Drama Showing Injuries Not Necessarily “Adults Only”, But Advisories Still Helpful, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, November 17, 2010 - The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning an episode of the American medical drama Trauma broadcast on CITY-TV on October 19, 2009. The drama, about paramedics in San Francisco, contained a number of scenes showing accidents and injuries. The CBSC found that, while viewer advisories would have been helpful to audiences, the program was not so violent or gory as to qualify it as an “adults only” program or to require viewer advisories when broadcast in a post-9:00 pm time slot.

The episode of Trauma examined by the CBSC was entitled “Stuck” and contained scenes of accidents and injuries, including such bizarre circumstances as a man impaling himself on a metal rebar at a construction site, the surgical procedure to remove the pole, and a construction worker severing his hand in a piece of industrial equipment. CITY-TV aired the episode at 9:00 pm with a 14+ rating and no viewer advisories.

A viewer complained about the lack of viewer advisories, stating that viewers should be forewarned about any form of grievous bodily harm. The broadcaster argued that physical trauma was inherent to the series and that no scene contained any images that could be considered “intended exclusively for adult audiences.”

The CBSC’s Ontario Regional Panel examined the complaint under the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Violence Code and agreed that the incidents depicted on the program were not intended exclusively for adults for the following reasons:

[T]he Panel acknowledges that there are some graphic incidents, but they are all, of course, accidental occurrences rather than purposeful, graphic but not in the foregoing sense violent. It is disturbing but so are many surgical operations to the non-medically-trained viewer. Fear and suspense of impending violence are absent, and most of the on-screen graphic content reflects accidental and medical occurrences, which is quite contrary to the substance of programs about criminal violence. Moreover, as is not always the case, the title of the program suggests the type of content that may be anticipated by the audience.

With respect to viewer advisories on programs broadcast after 9:00 pm, the Panel

believes that it would be helpful to audiences if the broadcaster were to include a viewer advisory on future episodes of programs such as Trauma, whose content is not suitable to children. Whatever the hour of the broadcast, it is understandable that the theme of Article 5.0 [of the CAB Violence Code] is that there may be content that is not suitable for children and that, consequently, merits helpful advisories. This is just such a case and, despite the absence of a codified requirement for such a warning, it would clearly be helpful to audiences to have information that helps them to select programming suitable for their families. That ultimately is a choice reserved to the broadcaster.

Canada’s private broadcasters have themselves created industry standards in the form of Codes on ethics, equitable portrayal, television violence and journalistic independence 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 and the pay television Codes, as well as the Code dealing with journalistic ethics created by the RTNDA – Association of Electronic Journalists in 1970. More than 750 radio stations, satellite radio services, 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 CBSC’s website at www.cbsc.ca. For more information, please contact the CBSC National Chair, Mme Andrée Noël CBSC Executive Director, John MacNab