Ottawa, January 19, 2011 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning two episodes of South Park broadcast on the Comedy Network in March and April 2010. Both episodes were broadcast at 5:30 pm Eastern Time. The CBSC found that both episodes contained material that was intended exclusively for adult audiences and so should only have been broadcast after the Watershed hour of 9:00 pm.
South Park is an animated program for adults that centres on the lives of three elementary school children who live in the fictional town of South Park, Colorado. The series has been on the air since 1997 and is widely known for its irreverent, dark and surreal humour that lampoons a range of topics, particularly those reflecting American culture, religion and celebrities. The Panel clearly appreciated the societal satirical purpose of the program; it had no difficulty whatsoever with the nature of South Park. The Panel spoke to relevance and importance of that issue:
The Panel is entirely conscious of, and respects, the validity and relevance of the social commentary that the series generally represents. The current decision is rendered with that in mind, and with the specific relevance of that principle to the two challenged episodes, but the issues for the Panel relate to other matters, focussing principally on the method and scheduling of the expression of that social satirical sentiment.
One episode reviewed by the CBSC contained numerous instances of coarse language, such as “ass”, “asshole” and “dick”, although “shit” and the f-word were muted. It also contained a scene of implied sexual intercourse between two men. The other episode contained scenes of violence, namely, a woman attempting suicide with a rifle and then appearing throughout the rest of the episode with the top portion of her face missing and the lower part of surrounded by jagged, bloody tissue. The theme of the second episode was how North American society seeks to “destroy” young celebrities and the woman dies at the end of the episode due to public scrutiny.
The CBSC received complaints from two different individuals about these episodes. Both were concerned that the content was too “adult” to be aired at 5:30 pm. The Comedy Network argued that the episodes were rated 14+, carried viewer advisories and that other mature programs are also aired during the day. The CBSC’s National Specialty Services Panel examined the complaints under the relevant provisions of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics and Violence Code.
The Panel concluded that the repetitive coarse language in the first episode meant it should only have aired after 9:00 pm, but that the one sex scene was suggestive rather than explicit so did not require that same scheduling consideration. Of the repeated coarse language in the first episode, the Panel said:
Even if the Panel might not have sanctioned one or a very small number of instances of some of the foregoing terms, the Panel finds their cumulative usage extremely problematic [requiring] broadcast after the start of the Watershed at 9:00 pm.
The Panel also found that the violent content of the second episode required a post-9:00 pm time slot. With respect to that episode, the Panel stated that it was
entirely conscious of, and respects, the validity and relevance of the social commentary that the episode is making regarding the fascination with celebrity, the thoughtlessness regarding their pursuit, and the potential tragic effects of the harassing of such icons. The Panel’s concern is not with that socio-satirical programming purpose; it is rather with the hour at which the broadcaster has chosen to convey the message.
The Panel also found a Code violation for the Comedy Network’s failure to mention sexual content and violence in its viewer advisories (they only mentioned mature humour and language). It also noted that the violent episode was in fact rated 18+ (as was appropriate) despite the fact that Comedy Network claimed to have rated it 14+.
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. Nearly 760 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