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
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
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:
for children under the age of 8 years;
Children over 8 years:
programming for children between 8-12 years old;
intended for the whole family;
programming that may not be suitable for children under the age of
8 and may be inappropriate for unsupervised viewing by children 8-13
Over 14 years: programming
with themes or content that may not be suitable for viewers under
the age of 14;
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
The Commission notes that French-language
broadcasters in Quebec will continue to use the rating system of the Régie
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,
Tel: (819) 997-5427, TDD: (819) 994-0423,
Fax: (819) 994-0218
Public Notice CRTC 1997-80
Classification System for Violence
in Television Programming
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;
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.
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;
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
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
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;
enlisting the cooperation
of the broadcasting industry to develop strong, credible, self-regulatory
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
A CLASSIFICATION SYSTEM FOR VIOLENCE IN TELEVISION PROGRAMMING
(As submitted by The Action Group
on Violence on Television - 30 April 1997)
Exempt programming includes: news,
sports, documentaries and other information programming; talk shows, music
videos, and variety programming.
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.
- might contain occasional
comedic, unrealistic depictions.
CHILDREN over 8 years CTR~8+
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.
- 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
-might include mild physical violence, comedic violence, comic horror,
special effects; fantasy, supernatural, or animated violence.
Considered acceptable for all age
groups. Appropriate viewing for the entire family.
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.
- minimal, infrequent.
- may contain comedic, unrealistic depictions.
- contains no frightening special effects not required by storyline.
PARENTAL ADVISORY CTR~PA
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.
- 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+
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.
- 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.
Intended for adults 18 years and older.
This classification applies to programming
which could contain content elements that would make it unsuitable for
viewers under the age of 18.
- 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.