F-Word Should Not Air before 9:00 pm, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, October 4, 2007 - The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning an interview broadcast at the end of TSN’s coverage of the 2007 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships. In a segment broadcast at 4:52 pm Atlantic Time (3:52 pm Eastern), a Team Canada player used the f-word. The CBSC’s National Specialty Services Panel concluded that the broadcast violated Clause 10 of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics.

On the afternoon of January 5, 2007, TSN broadcast the final game of the World Junior Hockey Championships live from Sweden. The game concluded with the Canadian team winning the gold medal by a score of 4-2 against Russia. Immediately following the game, a TSN reporter interviewed a Canadian player on the ice, as the team was celebrating. During the course of the interview, the player stated “we did a f**king great job”.

The CBSC received a complaint from a viewer who was concerned about the inclusion of the f-word in the daytime broadcast, given that many young people would be watching. TSN explained that, while it does not condone that type of language, the game was broadcast live without tape-delay so it was impossible to anticipate or edit the remark. When they re-broadcast the game later that night, the entire interview was edited out of the broadcast.

The National Specialty Services Panel examined the complaint under Clause 10 of the CAB Code of Ethics, which prohibits the broadcast of extremely coarse language outside the “Watershed” period of 9:00 pm to 6:00 am. The majority of the Panel concluded that the broadcast violated that Code provision. Citing previous CBSC decisions where a similar ruling was made regarding live programming, the Panel made the following observations:

On the one hand, the reaction of Canadian junior hockey star [...] was likely genuine, spontaneous and unpremeditated [...]. On the other hand, the f-word is hardly unknown in the sport of hockey. [...] In the mouth of an excited junior player, inexperienced in dealing with the media, the unintentional use of a coarse word in an interview may be likelier than such a usage on the part of a veteran professional. In any event, at the end of the day, young gold medallists are role models for their younger viewing audiences and broadcasters must simply find a way to avoid the use of such coarse language during audiences’ safe haven. While a tape delay is one solution, broadcasters may also help by reminding inexperienced interviewees (before they go to air) not to use such language. There is no reason to imagine that they would not comply with the practice. The solution is, of course, for the broadcaster to find. The failure to adopt it, especially in circumstances where the use of coarse language, advertent or inadvertent, can be anticipated, will result in a breach of Clause 10 of the CAB Code of Ethics.

A minority of Panel members dissented. They noted that the f-word was uttered only once in the context of a live sporting event. They concluded that “one must weigh [...] the slight cost of a single fleeting expletive against the benefit of natural, spontaneous, unconstrained sports or news broadcasting. They fear that the constraints that will result from the position of the majority in the matter at hand will impose a chill on live broadcasting.”

Canada’s private broadcasters have themselves created industry standards in the form of Codes on ethics, gender portrayal and television violence 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, as well as the Code dealing with journalistic practices first created by the Radio Television News Directors Association of Canada (RTNDA) in 1970. More than 600 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.