Canadian Broadcasters Set Violence Standards for TV Private Industry Institutes Self-Censorship, Trend Is Expected to Widen
Mark Clayton, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
CANADA is ringing in the new year with an assault on television violence: a new self-regulating code developed by broadcasters that is being called the toughest in North America.
While political leaders in the United States prod and poke reluctant media executives to do something about violent programming, Canada is getting results by employing a typically Canadian consensus-style approach to dealing with societal problems.
Beginning Jan. 1, an industry watchdog group will monitor compliance with the private-broadcast industry's own voluntary code. Canadian regulators, in turn, will watch the watchdog to ensure that unresolved public complaints are weighed when broadcast licenses are up for renewal.
"We firmly believe we have struck the right balance between free speech on the one hand and informing the public and protecting children on the other," said Canadian Association of Broadcasters President Michael McCabe in a statement. "Our code is stronger than anything used by other players in the Canadian broadcast industry, or being considered in the United States. It sets standards by which others will be judged."
Under the code, broadcasters will be expected to:
* Ban all "gratuitous and glamorized violence."
* Confine violent scenes intended for adults to after 9 p.m.
* Ban any program that "sanctions, promotes, or glamorizes any aspect of violence against women," minorities, or animals.
* Set strict rules on violence depicted in children's shows.
* Provide viewer advisories on violence content of shows.
* Provide guidelines for depiction of violence in news, sports, and public-affairs programs.
Cable TV is unaffected so far, as are specialty channels like music-video, sports, and movie stations. Though the code applies only to privately owned broadcasters (public broadcasting already has a code), the pact is a breakthrough that builds an impetus for widening industry participation in limiting TV violence, officials say.
"I would say that what we have achieved with the broadcasters' code is vitally important, but only about 10 percent of the solution," says Keith Spicer, chairman of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), the Canadian equivalent of the Federal Communications Commission in the US. The vast majority of the work will be educating the public about TV violence, a campaign that begins in Canada in earnest next year.
"What we're trying to do in both our countries," Mr. Spicer says, "is to make the relentless diet of glamorized violence socially unacceptable."
The reasons Canada has succeeded with its broadcasters is a tale of the carrot and the stick, political leadership, and a young woman with gumption.
Virginie Lariviere, a Quebec teenager, started what evolved into a national campaign when she collected 1.5 million signatures on a petition urging that violence on TV be regulated. …