Broadcasters Should Be More Careful in Linking Sex With Crimes in the News Says Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, July 29, 1998 -- The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning Global TV’s report on the controversy surrounding the Criminal Code’s “faint hope clause”. The report was made relevant by the then upcoming early parole hearing of the notorious criminal Clifford Olson whom the reporter stated was “serving a life sentence for the sex slayings of 11 children.” A viewer objected to the use of the words “sex slayings”, stating that the crimes had “little if anything to do with sex” and that the media’s “overly simplistic ‘explanation’ for what these criminals do” misses the point entirely.

The CBSC’s Ontario Regional Council considered the complaint under the Code of Ethics of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB). It noted that the term “sex slayings” was used only once in the two-and- a-half-minute report and concluded that, in general, the news report was “sober and responsible... and full, fair and proper as required by the Code of Ethics.” The Council, however, was not unsympathetic to the complainant’s concerns and found it appropriate to comment on the use of the term “sex” in reporting physical crimes.

... the Council considers that there is an important message in the complaint which rises above the simple technical concern of Code breaches and which was obviously the paramount issue for the complainant. Her concern was related, in a broad sense, to the use of the word "sex" in reports concerning crimes involving rape, murder and other forms of violence against women (which could be extended, presumably, to cover men and children of either gender). The Council members agree with the complainant that there may be a tendency in the media to readily use the word “sex” adjectivally in relation to the reporting of crimes whose nature is not essentially sexual, but which rather involve an abuse of power. The issue for the Council is not a grammatical one; it relates rather to a willingness, even if generally unintentional, to link “sex”, a generally permissible social activity, with physical crimes extending from assault through murder, which are not. The Council considers that broadcasters should be more cautious in their linking of the two.

Canada’s private broadcasters have created industry standards in the form of Codes on ethics, gender portrayal and television violence by which they expect their members will abide. They also created the CBSC, which is the self-regulatory body with the responsibility of administering those Codes, as well as the Code dealing with journalistic practices created by the Radio Television News Directors Association Canada (RTNDA). 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 (###) ###-####.