Dramatic Film about Life of Christ Was Not Discriminatory under Broadcast Codes, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, February 13, 1997 -- The B.C. Regional Council of the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning the film, The Last Temptation of Christ, aired on BCTV.

The film, a speculation on the life of Christ, was aired by BCTV at 1:30 a.m. The broadcast was preceded by an oral advisory indicating that the film was thought-provoking and controversial. The opening was followed immediately by an advisory by the filmmakers, indicating that the film was fictional, and not based on the Gospels. A BCTV viewer complained about the film, questioning "how a TV station can air a disgusting piece of religious hate material like Last Temptation of Christ, considering we have Hate Laws, a Charter of Rights, and a Human Rights Council. They should be sued, and made to apologize publicly for the affront." In its reply, BCTV suggested that the television medium enabled expression of differing opinions. In airing the film at a late hour, BCTV reasoned, the mainly-adult audience would be able to accept or reject the concepts and principles expressed by the filmmakers. BCTV continued with quotes from film critics Roger Ebert and Leonard Maltin. Both mentioned the film's thought-provoking, but sincere, exploration of the nature of faith. The viewer, unsatisfied with BCTV's reply, asked the CBSC's B.C. Regional Council to consider the matter. He added that he wanted the film removed from television, theatres and video stores.

In its decision (attached), the Regional Council elaborated on the overall societal principle of freedom of expression and its balance with the complainant's particular faith. It noted, "the Council does consider that, as important as the principle of freedom of expression may be, there are competing social values in Canada which it is duty bound to apply in the exercise of its mandate. One of these is the application of the principle that abusive or discriminatory material or comment based on race or religion will not be shielded under the protective umbrella of freedom of expression. The difficult matter to resolve in each case where such conflict presents itself if whether the program in question amounts to the broadcast of abusive or discriminatory material or comment. Furthermore, this measurement must be made in the overall societal context, not in the narrow context of the sensibilities of individuals." The Council found that, the film was thoughtful and reasoned, not negative toward Christians or Christianity. Thus, the Regional Council decided that BCTV did not breach the broadcasting industry's Code of Ethics provisions regarding abusive or discriminatory material or comment.

In addition to administering a Code of Ethics, the CBSC administers codes on journalistic practices, television violence, and gender portrayal. Nearly 400 private sector radio and television stations, members of the CBSC, adhere to these codes.

– 30 –