Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
I want to thank the committee for allowing me to appear. I have prepared a short brief, which I have unfortunately not had time to translate, given the short lead time for today's meeting.
Colleagues, in November 1992, a 13-year-old girl named Virginie Larivière, who had just lost her sister in a heinous crime, submitted a petition to Prime Minister Brian Mulroney that was signed by over 1.5 million Canadians calling for legislation to reduce violence on television. At the time, this young girl's action provoked a great deal of public debate about the role of the government, broadcasters and parents in the face of the ubiquitous violence shown on the small screen.
The response from broadcasters and the CRTC was swift. A few months later, in 1993, the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission, the CRTC, brought in the Voluntary Code Regarding Violence in Television Programming, which was developed by the Canadian Association of Broadcasters.
By signing on to the code, private broadcasters in Canada publicly endorsed the following principles: that programming containing scenes with gratuitous violence not be broadcast; that young children not be exposed to programming that is not age-appropriate; and that viewers be informed of the content of programs that they choose to watch.
In June 1993, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Communications and Culture concluded that the self-regulation approach needed to be given a chance. However, the committee did agree that if that approach did not work, legislation would need to be considered.
Where are we 15 years on? An analysis done by Laval University's Media Study Centre in December 2004 indicated that the number of acts of physical violence on television had increased by 286% in 10 years, with 81% of those acts of violence occurring in programming beginning before 9:00 p.m. and 29% occurring in psychological films.
Of course, the figures can be presented in different ways, but it is clear that television violence is widespread to the point that it influences the behaviour of our young people. It has to be concluded that the voluntary approach used with broadcasters does not seem to have given the desired results 15 years after the voluntary code was adopted.
In Quebec, the report by Dr. Catherine Rudel-Tessier as a result of her coroner's inquest into the death of an 11-year-old boy on December 31, 2005, is still fresh in people's minds.
In her report, the coroner described Simon as a lively, healthy boy with a bit of a sense of adventure. On December 30, 2005, at around 7:00 p.m., Simon and his father decided to watch the movie The Patriot on television.
As the report indicates, the plans of Simon and his father to watch the movie together changed when an unexpected visitor arrived. The child started to watch the movie alone, and his father promised that he would come and join him. At around 8:10 p.m., the boy was found hanging from the ceiling with The Patriot still playing on the television. The movie was rated “13 and over with violence” in Canada.
According to the coroner, there was nothing to indicate that the boy had committed suicide. She said that he had almost certainly been trying to play out a scene from the film shown at 7:34 p.m. where the hero's oldest son is brought by soldiers to be hung from a tree. According to the coroner, Simon may also have been influenced by another scene, which was shown at 8:01 p.m.
Finally, she questioned whether the film should have been shown at 7:00 p.m.
Similarly, under the voluntary code, the French version of the movie Striking Distance was shown at 8:00 p.m. on a major network on August 16, 2006; it was rated “18 years and over with violence and coarse language” and the movie Cradle 2 the Grave was shown in its French version on September 12, 2007, at 8:00 p.m.; it is rated “14 years and over with scenes of violence and coarse language.”
I sincerely think that it is time to act.
I would remind you that, in 1993, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Communications and Culture, which is now the Committee on Canadian Heritage, concluded that self-regulation needed to be given a chance to work. However, the committee agreed that if that approach did not work, legislation would have to be considered. That is the spirit behind Bill .
The bill before you today would require the CRTC to adopt regulations to limit violence on television, force it to monitor compliance by broadcast licence holders with their obligations concerning violence, and sanction those that violate the rules, as well as require it to hold hearings every five years to assess the results of this approach.
In closing, over 15 years after adoption of the voluntary approach, it is clearly time to take a regulatory approach. Our children and the teachers that work with them day-to-day deserve it.
Thank you very much.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
I thank the committee for inviting us to express our views on Bill .
The principle aim of the bill, as we understand it, is to contribute to solving the problem of violence in society by reducing violence in the programming offered to the public, including children.
We assume by “solving”, the bill means that violence should not be glorified or depicted too graphically. By “reducing”, we assume the bill means restricting the most graphic and inappropriate portrayals of violence to time periods when children are unlikely to be watching television.
Given these interpretations of the key terms, we regard the aims of the bill as entirely laudable. These aims are ours as well.
However, it is important to remember that the CRTC does not mandate or dictate programming, but rather ensures that it conforms to the objectives of the Broadcasting Act. In particular, the act states that programming should be of a high standard, respectful of equality rights and reflective of Canadian values.
In pursuing these objectives, the act also directs the CRTC to respect freedom of expression, as guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The system we now have in place to deal with these issues is a collaborative one that relies largely on self-regulation by the industry in accordance with an obligatory code on violence. This code was developed by the Canadian Association of Broadcasters and approved by the CRTC. In addition, the CRTC holds the authority to serve as a final arbiter on these issues when required.
Today I will focus on the enforcement of programming standards on violence. I would like to take you briefly through the process to show you how the system works when a complaint is made.
First, the CRTC requires all broadcasters to adhere to a code on violence as a condition of licence. However, it suspends this obligation as long as a broadcaster is a member in good standing of the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, the CBSC, and is therefore bound by the CAB code.
The complainant may bring the issue to the broadcaster or the CRTC. If one of the private broadcasters is involved and that broadcaster is a member in good standing of the CBSC, the complaint may be brought directly to the CBSC, or it is forwarded by the commission to the CBSC, if it comes to us.
The CBSC is an independent organization established by the Canadian Association of Broadcasters with the approval of the CRTC. Once such a complaint is made, the council will determine whether an infraction of the CAB's violence code has occurred.
This is a code that the CRTC regards as an important standard, and its terms provide a framework that is used across all sectors of the industry. Among other things: it prohibits gratuitous violence; it requires that viewer advisories accompany programs with violent content, i.e., the verbal warnings that indicate the nature of the content; it requires broadcasters to display a rating that informs parents of the suitable age groups for the programs; it establishes a watershed hour, such that depictions of violence intended for adult audiences must be broadcast after 9 p.m.; and it sets out detailed restrictions on the portrayal of violence in children's programs.
A private broadcaster who is found to have violated the code must acknowledge the violation with an announcement on the air and must provide the council with evidence that this has been done. If violations of the same kind have occurred more than three times, the broadcaster is required to show within 30 days why they should remain a member in good standing of the CBSC.
When the complaint concerns a public broadcaster such as the CBC, an educational broadcaster, or a broadcaster who is not a member in good standing of the CBSC, it is the CRTC that will hear the complaint. The commission will also hear any complaint in cases where the complainant is not satisfied with the resolution provided by the CBSC.
If the CRTC finds that a violation has occurred, it will issue a public decision to that effect, and this goes on the record of the licensee. Such decisions may be considered when the broadcaster's licence comes up for renewal. Measures, even severe ones, can be imposed at that time. That's the principal difference: with CBSC, it is corrected; with us, not only is it corrected, but it goes on the record and will be considered at the time of renewal.
I have taken you through the enforcement process as it is today so that you may understand our reaction to the bill before you.
We have no problems with clauses 1 and 2 of the bill, given the interpretation I mentioned at the outset. We do, however, have reservations about clause 3, which would add two new sections, identified as 10.1 and 10.2, to the Broadcasting Act. These additions would require the commission to make regulations concerning violent scenes on television, including those in programming intended for children. It would also require the monitoring of compliance and the punishment of non-compliance according to law.
This is contrary to our regulatory approach. For us, it has become a high priority to use regulation as an instrument of policy only when regulation is necessary. That means we will regulate only when no other effective means is available to achieve the desired purpose. When we do regulate, it will be with smarter and lighter regulation.
We believe that the present system, based on industry self-regulation and adherence to obligatory codes, and backed up by the CRTC as the final arbiter, does provide an effective means to achieve the desired purpose. We therefore cannot support the provisions of Bill C-327 that call for prescriptive regulation in lieu of industry self-regulation backed up by conditions of licence.
We do, however, share the aims of this bill when it comes to effective enforcement of our policies governing content standards. For some time, we have felt the lack of a full range of penalties to deal with violations.
Our powers of enforcement would be both stronger and sharper if we were given the power to impose administrative monetary penalties, or AMPs. In other words, the commission should be able to fine a broadcaster for infractions. These fines would be proportionate to the offence. They would be large enough to hurt and serve as a deterrent.
The CRTC has such powers as a means of enforcement under the Telecommunications Act. It strikes us that it is equally needed in broadcasting. At the moment, the only penalties we can impose are either relatively light or excessively heavy. At the light end we have an on-air announcement required by the CBSC or a public decision rendered by the CRTC in response to a complaint. At the heavy end we can shorten the offender's term of licence at renewal time or deny renewal entirely. These are very blunt instruments; we need something in between. Those are the AMPs I mentioned.
If the committee so desires, you could have our legal staff draft the appropriate amendments to Bill , which would replace the proposed sections 10.1 and 10.2 with a system of monetary penalties.
We note that the bill calls for the commission to review the new regulations after five years. Should the bill be enacted with the amendments we suggested, we would have no objection to undertaking such a review.
I thank you for giving me this opportunity to express our views, and we are ready to answer your questions.
First of all, section 32 is the standard provision for criminal offences that you find in most acts, saying that if you breach this act, you're guilty of a criminal offence, which means you have to go to court. You have to prove the offence. You have to prove it to a criminal standard of proof, that is, beyond all reasonable doubt. It's also a fairly lengthy process. It brings the full majesty of the law against somebody who has committed a criminal act.
That's not what we're talking about here. Here we're talking about, in effect, what's called an administrative monetary penalty. In common parlance, it's called a fine. You have to prove it to a civil standard, that is, on the balance of probability rather than beyond all reasonable doubt. It's also going to be very quickly done while the offence is there, while the program is still on the air.
The criminal process is.... It's first of all disproportionate. Second, by the time you bring...the program may no longer be on the air and it may be totally irrelevant. It's also very difficult to prove that somebody deliberately, with full intent, went out to breach the code and did something that was in explicit violation of the code.
As I mentioned in my opening remarks, we have now, basically, the power to shame. CBSC does it. They say you've done wrong, so admit it. We do the same thing, and we put it on the record. Or we can have sort of a nuclear bomb: we withdraw the licence. There's absolutely nothing in between, and what we suggest for these things, which may be infractions of various gradations, is that there should be an appropriate penalty.
As far as your second question is concerned, if this bill is not amended, yes, this AMPs power is needed, not only in regard to the violence question but in regard to other issues we regulate too. And hopefully we will see it some day. It was raised in this bill specifically, and as there's a concern with violence, I thought it was appropriate to raise it with you.