Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ Equitable Portrayal Code

March 17, 2008

Index

  1. Introduction
  2. Background
  3. Statement of Intent
  4. General Principles
  5. Code Application and Administration
  6. The Code
    1. Clause 1: Equitable Portrayal
    2. Clause 2: Human Rights
    3. Clause 3: Negative Portrayal
    4. Clause 4: Stereotyping
    5. Clause 5: Stigmatization and Victimization
    6. Clause 6: Derision of Myths, Traditions or Practices
    7. Clause 7: Degrading Material
    8. Clause 8: Exploitation
    9. Clause 9: Language and Terminology
    10. Clause 10: Contextual Considerations
  7. Appendix to the Equitable Portrayal Code

I – Introduction

This Code, which replaces the Canadian Association of Broadcasters (“CAB”) Sex-Role Portrayal Code, has been created to ensure the equitable portrayal of all persons in television and radio programming. Canada’s private broadcasters recognize the cumulative societal effect of negative portrayal and, by creating this Equitable Portrayal Code (“Code”), establish common standards to prevent such portrayal.

The CAB solicited input on the Code from 36 public stakeholder organizations representing ethnocultural, Aboriginal, and disability groups in the English- and French-language markets.

The CAB Equitable Portrayal Code reflects the responsibilities of licensees, under the Broadcasting Act,to ensure that their programming and broadcast services achieve the highest standards, and demonstrates the private broadcasters’ commitment to the equitable portrayal of all persons in their programming.

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II – Background

In July 2004, the Canadian Association of Broadcasters endorsed the recommendations included in Reflecting Canadians – Best Practices for Cultural Diversity in Private Television, the report of the Task Force for Cultural Diversity on Television (“Task Force Report”). A key recommendation was that the CAB review its industry codes for the purpose of determining whether they addressed concerns identified in the Task Force’s research findings regarding the reflection and portrayal of ethnocultural and Aboriginal groups. The Task Force Report was followed by a report commissioned by the CAB, The Presence, Portrayal and Participation of Persons with Disabilities in Television Programming (“CAB Persons with Disabilities Report”), which was released in September 2005. The CAB Persons with Disabilities Report also noted a lack of industry reference points or standards concerning the depiction and portrayal of persons with disabilities and called for a review of existing codes to address this concern.

The CAB was guided by the research findings in both the Task Force Report and in the CAB Persons with Disabilities Report relating to reflection and portrayal in developing this Code.

Specifically, the Task Force Report, and in particular the Phase IV Focus Group research, identified the following areas of concern with respect to achieving the fair and accurate portrayal of ethnocultural and Aboriginal groups:

The CAB Persons with Disabilities Report, and in particular Part III of the Research Report, identified similar concerns regarding the reflection and portrayal of persons with disabilities focusing primarily on inaccurate or stereotypical portrayals in dramatic and news and information programming and concerns regarding the victimization of persons with disabilities in programming.

This Code is designed to complement the research conducted and the initiatives undertaken by Canada’s private broadcasters and other industry stakeholders in the area of diversity, and the general principles contained in the other CAB and industry codes referenced in Appendix to the Equitable Portrayal Code, namely, the Radio Television News Directors Association (“RTNDA”) Code of (Journalistic) Ethics, the Advertising Standards Canada Gender Portrayal Guidelines for Advertising and the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards.

This CAB Equitable Portrayal Code is the response of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters to concerns identified in the Task Force Report and the CAB Persons with Disabilities Report regarding depiction and portrayal. It will be administered by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council.

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III – Statement of Intent

It is the intent of this Code that broadcasters shall strive to present equitable portrayal. This Code is intended to overcome unduly negative portrayal and stereotyping in broadcast programming, including commercial messages, based on matters of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, marital status or physical or mental disability.

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IV – General Principles

  1. The objective of equitable reflection of identifiable groups is well recognized by broadcasters, who consider that the portrayal of such groups shall be comparable to, and reflective of, their actual social and professional achievements, education, contributions, interests and activities.
  2. Television and radio programming shall strive to present all identifiable groups in various social and occupational roles, at home and at work outside the home.
  3. 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.
  4. Broadcasters and the public should also refer to the CAB Violence Code, which contains provisions prohibiting programming that sanctions, promotes or glamorizes violence against identifiable groups; and the RTNDA Code of (Journalistic) Ethics and certain clauses of the CAB Code of Ethics, which deal with news and public affairs programming.
  5. Broadcasters shall evaluate individual programs within the context of their overall schedule, on the one hand, and broadcast services and other media available within their market, on the other, to ensure a varied approach to programming content that reflects the equitable portrayal of identifiable groups.
  6. 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 the portrayal of individuals or groups on the basis of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, marital status or physical or mental disability.
  7. Any appreciation of portrayal in television and radio programming is assessed in the fictional or non-fictional context of a program, feature, character, dialogue, voice-over or visual interpretation. Taking into consideration the societal, educational and entertainment purposes of program creation, it is recognized that balance in portrayal within a specific or individual program is not always possible or even desirable.
  8. No code can reasonably anticipate every circumstance of negative portrayal. Consequently, the CAB expects all such circumstances to be dealt with in accordance with the spirit and intent, as well as the wording, of this Code.

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V – 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 broadcaster involved.

Complaints not resolved between the complainant and the broadcaster will be referred to the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC), which is charged with the administration of this Code and the process which that entails.To create awareness of this Code, the CAB will work with the CBSC, which will distribute copies to interested parties, post the Code on its website in the CBSC’s wide range of Aboriginal and ethnocultural languages, and encourage broadcasters to broadcast relevant public service announcements.

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VI – The Code

(1) Equitable Portrayal

Television and radio programming shall respect the principle of equitable portrayal of all individuals.

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(2) Human Rights

Recognizing that every person has the right to the full enjoyment of certain fundamental rights and freedoms, broadcasters shall ensure that their programming contains no abusive or unduly discriminatory material or comment which is based on matters of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, marital status or physical or mental disability.

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(3) Negative Portrayal

In an effort to ensure appropriate depictions of all individuals and groups, broadcasters shall refrain from airing unduly negative portrayals of persons with respect to race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, marital status or physical or mental disability. Negative portrayal can take many different forms, including (but not limited to) stereotyping, stigmatization and victimization, derision of myths, traditions or practices, degrading material, and exploitation.

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(4) Stereotyping

Recognizing that stereotyping is a form of generalization that is frequently simplistic, belittling, hurtful or prejudicial, while being unreflective of the complexity of the group being stereotyped, broadcasters shall ensure that their programming contains no unduly negative stereotypical material or comment which is based on matters of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, marital status or physical or mental disability.

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(5) Stigmatization and Victimization

Recognizing that members of certain of the following identifiable groups face particular portrayal issues, broadcasters shall ensure that their programming does not stigmatize or victimize individuals or groups on the basis of their race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, marital status or physical or mental disability.

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(6) Derision of Myths, Traditions or Practices

Broadcasters shall avoid the airing of content that has the effect of unduly deriding the myths, traditions or practices of groups on the basis of their race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, marital status or physical or mental disability.

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(7) Degrading Material

Broadcasters shall avoid the airing of degrading material, whether reflected in words, sounds, images or by other means, which is based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, marital status or physical or mental disability.

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(8) Exploitation

  1. Broadcasters shall refrain from the airing of programming that exploits women, men or children.
  2. Broadcasters shall refrain from the sexualization of children in programming.

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(9) Language and Terminology

Broadcasters shall be sensitive to, and avoid, the usage of derogatory or inappropriate language or terminology in references to individuals or groups based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, marital status or physical or mental disability.

  1. 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.
  2. It is understood that language and terminology evolve over time. Some language and terminology may be inappropriate when used with respect to identifiable groups on the basis of their race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, marital status or physical or mental disability. Broadcasters shall remain vigilant with respect to the evolving appropriateness or inappropriateness of particular words and phrases, keeping in mind prevailing community standards.

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(10) Contextual Considerations

Broadcasts may fairly include material that would otherwise appear to breach one of the foregoing provisions in the following contextual circumstances:

  1. Legitimate artistic usage: Individuals who are themselves bigoted or intolerant may be part of a fictional or non-fictional program, provided that the program is not itself abusive or unduly discriminatory;
  2. Comedic, humorous or satirical usage: Although the comedic, humorous or satirical intention or nature of programming is not an absolute defence with respect to the proscriptions of this Code, it is understood that some comedic, humorous or satirical content, although discriminatory or stereotypical, may be light and relatively inoffensive, rather than abusive or unduly discriminatory;
  3. Intellectual treatment:  Programming apparently for academic, artistic, humanitarian, journalistic, scientific or research purposes, or otherwise in the public interest, may be broadcast, provided that it: is not abusive or unduly discriminatory; does not incite contempt for, or severely ridicule, an enumerated group; and is not likely to incite or perpetuate hatred against an enumerated group.

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Appendix

The following is intended to provide readers with a non-exhaustive list of research undertaken, as well as reference material and tools private broadcasters and related industry stakeholders have developed or applied, in the area of diversity that may provide additional guidance in achieving the equitable portrayal of all groups in television and radio programming:

Industry Codes

Industry Research and Resources

Industry Initiatives and Tools