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Social Policy Issues > Anti-Violence



CRTC News Release

June 18, 1997

A NEW VIOLENCE CLASSIFICATION SYSTEM FOR TELEVISION PROGRAMMING:
ANOTHER MECHANISM TO PROTECT CHILDREN AGAINST TV VIOLENCE

OTTAWA-HULL - In September, Canadian viewers will have the benefit of on-screen ratings to help identify the content of their television programs. An icon will appear during children's programming, drama, "reality shows" and feature films that will help parents make informed choices as to what they consider appropriate viewing for their children.

This announcement was made today by the CRTC in approving the classification system submitted on April 30th by the Action Group on Violence on Television (AGVOT) (Public Notice CRTC 1997-80 ).

In its Policy on Violence in Television Programming announced in March 1996, the Commission

required broadcasters to implement a V-chip compatible classification system to protect children from excessive television violence; the cable industry was to be responsible for making V-chip devices available to subscribers at an affordable price.

AGVOT, which represents all sectors of the Canadian broadcasting industry, was designated to consult with the public, programmers and distributors to develop an acceptable rating system for violence, and to submit it to the CRTC for approval.

A meaningful, parent-friendly classification system

The new classification system will have six levels as well as an exempt category that uses descriptive guidelines to evaluate the content of television programs. The content evaluation results in the assignment of a rating for the intended age of the audience based on the nature and the degree of violence present in a program. Programs will be classified in the following categories:

  • Children: programming for children under the age of 8 years;

    Children over 8 years: programming for children between 8-12 years old;

    Family: programming intended for the whole family;

    Parental Advisory: programming that may not be suitable for children under the age of 8 and may be inappropriate for unsupervised viewing by children 8-13 years old;

    Over 14 years: programming with themes or content that may not be suitable for viewers under the age of 14;

    Adults: programming intended for viewers 18 years and older.


In order to measure its effectiveness, the classification system was evaluated through a national public opinion survey, by 340 families who participated in field trials, and through consultations with community groups and professional associations concerned with television violence. AGVOT states that the results of all the research confirm that the system is informative and readily understandable by families.

The Commission is satisfied that AGVOT's proposal meets the criteria set out in its Policy on TV Violence, and is confident that the new classification system represents an important addition to the anti-violence code already adhered to by Canadian broadcasters.

The Canadian Association of Broadcaster's Voluntary Code Regarding Violence in Television Programming places a strong emphasis on the protection of the viewing public, especially children, from the harmful effects of television violence.

The Code prohibits the broadcast of programming containing gratuitous violence in any form, or which sanctions, promotes or glamorizes violence. In addition, a number of sections specifically address what is acceptable in programming for children. The Code also sets a watershed hour of 9:00 p.m. before which no programming containing scenes of violence intended for adult audiences may be broadcast. Finally, the Code also requires broadcasters to air viewer advisories for programs containing violence intended for adults and for programs aired before 9:00 p.m. that contain violence not suitable for children.

The Commission notes AGVOT's intention to incorporate the violence classification system into a comprehensive rating system that will also include information about such other content elements as coarse language, nudity and sex.

Encoding and the V-chip

Although the results of the field trials indicate a positive response to the V-chip technology, AGVOT states that a number of issues need to be addressed before signal encoding and implementation of the V-chip is possible. Therefore, the broadcasting industry has proposed, as an interim measure, to display program ratings on-screen by this fall. The CRTC is satisfied that this initiative will provide a valuable service by assisting parents in making informed program choices for their families, and accepts the broadcasters' commitment to air the on-screen classification for the launch of the fall television season.

The Commission notes that French-language broadcasters in Quebec will continue to use the rating system of the Régie du cinéma.

However, the Commission expects encoding and the V-chip to be implemented as soon as an effective, affordable, user-friendly system can be made available to consumers. To that effect, the Commission will closely monitor the progress of the industry and ensure that all necessary efforts have been made to achieve this goal.

The Commission commends AGVOT for its considerable efforts in the development of this classification system, and acknowledges its wish to continue the positive, cooperative approach that will best meet the public's needs.

Contact: CRTC Public Affairs, Ottawa, K1A 0N2

Tel: (819) 997-5427, TDD: (819) 994-0423, Fax: (819) 994-0218

Public Notice CRTC 1997-80

Classification System for Violence in Television Programming


Background

1. On 14 March 1996, the Commission issued Public Notice CRTC 1996-36, which outlined its Policy on Violence in Television Programming (the Violence Policy). In that notice, the Commission set out the following timetable for the implementation of a meaningful, parent-friendly rating system for television programs and the provision of parental control (V-chip) technology to viewers:

2. As of September 1996:

  • licensees of programming undertakings would be responsible for encoding a rating for violence in the programs they broadcast, using a system that is compatible with V-chip technology; and

  • licensees of distribution undertakings would be responsible for making V-chip devices available to subscribers at an affordable cost.


3. As of September 1996, and no later than January 1997, licensees of distribution undertakings would also be responsible for ensuring that the programming of non-Canadian services distributed on their systems was encoded with a violence rating that may be read by V-chip technology.

4. V-chip technology enables individuals to set a threshold level of violence that they deem to be appropriate, and ensures that all programming with a rating above this level does not appear on their television screens.

5. The Commission also designated the Action Group on Violence on Television (AGVOT/The Action Group), which represents all components of the broadcasting industry, to develop an acceptable classification system and to submit it to the Commission for approval, prior to the September 1996 implementation date.

Revised Timetable

6. In July 1996, AGVOT requested an extension to the implementation dates set out in the Violence Policy, citing the need to address a number of issues in order for the classification system and the V-chip to be successfully implemented. In addition to technical issues that had yet to be resolved, AGVOT pointed to the need for further field tests and consultations regarding the proposed classification system and the V-chip device.

7. The Action Group also noted that its counterpart in the United States was not expected to release its program classification system until February 1997, and that extending the timeframe for the adoption of the Canadian system would facilitate AGVOT's goal of compatibility between the Canadian and U.S. systems.

8. AGVOT outlined the following revised timetable of commitments:

  • an extensive trial of the proposed classification system and improved V-chip technology to begin by January 1997;

  • AGVOT would submit its proposed classification system to the Commission by no later than 30 April 1997; and

  • Canadian programming services would begin classifying and encoding their programming by the September 1997 fall program launch.

9. In Public Notice CRTC 1996-134 dated 4 October 1996, the Commission acknowledged the commitments made by AGVOT and required it to submit a proposed classification system by 30 April 1997 for approval.

10. The Action Group submitted its proposed ratings system on 30 April 1997.

Classification System Criteria

11. In its Violence Policy, the Commission set out the following criteria regarding the classification system:

  • the rating system should be informative and readily understandable to the viewer, and should consist of four to six levels (the Commission noted that the rating system used in the second and third rounds of the Canadian V-chip trials meets these criteria and provides an objective and useful indicator of program content);

  • the scope of the classification system should be responsive to the public's concerns, but also be practical to implement;

  • classifications should 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; and

  • in order to ensure the protection of children from the harmful effects of television violence, regardless of the time at which the programming is scheduled, the programming described above should be encoded with ratings at all times.

12. The Commission stated that the development of the classification system should involve input from the public, programmers and distributors.

13. The Commission also noted AGVOT's recommendations that pay television and pay-per-view services should continue to use the ratings of the provincial ratings boards and that French-language broadcasters should use the rating system of the Régie du cinéma in Quebec. The Commission encouraged the industry to work towards a single system that can be used by all programming undertakings.

AGVOT's Proposed System

14. In its 30 April 1997 submission, AGVOT proposed a six-level rating system (plus an exempt category) that uses descriptive guidelines to evaluate the content of television programs. The content evaluation leads to the assignment of a rating for the intended age of the audience based on the nature and amount of violence in the program.

15. Except for the exempt category, which includes news and public affairs, programs will be rated as falling into one of the following categories: Children, Children over 8 years, Family, Parental Advisory, Over 14 Years and Adults (18+). A copy of the proposed classification system, including a detailed description of the ratings levels and guidelines, is appended to this notice.

16. AGVOT noted that its ratings system has been developed with the participation of representatives from both public and private broadcasters, specialty channels, the cable industry and the independent production community.

17. The proposed system has also been evaluated by the public through a national public opinion survey, and through the cooperation of some 340 families who participated in the field trials that were held to test the classification system and the V-chip technology in their homes. Furthermore, community groups and professional associations concerned about violence on television were also consulted regarding the structure of the ratings system and the language of the descriptive and guideline information. AGVOT stated that the results of all of the research it undertook confirm that the proposed system is easily understood by families.

18. AGVOT advises that although both the Pay and Pay-per-view and French-language services were represented on its classification committee, its proposed ratings system will only be used by English-language conventional stations and networks, and by English-language specialty services. All other English- and French-language broadcasting services will continue to use the provincial ratings systems.

19. Copies of the Action Group's submission, including details of the public opinion surveys, field trials and consultations are on the public file at all Commission offices.

The Commission's Response

20. The Commission acknowledges the valuable work undertaken by AGVOT, and commends the Action Group for its considerable efforts in the development of this classification system. The Commission considers that the proposed ratings system meets the criteria set out in its Violence Policy.

It is confident that the implementation of this system, together with the continuing application of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters' (CAB) Voluntary Code Regarding Violence in Television Programming (the Code), will effectively protect children from the harmful effects of television violence.

21. In its Violence Policy, the Commission stated that the main objective of its approach is to protect children from the harmful effects of television violence, while preserving freedom of expression for creators and choice for adult viewers.

22. In order to achieve this objective, the Commission has focused its efforts on three specific areas:

  • encouraging 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;

  • giving individuals the tools to make informed programming choices for themselves and for their families; and

  • enlisting the cooperation of the broadcasting industry to develop strong, credible, self-regulatory codes.

23. The Commission notes that Canadian broadcasters are committed to the Code, which places a strong emphasis on the protection of the viewing public, especially children, from the harmful effects of television violence.

24. The Code sets out the commitment that broadcasters will not air programming that contains gratuitous violence in any form, or sanctions, promotes or glamorizes violence.

25. The Code also includes the following guidelines for the depiction of violence in children's programming that take into account the particular vulnerability of young viewers:

  • animated programming targeted to children shall not invite dangerous imitation;

  • violence will not be shown as a preferred way of resolving conflict;

  • the consequences of realistic scenes of violence will be portrayed; and

  • violence will not be the central theme in animated programs.

26. In addition to stipulating that programming containing scenes of violence intended for adult audiences shall only be broadcast after the 9:00 p.m. watershed hour, the Code also states that such programming, and any programming broadcast prior to 9:00 p.m. which contains scenes of violence not suitabe for children, shall contain appropriate viewer advisories.

27. The Commission notes AGVOT's intention to incorporate the violence classification system into a comprehensive ratings system for television programs that will also include information about such other content elements as coarse language, nudity and sex.

The U.S. Situation

28. As noted above, one of AGVOT's objectives has been to ensure that its proposed classification system is compatible with the ratings system being implemented in the United States. In its submission, the Action Group cites its public opinion research and focus group studies, which confirm that viewers want compatibility to lessen confusion in using the rating system along with the V-chip.

29. In fact, AGVOT's proposed system and the "TV Parental Guidelines" currently being employed by U.S. broadcasters would appear, despite some variations, to be similar enough to avoid undue viewer confusion.

30. However, since the TV Parental Guidelines have not yet been considered by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, and with the vigorous debate currently underway on this issue in the U.S., the final version of the classification system to be implemented in the U.S. is not certain at this time. AGVOT has stated that, should the U.S. Parental Guidelines be revised, the Action Group would study the changes to determine if they are in keeping with the principles of the Canadian classification system. The Commission expects AGVOT to submit for Commission approval any substantive changes it proposes to make to the classification system.

Role of the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

31. The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC / the Council) is the self-regulatory agency that ensures adherence to the CAB Violence Code. In its Violence Policy, the Commission agreed that the CBSC should also act as a clearinghouse for ratings information and as an arbitrator in disputes regarding the classification of television programs.

32. AGVOT had previously indicated that the CBSC was prepared to take on these duties and, in its 30 April 1997 submission, states that:

  • Any viewer who believed that a programming service did not classify a program correctly would have the right to have their complaint referred to the CBSC for adjudication, if the disagreement was unable to be resolved satisfactorily between the viewer and the programming service.

33. The Commission notes in this regard that any interested party may, at any time, choose to approach the Commission directly on such matters.

34. AGVOT also noted that, once the classification system is operational, all CBSC members will be able to file and have access to ratings information for programs in a section of the Council's web site.

35. The Commission acknowledges the CBSC's undertakings in this regard, and expects the Council to incorporate a summary of these activities into its Annual Report to keep the Commission and the public apprised of the industry's progress in implementing the classification system.

Encoding and V-chip Technology

36. In its 30 April 1997 submission, AGVOT cautioned that a number of issues need to be addressed before signal encoding and full implementation of the V-chip is possible. The Action Group states that:

  • the programming encoding software cannot properly react to scheduling changes. It is not "robust" and has proven to be susceptible to failure;

  • reliable transmission of encoding data for promotional materials and movie advertisements is not currently possible;

  • older generation compression and scrambling technology affects the ability of some programming services to be encoded;

  • there are still too many ratings systems to be accommodated by the V-chip devices that will be incorporated into television sets; and

  • uncertainty over the U.S. ratings system will affect the timetable for the manufacture of the V-chip boxes.

37. In a subsequent letter to the Commission dated 6 May 1997, AGVOT advised that the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the CAB and the Specialty and Premium Television Association have all agreed, as an interim measure, to display program ratings on-screen by this fall. The Action Group states that an industry committee will be established to work out the details and logistics of on-screen display with a view to making the presentation of the icons as user-friendly and distinctive as possible.

38. The Commission considers on-screen icons to be a valuable service since they raise public awareness of the classification system and provide all viewers, not just those who choose to acquire V-chip technology, with program content information. Furthermore, the Commission is satisified that the use of on-screen icons in a manner that will complement the viewer advisories provided for in Sections 5.1 and 5.2 of the Code will assist parents in making informed program choices for themselves and their families.

39. Therefore, the Commission accepts AGVOT's commitment that Canadian broadcasters will provide on-screen program classification by the fall of 1997, and expects the implementation of encoding and deployment of V-chip devices to occur as soon as is feasible. The Commission also expects AGVOT to inform it, on a regular basis, concerning the industry's progress in this regard.

40. The Commission notes that AGVOT continues to work on solving the technical issues, and on harmonizing its classification system with the provincial ratings systems used by pay television and pay-per-view services, and with the Régie du cinéma system used by French-language broadcasters in Quebec.

41. The Commission also acknowledges the Action Group's wish to "continue the positive, co-operative approach regarding a timetable for implementation that will best meet the public's needs".

42. The Commission reaffirms its support for the development of parental control technology, and reiterates that it will continue to monitor all developments and take whatever steps are needed to ensure that the protection of children is a permanent feature of the Canadian broadcasting system.


Allan J. Darling

Secretary General

APPENDIX/ANNEXE

A CLASSIFICATION SYSTEM FOR VIOLENCE IN TELEVISION PROGRAMMING

(As submitted by The Action Group on Violence on Television - 30 April 1997)

EXEMPT CTR~E

Descriptive

Exempt programming includes: news, sports, documentaries and other information programming; talk shows, music videos, and variety programming.



CHILDREN CTR~C

Descriptive

Programming intended for children with this designation must adhere to the provisions of the Children's Section of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB) Voluntary Code on Violence in Television Programming.

As this programming is intended for younger children under the age of 8 years, it will pay careful attention to themes which could threaten their sense of security and well-being. As programming for children requires particular caution in the depiction of violence, there will be no realistic scenes of violence. Depictions of aggressive behaviour will be infrequent and limited to portrayals that are clearly imaginary and unrealistic in nature.

Violence Guidelines

- might contain occasional comedic, unrealistic depictions.

CHILDREN over 8 years CTR~8+

Descriptive

This classification is applied to children's programming that is generally considered acceptable for youngsters 8 years and over to view on their own. It is suggested that a parent/guardian co-view programming assigned this classification with younger children under the age of 8.

Programming with this designation adheres to the provisions of the Children's Section of the CAB Voluntary Code on Violence. These include not portraying violence as the preferred, acceptable, or only way to resolve conflict; or encouraging children to imitate dangerous acts which they may see on the screen.

Programming within this classification might deal with themes which could be unsuitable for younger children. References to any such controversial themes shall be discreet and sensitive to the 8-12 year age range of this viewing group.

Violence Guidelines

- any realistic depictions will be infrequent, discreet, of low intensity, and shall portray the consequences of violence.

- violence portrayed must be within the context of the storyline or character development.

-might include mild physical violence, comedic violence, comic horror, special effects; fantasy, supernatural, or animated violence.

FAMILY CTR~FAM

Considered acceptable for all age groups. Appropriate viewing for the entire family.

Descriptive

This is programming intended for a broad, general audience. While not designed specifically for children, it is understood that younger viewers may be part of the audience. Therefore programming within this classification shall contain very little violence, either physical, verbal or emotional.

It will be sensitive to themes which could threaten a younger child's sense of security, and will depict no realistic scenes of violence which minimize or gloss over the effects of violent acts.

Violence Guidelines

- minimal, infrequent.

- may contain comedic, unrealistic depictions.

- contains no frightening special effects not required by storyline.

PARENTAL ADVISORY CTR~PA

Descriptive

This programming, while intended for a general audience, may not be suitable for younger children (under the age of 8). Parents/guardians should be aware that there might be content elements which some could consider inappropriate for unsupervised viewing by children in the 8-13 age range.

Programming within this classification might address controversial themes or issues. Cognizant that pre-teens and early teens could be part of this viewing group, particular care must be taken not to encourage imitational behaviour, and consequences of violent actions shall not be minimized.

Violence Guidelines

- any depiction of conflict and/or aggression will be limited and moderate; it might include physical, fantasy, or supernatural violence.

- any such depictions should not be pervasive, and must be justified within the context of theme, storyline or character development.


OVER 14 Years CTR~14+

Descriptive

Programming with this classification contains themes or content elements which might not be suitable for viewers under the age of 14. Parents are strongly cautioned to exercise discretion in permitting viewing by pre-teens and early teens without parent/guardian supervision, as programming with this classification could deal with mature themes and societal issues in a realistic fashion.

Violence Guidelines

- while violence could be one of the dominant elements of the storyline, it must be integral to the development of plot or character.

- might contain intense scenes of violence.



ADULTS CTR~18+

Intended for adults 18 years and older.

Descriptive

This classification applies to programming which could contain content elements that would make it unsuitable for viewers under the age of 18.

Violence Guidelines

- contains depictions of violence which, while integral to the development of plot, character or themes, are intended for adult viewing, and thus are not suitable for audiences under 18 years of age.