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Public Notice

Ottawa, 14 March 1996
Public Notice CRTC 1996-36
On 3 April 1995, the Commission issued Notice of Public Hearing CRTC 1995-5 entitled "A Review of the Commission's Approach to Violence in Television Programming". In the notice, the Commission announced its intention to hold a public hearing and a series of regional consultations to seek comment on possible approaches to the issues raised by the presence of violence in television programming.
In the 3 April 1995 Notice of Public Hearing, the Commission stated 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. The Commission notes the strong support expressed both in the written submissions, and in the representations at the public hearing and regional consultations, for the implementation of a meaningful, parent-friendly rating system for television programs, as well as for the introduction of parental control technology, in particular the "V-chip".
The Commission is encouraged by the progress made by the cable industry in testing the V-chip and commends the efforts of Shaw Communications Inc. (Shaw), Rogers Communications Inc. (Rogers) and CF Cable TV Inc. (CF Cable), as well as those broadcasters taking part in the trials. The Commission is also encouraged by undertakings made at the hearing by the Action Group on Violence on Television (AGVOT), the Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB) and cable representatives to continue to work within their industries, as well as with their U.S. counterparts, to establish a television program classification system. The Commission further notes commitments made by the cable industry that affordable V-chip devices will be available to consumers once a rating system is in place.
The Commission agrees with the comments made during the consultations and at the hearing that, in order for a V-chip based rating system to be a truly effective tool for parents, it must be applied to programming on U.S. services distributed in Canada as well as to programming broadcast on Canadian services. The Commission notes in this regard that approximately 25% of viewing of English-language programming in Canada is to U.S. signals.
Recent developments in the United States on the political, industry and academic fronts toward implementing a V-chip based rating system, coupled with strong public support in that country, indicate that differences between American and Canadian efforts in either timing or approach are quickly narrowing. The opportunity now exists for both countries to work together to implement a practical and affordable parental control system to combat TV violence.
The Commission notes the commitments made at the public hearing, in particular by the Canadian cable industry, to work with U.S. counterparts to develop a North American classification system. The Commission is also confident that, even if a North American rating system is not achieved in the near future, the cable industry will work with U.S. border broadcasters and U.S. services delivered by satellite to ensure that their programming is rated in a manner that is compatible with Canadian V-chip technology. The Commission is especially encouraged by the participation of two American broadcasters in the current V-chip trials, and by the willingness of U.S. border broadcasters, as communicated to U.S. trade officials, to participate in a classification system.
In light of these developments and commitments, the Commission is satisfied that, rather than implementing interim measures such as those suggested in Notice of Public Hearing CRTC 1995-5, the industry can move directly to common solutions with the U.S., characterized by a determined and accelerated joint effort to implement a practical and affordable parental control system. It is this strong measure of confidence that forms the basis for the Commission's policy on TV violence.
The main objective of the Commission's approach has been to protect children from the harmful effects of television violence, while preserving freedom of expression for creators and choice for adult viewers. To accomplish this, the Commission has adopted a cooperative strategy, with a reliance on industry self-regulation. The Commission's approach has also been guided by the principle that all elements of the broadcasting system should appropriately contribute to the attainment of the objectives so that Canadian children will be protected from harmful programming regardless of its source.
The Commission has focused its efforts in three specific areas. In particular, it has:
- enlisted the cooperation of the broadcasting industry to develop strong, credible, self-regulatory codes;
- focused on giving individuals the tools to make informed programming choices for themselves and for their families; and
- 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.
In keeping with this approach, and taking into consideration the comments presented during the public process and relevant developments in the area, the Commission announces the following policy on television violence.
1. Providing Tools for Parents
In accordance with commitments set out at the hearing, the launch date for an industry-wide parental control system shall be September 1996. As of that date, licensees of programming undertakings will be responsible for encoding a rating for violence in the programs they broadcast (in the categories set out below), using a system that is compatible with V-chip technology.
For their part, distribution undertakings will be responsible by the same date for making affordable V-chip devices available to subscribers. V-chip technology enables individuals to set a threshold level of violence that they deem to be appropriate, and will ensure that all programming with a rating above this level will not appear on their television screen. The Commission notes the commitment by the Canadian Cable Television Association (CCTA) on behalf of its members to ensure that V-chips are included in digital video compression (DVC) boxes when they are made available to the public and, in the interim, to make the V-chip available in existing analog decoders or converters for approximately $1 per month. The industry has also committed to ensure that appropriate marketing and communications strategies are conducted to inform consumers about the availability of the V-chip and how to use it.
Licensees of cable and other distribution undertakings will also be responsible for ensuring that, as of September 1996, and not later than January 1997, programming on non-Canadian services distributed on their systems is encoded with a meaningful, parent-friendly rating for violence that may be read by the V-chip technology. The Commission notes the CCTA's undertakings at the hearing that the industry will work with U.S. broadcasters to ensure that their programming is rated for Canadian viewers and will ensure V-chip technology is capable of blocking out all unclassified programs. If American programming is not encoded at its point of origin, with a rating system acceptable to the Commission, distribution undertakings will be responsible for developing and implementing alternative methods for ensuring that the programming on the U.S. television signals they distribute is encoded with ratings for violence.
The rating system that is used should be informative and readily understandable to the viewer, and should consist of four to six levels. The Commission is satisfied that the rating system used in the second and current rounds of the Canadian V-chip trials meets these criteria, and provides an objective and useful indicator of program content.
The Commission designates AGVOT to develop an acceptable rating system. The development of such a system should involve input from the public, programmers and distributors, and must be submitted to the Commission for approval prior to the September 1996 implementation date. If AGVOT does not have a satisfactory V-chip decodable classification system approved by that date, the Commission will expect the licensees of programming undertakings to classify programs according to the system employed in the second and current rounds of V-chip trials.
The scope of the classification system should be responsive to the public's concerns while being practical to implement. The Commission expects classifications to be applied, at a minimum, to children's programming (programs intended for children under 12 years of age), drama, "reality-shows" (reality-based dramatic programs), feature films, promotions for any of these programs and advertisements for theatrical releases. In order to ensure the protection of children from the harmful effects of TV violence, regardless of the time at which the programming is scheduled, the programming described above should be encoded with ratings at all times.
The Commission notes the recommendations of the pay licensees and AGVOT that pay television and pay-per-view services should continue to use the ratings of the provincial rating boards for the feature films they broadcast. Similarly, the Commission notes the recommendations of AGVOT and others that, given the familiarity with, and acceptance of, the Régie du cinéma's (the Régie) rating system in Quebec, French-language broadcasters in that province should use that system. In order that the V-chip can be a truly effective tool for parents, the Commission encourages the industry to work toward integrating the rating schemes of the provincial rating boards, including the Régie, into a single system that can be used by all programming undertakings.
Once a classification system is in place, the licensees of individual programming undertakings will be responsible for classifying the programs they broadcast.
2. Media Literacy and Public Awareness
The Commission's view, as echoed by members of the public and by educational organizations, continues to be that long-term public awareness and media literacy programs are paramount to changing attitudes about the acceptability of TV violence and to creating an understanding about the harmful effects of TV violence on children. The Commission also considers that, while industry codes, program classification and consumer-empowering technology will continue to play an essential role in addressing the issue, public awareness and media literacy programs represent most of the solution to TV violence.
The Commission commends the initiatives taken by the CAB, the CCTA, the National Film Board (NFB), the Alliance for Children and Television, and Concerned Children's Advertisers to increase public awareness, as well as efforts made by individual licensees in this regard. It also supports the efforts of the many media literacy organizations and educators who are working to achieve a better understanding by the public of the nature and influence of the media.
The Commission encourages programmers and distributors to deepen their involvement in media literacy and public awareness initiatives, either through their own initiatives or in partnership with other groups. It notes in this regard that it will generally accept funding of third party organizations directly involved in media literacy as a tangible benefit at the time of transfers of ownership or control of broadcasting undertakings.
For its part, the Commission will continue to work with relevant parties, both nationally and internationally, to encourage international cooperation to develop effective solutions to this problem. Such cooperation is especially important for countries such as Canada, where most of the English-language television programming, films and videos viewed is imported.
3. Role of the CBSC
The Commission agrees with the comments at the hearing about the useful-ness of having an organization, such as the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC, the Council), act as a clearinghouse for the exchange of ratings information. The Commission expects AGVOT to inform the Commis-sion prior to the September 1996 launch date as to whether the CBSC will perform this function.
With respect to disputes about ratings, the Commission supports the recommendation that the CBSC act as an arbitrator for any such disputes.
The Commission notes the CAB's remarks that it is prepared to extend membership in the CBSC to other members of the broadcast and distribution industries, as well as the willingness expressed by some parties appearing at the hearing, including the CCTA, to join the Council. The Commission considers that an expansion of the CBSC's membership to other industry players is vital to enhance the Council's effectiveness and therefore expects all distributors, and specifically the CCTA, to become members.
Public Notice CRTC 1991-90, which announced the Commission's support for the objectives of the CBSC stated that the Commission will review the performance of the Council in meeting its objectives. The Commission intends to include in this review potential changes to the role and structure of the Council resulting from an expansion of its membership and the implementation of a national violence rating system. In the meantime, the Commission expects the CBSC to report to it on an ongoing basis, reflecting any changes made to its structure and procedures, and any corresponding revisions made to its bylaws or manual, including those relating to the establishment of a national council.
In the review, the Commission will also consider measures taken by the CBSC, in response to concerns expressed at the hearing and consultations, to improve public awareness of the Council and simplify its complaints process.
4. Dealing with Violence in News Programming
The Commission notes the concern expressed by members of the public about the depiction of violent incidents in early evening newscasts. However, given the importance of freedom of expression in the reporting of news, the Commission will not expect news stories to be rated. The Commission is confident that the Radio-Television News Directors Association's (RTNDA) Code of Ethics, the journalistic guidelines of individual broadcasters and the provisions in the CAB code on violence regarding the reporting of violence within news and public affairs programming will ensure that violence is depicted with sensitivity, with respect for the audience, and without exploitation, exaggeration or sensationalism. The Commission also supports the measures undertaken by broadcasters to advise viewers when graphic news stories are presented.
5. Positive Alternatives in Children's Programming
The Commission encourages licensees, when producing or scheduling programming directed to children, to choose high-quality, non-violent programs. The Commission notes that financial assistance for the production of Canadian children's programming is currently provided by several funds. Shaw established the Shaw Children's Programming Initiative (SCPI) in 1994, and, later in 1995, the Dr. Geoffrey R. Conway Programming Fund, to support quality children's programs. Since SCPI operations began, these funds have contributed over $4.2 million toward the production of more than 200 hours of new children's programming. The Cable Production Fund, which allocates funding to the production of high-quality Canadian programs in under-represented categories, including children's programs, committed over $7 million toward the production of 25 children's programming projects in its first fiscal year. For its part, Telefilm Canada contributed almost $10 million toward the creation of 19 children's programming projects in the 1994-95 fiscal year.
6. Dealing with Violence in Programs Received Across Time Zones
A number of participants raised a concern that programs on signals originating in other time zones of Canada may be inappropriately scheduled for the time zones of western provinces in which they are received.
The Commission notes the comments by Canadian Satellite Communications Inc. (Cancom) that few of its western affiliates carry stations originating in the east because of the differences in time zones. The Commission also notes that Cancom has adopted an approach to provide its affiliates with U.S. network signals that are more relevant to their time zones.
Although time zone differences may result in unsuitable scheduling of some programs, the Commission notes that provisions of the CAB and pay and pay-per-view violence codes which prohibit gratuitous and glamourized violence, and those which relate to children's programming apply at all times. Nevertheless, the Commission encourages programming undertakings whose signals are distributed over various time zones to be sensitive to their viewers in western time zones when scheduling programs.
7. Future monitoring
The Commission is satisfied that the measures described in this notice, taken together, will constitute a lasting and highly effective system that will give individuals the tools to make informed, suitable programming choices for themselves and their families. This system should also lead to expanded cooperation between the public and industry, specifically in the development of voluntary codes and sustained public education campaigns for children, parents, teachers and others.
The Commission will continue to monitor closely all developments and, as circumstances warrant, will take whatever steps are needed to anchor the protection of children as a permanent part of Canada's broadcasting system.
The Commission received 232 written submissions in response to its 3 April 1995 notice of public hearing. More than 100 representations were made at regional consultations, which took place in September and October 1995 in St. John's, Moncton, Montréal, Toronto, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Edmonton and Vancouver.
Following the consultations, 35 parties appeared at a public hearing which began 11 October 1995 in the National Capital Region.
Written and oral submissions were received from a broad representation of parties concerned with the issue, including individuals, educational and media literacy organizations, anti-violence and other special interest groups, government, civil liberties associations, health and medical organizations, content providers, broadcasters, program distributors and advertisers.
A summary of the issues that were raised during consultations and at the hearing, as well as an outline of relevant initiatives undertaken by the industry and the Commission, is presented below.
1. TV Violence:
a) Background
In 1992, in response to growing public concern about violence on television, the Commission released two studies on the subject. The Commission concluded from these studies that there is a link - although not necessarily one of direct cause and effect - between TV violence and violence in society.
Common to much of the research in this area is the finding that prolonged viewing by children to violence on television has three major effects. Specifically, children may become more likely to behave in aggressive or harmful ways toward others; less sensitive to the pain and suffering of others; and more fearful of the world around them.
A study conducted by Dr. Wendy Josephson, entitled "Television Violence: A Review of the Effects on Children of Different Ages", commissioned by Heritage Canada and published in February 1995, concludes that elementary school age (age six to eleven) is a particularly critical period for children in terms of the effects of viewing TV violence.
b) Summary of Comments
Almost all who took part in the consultations and hearing, including representatives of the public and the broadcasting industry, agreed that violence in television programming has negative effects on children. Educators, in particular, remarked on an escalation of violent behaviour and desensitization to violence among children. A number of participants stressed that children who are already at risk for other reasons, such as poverty and abuse, are particularly vulnerable to the harmful effects of viewing television violence. Some participants argued that the debate is not in fact over, and that the evidence is suggestive rather than conclusive. Very few, however, suggested that no measures should be taken to address the issue.
There was also a general agreement at the regional consultations and at the hearing that the largest part of the problem in terms of violence in programming is the U.S., not the Canadian signals received in Canada. Broadcasters commented that this is due in large part to the fact that Canadian programming undertakings adhere to a strict code on violence.
2. Approach to Address TV Violence
a) Background
As part of its approach to television violence, the Commission has enlisted the cooperation of the broadcasting industry to develop strong, credible codes on violence, and focused on giving the public tools to make informed programming choices for themselves and for their families. The industry's efforts in each of these areas are outlined below.
i) Industry Codes on Violence
In February 1993, at a conference dealing with television violence sponsored by the C.M. Hincks Institute, the National Action Group was formed to further examine the issue. The group, which was later renamed AGVOT, represents all components of the broadcasting industry.
AGVOT adopted its General Statement of Principles concerning the depiction of violence in television programming in September 1993. These principles include: a prohibition against the depiction of gratuitous violence; an affirmation of the responsibility that broadcasters have, in scheduling programs, to be sensitive to the concerns for children; and a commitment by licensees 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.
In October 1993, the CAB submitted its revised Voluntary Code Regarding Violence in Television Programming, which embraces the principles set out by AGVOT. The Commission announced its acceptance of the code in Public Notice CRTC 1993-149. In December 1994, the Commission accepted the Pay Television and Pay-Per-View Programming Code Regarding Violence (Public Notice CRTC 1994-155).
At the time of licence renewal or upon issuance of new licences, the Commission requires the licensees of conventional television stations, networks and specialty programming undertakings to comply with the CAB code as a condition of licence. Similarly, the Commission requires pay television and pay-per-view services to adhere to their industry code on violence as a condition of licence.
The Commission generally suspends the application of this condition of licence for television licensees who are members in good standing of the CBSC. The CBSC is a self-regulatory body established to administer specific standards of broadcast conduct and to provide a means of recourse to the public in disputes regarding adherence to these standards. In the case of broadcasters who have such a suspensive 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.
ii) Tools for Parents
Efforts to provide individuals with the tools to make informed programming choices have focused on two areas: providing viewers with better information through program classification; and providing viewers with more technological control over which programs enter their homes.
The CAB code on violence makes provision for the development of an industry-wide, viewer-friendly classification system that will provide information on the content and the intended audience of programs. For its part, the pay television and pay-per-view code specifies that licensees will adopt the ratings of the provincial movie rating boards. The Commission's acceptance of both codes, however, was conditional upon the development and implementation of a classification system. To this end, in 1993, AGVOT established a sub-committee responsible for developing a cooperative industry rating system.
For its part, the cable television industry has been involved in the development and implementation of technologies designed to give subscribers control over what programs may be viewed on their television sets.
In particular, Shaw, Rogers and CF Cable, in conjunction with some programming undertakings, have been testing the V-chip, developed by Professor Tim Collings at Simon Fraser University. This technology enables violence and other rating codes to be embedded in the video signal of a program. A suitably-equipped television set or converter 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.
Early tests of V-chip technology were undertaken in Toronto, Ottawa and Montréal in August 1995, and in Edmonton in December 1994. Shaw and Rogers are currently involved in a third round of V-chip trials, involving approximately 130 households in Victoria, Vancouver, Calgary, Ottawa and Toronto. Nine Canadian broadcasters and two American broadcasters (WUTV, a FOX affiliate in Buffalo, New York, and KVOS, an independent station in Bellingham, Washington) are participating in the current trials.
Other cable companies, such as Vidéotron Ltée and Regina Cablevision Co-operative (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.
b) Questions Raised in Notice of Public Hearing CRTC 1995-5
In Notice of Public Hearing CRTC 1995-5, the Commission asked for comments on its approach to violence on television. One question on which the Commission invited comment was how to achieve its long-term goal of providing tools, in the form of program classification and parental control devices, to enable parents to make informed programming choices for themselves and for their families.
The Commission also asked for input regarding a possible short-term approach intended to address concerns regarding violence in foreign programming distributed by cable. The specific concern was that, while individual Canadian programming undertakings are subject to an industry code regarding the depiction of violence in television programming, there is no code or regulatory system in place that deals with violent programming on foreign programming services distributed by cable. To address this issue, the Commission suggested a possible requirement that distribution undertakings curtail or encrypt and scramble any program that the Commission identifies as contravening an approved violence code.
c) Summary of Comments
i) Public, Educators and Special Interest Groups
While most members of the public, educators and special interest groups supported the initiatives taken to date by the industry and the Commission, virtually all recommended that further action be taken. Several parties were skeptical about the effectiveness of industry self-regulation and urged the Commission to take regulatory action. The majority of participants, however, supported a self-regulatory approach, backed by the possibility of future regulation if it should prove necessary.
These parties also generally supported the development of program ratings and parental control technologies, such as the V-chip, to enable parents to make informed decisions about what programs are suitable for their families. AGVOT noted that, in a recent survey it commissioned, 87% of respondents supported the creation of a classification system for television programming.
Many in this group of participants were of the view that, while useful, classification and V-chip technology alone are not sufficient to address the issue of television violence. Most contended that a combination of initiatives, including industry codes, classification, the V-chip, non-violent programming alternatives, media literacy and public awareness, is needed to effectively deal with the issue.
Several parties advocated the use of viewer advisories instead of, or in addition to, program ratings. They argued that classification may be subjective and may not take the context of the program into account. They suggested that advisories can provide viewers with more detailed information with which to make programming choices.
ii) The Industry Perspective
Broadcasters and some broadcasting industry groups expressed the view that violence codes and other initiatives by the industry have been effective in addressing violence contained in Canadian programming services. They also stated that the task ahead lies in addressing violence in programming on American signals, on the premise that such signals are responsible for most of the unsuitable or excessive television violence that is shown on Canadian television screens.
The primary concern of the CAB was that Canadian standards for the protection of children should be applied to all signals entering Canadian homes, and not just to Canadian signals - a principle that was widely supported by the public. The CAB supported the approach set out in the notice of public hearing, through which distributors would be required to curtail or scramble any program determined by the Commission to contravene an approved code on violence. According to the CAB, while the proposed requirement would not ensure that programming on American signals meets all provisions of the violence code, it would go a long way toward leveling the playing field.
The cable industry strongly opposed the introduction of any approach that would require the curtailment or encryption of U.S. programming. it argued that the capital and operating costs of implementing such a requirement would place an undue burden on the industry, especially smaller cable companies. it noted that costs would also be incurred by subscribers wishing to obtain decoders to receive encrypted signals.
The cable industry was also concerned that subscribers would object to the curtailment or encryption of programs. Rogers raised further legal and technical objections to the implementation of the proposed requirement, including the concern that curtailment or encryption of American signals could result in a trade dispute. Several other organizations, in particular the Consumers' Guild of Canada, the Directors' Guild of Canada and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, also expressed opposition to the proposed requirement, primarily on the grounds that it would constitute a form of censorship.
The cable industry argued that it would be more advantageous to focus resources on providing consumers with program ratings, parental control technology and education than on implementing a curtailment or encryption regime. The CAB and the CBSC, on the other hand, contended that, while classification and the V-chip are useful tools, they should not be seen as a substitute for blocking out U.S. programs that contravene the violence code.
3. The Potential Tools to Address TV Violence
a) Classification of U.S. Signals
The CAB and others argued that a rating system should be applied to all signals that are available in Canadian homes if the system is to be a truly useful tool for parents. Members of the public supported this notion, noting that viewers do not generally distinguish between Canadian and American signals when watching television.
At the hearing, AGVOT and other industry representatives agreed that the then pending legislation in the U.S. requiring the installation of the V-chip in television sets presented a window of opportunity for Canadians and Americans to work together in developing a North American classification system. The CCTA also noted the strong public support in the U.S. for the V-chip, as well as the influence that Canada has in the U.S. as a major importer of programming from that country. It further noted a commitment made on behalf of cable programming services by the CCTA's American counterpart, the National Cable Television Association (NCTA), that its membership would work to produce a rating system.
In the event that a classification system is not implemented in the U.S., the CAB argued that the Canadian cable industry must be held responsible for ensuring that programming on the U.S. signals which it distributes is rated. The CAB indicated that it would be willing to work with distributors by sharing information on the ratings of programs aired by Canadian broadcasters.
Cancom, which provides U.S. and Canadian programming services by satellite to Canadian distribution undertakings, indicated that it could encode program ratings into the signals it distributes for use with the V-chip. The CCTA, however, opposed any suggestion that cable operators themselves should be obliged to rate programs or insert codes into American signals, largely because of financial and operational implications. In the event that a classification system is not implemented in the U.S., the CCTA was confident that the use in Canada of V-chip technology capable of blocking out all unclassified programs would be sufficient to persuade U.S. border broadcasters to rate their own programs in order to ensure that they are viewed in Canadian households. The Canadian broadcasting and cable industries indicated that they would work cooperatively with each other, and with their U.S. counterparts, to develop a classification system that would be in place by 1 September 1996.
The cable industry stated that when DVC boxes are made available, they will be equipped with V-chip technology. Prior to the general availability of DVC boxes, the CCTA committed to make the V-chip available in existing analog decoders or converters for approximately $30 to $50, or, amortizing this amount over five years, for a cost of $1 per month. The industry committed to make the V-chip available to consumers as soon as a rating system is in place. Further, the industry stated that it will conduct marketing and information campaigns to ensure that subscribers are aware of the availability of V-chip devices, how to obtain them, and how to use them.
b) Nature and Scope of a Rating System
While a number of views were presented at the hearing and during consultations about the nature and scope of a classification system, most indicated that a rating system consisting of a minimum of four levels would be required. Many members of the public and special interest groups also contended that the public, educators and advocacy groups must be consulted in the development of a rating system.
Some broadcasters, however, argued that classification should be done by exception only and that the system should thus consist of a single level that designates a program unsuitable for a general audience.
AGVOT presented a preliminary classification system with three levels based on suitable age designations for programming. The Commission notes in this regard that the survey upon which the AGVOT system is based indicates that the average number of levels recommended by respondents for an uncomplicated but workable rating system is four.
Rogers presented details regarding a six-level rating system that has been used in the V-chip trials conducted by Rogers, CF Cable and Shaw and which was widely supported by participants in the tests. The system defines levels according to the amount and nature of violence. In addition to violence, the system used in the trials allowed viewers to set levels according to the intended age of the audience, and the presence of sex/nudity and offensive language.
Both the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, based on the findings of a survey it conducted, and the Recreational Software Advisory Council, based on experience with its labeling system for recreational software, recommended that any rating system adopted should be comprised of five levels.
Members of the public, educators and special interest groups generally agreed that all programs should be rated, regardless of the type of program and the time at which it is aired. The broadcasting and cable industries, on the other hand, argued that some types of programming, such as news and sports, should be exempt from classification. AGVOT agreed, noting its own findings show that while most support the rating of drama and animation programs, respondents to their survey did not generally think programs such as news and sports need to be classified.
c) Provincial Rating Boards
While most parties who supported a classification system advocated the establishment of a universal rating system for English-language broadcasters, there was general agreement that pay television and pay-per-view services should continue to use the classification system of the provincial rating boards, given the familiarity of audiences with the ratings assigned to feature films by such boards.
d) French-language Broadcasters in Quebec
AGVOT and others recommended that the rating system developed by the Régie should be used by French-language broadcasters in Quebec, given the level of familiarity and general satisfaction with the system that currently exists in the province. In addition to classifying feature films for theatres, the Régie provides television broadcasters with ratings for feature films and, if requested, will provide ratings for made-for-television dramatic programming.
e) Assigning Responsibility for Rating Programs
Many members of the public and special interest groups favoured the establishment of an independent body made up of parents, educational groups and social health organizations, to classify programming. Broadcasters, however, argued that maintaining the operation of such an independent body would be costly, and that the last minute delivery of programming to broadcasters would render its efforts impractical and ineffective.
The CAB and the CBSC suggested that the CBSC could play a role as a clearinghouse for the cooperative exchange and sharing of information on classifications, with a view to achieving consistency in ratings across the industry. Broadcasters and other industry representatives also recommended that the CBSC should act as an arbitrator in classification disputes.
4. Media Literacy and Public Awareness
a) Background
While recognizing the importance of industry codes, program classification and parental control technology, the Commission has maintained that by far the largest part of the solution to television violence lies in long-term public awareness and media literacy. Accordingly, it has been working on both the domestic and international fronts to raise awareness in this area.
Among the responses to concerns expressed by the Commission and the public on television violence, the industry has initiated public awareness campaigns to address the issue of violence. In 1993, the NFB undertook to establish a media literacy clearinghouse. The initiative, which eventually became known as the "Media Awareness Network", provides a clearinghouse and interactive network devoted to media literacy and a wide range of child-centred media issues.
In 1994, the CAB, with the support of funding from Heritage Canada and other federal government departments, launched a public service announcement campaign entitled "Speak Out Against Violence", for the purpose of sensitizing the public to the consequences of violence.
Also in 1994, Rogers and the Alliance for Children and Television produced a booklet and accompanying video cassette entitled "Minding the Set", which offers parents tips for managing televsion in the home.
Earlier, in 1993, the CCTA initiated a "Stop the Silence on Violence" campaign, which focuses on educating viewers through the broadcast of programs on the community channel. In 1995, the CCTA published a booklet entitled "Watch What Your Children Watch", which provides parents with practical information to assist their decision-making about family viewing.
Another recent cable television initiative, "Cable in the Classroom", was launched in the fall of 1995. As part of this initiative, cable operators install cable service free of charge in schools and work with educators to promote media literacy. Participating Canadian and U.S. programming services provide commercial-free, copyright-cleared educational programming for use in the classroom, together with supporting print materials.
In 1995, the Children's Bureau of Health Canada, in conjunction with the Alliance for Children and Television, made available a media literacy package entitled "Prime Time Parent", designed to assist parents, educators and others to hold workshops on the effects of television on viewers.
b) Summary of Comments
Educators, media literacy organizations and many other participants in the Commission's public process argued that media literacy and public awareness are essential to making parents and children aware of the influence of the media and the potentially harmful effects of violence in programming. They noted that the importance of media literacy efforts is underscored by the fact that television is one of the most significant influences in a child's social environment.
There was general concern expressed about the absence of a consistent approach and the lack of teacher training on the subject of media literacy in school programs. With the exception of Ontario schools, media literacy is not part of the mandated curriculum of the public education system. Several parties contended that a single unifying strategy to implement and coordinate initiatives is needed to avoid duplication of media literacy programs. Some media literacy organizations also noted that Canada is the only country in the western world that does not have a "fair use" clause in its copyright laws that would permit teachers to tape material off-air for limited classroom use. In its presentation at the regional consultations, Concerned Children's Advertisers made a commitment to produce child-directed vignettes on media literacy for broadcast and for distribution as a resource tool to schools and community groups.
5. R ole of the CBSC
As noted earlier, the CAB recommended that the CBSC should act as a clearinghouse or databank for the exchange of program ratings information, and should function as the arbitrator of classification disputes involving its members. At the hearing, the CAB extended an invitation to all members of the broadcasting and distribution industries to become members of the CBSC.
The CBSC agreed with these recommendations. It also noted plans for other changes to its procedures, including the establishment of a national council to deal with complaints about national programs, as well as procedural changes to ensure that decisions will apply to all members who air a program that has been the subject of a complaint. These procedural changes address a concern that CBSC decisions currently apply only to the broadcaster to whom the complaint was directed and not to other CBSC members who air the program in question.
A number of individuals and public interest groups argued that the CBSC's complaints process should be more accessible and less confusing to the public. Some participants suggested that a centralized toll-free telephone number would be helpful to viewers in registering complaints. Broadcasters pointed out, however, that this may discourage viewers from complaining directly to licensees, and that licensees are in the best position to deal with complaints from their own audiences. A number of broadcasters noted that they already have toll-free telephone numbers, and indicated that they would be prepared to publicize these numbers in public service announcements about the CBSC.
6. Dealing With Violence in News Programming
A number of participants in the public process, especially individuals, public interest groups and educators, expressed concern regarding the depiction of violence in newscasts aired when children may be watching, particularly during early evening newscasts.
In response to these concerns, broadcasters taking part in the consultations described measures they have implemented to ensure that violence in news is presented with sensitivity. For example, the licensee of CKVU-TV Vancouver stated that it superimposes a viewer advisory symbol on the screen during graphic news stories. CFRN-TV Edmonton explained that it airs a disclaimer in the presentation of any disturbing news story. CITV-TV Edmonton indicated that, in addition to adhering to the RTNDA Code of Ethics, it follows the Journalistic Objectives and Guidelines developed by its parent company, Western International Communications Ltd.
7. Positive Alternatives in Children's Programming
A number of participants suggested that an important part of the solution to the issue of TV violence is to provide more good quality, non-violent children's programming. They argued that a greater availability of Canadian children's programming would reduce the need for, and counter the influence of, violent programming imported from the U.S.
Some participants stated that the problem lies largely in a lack of advertising support for programs, especially for programs that are not used as commercial venues for toy manufacturers. Several public interest groups also contended that the ban on advertising to children in Quebec has reduced the availability of good children's programs in that province.
Some individuals and public interest groups were of the view that the Commission should take measures to foster diversity and creativity in children's programming. The Alliance for Children and Television recommended that more and better programming should be encouraged through the regulatory, financial or tax framework. Others suggested that the distribution and programming industries should be required to direct a portion of their revenues to a Canadian programming fund.
8. Dealing With Violence in Programs Received Across Time Zones
Several participants, particularly during the regional consultations, raised a concern about violence in programming received from earlier time zones. Specific concern was expressed that, in the case of distant Canadian signals carried by western cable systems, a program containing violence intended for adult audiences, which is scheduled after the watershed hour of 9:00 p.m. in eastern Canada, may be shown as early as 6:00 p.m. in the west. A number of parties argued that cable operators should time-shift distant Canadian signals so that the watershed hour is respected in western provinces. The CBSC, however, noted that article 3.0 of the CAB violence code regarding appropriate scheduling of programming states: "To accommodate the reality of time zone differences, and Canadian distant signal importation, these guidelines shall be applied to the time zone in which the signal originates." Information provided by Rogers indicates that, while it is technically feasible to tape-delay television signals, the capital and annual operating costs of doing so would be extremely high, especially for small cable operators, and that the issue raised copyright and trade concerns as well. Cancom stated that few of its western affiliates carry an independent station from Cancom because of the differences in time zones. YTV explained that it has a dual feed which ensures viewers receive programs in their intended time slots. CHUM also indicated that it intends to develop a dual feed for its specialty service, Bravo!
1. Telecommunications Reform Legislation
On 8 February 1996, the Telecommunications Act of 1996 became law in the United States. The Act, which represents a comprehensive package of telecommunications reform legislation, requires the installation of V-chip blocking technology in new television sets with screens 13 inches or larger which are shipped in interstate commerce or manufactured in the U.S. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is to prescribe rules implementing this requirement and specifying an effective date not less than two years from the date of enactment of the legislation.
The legislation effectively gives distributors of video programming one year to voluntarily develop ratings for video programming containing violence, sex or indecent material, and to agree voluntarily to broadcast signals containing such ratings. If the industry fails to do so, the FCC is required to develop guidelines for rating programs based on the recommendations of an advisory committee that includes parents, TV broadcasters and producers, cable operators, and appropriate public interest groups.
President Clinton, in his "State of the Union" address on 23 January 1996, reiterated that it was the intention of his administration to continue to press for the introduction of a ratings-linked V-chip system, and challenged the broadcast industry to rate their programs in ways that will help parents protect their children. The President also invited the leaders of major media corporations in the entertainment industry to come to the White House and work on concrete ways to improve what American children see on television.
At the TV summit meeting, which was held on 29 February 1996, the industry, including television, cable and the production community, announced its intention to establish and implement a voluntary program rating system by 1 January 1997. The industry also announced its intention to encode ratings into programs so that they can be read by the V-chip or other electronic device.
An Implementation Group, whose membership will be drawn from all parts of the industry, will be responsible for developing the design and procedures of the rating scheme. The industry also announced that it will construct a rating review process which will, from time to time, examine the ratings of the specifc programs and comment as to the appropriateness of the ratings.
2. U.S. Border Broadcasters
In January 1996, during a visit to Washington by the Chairman and members of the CRTC, U.S. trade authorities communicated a willingness on the part of U.S. border broadcasters to voluntarily participate in a classification system. These and other high-level U.S. officials expressed their intention to talk further with these broadcasters to encourage cross-border dialogue and enlist their cooperation with ratings and V-chip efforts.
3. Industry Studies
Two major studies on television violence were recently published, one funded by the four major U.S. commercial networks and the other by the National Cable Television Association. The sponsorship of these studies reflects the seriousness of the debate on TV violence in the U.S.
The study funded by the major U.S. networks, entitled "UCLA Television Violence Monitoring Report", and published in September 1995, concludes: "The world of television, from broadcast networks, to syndication, to cable, to home video, is not as violent as we had feared and not as wholesome as we might have hoped. There is room for substantial improvement". The report presents recommendations to the broadcast networks, the television creative community, the government, television affiliates, schools, parents and children about what can be done to address the issue.
The "National Television Study", funded by the NCTA and released in February 1996, is the first in a series of three annual reports that will study the content of entertainment television programming, assess ratings and advisories, and review educational initiatives. Among their recommendations, the authors state:
The study provides important information about the effectiveness of ratings and advisories that can be used to help form the basis of a clear, meaningful, and effective system of content advisories .... A comprehensive viewer advisory system could also allow parents to use emerging technological blocking devices more rationally and effectively.
Allan J. Darling
Secretary General

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