ARCHIVED -  Notice of Public Hearing CRTC 1995-5

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Notice of Public Hearing

Ottawa, 3 April 1995
Notice of Public Hearing CRTC 1995-5
A Review of the Commission's Approach to Violence in Television Programming
The Commission hereby announces that it will hold a public hearing, commencing 11 October 1995, at the Conference Centre, Phase IV, 140 Promenade du Portage, Hull, Quebec to seek comment on questions and approaches relating to the issue of violence in television programming.
The Commission will also hold regional consultations prior to the hearing date. Details of these consultations will be announced in July following the comment period.
In response to public concerns expressed about violence on television, the Commission released two studies on the subject in 1992.
Nearly a year later, in February 1993, the House of Commons referred a motion to the Standing Committee on Communications and Culture calling for a full review of the media´s portrayal of violence. After an extensive study of the issue, the Committee released its report in June 1993. The report, "Television Violence: Fraying Our Social Fabric", included 27 recommendations to the government and the Commission. Among the latter, the Committee referred to an overall strategy for addressing violent programming on television and recommended the following graduated approach:
The CRTC should begin by immediately making a few key regulations to complement the self-regulatory efforts of the industry and to symbolize the need for programming reform and, in the event that industry self-regulation proves ineffective, the Commission should then move to produce stricter regulations, giving due consideration to the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The Committee also recommended that the Commission determine the type of classification system appropriate for Canadian television programs and design the framework for it, as well as direct broadcasters and cable companies to develop industry codes.
a)The Commission's Objectives
The main objective of the Commission's approach to television violence has been to protect children from its harmful effects, while preserving freedom of expression. To accomplish this, the Commission has adopted a cooperative strategy. Specifically, it has relied on an industry self-regulatory approach and has encouraged the involvement of all players, including the broadcasting industry, parents, teachers and the medical community, to change attitudes through public awareness and media literacy programs. It has also enlisted the cooperation of the broadcasting industry to develop strong, credible codes. In addition, the Commission has focused on providing the public with better information through program classification and providing viewers with more control through the development of technology.
b)Industry Efforts
Action Group on Violence on Television:
In February 1993, during a conference dealing with television violence sponsored by the C.M. Hincks Institute, the National Action Group was formed to further address the issue. The group, which was later renamed the Action Group on Violence on Television (AGVOT), represents all components of the broadcasting industry.
In September 1993, AGVOT adopted its General Statement of Principles concerning the depiction of violence in television programming. These principles include: a prohibition against the depiction of gratuitous violence; the responsibility that broadcasters have, in scheduling programs, to be sensitive to the concerns for children; and a commitment to provide viewers with adequate information about the subject matter of programs offered. They also include a commitment that each member of the Canadian broadcasting industry will adopt a code dealing with violence in television programming, based on the General Statement of Principles.
AGVOT also announced that it had established a number of sub-committees to develop a classification system, initiate educational programs, maintain liaison with parent and teacher groups and devise a communications strategy.
Industry Codes on Violence:
Following consultations with various public interest groups, the Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB) revised its Voluntary Code Regarding Violence in Television Programming. As announced in Public Notice CRTC 1993-149, the Commission accepted the code in October 1993. Subsequently, in December 1994, the Commission accepted The Pay Television and Pay-Per-View Programming Code Regarding Violence which had been submitted by the pay and pay-per-view licensees (Public Notice CRTC 1994-155). In the case of each code, however, the Commission´s acceptance remains conditional upon the inclusion of a satisfactory system of program classification, once such a system is developed.
Each of the CAB and the pay and pay-per-view codes on violence includes a commitment not to air programming that contains gratuitous violence or sanctions, promotes or glamorizes violence. In addition, they contain provisions that deal specifically with children´s programming and designate a "watershed hour" of 9:00 p.m. before which scenes of violence intended for adults must not be broadcast by conventional stations, networks and pay licensees. The codes also stipulate that viewer advisories must appear in programming which contains scenes of violence intended for adult audiences.
As noted above, the Commission's acceptance of these codes was conditional upon the development, and inclusion in the codes, of a satisfactory system of program classification. Such a classification system would be used by broadcasters to determine a suitable time for scheduling programs containing violence. It could also serve as a tool for parents in deciding what television programs their families should not watch.
At the time of licence renewal or upon issuance of new licences, the Commission requires the licensees of conventional stations, networks and specialty services to comply with the CAB code as a condition of licence. The Commission also requires pay and pay-per-view services to adhere to The Pay Television and Pay-Per-View Programming Code Regarding Violence as a condition of licence. The Commission notes that specialty services and the CBC have also submitted their own proposed violence codes. However, these have not yet been reviewed or accepted by the Commission.
The Commission generally suspends the application of this condition of licence for television licensees who are members in good standing of the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC). The CBSC is a self-regulatory body established to administer specific codes of broadcast conduct and provide a means of recourse to the public in the event of disputes regarding the application of these standards. In the case of broadcasters with a suspended condition of licence, the CBSC oversees the application of the CAB code on violence. In all cases, however, any interested party who is not satisfied with a CBSC decision may ask the Commission to examine the matter.
The Canadian Cable Television Association (CCTA) submitted a proposed code and action plan on violence on behalf of the cable industry in the fall of 1994. The code has not yet been accepted by the Commission.
c)Other Initiatives
There have been several other significant developments and initiatives related to the issue of
television violence.
One example is the formation of the Coalition for Responsible Television, which consists of a number of organizations and individuals concerned about the effects of television violence. The Coalition was formed following a working session of anti-violence groups hosted by the Commission in January 1994. Recently, the Coalition announced the introduction of a 1-900 telephone number for people to register complaints about violence in specific programs.
For their part, the television and cable industries have also undertaken public awareness campaigns that address the issue of violence. Last year, the CAB, in association with the Department of Canadian Heritage, launched a public service announcement campaign "Speak Out Against Violence" to sensitize the public to the consequences of societal violence. Similarly, the CCTA initiated a "Stop the Silence on Violence" campaign in 1993 which focuses on non-violent viewing alternatives available to subscribers, and on proactive ways of dealing with violence in society.
d)Technological Developments
The cable television industry is also involved in the development and implementation of technologies designed to give subscribers control over what programs may be viewed on their television sets.
One example is "V-You Control Technology", or the "v-chip", developed by Professor Tim Collings at Simon Fraser University. The technology enables violence ratings to be embedded in the video signal of a program. A suitably-equipped television set allows viewers to choose a threshold level of violence that they deem appropriate for their families. The technology ensures that any program with a rating above the level selected does not appear on-screen. Shaw Communications and SuperChannel are currently testing v-chip technology in approximately 100 households in Edmonton.
Other cable companies, such as Vidéotron and Cable Regina, are offering parental control devices that permit parents to block out specific channels or programs. Pay-television decoders currently in use are also equipped with parental control capabilities. However, widespread use of the v-chip, or similar blocking technology, will be dependent upon programs being rated or classified with respect to their level of violent content.
The Commission's long-term approach to television violence is guided by the following principles:
*that a balance should be struck between protecting children from the effects of television violence and respecting freedom of expression;
*that the approach should continue to draw upon cooperation from, and voluntary action by, the broadcasting industry;
*that there should be a level playing field between all sectors of the broadcasting industry.
The Commission is of the view that in order to achieve its long-term objectives, it is essential to give individuals the tools to make informed programming choices for themselves and for their families.
One way of doing this is through the development of a classification system to rate programming according to the amount and nature of violent content. A classification system could also be used by broadcasters to make decisions about the appropriate scheduling of programming. As noted above, AGVOT has committed to develop a classification system for the broadcasting industry.
One way of putting this classification information in the hands of viewers is through the use of technology such as the v-chip or other parental control devices. The classification, or rating, of a program would be encoded into the video signal. Viewers could then select the level of ratings they wish to receive for themselves or their families.
There are a number of questions that arise with respect to the development and use of a classification system. For example:
*How would the Commission and the industry ensure that programming is rated?
*Who would be responsible for rating programs -- the individual licensee or a central body established for that purpose? If the latter, how should it be established and funded?
*Should programs be classified for the entire broadcast day or only during certain times of the day, such as prime time?
*Who would be responsible for the arbitration of disputes regarding the rating given to a program?
*What methods would be used to classify violence in programs that may air on foreign services distributed by cable? Unless a North American classification system is developed, the classification of programs will likely be limited to Canadian-produced programs and foreign programs for which Canadian rights have been purchased.
*What would be the most suitable and "user-friendly" method of ensuring that information on the classification, or rating, of programs is put in the hands of viewers?
*Would guidelines setting out standards for the depiction of television violence, such as a ban on gratuitous violence and "watershed hours" for scheduling, be desirable once a system is in place which provides viewers with sufficient information on violent content to make programming choices?
*Is it practicable to rate programs available on an on-demand basis from Canadian and foreign-situated video servers?
a)The Current Problem
In November 1994, the Ontario Regional Council of the CBSC issued a decision that the children´s program "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers" (Power Rangers) contravened the CAB Voluntary Code Regarding Violence in Television Programming. The decision was the result of two complaints received in the spring of 1994 regarding the airing of Power Rangers on CIII-TV (Global Communications Ltd.). Because the complaints referred to the program series rather than to specific episodes, the Council reviewed ten episodes of the program in the course of reaching its
The Council unanimously decided that the program contravened several articles of the violence code. In particular, it agreed that the program depicted excessive violence and that the scenes of violence were not essential to the plot of the program or to character development. Moreover, the program offered no alternative to violence in order to resolve conflict. The Council concluded that Power Rangers glossed over the consequences of violence and, in this way, invited young viewers to imitate the martial arts techniques depicted in the program.
Subsequently, CIII-TV requested a modified version of the program from its producer for the purpose of addressing the concerns set out in the CBSC decision. It is now airing this modified version of the Power Rangers. Some other Canadian broadcasters that were airing Power Rangers, including a specialty service, dropped the program from their schedules.
The CAB and the CBSC have expressed concern that while individual Canadian broadcast licensees are generally subject to a code which, among other restrictions, prohibits the broadcast of certain types of violent programming, there is no code or regulatory system in place that deals with violent programming on foreign services distributed by cable. The Commission also notes that, under current CBSC procedures, a CBSC decision does not obligate other CBSC members, to whom the complaint was not directed, to remove the program from their line-ups or, in the case of a program with scenes of violence intended for adult audiences, to broadcast the program after 9:00 p.m. As a result, limitations on the broadcast of television violence are not being applied equally across the system. Hence, Canadian children can still view violent programming on foreign services distributed on cable and, in some cases, on Canadian broadcast services, and thus do not have full protection from the harmful effects of television violence.
The CBSC´s decision on Power Rangers states:
It is unreasonable to expect that Canadian children can be accorded protection against violent programming by a CBSC ruling against a series delivered on one channel which then remains available a push-button away on the same set. It is equally unreasonable to expect that conventional broadcasters adhering to their Code should be competitively disadvantaged vis-à-vis a specialty service delivered on extended basic cable service and a foreign-originating signal accessible to everyone with basic cable service.
The Commission considers that it would benefit from public input on this issue. Accordingly, the Commission is seeking comment on an appropriate strategy to deal with the problem of the unequal application of restrictions on television violence across the broadcasting system, in particular, between Canadian broadcasters and foreign services distributed via cable.
b)One Approach to Deal With Foreign Programming Distributed by Cable
One possible approach to address concerns regarding violence in foreign programming distributed by cable would be to require cable licensees to curtail any program the Commission has determined to contravene an approved code on violence.
The Commission handles complaints regarding violent programming aired by specialty and pay-television licensees, as well as conventional broadcasters that are not members of the CBSC. In the case of a decision taken by the CRTC that a program contravenes an applicable code on violence, the Commission could issue a public notice requiring cable undertakings to curtail the program in question. In order to ensure that the same rules are applied across the broadcasting system, the order would also be applicable to other distribution undertakings, such as direct-to-home (DTH) satellite services or multi-point distribution systems (MDS).
As noted earlier, the CBSC generally oversees the application of the CAB code on violence for its members. In the case of a decision taken by the Council that a program contravenes the CAB code on violence, the CBSC would be asked to forward its decision to the Commission. Following this, any licensee that is not in agreement with the decision would have 30 days in which to submit its position to the Commission. Upon receipt of a broadcaster´s disagreement with a CBSC decision, the Commission would notify the CBSC and the original complainant and invite their comments. The Commission would then review the decision taking into account the various points of view submitted.
Assuming that no disagreements are filed, or that the Commission upholds the CBSC decision in the case of a disagreement, the Commission would then issue a public notice requiring distribution undertakings to curtail the program in question.
The Commission notes that, as an alternative to curtailing a program, distribution undertakings could have the option of encrypting and scrambling the program in question. Cable operators could then provide subscribers who wished to receive such programming with the equipment to decode the scrambled signal. The Commission considers that this would address the objective of protecting children from the harmful effects of television violence while providing parents with the tools to make programming choices.
One means of implementing this approach would be to amend the Cable Television Regulations, 1986 to include a section prohibiting licensees from distributing any program that the Commission identifies as contravening an approved violence code. Possible wording for such a regulation is proposed in the appendix to this notice; the Commission welcomes comments and suggestions regarding its proposal. The Commission notes that such a prohibition would be in effect where the cable licensee, with reasonable effort in advance of distribution, could have obtained information through, for example, television listings, that the program would be contained in a service that it distributes. A requirement to curtail or encode would apply equally, regardless of whether the program was distributed as part of a Canadian or a foreign signal. The Commission also notes that the suggested amendment would enable it to revoke any such prohibition should a program be modified so as to no longer contravene an approved violence code.
The Commission notes that the approach described above would not prevent cable systems from distributing programming that may contravene an approved code on violence, but for which no ruling exists. Efforts by the cable industry to develop parental control devices and to work with foreign programming suppliers in addressing the issue of television violence may also be valuable in addressing the issue of violence in programming delivered on foreign programming services.
On another matter, the Commission notes that, because cable licensees have editorial control over the programming that they originate, they could reasonably be expected to apply a violence code, based on the same principles as the CAB´s code, to community channel programming and special programming services that they originate, for example, ethnic services and barker channels.
c)Programming Undertakings
As noted earlier, broadcasters that are members of the CBSC generally operate under a "suspensive" condition of licence. That is, the CBSC administers the CAB code on violence for these broadcasters. Currently, a ruling by the Council that a program contravenes the code does not, however, obligate other CBSC members to whom the complaint was not directed, to remove the program from their line-ups or, in the case of a program with scenes of violence intended for adult audiences, to broadcast the program after 9:00 p.m.
In order to ensure that a prohibition against the distribution of a specific program is applied to all of the industry, modifications to the current requirements for broadcasters may be required. For example, it may be appropriate for the CAB to amend its code on violence to stipulate that, in the case of a determination that a program contravenes the code, all licensees will discontinue the broadcast of that program. It may also be appropriate for the CBSC to amend its rules of procedure to ensure that such a determination is respected by all its members.
The Commission notes that other modifications to the CBSC´s rules of procedure may be appropriate in order that it may effectively deal with future complaints on violence, especially those regarding program series.
The Commission invites input on the suggested approaches outlined above to deal with violence on television. Submissions may address, but need not be restricted to, the questions and approaches set out in this notice. Alternative suggestions regarding action that should be taken by the Commission, or by various industry players, in order to address the issue are also welcome.
Submissions must be filed in hard copy form. Parties are encouraged to also provide the Commission with a copy of all text material contained in their submissions on IBM-compatible floppy diskettes, either in the WordPerfect 5.1 or Microsoft Word 6.0 format or as an ASCII text file. The Commission also requests that, where applicable, copies of spread sheets be provided as Lotus WK1 or Microsoft Excel files. Electronic copies of graphs and diagrams should be provided in the default format of the software used to create them.
Comments should be addressed to the Secretary General, CRTC, Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0N2, and must be received by the CRTC on or before Thursday, 29 June 1995. All comments will be considered by the Commission, and will form part of the public record of the proceeding without further notice.
Interested parties wishing to appear at the public hearing or at a regional consultation are asked to provide written notification to the Commission on or before 29 June 1995. Such parties are invited to first participate in the "written process" of this proceeding.
One may also communicate with the Commission by Fax at (819) 994-0218
Documents are available at the following CRTC offices:
Central Building
Les Terrasses de la Chaudière
1 Promenade du Portage, Room 201
Hull, Quebec K1A 0N2
Tel: (819) 997-2429 - TDD 994-0423
Telecopier 994-0218
Bank of Commerce Building
1809 Barrington Street
Suite 1007
Halifax, Nova Scotia B3J 3K8
Tel: (902) 426-7997 - TDD 426-6997
Telecopier 426-2721
Place Montréal Trust
1800 McGill College Avenue
Suite 1920
Montréal, Quebec H3A 3J6
Tel: (514) 283-6607 - TDD 283-8316
Telecopier 283-3689
Standard Life Centre
121 King Street West
Suite 820
Toronto, Ontario M5H 3T9
Tel: (416) 954-6273 - TDD 954-8420
Telecopier 954-6343
Kensington Building
275 Portage Avenue
Suite 1810
Winnipeg, Manitoba R3B 2B3
Tel: (204) 983-6306 - TDD 983-8274
Telecopier 983-6317
800 Burrard Street
Suite 1380
Vancouver, British Columbia
V6Z 2G7
Tel: (604) 666-2111 - TDD 666-0778
Telecopier 666-8322
Allan J. Darling
Secretary General
Possible Amendment to Cable Television Regulations, 1986
Notwithstanding section 25, a licensee shall curtail or encode its distribution of a program which it is otherwise authorized to distribute when
(i) the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council or the Commission has made a determination finding that program to violate the Canadian Association of Broadcasters Voluntary Code Regarding Violence in Television Programming or any other Commission-approved code regarding violence,
(ii)  the Commission has issued a Public Notice notifying licensees of the requirement to curtail or encode that program pursuant to this section, and has not revoked the said Public Notice, and
(iii) with reasonable effort in advance of distribution, the licensee could have obtained the information that the program would be contained in a service which it is otherwise authorized to distribute.

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