Social Policy Issues > Anti-Violence > Voluntary Code
Voluntary Code Regarding Violence in Television Programming
- I. Background
- II. Statement of Principle
- III. The Code
- IV. Code Application & Administration
- Appendix A - Viewer Advisories
- Appendix B - Groups consulted in Code creation
I - Background
- The issue of violence in our society is one of real concern to the public, and by extension to Canadian private, over-the-air broadcasters who are involved with, and committed to, the communities which they serve.
- Private broadcasters recognized and responded to this concern in 1987, when the Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB) developed its first Voluntary Code Regarding Violence in Television Programming, in consultation with a wide range of public interest groups and industry-related associations.
- Appreciating that social change creates evolving pressures on any set of industry guidelines, the CAB undertook a review of its Code in 1992, resulting in this new version published in 1993. This Voluntary Code will be reviewed every five years.
- Following the procedural criteria set by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission in PN 88-13 (Guidelines for Developing Industry-Administered Standards), the CAB again sought input from a wide range of public groups with an interest in the issue of violence. A list of these organizations is appended to the revised Code. The CAB also made extensive use of the CRTC Staff report on Violence in Television, released May 27, 1992.
- The Guidelines set out in this Voluntary Code are provided to CAB members to assist them in the creation, scheduling, purchase, broadcast and distribution of their programs, as they carry out their responsibilities as licensed television programming undertakings under the provisions of the Broadcasting Act. The Guidelines are also designed to complement the general principles set out in the CAB Code of Ethics.
- There seems to be little doubt that society's ability to deal with violence in the media, in all its various forms, has lagged behind technological developments.
- For television, it has taken only thirty years for the environment to evolve from the consumers having just a handful of local signals available from over-the-air broadcasters, to today's fifty channel universe, soon to expand to the two and three hundred channel universe, accessible by cable, satellite and over-the-air.
- The home video cassette recorder, which now has a national penetration rate of 73%, has enabled people to become their own schedulers, making somewhat redundant the arbitrary allocation of certain genres of programming in specific dayparts. The VCR has also allowed unprecedented individual access to feature film product which heretofore had only been available within a movie theatre setting. In both instances, this has created opportunities for children to view programming which was intended for adult audiences.
- The creation of new cable delivered services, the importation of distant foreign signals, and the widespread use of videogames has also changed the home viewing environment.
- Just as it is accepted that the portrayal of violence on television is just one of many factors related to violence in our society as a whole, it is also accepted that Canadian conventional, over-the-air broadcasters represent only one of many sources of the programming which originates from the television monitor.
- This Voluntary Code represents a responsible and pro-active approach to the issue of violence in programming telecast by Canada's private, over-the-air broadcasters.
- It is the responsibility of the CRTC to address the issue of violence in programming delivered to Canadian consumers by other elements of the Canadian broadcasting system; most notably, U.S. signals carried by cable operators.
- It is the responsibility of governments at all levels to address the issue of violence in the video rental system, and in video games.
- It is the responsibility of parents to be actively involved in the viewing choices of their children.
- It is the responsibility of the broadcaster, the regulator, the cable operator and cable delivered programming services, in conjunction with parents, teachers and individual viewers to work cooperatively to inform and educate society on how to best manage this technological revolution which has created an endless video buffet of programming choices.
- Censorship is not an answer. Canadian viewers continue to ask for a wide range of programming options to be made available to them no matter where in the country they live.
- However creative freedom carries with it the responsibility of ensuring that our children are protected, and that viewers have adequate information about program content to make informed viewing choices based on their personal tastes and standards.
- This Voluntary Code represents the commitment of Canada's private, over-the-air broadcasters to address that responsibility, to in essence create a pact between the broadcasters and their viewers.
Through their programming, production and scheduling practices, the development of a program classification system, and the use of viewer advisories, Canada's private broadcasters undertake to play their part to protect our children and to use discretion in addressing the sensitivities of their viewers. In return, viewers, using the programming information provided to them, accept responsibility for their viewing behaviour and for that of their children.
II - Statement of Principle
- Canadian private broadcasters understand and accept they have a responsibility to their viewers, in addressing the issue of violence on television.
- By their adherence to this Voluntary Code of practice, Canadian private broadcasters are publicly endorsing the following principles:
- that programming containing gratuitous violence not be telecast,
- that young children not be exposed to programming which is unsuitable for them,
- that viewers be informed about the content of programming they choose to watch.
- By the adoption of this Voluntary Code Canadian private broadcasters shall ensure these standards are met in the production, the acquisition, the scheduling, the promotion and the telecast of their programming.
- This Voluntary Code is designed to ensure that violence in programming telecast by private broadcasters is interpreted and assessed within its dramatic and informational context.
- The depiction of violence within children's programming shall not be so realistic as to threaten young children, to invite imitation, or to trivialize the effects of violent acts.
- The portrayal of violence within drama programming shall be relevant to the development of character, or to the advancement of the theme or plot.
- Within news and public affairs programming, the depiction of violence shall be relevant to the nature of the event or story being reported.
- In all genres of programming, the depiction of violence shall be evaluated in relation to the individual program, its intended audience and the time of broadcast.
III - The Code
- Canadian broadcasters shall not air programming which:
(*"Gratuitous" means material which does not play an integral role in developing the plot, character or theme of the material as a whole).
- contains gratuitous violence in any form*
- sanctions, promotes or glamorizes violence
- CHILDREN'S PROGRAMMING
(Children refers to persons under 12 years of age)
- As provided below, programming for children requires particular caution in the depiction of violence; very little violence, either physical, verbal or emotional shall be portrayed in children's programming.
- In children s programming portrayed by real-life characters, violence shall only be portrayed when it is essential to the development of character and plot.
- Animated programming for children, while accepted as a stylized form of storytelling which can contain non-realistic violence, shall not have violence as its central theme, and shall not invite dangerous imitation.
- Programming for children shall deal carefully with themes which could threaten their sense of security, when portraying, for example; domestic conflict, the death of parents or close relatives, or the death or injury of their pets, street crime or the use of drugs.
- Programming for children shall deal carefully with themes which could invite children to imitate acts which they see on screen, such as the use of plastic bags as toys, use of matches, the use of dangerous household products as playthings, or dangerous physical acts such as climbing apartment balconies or rooftops.
- Programming for children shall not contain realistic scenes of violence which create the impression that violence is the preferred way, or the only method to resolve conflict between individuals.
- Programming for children shall not contain realistic scenes of violence which minimize or gloss over the effects of violent acts. Any realistic depictions of violence shall portray, in human terms, the consequences of that violence to its victims and its perpetrators.
- Programming for children shall not contain frightening or otherwise excessive special effects not required by the storyline.
- Programming which contains scenes of violence intended for adult audiences shall not be telecast before the late evening viewing period, defined as 9 pm to 6 am.
- Accepting that there are older children watching television after 9 pm, broadcasters shall adhere to the provisions of article 5.1 below (viewer advisories), enabling parents to make an informed decision as to the suitability of the programming for their family members.
- In order to provide viewers with the benefit of Canadian program classification and viewer advisories not available on foreign distant signals, broadcasters who have CRTC-permitted substitution rights over programming which is imported into their markets before the late evening viewing period, may employ substitution, notwithstanding article 3.1.1.
- Broadcasters shall exercise discretion in employing substitution in accordance with article 3.1.3 and shall at no time avail themselves of substitution rights over programming which contains gratuitous violence in any form or which sanctions, promotes or glamourizes violence.
- Broadcasters shall take special precautions to advise viewers of the content of programming intended for adult audiences which is telecast before 9 pm in accordance with article 3.1.3.
(Note: 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.)
- Promotional material which contains scenes of violence intended for adult audiences shall not be telecast before 9 pm.
- Advertisements which contain scenes of violence intended for adult audiences, such as those for theatrically presented feature films, shall not be telecast before 9 pm.
- CLASSIFICATION SYSTEM
- Canadian broadcasters are in the process of co-operatively developing with other segments of the industry, a viewer-friendly classification system, which will provide guidelines on content and the intended audience for programming.
- Once complete, the classification system shall complement this Voluntary Code. As it is recognized that a classification system will have a bearing on program scheduling, the provisions of article 3.0 above shall be reviewed at that time.
- VIEWER ADVISORIES
- To assist consumers in making their viewing choices, broadcasters shall provide a viewer advisory, at the beginning of, and during the first hour of programming telecast in late evening hours which contains scenes of violence intended for adult audiences.
- Broadcasters shall provide a viewer advisory at the beginning of, and during programming telecast outside of late evening hours, which contains scenes of violence not suitable for children.
- Suggested language for suitable viewer advisories is outlined in Appendix A
- NEWS & PUBLIC AFFAIRS PROGRAMMING
- Broadcasters shall use appropriate editorial judgment in the reporting of, and the pictorial representation of violence, aggression or destruction within their news and public affairs programming.
- Caution shall be used in the selection of, and repetition of, video which depicts violence.
- Broadcasters shall advise viewers in advance of showing scenes of extra-ordinary violence, or graphic reporting on delicate subject matter such as sexual assault or court action related to sexual crimes, particularly during afternoon or early evening newscasts and updates when children could be viewing.
- Broadcasters shall employ discretion in the use of explicit or graphic language related to stories of destruction, accidents or sexual violence, which could disturb children and their families.
- Broadcasters shall exercise particular judgment during live coverage of domestic terrorist events or civil disorders, to ensure news coverage does not become a factor in inciting additional violence.
- While broadcasters shall not exaggerate or exploit situations of aggression, conflict or confrontation, equal care shall be taken not to sanitize the reality of the human condition.
- Broadcasters shall refer to The Code of Ethics of the Radio-Television News Directors Association of Canada (RTNDA) for guidance regarding broadcast journalism in general.
- VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN
- Broadcasters shall not telecast programming which sanctions, promotes or glamorizes any aspect of violence against women.
- Broadcasters shall ensure that women are not depicted as victims of violence unless the violence is integral to the story being told. Broadcasters shall be particularly sensitive not to perpetuate the link between women in a sexual context and women as victims of violence.
- Broadcasters shall refer to the Canadian Association of Broadcasters' code on Sex Role Portrayal for guidance regarding the portrayal of women in general.
- VIOLENCE AGAINST SPECIFIC GROUPS
- Broadcasters shall not telecast programming which sanctions, promotes or glamorizes violence based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, or mental or physical disability.
- VIOLENCE AGAINST ANIMALS
- Broadcasters shall not telecast programming which sanctions, promotes or glamorizes violence against animals.
- Broadcasters shall not be restricted in the telecast of legally sanctioned activities associated with animals. In such telecasts, judgment shall be used in the selection of video and associated audio, particularly if the telecast is broadcast outside of late evening hours.
- VIOLENCE IN SPORTS PROGRAMMING
- Broadcasters shall not promote or exploit violent action which is outside the sanctioned activity of the sport in question.
- In sports programming which involves animals, broadcasters shall refer to Section 9.0 of this Voluntary Code.
IV - Code Application & Administration
- Application of this Voluntary Code is the responsibility of the individual licensee. Complaints and inquiries should be addressed to the television station involved.
- Complaints not resolved between complainant and licensee may be referred to the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) which is charged with the supervision of adherence to this Voluntary Code by its members, and the process that entails.
- The CBSC can be contacted at
- Canadian Broadcast Standards Council
- PO BOX 3265, Station D
- OTTAWA, Ontario
- K1P 6H8
- Telephone: 613-233-4607
- Facsimile: 613-238-1734
- The Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB), in association with the CBSC will create public awareness of this Voluntary Code, by distributing copies to members for internal distribution and for distribution to the general public.
- The CAB will contribute to development of public awareness of the Voluntary Code and its provisions by means of public service awareness campaigns.
- The CAB will facilitate ongoing workshops and seminars for its members' employees who have direct responsibility for its application within individuals stations and networks.
- The CAB will advise Canadian program producers and various industry associations of the Code and its provisions. Individual CAB members will apprise independent program producers from whom they purchase programming of the provisions of the Voluntary Code.
- The CAB will work with the CRTC and the Federal government, in acquainting foreign program producers of the provisions of the Voluntary Code.
- The CAB, by means of its Societal Issues and Trends Committee, will monitor the application of the Voluntary Code, and will undertake a review of its provisions every five years.
Appendix A - Viewer Advisories
Broadcasters may preface their advisories with the following:
"As a member of the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, CXXX -TV is pleased to provide this viewer advisory."
"As a member of the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, CXXX-TV is providing this advisory to assist its viewers in making their program choices"
The following are examples of advisories pertaining to the portrayal of violence and other subject matter. They are provided as a guide to assist broadcasters in fulfilling their obligations to the Voluntary Code on Television Violence, to ensure their viewers are provided with adequate information in making their program selection. Each broadcaster is encouraged to develop and implement advisories which are suitable for its market and which will ensure that its programming is broadcast to a suitable audience.
The following program contains scenes of violence which may not be suitable for younger children. Parental supervision is advised.
The following program contains scenes of violence which are not suitable for younger children. Parental discretion is advised.
The following program contains scenes of violence and coarse language and is not suitable for younger children.
The following program contains scenes of violence intended for adult audiences. Viewer discretion is advised.
The following program contains scenes of violence and coarse language intended for adult audiences. Viewer discretion is advised.
The following program contains scenes of violence and coarse language. Viewer discretion is advised.
The following program contains scenes of violence, coarse language and nudity intended for adult audiences. Viewer discretion is advised.
The following program deals with mature subject matter and is intended for adult audiences. Viewer discretion is advised.
The following program deals with mature subject matter and contains scenes of nudity and coarse language. Viewer discretion is advised.
Appendix B - Groups consulted in Code creation
During the development of this code, the CAB consulted broadly with its member networks and stations and invited comments from the following groups:
The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council
The Canadian Film and Television Production Association
JLL Broadcast Group
Department of Communications (now Canadian
Heritage and Industry
Owl Centre for Children's Film and Television
Radio and Television News Directors Association
The Alliance for Children and Television (formerly the Children's Broadcast Institute)
Toronto Women in Film and Television
Canadian Women in Radio and Television (now Canadian Women in Communications)
Canadians Concerned About Violence in Entertainment
Animal Alliance of Canada
YTV Canada Inc.
The Family Channel Inc.
First Choice Canadian Communications Corporation (now The Movie Network)
SUPER CHANNEL (Allarcom PAY Television Limited)
Canadian Cable Television Association
Météomédia Inc./The Weather Network
LE RÉSEAU DES SPORTS
Association nationale des téléspectateurs
Groupe de recherche sur les jeunes et les médias
Pour la coalition contre la violence dans les émissions pour enfants
Conseil du statut de la femme
Premier Choix: TVEC Inc. (Super Écran et le Canal Famille)
In addition, a number of meetings took place with senior staff and Commissioners of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.