CITY-TV in Breach of Broadcast Standards respecting Violence on Television

Ottawa, June 2, 1998 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning the broadcast on CITY-TV of an episode of Hard Copy, a daily American public affairs program.

On CITY-TV’s November 11, 1996 broadcast of the show, at 7 pm, Hard Copy included the story of a nanny who had allegedly abused the child with whose care she had been entrusted. A video evidencing the abuse was shown by Hard Copy first as a “teaser” for the story at the beginning of the program and then, in whole or in part, an additional 9 times during the segment, which lasted only a little over 3 minutes. A viewer complained that CITY-TV should not have shown “a real-life violent attach on an undefended 2 year old during prime time programming” and that repeatedly playing the scene amounted to child pornography.

In dealing with the contention that the violent video should not have been shown at all, the Council found that the video footage contained in the Hard Copy report was integral to the abusive nanny story. Moreover, the Council found that the broadcaster had exercised appropriate discretion and editorial judgment, as required by the Violence Code in regard to news and public affairs programming, in allowing the video to be shown. The Council noted that the reporting of child abuse, just like the reporting of other crimes and issues of general concern, is in the public interest and broadcasters should not be reluctant to deal with this and other controversial subjects for fear that the simple broaching of them may result in a breach of broadcast standards.

While the Council did not find that the content of the video segment was such that it should not have been shown at all, it did find that the repetition of the video segment throughout the report was disproportionate to its relevance in presenting the story. The Council noted that no new information was conveyed in the repetition of the video and no new perspective was provided to the story by the repeated use of the disturbing pictures generated by the hidden surveillance camera. Moreover, the cumulative effect of the excessive repetition of the video was to distort and sensationalize the story. Accordingly, the Council concluded that the repetition of the violent video constituted a breach of provisions of both the Violence Code and of the Radio Television News Directors’ Association Code of (Journalistic) Ethics.

Finally, the Council also found that, by failing to warn viewers in advance of the upcoming violence scenes, CITY-TV did not meet broadcast standards with respect to viewer advisories. The Council was of the view that the subject of child abuse is a “delicate subject matter” requiring the use of viewer advisories when dealt with in early viewing hours.

The CBSC is the self-regulatory body created by private broadcasters to respond to complaints and administer industry standards on ethics, journalistic practices, gender portrayal and television violence. Nearly 400 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 (###) ###-####.