The Canadian Teachers' Federation, CTF, is the national voice for teachers in Canada on education and related social issues. Our membership includes teacher organizations in every province and territory, representing 220,000 teachers across the country. We appreciate the opportunity to present this submission to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage as it debates .
Next to parents, who best understands the impact media violence has on our young? Teachers often stand as witness to the physical and psychological fallout from media violence.
With your permission, we will speak to what we know and what we see that is needed. We will speak to more than just media violence by way of TV; we will speak to our concerns about bullying and violence that has the potential to or does directly affect our students, our schools, and teachers, through all entertainment and communications media.
What we know. On November 19, 2003, we released the results of a landmark national survey of 5,756 students in grades 3 to 10--and these would be eight-year-olds to 15-year-olds--entitled, “Kids' Take on Media”. This survey was made possible by a Government of Canada grant through the Department of Justice's National Crime Prevention Centre.
Among results were the following: 48% of Canadian kids aged eight to 15 have their own TV--and this was in 2003--and 35% have their own VCR; 75% of the kids in grades 7 to 10 watch restricted movies at home; in grade 7, 25% of children have personally rented an R-rated video; and 60% of boys in grades 3 to 6 play video and computer games almost every day.
One of the top choices for both francophone and anglophone boys in grades 3 to 6--and this would be eight-year-olds to 11-year-olds--is Grand Theft Auto, an ultraviolent action game aimed at mature audiences, which involves murder, bludgeoning, and prostitution. In grades 3 to 6, roughly 30% of kids claim they have never had any adult input about what TV shows they can watch; by grade 6 it rises to 50%, and by grade 8 it is 60%.
With game playing, adult involvement is as follows: in grades 3 to 4, the top figure for parental involvement never rises above 50%; by grade 7, 75% of adults never tell children what video or computer games they can or cannot play.
Another finding was that 51% of kids in grades 7 to 10 stated they had witnessed imitation or some violent act from a movie or TV show. Violent acts can include imitating a dangerous stunt; it does not necessarily mean aggressive violence directed against another person.
Some of the most important findings: the “Kids' Take on Media” study shows that kids and adolescents whose parents supervise their TV viewing and who discuss violence, racism, and sexism in the media are more likely to be aware of the negative impact of media violence. Many children, however, are on their own.
In response to this survey, the Canadian Teachers' Federation, with partners like Media Awareness Network, the Canadian School Boards Association, and the Canadian Home and School Federation, developed a tips bulletin for parents and a teachers' study activity guide.
Some of the other findings and more recent data from teachers we see in the 2005 Canadian Teachers' Federation's national teachers poll: 78% of teachers reported witnessing a student physically assaulting and/or intimidating another student; 75% of teachers reported witnessing a student verbally abusing another student.
In the 2006 Canadian Teachers' Federation's national issues in education poll, the public was asked what they consider serious problems in community schools. Tied for first as most serious were bullying and violence: 76% said “very or somewhat serious” and 44% said “very serious”.
In November 2007, in a release of the most comprehensive survey of teachers ever conducted in Canada, entitled “School Teachers in Canada: Context, Profile, and Work”, the following was found.
In response to the question, “To what extent do the following hinder the accomplishment of your duties when considering various school concerns?”, the second highest response of teachers, 51%, was intimidation or bullying among students.
Now we come to the most recent form of threat and potential violence by way of a communications medium, one that we have targeted as a major component of this whole issue, and that is cyber-bullying.
Cyber-bullying is described as “the use of information and communication technologies, such as e-mail, cellphone, pager, text messages, instant messaging, and websites to support deliberately repeated and hostile behaviour that is intended to harm others. That was a definition by Bill Belsey, teacher and founder of bullying.org.
Cathy Wing of the Media Awareness Network calls it an online culture of cruelty.
This is an issue closely linked to violence in television broadcasting, as many of the same assumptions on context and outcomes are relevant in promoting an ambivalence towards the use of violence in our daily lives.
In July 2007, at the Canadian Teachers' Federation annual general meeting in Toronto, a mandate was given to our organization to address the rapidly emerging issue and determine what we know about it.
An extensive study of Canadian youth—5,200 children in grades 4 through 11—conducted between 2003 and 2005 by the Media Awareness Network and entitled “Young Canadians in a Wired World” found that 94% go online at home; 86% have their own e-mail accounts; 89% of grade 4 students play games online; 34% of students in grades 7 to 11 report being bullied, while 2% of those reported talk about being severely harmed; 59% report assuming another identity on the Internet, and of those, 17% say they pretended to be someone else because “I can act mean to people and not get into trouble”.
The most recent survey on the topic, whose initial findings were released February 2008 and which involved 2,000 students in Toronto in grades 6 and 7 and grades 10 and 11, was conducted by Associate Professor Faye Mishna from the Faculty of Social Work at the University of Toronto. The findings include the following: 21% reported being cyber-bullied, 35% reported cyber-bullying others, 46% have a computer in their bedroom, 33% have given a password to a friend, 28% have watched someone else being bullied online, and 67% of parents don't supervise Internet use.
Finally, results from the recent Canadian Teachers' Federation “National Issues in Education” poll conducted in February 2008 reveal that 85% of the public are familiar with the term “cyber-bullying”; 34% indicate that they were aware of students in their community school being cyber-bullied; 91% believe that parents should become knowledgeable and responsible in monitoring their children's activities with the Internet and electronic communication devices; 71% believe that the development of legislation that better protects students and teachers from cyber-bullying would be somewhat or very effective in preventing cyber-bullying; 56% believe holding Internet service providers and wireless telephone providers accountable, if their services are used for cyber-bullying, would be somewhat or very effective; and 70% believe school boards should hold students accountable, even if the cyber-bullying originates from outside the school.
We cannot ignore the obvious. It is clear that for teenagers the web has become a virtual hangout. For instance, it was reported in MCT Business News in May 2007 that in the U.S. more than 70% of girls aged 15 to 17 use social networking sites, such as MySpace and Facebook.
Our children are adopting and adapting to the new communication technology. With the new opportunities, however, come new negative realities. Cyber-bullying combines the devastating psychological effects of both verbal and social bullying. The impact, however, can be even more profound, because the child who is being victimized often doesn't know who's doing the harassing, and many people can covertly witness or join in the bullying.
We're here today to speak not only to the issue of violence on TV but to the threats, bullying, and violence through all communications media. We include in this the threat of cyber-bullying. Therefore, we are here today to speak not only to the issue of violence on TV but also to cyber-bullying.
Bill may or may not be a particularly good tool to address this issue; however, something must be done. The CTF is addressing the issue of media violence, and particularly cyber-bullying, in two ways: first, using opportunities to educate the public, parents, teachers, children, school boards, and governments on the issue; and second, searching for ways in which the regulatory framework can further serve to protect everybody from the negative impact of violence and the inappropriate use of communication technology.
If we extend these strategies to this discussion, we would recommend two things: education and protection. Education means funding support for continued research into bullying and violence through any media as well as the development of resources and supports to assist students, teachers, and parents in appropriate responses to perceived and realized media threats and violence. Protection, our second recommendation, includes the development of more appropriate classification and monitoring mechanisms on the part of federal regulatory bodies in light of the development of even more violent and reprehensible video games, amendments to the Criminal Code that make the law more effective in controlling the capabilities of emerging technology, and the development of a national-international legal collaborative framework to address the hosting and delivery of offensive, illegal, inappropriate materials from outside our country, i.e., the inter-service providers.
Good afternoon. Thank you very much for inviting me to appear before the committee today.
My name is Shari Graydon, and I'm here representing Media Action, Action média. We are a national non-profit organization that is dedicated to raising public awareness of the social impacts of media and to encouraging more responsible industry practice. My written brief provides more detailed information about my particular expertise as a media producer, educator, and author of media literacy books.
I would like to start by saying that I really appreciate the opportunity to be here and the opportunity that this bill is providing to pay attention to violence in the media. I share the concerns behind it and the concerns being expressed by the CTF. In fact, I'm currently working on a new media literacy book specifically looking at the gap between the violence we consume as entertainment and the violence that surrounds us in society, and the disconnect that young people in particular have between those two.
As I hope you've already heard, there is a very significant body of research in peer-reviewed academic journals about the impacts of media violence, which essentially comes to three conclusions. Although there are invariably a variety of variables that influence how people respond to media violence, essentially media violence contributes to increased fear, increased aggressive behaviour, and decreased sensitivity to the suffering of others. That goes obviously not just for television violence but for violence in all media. That's the bad news.
The good news is, and I am sure the broadcasters have told you this, that Canada has a very progressive anti-violence broadcasting code. Unfortunately, the way the code is administered is problematic for at least three reasons.
Although I respect the efforts of the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, which administers the code—and indeed I have worked with Ron Cohen and his colleagues—the current process is complaint-driven. In other words, the onus is on consumers to know that the code exists, to know what's in the code, and to complain about the code, and that's how the existing code is complied with. That's how compliance gets enforced, and, necessarily, because it's complaint-driven, all of the enforcement of the code happens after the fact, after the material that breaks the code has already aired. Thirdly, the present way of administering the violence code contains, really, to my mind, absolutely no disincentives to broadcasters to air material that's in contravention of their own code.
In theory, broadcasters can lose their licence if they fail to comply with the violence code. In practice, this is never going to happen. It hasn't happened yet; I would suggest it's not going to. Only once in 20 years has a station come close to losing its licence, and that was the process involving a Quebec City radio station, CHOI, which in fact took five years to play out. The very nature of the humour of shock jock Howard Stern was fundamentally in contravention of the code. It took six years for that process to play out and for Howard Stern to be removed from Canadian airways. So the codes exist to prevent material that's blatantly offensive to Canadians, but in practice it happens after the fact, and it is not, in my submission, very effective.
Indeed, when the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council spoke with you last year they confessed they have upheld 72% of the complaints that have come to them over the last eight or nine years. What penalties have been meted out to the broadcasters who were in contravention of the code? They are essentially required to write a letter to the complainant--the person who knew enough to make the complaint in the first place--and they are required to run two on-air apologies for having broken the code. I suggest this is not really much of a disincentive.
No doubt you have also been told that the CBSC is currently receiving fewer complaints about violence in the media than it did ten years ago. I suggest this is probably not evidence of more responsible or less violent programming; it is more likely due to the fact that increasing levels of violence in other media have led to a greater acceptance of material on television that would have been unacceptable 10 years ago.
Second, there is also much less public discourse about TV violence and media violence today than there was a decade ago, for a number of reasons.
Third, because of this, Canadians are much less aware of the complaint process. Very few people know of the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council's existence, let alone that there's a CAB violence code, let alone what's in it.
Finally, the complaint process itself happens after the fact. It takes months to play out, and it doesn't result in any meaningful penalty.
As for the proposed bill, although I appreciate its attention to the issue, I regret to say that I don't believe it will be effective. The CRTC is not currently set up to engage in the kind of monitoring the bill requires. My guess is there are no plans to give the CRTC additional funds to undertake that monitoring. In addition, the violence code is supposed to prevent the airing of offensive material, not study it after the fact.
So I have a better idea, one that would reduce inappropriate violence on Canadian television by more effectively enforcing the existing violence code. It's very simple, and it essentially works on the same principle as the children's advertising code does. And I'll explain that.
The children's advertising code and the process involved is not in fact relevant to the Province of Quebec, which had the foresight 30 years ago to implement a prohibition against advertising to children. However, in English-speaking Canada, we haven't been quite so smart and progressive. When an advertiser in English Canada wishes to advertise to children under the age of 13, that advertiser must submit its commercial to Advertising Standards Canada in advance of it being broadcast. It pays a fee for the service that is then provided. The Advertising Standards Canada people look at the ad. They gauge it against the code. They make sure that it in fact adheres to the code, and then they give it approval. Only when the commercial has been approved is it subject to airing on Canadian airwaves.
My suggestion is that if we genuinely want to prevent inappropriate violence, gratuitous violence--the violence that is explicitly indicated in the broadcasters' own violence code as being inappropriate--from being aired in the first place, we should require broadcasters wishing to air violent material to submit that material in advance of the broadcast. They should have it adjudicated and cleared in advance by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, who would then say that it was in compliance with the code and would give the broadcaster clearance and make it eligible to be broadcast. That would essentially prevent, in advance, the airing of inappropriate material. It would put the onus on the broadcasters themselves, not on members of the public, who typically, as I mentioned, are unaware of the process.
Finally, I would encourage this committee to recommend that all media producers be required to contribute to a fund in support of media literacy programming and resources. Here I am effectively echoing the urgings of the Canadian Teachers' Federation and those of another witness you're going to hear after us.
As the author of two media literacy books for young people, I spend a lot of time in schools speaking to students and speaking to teachers, and it's very clear to me that....
In our democracy, we think of literacy as the ability, the capacity, to read and write critically. Increasingly, kids get much more information from audiovisual media than they do from the printed word. If we don't provide them with the critical tools to be media literate, to interrogate, to challenge, and to resist messages that are not in their best interest from other forms of media, we are essentially abdicating responsibility to the media producers themselves. And I'm sure you all know from your own media consumption that the lessons and the learning outcomes that are being visited upon us through commercial media are not parent or ministry approved.
Thank you. Merci beaucoup.
The testimony is clear. If I could summarize what we've heard--what I heard, anyhow, from not only our witnesses today, whom I thank, but from witnesses in previous sessions--I'd say most people sympathize with the intent of the bill, but nobody agrees with the bill itself, and some people actually disagree with the bill. Mr. Chairman, unless we hear from witnesses who adamantly support the bill, I'm reaching a conclusion that we're there and that the bill in its current form is not where I want to go.
My colleague has asked whether or not the witnesses.... There was a positive response to the notion of these administrative monetary penalties that the CRTC referred to. We asked for, and I hope we receive before the break, a proposal or suggestions from the CRTC. We can look at that. It might be something we could, or could not, include in the bill, depending on the nature of it. I'm quite prepared for that.
I want to reach forward in terms of other witnesses. If we're going to ask other witnesses, I will put forward a suggestion, and it's a serious one.
We heard from parents directly or indirectly, and some of us are parents. We've heard from teachers. We've heard from grandparents, and some of us are grandparents. In answer to your question, Madame Noble, about who would be better than parents, the answer is obviously grandparents, with all due respect.
The one group that this bill targets is the one group we haven't heard from. Just to be clear, Mr. Chair, would it be worth our while to assemble a panel of children, of kids, from the age group we're talking about? I mean those who actually watch TV 20 hours a week and spend 10 hours on the Internet. I know some who are glued to their computer screen, which is also their TV and their telephone. They multi-task to an extent that I couldn't possibly ever dream of doing. It's obviously another generation. It might be useful to hear from them what they think of this, since they're the ones who are targeted. Obviously, from what I've heard today from the Canadian Teachers' Federation, 50% or more of parents don't pay attention to what their kids are doing and watching.
It's a suggestion I hope my colleagues won't take lightly.
Oh, I'm getting some reaction here. Let's get some reactions.
Thank you to all three of you for attending today. I must commend you for your role in doing your best to protect children and educate children in this whole area of violence.
One of the struggles I've had, too, with this legislation is that when it first came forward in the House, I said, “Well, how can I vote against this? This is about reducing TV violence that our children might be exposed to.” When I looked at the bill—and I think all three of you have done that as well—it's actually not about violence aimed at children; it's a broad regulatory power to actually censor all violence on TV, not that it would be exercised that way but that's the way the bill is worded.
An even greater difficulty is one that I believe Ms. Graydon put her finger on: it's not going to be effective.
We live in a universe now that has PVRs, that has time-shifting. Our kids are watching violence on the Internet. On top of that, in a 500-channel universe, kids on the west coast can watch an 11 o'clock show on the west coast and there would be no restrictions on that.
I think one of the keys is media literacy. The other one is making sure that parents are involved. It's shocking to hear the statistics that you cited about the lack of parental supervision. In our family, we made a point of making sure we knew what our kids were watching.
Could you perhaps comment on how you found the bill itself, if you did review the bill, and perhaps the broadness of it, the vagueness of it, and the incredible power it's giving to the regulator to actually address all TV violence, not just that focused on children's viewing hours?
Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman. Thank you very much for the invitation to appear before you today.
As you know, I'm not representing any particular organization, but rather participating as an interested Canadian, as a father of three—and in spite of the hair, not a grandfather yet—who's been intimately involved with the issue of violence in television for more than 15 years from a number of different perspectives.
I've provided to the clerk a brief summary of my involvement with the issue of violence on television, and I understand that's been circulated to you, so you can see that I have played a role in most of the major initiatives that have happened in the violence-on-television dossier since the early 1990s. While I am now retired from the broadcast industry, I continue to be involved as a bit of an elder statesman, one who was actually there when the codes were developed, when the classification system was created, and when media literacy initiatives were first undertaken.
While I do have an opinion of the proposed legislation in front of you, I see my role today more as a resource for this committee, to be available to perhaps provide some context, clarification, and increased understanding of how the broadcast industry, the regulator, and the government have dealt with this in the past, and continue to deal with it today. To that end, I don't have an extensive opening statement, believing that my limited time with you is probably best served by being available to answer your questions.
For example, in watching the committee's recent deliberations, I know there's confusion over the title of the broadcaster's code on violence on television. Why is it called a voluntary code when in fact it's a condition of licence? Well, the answer to that lies in history, because today's code is a successor to the self-regulatory violence code that was first created in 1987, entitled the voluntary code on television violence—and when it was updated in 1993, the title just carried over. Furthermore, it was only when the CRTC approved the code that it stated in its public notice that adherence to that industry-developed code would be a condition of licence at any upcoming licence renewal hearings and for all new licensees. They just never got around to renaming it.
During one of your sessions last week, there was a committee member who asked about a statement attributed to Keith Spicer, chair of the CRTC in the nineties, referring to a 10-10-80 approach, with 10% being industry codes and standards, 10% technological tools such as classification systems and the V-chip, and 80% being public awareness, education, and media literacy.
I was there in October 1995 when Mr. Spicer made that comment at the opening session of national hearings in Hull, following regional public consultations on what should be done about violence in television. It was his firm belief that there were three pillars to a strategy to protect children from the harmful effects of violence: one was a collaborative and a cooperative approach, with all sectors in broadcasting, the cable industries, and the programmers accepting the responsibilities; two, parents had to play a role in their children's viewing and utilize empowering technologies such as the V-chip, which worked with the classification system; and three, ongoing public awareness and media literacy, the most important element of the successful approach to dealing with the issue of violence on television.
You talked with Cathy Wing of the Media Awareness Network last week, Mr. Chairman, and there was some mention about their undertaking some fresh research on questions that had been raised during your discussion. While additional research would be very useful in expanding our knowledge base, I suggest the committee take that further.
Media literacy has been clearly identified by a previous generation of this committee, as well as the CRTC, as the most critical element of the multi-faceted strategy that we've put in place in this country to deal with violence on television. I firmly believe this committee should work to ensure that the Government of Canada provides secure and long-term funding to this internationally respected organization, which is doing great work for Canadians, with limited financial resources. You've heard the accolades given to the Media Awareness Network by previous witnesses.
The codes and the tools are in place, and in my view they're working. The media literacy part of the strategy needs more support, but through more than just project funding.
Mr. Chairman, the last time this committee examined the issue of violence on television was in 1993, when the Standing Committee on Communications and Culture released its report “Television Violence: Fraying our Social Fabric”. Following extensive hearings—in which I participated—that report put forward a number of recommendations on how the CRTC could use its regulatory authority to work with broadcasters to ensure children were protected from the harmful effects of television violence. The report did not suggest that changes to the Broadcast Act were necessary, nor did that suggestion ever arise at all the hearings conducted by the CRTC. I believe that approach was valid then and is still valid today.
I believe we have a good system in place. It's one of the most comprehensive in the world, and it's been working well for more than 15 years. It's one in which there are effective regulations and an effective regulatory mechanism system. It's a balanced system that has been built with the primary objective of protecting children while at the same time preserving freedom of expression. It minimizes direct government intervention or regulation of program content, which is a minefield that I think most everyone wants to avoid. And, as do many other jurisdictions, it makes education a cornerstone.
Before I go to questions, I'd just like to pick up on an observation made by Monsieur Bélanger. During the national hearings in Hull, Chairman Spicer noticed that there was a group of children at the back of the hearing room. They had been brought in by a teacher as a field trip to see how a government commission worked. Keith had exactly the same idea that you did. So much to the consternation of his officials and those who were running the hearing, he just put a stop to all of the proceedings with the witnesses, and he said let's get those kids up here. It was quite an education. The kids were not prepared. There were no presentations or anything, and the commissioner just talked to them about what they thought about all of this. It would be a good exercise for this committee as well, I think. So I support your approach.
Mr. Chairman, that concludes my introductory remarks. I'm available for questioning.
I'd like your comment on this. In my understanding, there are maybe a couple of cross-cutting issues.
One is that, as a parent, you just want to be able to sit down from time to time with your children and watch a few hours of television and know that you will not have to switch the channel all of a sudden or that your children will be frightened by some violence or whatever. So you tend to think, “There are certain channels I will not go to, but I will go to CTV, or CBC, between this hour and that hour, and I should be fine.”
In my view, as a parent, as long as I have this space that I can trust at certain times of the day, I really don't have any other problems, because I can use a V-chip or I can reprogram my box to block out certain channels and what have you. That's when you're talking about young children.
Then, of course, there's the issue of the age of the children. At a certain point it's very hard for you to control all their viewing. That's where, I guess, media literacy comes in.
On the topic of media literacy, you get the sense that we're just putting our finger in the hole in the dike when it comes to educating about media. It's just so overwhelming what is out there. You might get the message across to an adolescent for a little while, and then you just feel that the message will be lost for a time anyway because of the omnipresence of questionable content. But do you find that these media literacy programs work? Do they have an impact? Have we been able to measure the impact?
Another part of the question would be, are they offered fairly broadly in all provinces and all schools? Is it one hour a month? Is it one hour a year? Is it an intense kind of program? I can't imagine that it would be; there are so many subjects that children are learning in school and there are so many activities.