Insufficient Viewer Advisories on Sunday Night Sex Show Constitute a Breach of the Codes

Ottawa, March 21, 2001 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning WTN’s 8:00 p.m. (PDT) broadcast of the Sunday Night Sex Show in British Columbia. The program, a call-in show on which the host answers questions and gives advice on matters relating to human sexuality, is broadcast by WTN (Winnipeg) throughout the country via a single feed out of Toronto at 11 p.m. A British Columbia viewer complained that “8:00 in the evening is too early for a show which displays sex toys, vibrators, advice about sex lubricants, diagrams of sexual positions and homosexual sex acts.”

The National Specialty Services Panel considered the complaint under the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Sex Role Portrayal Code and Violence Code. The Panel’s review of the program led it to conclude that, although the program was scheduled appropriately, the broadcaster failed to provide sufficient viewer advisories.

The Panel began by noting that, while “Sue Johanson’s explanations are positive, useful, focussed and helpful, and not salacious, gratuitous, exploitative or even titillating”, the program was “unquestionably directed toward adults.” Despite the show’s pre-Watershed availability in British Columbia, the Panel found that the exception provided in the Violence Code for signals originating in a time zone other than that in which it is received exonerated the broadcaster from a Code breach in this case. In the Panel’s view,

what the broadcaster has chosen to do in this case is to balance all the time zones, as well as anyone could reasonably expect. Rather than just respect the Toronto time zone (and one cannot lose sight of the economic fact that more than 50% of the Canadian population resides in that time zone), WTN has stretched its market by airing the Sunday Night Sex Show at 11 p.m. EST, thus remaining post-Watershed in nine of the ten Provinces, albeit barely viewable time-wise in the Atlantic Region. By choosing that hour for its broadcast of the challenged show, it has also placed itself in a post-dinner environment in the one time zone in the country where it is still pre-Watershed, namely, British Columbia, thus providing an easier opportunity for parents to regulate family viewing than in, say, a 6:00 or 7:00 p.m. local time slot.

In other words, the National Specialty Service Panel does not consider that the broadcaster could have made more sensitive choices regarding the nation as a whole and, indeed, the various time zones within the country, bearing in mind the needs and entitlements of viewers from east coast to west coast. The broadcaster also provided information to viewers in the form of advisories which would enable those who did not wish this show to be a part of their viewing choices to avoid it. Nonetheless, the Panel does recognize the seriousness of the complainant’s concern. It does not, however, appear to the Panel that the Canadian broadcasting system can offer a more manageable and viable alternative than that provided by this broadcaster on this occasion.

The Panel found, however, that the broadcaster’s failure to provide viewer advisories coming out of every commercial break constituted a breach of the Code. In its view, the Panel stated that viewer advisories were particularly important “when the broadcaster knows that a program containing adult content will be shown on a pre-Watershed basis in some parts of the country.”

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 430 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 (###) ###-####.