raises issues that have been decided in the past NOT to be in violation of any Code, or the CBSC Secretariat deems that adjudication is unnecessary in the circumstances, you will receive a letter from the CBSC Secretariat that explains this result and quotes previous CBSC decisions which reached a similar conclusion. The broadcaster in question will receive a copy of the letter, but the letter will not be made public or posted on the CBSC website.

If your complaint raises new issues or ones that have been found in violation of a Code in the past, your complaint will be sent to the appropriate Adjudicating Panel. The Panel Adjudicators will review all correspondence from both the complainant and the broadcaster and watch or listen to the programming in question. They will examine the broadcast under the Codes and make a determination. You will receive a copy of the Panel Decision. The decision will also be posted on our website and various media organizations will be notified of its release.

Who decides whether a particular broadcast has met the existing standards?

Each decision is taken by one of the CBSC Adjudicating Panels, each of which is composed of equal numbers of representatives of the public and the broadcasting industry. There are three Adjudicating Panels:  the English-Language Panel, the French-Language Panel and the Journalistic Independence Panel.

The Panels review complaints about radio and television broadcasters. The Journalistic Independence Panel examines complaints that raise issues under the Journalistic Independence Code.

As noted above, each Panel is composed of equal numbers of Adjudicators from the broadcasting industry and from the general public. They are selected on a representative basis, reflecting gender, ethnicity, geography and other pertinent criteria. Adjudicators are also chosen on basis of their ability to conduct fair, thorough and objective assessments of the issues.

When Panels sit on adjudications, there are usually 7 adjudicators: the CBSC Chair plus three public representatives and three industry representatives. There are never fewer than four persons (at least two of whom must be from each of the public and industry sides).

How long will it be before I get the CBSC’s decision about my complaint?

Due to a number of factors, including the number of complaints the CBSC receives in a year, there can be a significant amount of time lapsed between the broadcast date and the release date of a decision. At any time, it is the intention of the CBSC to have a decision released within 4 months of the date it receives the complainant’s Ruling Request form.

The inevitable length of the CBSC process reflects several material considerations. First, every decision must be considered very carefully and thoughtfully by the Adjudicating Panel. Second, the reasons for any decision must be drafted equally carefully and thoughtfully and must explain in sufficient detail why the particular result was arrived at. It must also be appreciated that, although each individual complainant sees his or her file as a single matter, at any time, the CBSC Panels are in the process of adjudicating and drafting a large number of decisions.

More important, one of the primary values of the decisions is that they are “evergreen” in nature. That means that the decision applies not only to the broadcaster and the program which was the subject of the complaint, but to all CBSC broadcaster associates and all programming of a similar nature which may be broadcast in the future.

Can I attend the hearing of my complaint?

No. The CBSC does not hold open hearings during which witnesses are called upon to make statements. Instead, the CBSC’s Panel Adjudicators, composed of an equal number of public representatives and representatives of the broadcast industry, deliberate on the basis of the actual recording of the television show or the radio broadcast. They carefully consider the complaint, the broadcaster’s response and any other correspondence, as well as the copies of what was actually broadcast. In a sense, the CBSC has concluded that the best evidence of the program content is what is found on the recording of the program. Either the complainant or the broadcaster may argue in their correspondence whether they believe the broadcast to constitute a Code breach or not but there is no additional evidence that can be brought regarding what was actually said.

It should also be borne in mind that holding hearings would only increase delays in the timing of the adjudication process and the release of decisions. Moreover, there is every chance that the public complainant would be more inconvenienced than the broadcaster in having to be present at such hearings, both in terms of time and expense. Therefore, in order to keep a well-balanced and objective outcome, the CBSC relies on the members of the Panels to handle the process of decision-making without additional oral input from either side.

What happens if the CBSC finds a Code violation?

If a CBSC Adjudicating Panel decides that the programming has violated one or more Code provisions, the broadcaster must announce that result on air. It must make the announcement twice, once within three days following the release of the decision in prime time for television or peak listening hours for radio, and again within seven days following the release of the decision in the time period in which the offending content was broadcast. It must also write a letter to the complainant(s) within 14 days thereafter indicating that the announcements have been made. The broadcaster then must provide the CBSC with a copy of that letter and with copies of the broadcast announcements.

It is also expected that a similar violation will not recur; that is, the broadcaster will not air similar material in the future. It is up to the broadcaster to determine the appropriate means to ensure that the offending type of broadcast does not recur.

The CBSC does not have the authority to levy fines to broadcasters, revoke broadcast licences or demand that a program be removed from the airwaves. It is up to the broadcaster to determine the appropriate means to ensure that the offence does not recur.

Can I appeal a CBSC decision?

No and yes. The CBSC does not have an internal appeals mechanism, which would permit an appeal from the decision of one Panel to, say, another appellate Panel. Consequently, in the event that a complainant is discontented with a CBSC decision, he or she must take the matter to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). Upon receipt of a request to review a CBSC decision, the Commission undertakes a review "de novo" of the matter, that is to say, they will not confine themselves strictly to standards of appellate review but will rather look at the matter afresh. As part of this review, they will likely ask for further submissions from the "appellant" and the broadcaster in question and they will request that the provide them with the CBSC's file, including the broadcast recordings, relating to the matter.

Are all decisions of CBSC Panels unanimous?

Not all are, although very few are not. More to the point, there is no requirement that they be unanimous. In those very few cases where we were unable to achieve unanimity among all the members of the Panel, which is composed of an equal number of public representatives and representatives from the broadcast industry, the decision text so states and there is then a "dissenting opinion" published along with the decision of the majority.

Will my name be made public if I make a complaint?

No. When the CBSC receives a complaint, it forwards it to the broadcaster for response. It is forwarded to upper management at the station, NOT to any on-air personalities.

Broadcasters are NOT allowed to announce your name on air. In cases where a program host did provide a complainant's name and city, the CBSC considered this an extremely serious breach of broadcasting standards.

The complainant's name and other identifying information DOES NOT appear in the CBSC's decision or appendix to the decision. It is also CBSC policy NOT to release that information to journalists who may be reporting on the decision. The CBSC will sometimes provide the name of the complainant to journalists when the complainant is an organization.


Ratings Classifications and V-Chip Canada

Who rates television programs?

The broadcasters themselves determine the appropriate rating for a program based on the individual rating descriptions of the relevant classification system (click on Ratings Classifications under Tools to see those descriptions). Unlike the way movies are rated by provincial film boards, television program ratings are not assigned by the CRTC, the CBSC or any other independent rating or pre-clearance organization.

However, if you feel a program has been incorrectly rated, you can file a complaint with the CBSC and it will determine whether the station made the correct rating choice.

How do I find out what a certain program is rated?

Some television guides publish the program ratings. The rating might also be indicated on the station’s website, or on your cable or satellite television distributor’s on-screen menu (some cable and satellite television providers use their own rating systems, different from what the television stations use). But there is no rule that requires television stations to publish or post the ratings, so you may just have to watch the beginning of the program to find out.

Also, episodes should be rated on a case-by-case basis, so one episode of a program in a series may be rated higher than others if it contains more adult content.

Furthermore, previous V-chip research indicated that parents did not set the V-chip according to individual programs. Once they had experimented with different levels, and set the V-chip to the appropriate level for their family viewing, parents felt it was not necessary to know the classifications assigned to individual programs.

Why are only certain types of programs rated?

Some programs are exempt from classification. That means they don’t have to be rated, but broadcasters may choose to put ratings on them anyway, especially if they contain adult material.

During extensive public consultations conducted across the country in 1995 by the CRTC, there were wide-ranging discussions about what types of programs concerned parents. Based on all the opinions expressed during that public process, the CRTC concluded that four types of programming would be required to be rated, in order to achieve the goal of a balanced approach that would protect children from programming that might be inappropriate for them, while maintaining artistic and creative freedom.

The CRTC decided that children’s programming, drama programs, feature films and reality-based dramatic programs would have to be rated. Information programming, such as news, public affairs, documentaries, talk shows and magazine-style programs are exempt from classification. In addition, advertisements and promotional spots are not required to be rated.

Classification icons are not a substitute for viewer advisories. Viewer advisories must appear in audio and video format at the beginning of and coming out of commercial breaks during programming that contains adult material or is unsuitable for children under 12. Programs exempt from classification are not exempt from the viewer advisory requirement.

Why don’t all Canadian broadcasters use the same rating system?

English- and third-language conventional and discretionary stations use the rating system created by AGVOT; French-language conventional and discretionary stations use the province of Québec’s film system; and pay-per-view and video-on-demand services use the rating system of the provincial film boards in their home provinces.

AGVOT created the rating system for Canadian broadcasters during the mid-1990s. The AGVOT system was adopted by English-language broadcasters in 1997. French broadcasters suggested that they use Quebec's provincial film rating system because French-speaking audiences were already familiar with that system. Pay television stations had been using the ratings of the provincial film boards since the 1980s because they broadcast mostly feature films that had already appeared in movie theatres and thus had already been given a rating. The pay stations suggested that they simply continue to use that approach. Pay-per-view and video-on-demand channels adopted that same approach as they came into existence during the 1990s.

The CRTC approved this varied approach in 1997. It agreed that the different types of stations could use these different ratings systems, although it encouraged broadcasters to work together to create a harmonized system. To date, however, Canadian broadcasters have not created a single, harmonized system.

If I’m watching an American show on a Canadian station, does the program have an American or Canadian rating?

If the program is on a Canadian station, it has a Canadian rating. All Canadian broadcasters are responsible for the programming they air, regardless of where it was produced.

However, some American and other foreign stations are available directly into Canada. If you’re watching one of those stations, the rating will correspond to whatever classification system is in effect in that country.

If I have a complaint about a program’s rating, what do I do?

You can contact the station directly or file an official complaint with the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC). The CBSC is a self-regulatory agency responsible for administering the codes of standards that Canadian private broadcasters have established for their industry. Rules about ratings and classification are covered under the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Violence Code, so the CBSC examines any complaints about incorrect ratings or absence of ratings under that Code. In order to pursue a complaint, the CBSC needs the name of the station, and the date and time that the program aired.

How do I know if my television set has V-chip technology in it?

Most analog television sets with a screen size of over 13 inches made for the Canadian market since 2001 have some form of V-chip technology built in. Most digital television sets made for the North American market since 2006 have it too. Inclusion of the Canadian classification systems in television sets is not a regulatory or legislative requirement, but most manufacturers do include them on a voluntary basis. Check your television set’s manual to find out if it has the V-chip.

If you have a digital television set, the V-chip in it will only work if you are receiving your television signals as over-the-air digital signals or from a digital cable provider. The rating information cannot be passed through component video or HDMI connections.

My television set was manufactured before 2001. Can I get a V-chip installed in it?

V-chips are only installed in television sets at the factory and older sets cannot be retro-fitted. For a while, some companies were making stand-alone V-chip decoder boxes that could be hooked up to old television sets, but these are no longer widely available.

If you subscribe to digital cable or satellite television service, the digital decoder box has some form of blocking technology or parental controls. Contact your television service provider to find out how to use it.

What does the V in V-chip stand for?

Some people think it stands for “violence” but the individual who is widely credited with inventing the V-chip, Tim Collings, says it stands for “viewer control”.

Can the V-chip in my television set be activated to use more than one rating system at a time?

Many television sets available in Canada allow you to set blocking levels for different ratings systems, usually the Canadian English (AGVOT), Canadian French, and U.S. systems (but unfortunately not the Canadian provincial film board systems used by pay-per-view and video-on-demand services). And they all work at the same time. The V-chip reads the signal encoded in the broadcast and automatically compares it to the correct rating system setting. If you are tuned to a Canadian English station, the V-chip looks for ratings codes used by that system. If it is a U.S. station, the V-chip compares the encoded signal to the setting for the U.S. TV rating system.

Why don’t the ratings on my on-screen menu match the ratings that appear in the upper-left corner at the beginning of the program?

Many cable and satellite television providers offer their own blocking technology which works with their own decoder boxes. There is no requirement for satellite or cable distributors to use any particular classification system, so they may use rating categories that are different from those established for Canadian broadcasters by the Action Group on Violence on Television (AGVOT). Viewers who subscribe to cable or satellite television service should contact their providers for information on how to block programs using those individual technologies.

My television set has the V-chip, but my cable/satellite decoder box has its own blocking technology. Which one should I use to block programs?

It depends on what type of television you have and how you get your television signals. In some cases, you can use either or both. For example, if you subscribe to digital cable, you can set parental controls using the V-chip in your television set or the blocking system built into the digital cable decoder box. If you want to set both, you will have to go through the steps for each system, but that will hopefully ensure that programs get blocked. Be aware, though, that many cable and satellite providers use their own ratings systems which are different from the ones that the television stations use to work with the actual V-chip.