Broadcast of the Film Rats at 7 pm with Inadequate Viewer Advisories and an Inappropriate Classification Constitutes Breach of Violence Code

Ottawa, August 31, 2001 -- The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning the broadcast by Showcase Television of the Canadian film Rats, whose story followed the course of a down-and-out documentary filmmaker’s growing obsession with the rodents. A viewer complained that, upon tuning in to Showcase, she saw an explicit sexual scene between a man and a woman which she deemed inappropriate for early evening broadcast. The National Specialty Services Panel considered the film under the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Violence Code.

The Panel first considered whether either of the two lovemaking scenes in the film Rats could be characterized as being “intended for adult audiences,” the criterion which triggers the application of the Watershed provision of the Violence Code. Referring to previous CBSC decisions and noting that, in this case, the depictions of sexual activity do not include nudity, the Panel stated that

it is sexual activity and not nudity that drives the “adult” characterization. It is entirely clear that a scene may be sufficiently sexually explicit without nudity that it ought to be accessible to adults to the exclusion of younger family members. The Panel considers that the second love-making scene in Rats, which lasted for 1 minute and 25 seconds, falls into that category. It is not merely a romantic encounter or suggestive. It is erotic, actively demonstrative, extended, and climactic. It is inappropriate for airing at 7 pm.

The Panel concluded that, by broadcasting a movie with sexual scenes intended for adults in the early evening, at 7:00 p.m., rather than after the Watershed hour of 9:00 p.m., Showcase had breached the scheduling provision of the Violence Code.

With respect to the broadcaster’s use of viewer advisories, the Panel concluded that Showcase had failed to abide by Clause 5 of the Violence Code: “first, by providing an initial detailed advisory which did not fit with the movie in question [it referred to nudity when there was none and not to sexuality at all] and second, by not providing any useful information in the subsequent viewer advisories following each commercial break.” The Panel noted that viewer advisories are an essential component of the private broadcasters’ panoply of tools to assist viewers in making informed choices as to what they wish to watch or consider appropriate for those in their families to watch. Consequently, the broadcaster’s presentation of the viewer advisories following each commercial break in audio format only and without reference to the actual content was “insufficient to address the full responsibility of the broadcaster in providing fair warning to its potential viewers.”

Finally, the Panel found the PG rating inappropriate for the film in question. In the Panel’s view, the 14+ classification which provides that the program “might include scenes of nudity and/or sexual activity within the context of narrative or theme” is more apt. Moreover, by failing to show the classification icon at the beginning of the second hour of the film, the Panel finds the broadcaster in breach of clause 4 of the Violence Code.

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 430 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 World Wide Web at www.cbsc.ca. For more information, please contact the National Chair of the CBSC, Ron Cohen, at (###) ###-####.