Social Policy Issues > Codes > Sex-Role Portrayal Code
Sex Role Portrayal Code for Television and Radio Programming
October 26, 1990
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- STATEMENT OF INTENT
- GENERAL PRINCIPLES
- CODE APPLICATION AND ADMINISTRATION
- THE GUIDELINES
Visibility and Involvement
Program Development and Acquisition
This Code reflects the responsibility of licensees, under the Broadcasting
Act, to assure that their programming and broadcast services
achieve the highest professional standards and demonstrates the broadcasters'
commitment to the fair and equitable portrayal of all persons in television
and radio programming.
Negative or inequitable portrayal and representation of women or men
can be expressed explicitly in programs and commercial messages, as well
as implicitly through images, dialogue and character portrayal. Canadian
broadcasters recognize the cumulative effect of negative and inequitable
sex-role portrayal, and seek to address this issue effectively and responsibly
with this Code, which replaces the previous CAB Voluntary Guidelines
on Sex-Role Stereotyping.
This Code was developed in consultation with public representatives,
including the Alliance of Canadian Television and Radio Artists [ACTRA],
the Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women [CACSW], the Canadian
Coalition Against Media Pornography [CCAMP], Canadians Concerned About
Violent Entertainment [C-CAVE], Children's Broadcast Institute, la Fédération
des femmes du Québec, the National Action Committee on the Status
of Women [NACSW], the National Watch on Images of Women in the Media Inc.
[MediaWatch], and Toronto Women in Film and Video. Further public
consultation occurred with individuals recognized as knowledgeable in
The purpose of this Code is to serve as an effective guide to program
development, production, acquisition and scheduling, recognizing that
there can be no clearly defined set of criteria universally applicable
to all Canadian communities at all times.
While the development of this Code, and other initiatives undertaken
by Canadian private broadcasters in the area of sex-role portrayal are
certain to have a positive effect, it needs to be understood that these
guidelines can have minimal effect on broadcast signals or programs available
in Canada which originate in other countries.
This Code of conduct dealing with sex-role portrayal in television and
radio programming is designed to complement the general principles of
the CAB Code of Ethics and other
CAB voluntary codes.
In 1979, the Canadian Radio-television
and Telecommunications Commission [CRTC] formed a Task Force on Sex-Role
Stereotyping to encourage the elimination of sex-role stereotyping in
the broadcast media. Among the CAB's recommendations to that Task Force
were amendments to the CAB Code of Ethics
to include clauses reflecting sensitivity to sex-role stereotyping.
The 1982 CRTC Report of the Task Force, Images of Women,
directed private broadcasters to organize industry initiatives to address
the issue of stereotyping in the broadcast media. In response to that
challenge, and its own commitment, the CAB created and publicized the
CAB Voluntary Guidelines on Sex-Role Stereotyping.
In January 1986, the CRTC released its review of the steps undertaken
by broadcasters to sensitize licensees to the issue and to reduce the
incidence of unequal portrayal of the sexes in broadcast programming.
Following three public hearings, in which the CAB participated, the CRTC
issued its conclusions in December 1986.
This CRTC Policy acknowledged a considerable increase in awareness of
and commitment to the issue. It also praised the CAB's Voluntary Guidelines
as "excellent statements of principles". In response to various concerns
of the public, as well as broadcasters and the CRTC, the Commission also
set challenges for the CAB which included the revision of those Guidelines.
This CAB Code for Television and Radio Programming is
the response of the Canadian Association
of Broadcasters to those challenges. It is intended to be administered
by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council.
STATEMENT OF INTENT
It is the intent of this Code that broadcasters shall advance the awareness
of, and sensitivity to, the problems related to the negative or inequitable
sex-role portrayal of persons. This Code is intended to assist in overcoming
systemic discrimination portrayed in broadcast programming, based on gender.
Television and radio programming and commercial messages shall strive
to present an equitable representation of women and men in various social
and occupational roles, at home and at work outside the home.
It is the responsibility of television and radio broadcasters to ensure
that the provisions of the Code are brought to the attention of those
persons within their employ entrusted with program development and production,
program acquisition decisions, and commercial message production.
- The objective of equal representation is recognized and the portrayal
of women and men shall be comparable to, and reflective of, their actual
social and professional achievements, contributions, interests and activities.
- In addressing the issue of sex-role portrayal of women and men, broadcasters
shall seek to broaden the comparable diversity of roles for all individuals.
- Nothing in this Code should be interpreted as censoring the depiction
of healthy sexuality. However, broadcasters shall avoid and eliminate
the depiction of gratuitous harm toward individuals in a sexual context,
as well as the promotion of sexual hatred and degradation.
Neither sex should be subject to degradation from gratuitous acts
of violence. Television broadcasters and the public should also refer
to the CAB Voluntary Code Regarding
Violence in Television Programming, which contains
a general provision concerning violence against women.
- Broadcasters shall be sensitive to the sex-role models provided to
children by television and radio programming. In this context, programmers
shall make every effort to continue to eliminate negative sex-role portrayals,
thereby encouraging the further development of positive and progressive
sex-role models. The "sexualization" of children in programming is not
acceptable, unless in the context of a dramatic or information program
dealing with the issue.
- In the scheduling of programs, broadcasters shall evaluate individual
programs within the context of their overall program schedule, and within
the context of broadcast services available within their market, to
ensure a varied approach to programming content.
- Assessment of a station's performance in relation to program development,
acquisition, and scheduling, should take into account the station's
overall schedule and record on the issue of sex-role portrayal. The
availability of any program to viewers, from other sources within a
broadcaster's coverage area, should also be a recognized factor in assessing
- The Code is to be interpreted in a manner consistent with the Canadian
Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Broadcasting
- No Code can reasonably anticipate every circumstance of negative sex-role
portrayal. Therefore, the CAB expects such circumstances to be dealt
with in the spirit and intent of this Code.
The CAB Sex-Role Guidelines are designed so that any interpretation of sex-role
differentiation in television and radio programming is assessed in the dramatic
or informational context of a program, feature, character, dialogue, voice-over
or visual interpretation; recognizing that balance in presentation within
a specific or individual program is not always possible or desirable.
CODE APPLICATION AND ADMINISTRATION
Application of this Code is the responsibility of the individual licensee.
Complaints and inquiries should be addressed to and dealt with by the broadcasting
Complaints not resolved between the complainant and the television/radio
station may be referred to the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council,
which is charged with the enforcement of this Code, and the process which
The CAB will work with the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council
to create awareness of this Code, by distributing copies to interested
parties, as well as encouraging those broadcasters who subscribe to the
Code to broadcast relevant public service announcements.
THE CANADIAN ASSOCIATION OF BROADCASTERS
SEX-ROLE PORTRAYAL GUIDELINES FOR
TELEVISION AND RADIO PROGRAMMING
The following shall be referred to as The CAB Sex-Role Guidelines.
Non-Sexist Language is language that does not exclude
one sex or give inequitable treatment on the basis of gender.
Negative or Inequitable Sex-Role Portrayal refers to
language, attitudes or representations which tend to associate particular
roles, modes of behaviour, characteristics, attributes or products to
people on the basis of gender, without taking them into consideration
as individuals. Negative or inequitable portrayal of women and men can
be both explicit and implied.
Systemic Discrimination refers to action or treatment
by organizations or a society which is categorically prejudiced against
an individual or another group on the basis of gender, and which denies
opportunity and advancement to an individual or group.
Voice-Overs are the audio overlays of dialogue, monologue
or conversation in a television program, program segment, commercial,
promotion or station break that do not come directly from the mouths of
characters appearing on screen. This definition does not apply to portions
of a news item, which are part of a stand-alone news report done by an
individual correspondent. In radio, voice-over refers to the statement
of information in station-produced advertising in which the announcer
does not assume a particular character and is essentially anonymous.
1. Changing Interaction
Broadcasters recognize the changing interaction of women and men
in today's society. Women and men shall be portrayed, in programming, in
a wide range of roles, both traditional and non-traditional, in paid work,
social, family and leisure activities.
Guidance: The roles and opportunities for both sexes
are becoming more diverse due to such factors as the elimination of female-only
and male-only occupations, changing patterns of parenting and lifestyles.
Women and girls should be portrayed in a range of roles as diverse as
that shown for men and boys. Men should not always be portrayed as the
aggressor in personal relationships. Women and men should be portrayed
as working together in circumstances where the "power" balance does not
always favour the man by virtue of his position or personal attributes.
- Television and radio programming shall portray contemporary family
structures with an emphasis on the evolving range and diversity of families.
Guidance: Canadian society has evolved to where there
is no single contemporary family structure, but rather a range of family
lifestyles and family arrangements which differ across cultures, geographic
regions and economic circumstances. The concept of "contemporary family
structure" is meant to include a variety of family units such as marriages
between persons of different races, single parents, families blended from
different marriages and relationships, childless marriages and relationships,
couples with adopted children, as well as the circumstances created by
divorce and separation.
- Television and radio programming shall portray all persons as supporting
participants in family, home management and household tasks. Women and
men should participate on an equitable basis in organizing such family
activities as health care and financial matters, encompassing a wide
range of responsibilities and decision-making roles.
Guidance: The interpretation of this provision depends
to a large extent on individual experience and beliefs, and is therefore
open to discussion. For example, in one family, the sharing in all chores
and responsibilities related to family and home may be on a 50:50 basis,
while in another, it may mean that one partner contributes as the wage-earner
while the other offers an equitable contribution as home manager, performer
of domestic tasks and/or caregiver to spouse and children.
- Television and radio programming shall respect the principles of intellectual
and emotional equality of both sexes and the dignity of all individuals.
Television and radio programming should portray women and men as equal
beneficiaries of the positive attributes of family or single-person
life. Women and men should perform in a range of occupations and function
as intellectual and emotional equals in all types of thematic circumstances.
This should be the case for both work and leisure activities requiring
varying degrees of intellectual competence.
Guidance: Women and men should be portrayed as working
toward a comfortable existence through mutual support, both economically
and emotionally, and in both public and private spheres. Despite the problems
of societal systemic discrimination, television and radio programming
should reflect an awareness of the need to avoid and overcome discrimination
on the basis of gender.
3. Demographic Spectrum
Television and radio programming shall portray the wide spectrum
of Canadian life. Women and men shall be portrayed with fair and equitable
demographic diversity taking into account age, civil status, race, ethnocultural
origin, physical appearance, sexual orientation, background, religion, occupation,
socio-economic condition and leisure activities, while actively pursuing
a wide range of interests. Portrayals should also take into account the
roles and contributions of the mentally, physically and socially challenged.
Guidance: Compared to men, the portrayal of women in
television programming has often been more restricted with respect to
age, appearance, background, occupation, lifestyle and interests. Additionally,
the elderly, the disabled, and native peoples have also been under-represented.
Special attention should be paid to increasing the portrayal of ethnic
and visible minorities, whose presence constitutes an ever-expanding aspect
of Canadian society.
Television and radio programming shall refrain from the exploitation
of women, men and children. Negative or degrading comments on the role and
nature of women, men or children in society shall be avoided. Modes of dress,
camera focus on areas of the body and similar modes of portrayal should
not be degrading to either sex. The sexualization of children through dress
or behaviour is not acceptable.
Guidance: "Sex-ploitation" through dress is one area
in which the sexes have traditionally differed, with more women portrayed
in scant clothing and alluring postures.
5. Non-Sexist Language
Equality of the sexes must be recognized and reinforced through
the proper use of language and terminology. Broadcasters shall employ language
of a non-sexist nature in their programming, by avoiding, whenever possible,
expressions which relate to only one gender.
Guidance: Sexist language is language that unnecessarily
excludes one sex or gives unequal treatment to women and men. Such
language may perpetuate attitudes or representations of persons
which tend to attribute particular roles and characteristics on
the basis of their gender, without taking them into consideration
as individuals. Examples of non-sexist language are the use of occupational
titles such as "fire fighter" instead of "fireman" and avoiding
the exclusive use of masculine words in making general references,
e.g. "synthetic" instead of "man-made". Broadcasters should refer
to the CAB Guidelines
for Non-Sexist Language for further assistance.
Broadcasters shall achieve a realistic balance in the use of women
and men as voice-overs and as experts and authorities. In news and public
affairs programming, women and men should appear equitably, in a wide range
of occupations and decision/policy making roles.
Guidance: Significant positive change toward an eventual
goal of equal representation should be demonstrated. The objective should
be accomplished in realistic and progressive increments.
7. Visibility and Involvement
Broadcasters shall increase the visibility and involvement of women
in broadcasting, both on and off the air.
Guidance: The objective of equal participation by women
and men as both performers and policy/decision makers in the industry
is recognized. Significant positive change should be demonstrated, e.g.
more women in program credits. The objective should be accomplished in
realistic and progressive increments, and in a manner consistent with
the broadcast industry's responsibilities pursuant to Employment Equity
legislation. Initiatives in this area should include women and men who
are disabled, as well as persons who are members of ethnic and visible
8. Program Development and Acquisition
Broadcasters shall exercise sensitivity to and awareness of the
problems associated with sex-role portrayal in the development of domestic
programming, and in the acquisition of non-Canadian programming for broadcast.
Guidance: In the development of domestic programs,
broadcasters shall make station production staff aware of the Code, to
ensure that local station programming conforms to the various aspects
of sex-role portrayal outlined in the Code.
In the development, financing or acquisition of domestic programs produced
by other than station or network staff, broadcasters shall ensure that
participating independent producers and syndicators are aware of the Code.
In the acquisition of, or involvement in, non-Canadian programming,
broadcasters should make every effort to evaluate program concepts relative
to the Code.
9. Commercial Messages
The various aspects of sex-role portrayal dealt with in the appropriate
clauses of the Code shall apply to portrayal in commercial messages. Women
and men should be portrayed in commercial messages with diversity in age,
abilities, physical appearance, ethnic origin, occupation, family structure
and household responsibilities.
Guidance: Station staff responsible for the production
of locally-created messages shall be advised of the provisions of the
Code, to be taken into account in the production of local commercial messages.
In terms of nationally-created commercial messages, broadcasters shall
work closely with established organizations, such as the Telecaster Committee
and the Canadian Advertising Foundation (CAF), to advocate the provisions
of the Code and to co-operate in the ongoing educational process to increase
awareness of the Code in the advertising industry.
Non-sexist language shall be used whenever possible. Overt sexual exploitation
of either sex and gratuitous violence is to be avoided.
Commercial messages should reflect a balance of women and men as presenters
and as voice-overs.