Canadian Broadcast Standards Council Rules on Two World Wrestling Federation Broadcasts

Ottawa, April 10, 2001 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released two separate decisions relating to TSN’s broadcast of World Wrestling Federation (WWF) broadcasts, one with respect to WWF Monday Night Raw and one relating to WWF Raw is War.

In the case of WWF Monday Night Raw, a viewer complained about the “sick and obscene” content of the program, in which a wrestling manager named Mae, whose apparent age would not have suggested that she might even be pregnant, “gave birth” to a hand. With respect to the Raw is War episode in question, a viewer complained to TSN about certain specific aspects of the show which he described as “vulgar, sleazy, sexist and violent.”

The National Specialty Services Panel considered both programs under the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Sex-Role Portrayal Code, as well as the CAB Violence Code.

A Preliminary Matter: Wrestling as Sport?

While the Panel clearly understood the entertainment component in the WWF programming, it found that WWF wrestling, however unorthodox, was sport for the purpose of the application of the provisions of the CAB Violence Code. In its Monday Night Raw decision, the Panel stated:

Some may raise the question of the nature of this type of wrestling, arguing that it is rather entertainment than sport. While there is no doubt that it does not partake of the nature of Greco-Roman wrestling or even freestyle wrestling which audiences have been accustomed to watch as a part of, say, the Olympic Games or college sports or elsewhere, the National Panel has no doubt about its nature. It is sport. In the first place, that it may be entertainment does not exclude the possibility that it is also sport. Not many in the business of broadcasting would argue that, at the end of the day, they do not wish all of their programming to entertain that portion of the audience at which it is directed. That the rules have been modified from traditional collegiate or Olympic wrestling does not disqualify it from being considered as a form of sport. Nor is it an argument against wrestling being a sport that some part of the match has been scripted (as TSN advises it has). After all, from the audience’s point of view, it appears to be a contest. They do not know the outcome. While they may watch the program in whole or in part for the shenanigans, the action in the ring involves athletics, competition (however unorthodox) and a winner and loser.

Sex-Role Portrayal Issues

In Monday Night Raw, the Panel concluded that the episode “[did] not demean or degrade women or even Mae in particular”. In the Panel’s view, “[i]t is clear that the situation in which an older woman is in the wrestling ring in the first place, gives birth at all in the second and has as her progeny a hand is far-fetched, to say the very least; however, the fact that the segment is absurd does not render it exploitative.”

In its Raw is War decision, however, the Panel concluded that the broadcaster had made references to women that were demeaning and degrading and in violation of the Code. In the Panel’s view, the use of such language as “a two-dollar walking slut” in reference to a female character, “that little horny she-devil, Terry”, in reference to another, and “stop being a filthy, dirty, disgusting, brutal, skanky, bottom-feeding, trashbag ho” constituted a breach of Article 4 of that Code.

The Limits of the Sanctioned Activity of the Sport

The Panel also considered the application of Article 10.1 of the Violence Code, which prohibits the promotion or exploitation of violent action which is outside the sanctioned activity of the sport. In its Raw is War decision, that Panel held that

[w]hile freestyle wrestling may permit rougher tactics than traditional Greco-Roman style wrestling, the Panel does not consider that this Code provision anticipates the use of dangerous objects, in effect, weapons not customarily in use for the purpose of either style of wrestling. Whether this is or is not acceptable at actual ringside is not the concern of the CBSC, which deals only with the broadcast aspects of the wrestling contests. In this respect, the Panel has no hesitation in concluding that, in its airing of WWF Raw is War, the broadcaster is promoting or glamorizing the use of dangerous objects or weapons in wrestling, something which falls outside of the allowable or sanctioned extent of the sport in violation of the provisions of Article 10.1 of the CAB Violence Code.

Scheduling

In its Monday Night Raw decision, the Panel did not find the pre-Watershed scheduling of the episode at 8:00 p.m. in Alberta in breach of the Violence Code, stating that there was “no component of the story which [was] at all exclusively adult-oriented”, which “alone is the criterion which determines the need for broadcast after the Watershed.” This was not at all an issue in the Raw Is War decision, which was broadcast in a post-Watershed environment in Vancouver, from which city the complainant wrote.

Viewer Advisories

Finally, the Panel found that TSN’s failure to provide viewer advisories coming out of every commercial break during the first hour of Raw is War was in breach of Article 5.1 of the Violence Code. Quoting an earlier CBSC decision, the Panel said:

The rationale underlying the requirement of viewer advisories is found in the background section of the Code. Therein it is stated that “... creative freedom carries with it the responsibility of ensuring ... that viewers have adequate information about program content to make informed viewing choices based on their personal tastes and standards.” The repetition of viewer advisories in the first hour serves as a second chance for viewers to receive important information concerning the program they are considering watching. The Code takes into account that many viewers make their viewing choices in the first few minutes of a program, which at times leads viewers to miss an initial viewer advisory.

Canada’s private broadcasters have created industry standards in the form of Codes dealing with gender portrayal, violence and ethical issues such as human rights by which they expect the members of their profession will abide. They have also established the CBSC, the self-regulatory body responsible for the administration of those professional Codes, as well as the Radio and Television News Directors Code dealing with journalistic practices. More than 460 Canadian radio and television stations and specialty services are members of the Council.

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All CBSC Codes, decisions, Annual Reports, relevant documents, members, links to members’ and other web sites, and useful information relating to the Council are available at www.cbsc.ca. For more information, contact Ron Cohen, the National Chair, at (###) ###-####.