Failure to Provide Viewer Advisories in Premiere Presentation of The Dark Angel Constitutes a Breach of Broadcast Standards

Ottawa, August 31, 2001 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning CFCF-TV (Montreal)’s broadcast of the premiere episode of The Dark Angel. The television series about a young woman created as part of a new breed of genetically-engineered “super humans” had originally been scheduled to air from 8:00 - 10:00 p.m. but the station decided to “bump” it down to 7:00 - 9:00 p.m. due to the last minute scheduling of the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Farewell Show by the CTV network from 9:00-11:00 p.m. A viewer complained that the type of language in the program “seems entirely inappropriate for such an hour, perhaps at any hour on a network which broadcasts over the public airwaves.” The Quebec Regional Panel considered the complaint under the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Violence Code with respect to scheduling (Clause 3) and the use of viewer advisories (Clause 5).

The Panel began by considering whether the type of language in The Dark Angel could be characterized as “intended for adult audiences”, the criterion which triggers the application of the Watershed provision of the Violence Code. The Panel concluded that

While the language in The Dark Angel may not be entirely appropriate, and is not to be condoned, it is neither profane nor obscene. The expressions “damn ass”, “kick ass” or “bitch” are used throughout the program in such a way as to emphasize the positive qualities of the persons to whom they refer. On the one occasion that the use of the word “bitch” can be presumed to have been intended to have a derogatory meaning, it is used by a despicable character to insult the heroine of the program, thus a gesture without significant negative impact. In any event, the Quebec Panel does not consider that the language used amounts to programming intended for adult audiences. Consequently, the broadcaster is entitled to air the program in an early evening timeslot.

Although the Panel found that The Dark Angel did not contain language characteristic of programming “intended for adult audiences”, the Panel did conclude that it contained material which was not suitable for children. While such programming can be broadcast in the early evening, doing so necessitates the use of viewer advisories.

It goes without saying that viewer advisories need only attach to programming that can, according to the broadcaster Codes, be aired. Their purpose is to alert the audience to the content of programming which, although acceptable, may offend certain viewers.

The Panel found that “by failing to provide viewer advisories at any time during the early evening broadcast of The Dark Angel, CFCF-12 ha[d] breached the provisions of Clause 5.2 of the Violence Code with respect to the use of viewer advisories.”

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 470 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 . For more information, please contact the National Chair of the CBSC, Ron Cohen, at (###) ###-####.