Complainant’s View of Seinfeld Episode as Sexist Not Upheld by Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, June 25, 1998 -- The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning an episode of Seinfeld which aired on CIII-TV (Global Television Network) on December 19, 1996. The episode in question contained a subplot in which Elaine, one of the regular Seinfeld characters, dates a man who has been stabbed by an ex-girlfriend. She decides to continue to date this man despite friendly advice to the contrary, finding it exciting to be dating a man who is “stabworthy”. The subplot ends with an allusion to Elaine’s beating of this man in a restaurant. A viewer complained that this male-directed violence was “treated as a laughing matter”and that, had the genders been reversed, the public reaction to the episode would have been different. The complainant added: “Global has run ads on domestic violence, portraying victims as always women and perpetrators as always men. I object to the sexist, double standard for relationship violence.” The Ontario Regional Council disagreed:

If anything, this particular episode of Seinfeld should be seen by him as helping to redress the alleged imbalance resulting from Global’s playing of PSAs depicting men as the prime perpetrators of violence in relationships. In any event, the program could even arguably have contained its own internal “balance” in the treatment of men and women, since both men and women had been subjected to ridicule in the course of the episode.

The Ontario Regional Council did not find that the program violated either the broadcasters’ Code of Ethics or the TV Violence Code. In its view, the scenario was based on a “nearly ridiculous event” which treats the situation as a laughing matter, not the actual violence which is stated to have occurred. The Council also noted that “by dealing with the stabbings as past events not shown in the episode and as not life-threatening, the writers were clearly avoiding any glamorization of such actions.”

In its decision, the Council also noted that the broadcaster’s response to the complaint had been “‘on the edge’ of not fulfilling the obligation of providing a full and fair response to the issues raised by the complainant.” The Council stated that

...the station’s reply should reflect its own review of the challenged program in light of the concerns of the complainant and explain in a clear and direct fashion why the program does not violate any of the industry Codes and standards to which the station has agreed to adhere. At the very least, it ought to be responsive to the concerns of the complainant.

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. More than 430 radio and television stations and specialty services from across Canada are members of the Council.

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