Questions Concerning the Complaints Process
- How do I make a complaint?
- What information must be included in a complaint?
- Why is it necessary to put my complaint in writing?
- What happens after I make a complaint?
- Why is the broadcaster being asked to respond to me? Why can't the CBSC just decide the matter?
- What is a Ruling Request and why do I need to file one if I'm not satisfied with the broadcaster's response?
- Can I complain about an upcoming broadcast?
- Can I get tapes of the programming that concerned me?
- Can I submit a complaint anonymously?
- Is there a time limit on filing a complaint?
- I intend to take legal action against the station. Can I still make a complaint with the CBSC?
- I don't have specific dates and times of the program I found offensive; I find the content of a specific program offensive every time I tune in. Why can't the CBSC deal with my complaint?
- Can the CBSC deal with complaints about ALL broadcasters available in Canada?
- What is a logger file
- I have already contacted the station and was not satisfied with their response. What happens when I complain to the CBSC?
- Can I complain in a language other than English or French?
How do I make a complaint?
All complaints must be made in writing. They can be sent via the webform, email, postal mail, or fax. Addresses for each method of communication as well as further information on what should be included in your complaint can be found at Making a Complaint. Complaints must be received within 28 days of the date of broadcast.
What information must be included in a complaint?
Both the CBSC and the broadcaster need to know what concerns you in order to be able to respond. It is, therefore, most important to include information that will identify the broadcaster (such as its name or call letters), the name of the program, if possible, and the date and time at which the offending material ran. You should also tell us what bothered you about what you saw or heard. Please note that it is essential that you must have personally seen or heard the offending material. Reporting what someone has told you was broadcast will not trigger the CBSC’s process. Please note that everything you submit including your contact information will be forwarded to station management.
Why is it necessary to put my complaint in writing?
The CBSC’s complaints resolution process is admittedly more burdensome on complainants than a simple phone call; however, a written complaint suggests thoughtfulness and a genuine concern on the part of the complainant, rather than a passing, impulsive, knee-jerk reaction. It also leaves no doubt as to the substance of the complaint. It is also essential for the CBSC to be able to forward the complaint to the station and permits the CBSC to require that broadcasters send a written response to the complainant. They must equally respond to complainants in writing. This is the basis for a more productive dialogue between the broadcaster and its audience, a point of considerable importance to the CBSC’s complaint process. Moreover, the written complaint creates a record which will enable the CBSC to assess the merits of the substantive complaint as well as the broadcaster’s responsiveness. See the related FAQ Why is the broadcaster being asked to respond to me? Why can’t the CBSC just decide the matter?
What happens after I make a complaint?
The CBSC will acknowledge receipt of your complaint and forward a copy to the broadcaster in question, asking that it respond to your concerns. If you have provided sufficient information about the programming that offended you (the time and date of the broadcast and the name or call letters of the station), you will be provided with a Ruling Request form which you can return to the CBSC if you are unsatisfied with the broadcaster’s response. Please note that it is only upon receipt of a Ruling Request form that the CBSC will begin its substantive review of any given matter. For further information on what happens after the filing of a Ruling Request, see the FAQs under the heading “CBSC Decisions”.
Why is the broadcaster being asked to respond to me? Why can’t the CBSC just decide the matter?
The dialogue between the broadcaster and its audience members is a cornerstone of the CBSC’s complaints resolution process. The broadcaster benefits from the exchange by learning about the concerns and the level of tolerance of its audience and has the opportunity, if appropriate, to institute changes to its programming decisions. The complainant receives a personal response from the broadcaster explaining the reasons underlying the station's broadcasting choices, which may satisfy his or her concerns. Since that dialogue frequently satisfies the complainant, it is a method of resolution of the complaint without the need for adjudication of the matter. For the CBSC, this “dialogue” process enables the "building of the record", i.e. the presentation of arguments for and against the broadcast in question, which is important if the matter will be sent to the next stage of the process. The arguments on both sides are often invaluable to the Panel Adjudicators when they are called upon to review the actual broadcast for its compatibility with the Codes.
What is a Ruling Request and why do I need to file one if I’m not satisfied with the broadcaster’s response?
A Ruling Request is a form which indicates to the CBSC, first, that you have considered the response given to you by the broadcaster about whose program you have complained and, second, that you are not satisfied with that response. It means that you would like the CBSC to rule on the matter. Unless the CBSC receives a Ruling Request, it will not bring a complaint to the adjudication stage.
Can I complain about an upcoming broadcast?
No. The CBSC does not have any pre-clearance process. In fact, there is no such process for vetting programming in the Canadian broadcasting system. Moreover, generally, there is no way to be certain what will happen in the case of live broadcasting and, in the case of pre-packaged dramatic programming, for example, any broadcast may be edited by the station or accompanied by viewer advisories and classification icons, which can have an effect on the appropriateness of what is actually broadcast. Consequently, the CBSC can only deal with complaints about programming that has already been aired.
Can I get tapes of the programming that concerned me?
Not from the CBSC (although there are commercial enterprises that provide tapes or transcripts of recent programming on a fee basis). Because tapes of programming are the property of the broadcaster, which furnishes them to the CBSC solely as a part of the complaints resolution process, the CBSC does not consider itself at liberty to provide copies of tapes to complainants or other members of the general public. While broadcasters are required to provide copies of programming to the CBSC (or the CRTC) pursuant to filing of a complaint, they are under no obligation to provide copies of tapes to complainants themselves. Some broadcasters will provide tapes to the public upon request as a courtesy or for a fee but the most certain method of securing a tape or transcript is, as noted above, to order one from a commercial house which is the business of supplying such material. Note, though, that they generally do not retain such records for more than 30 days following the broadcast.
In the interest of accuracy and completeness, the CBSC usually provides either a thorough description or, where relevant, a written transcript of the challenged programming in its decision or in an appendix thereto.
Can I submit a complaint anonymously?
No. The CBSC approaches this subject in a way which is similar to the letters to the editor page in a newspaper. Just as the newspaper editor will not publish an anonymous letter on that page, the Council wants a complainant to stand behind the complaint that he or she makes. For the CBSC to pursue a complaint you may wish to make, it must receive your full name and civic address or e-mail address. If the CBSC receives an anonymous complaint, it will request that information from the complainant before proceeding further.
The CBSC considers the dialogue process between the complainant and the broadcaster to be a key part of the complaints resolution procedure. The Secretariat considers that, if the complainant is reluctant to provide an accurate name and address, it is not reasonable for the Council to request that the broadcaster seriously devote its time to a thoughtful reply to the complainant. By definition, “Dialogue” involves two people.
If, on the other hand, you have specific concerns about revealing your name to a broadcaster, please explain these in your complaint. The CBSC Secretariat will examine your request for anonymity and may allow it in exceptional circumstances. If it does not agree with your reasons, you will be free to withdraw your complaint.
In any event, broadcasters are NOT allowed to announce your name on air. The CBSC would consider such an action to be an extremely serious breach of broadcasting standards.
Moreover, the complainant’s name and other identifying information DO NOT appear in the CBSC’s decision or appendix to the decision. It is also CBSC policy NOT to release that information to journalists who may be reporting on the decision. The one exception to that principle is made by the CBSC when the complainant is an organization whose relationship to the file is materially significant and the Secretariat has reason to believe it is in the interests of the organization to be publicly associated with the complaint. Individual complainants are themselves free to contact the press at the time a decision is released, in the event that they wish their interest in the file to be made public.
Is there a time limit on filing a complaint?
Yes. You must file your complaint within 28 days of the broadcast date. Broadcasters are only required to keep copies of their programming for 28 days. Even if you have your own copy or the content remains available online, the CBSC must use the official broadcaster logger copies and these are only available for 28 days following the broadcast.
I intend to take legal action against the station. Can I still make a complaint with the CBSC?
No. If you choose to take legal action and pursue your complaint in the court system, you cannot also make a complaint with the CBSC at the same time.
I don’t have specific dates and times of the program I found offensive; I find the content of a specific program offensive every time I tune in. Why can’t the CBSC deal with my complaint?
When the CBSC receives a complaint, we contact the station that aired that particular program and ask them to hold the logger files of the program in question. We require specific dates and times in order to follow this procedure so that the Council can review the program in question, if necessary.
Can the CBSC deal with complaints about ALL broadcasters available in Canada?
No. The CBSC can only deal with complaints about Canadian private radio and television stations that are members of the CBSC. The CBSC therefore CANNOT deal with complaints about the national public network CBC or publicly owned provincial educational broadcasters, such as TVOntario. The CBSC CANNOT deal with complaints about content on stations that originate in the United States or elsewhere outside of Canada. The Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), which is the government agency responsible for overseeing the Canadian broadcasting industry, deals with those complaints. There are also a few private Canadian radio and television stations who have chosen not to be members of the CBSC. The CRTC deals with complaints about their programming as well. For a list of CBSC members, please click on Broadcaster Members.
What is a logger file?
A logger file is a recording that contains exactly what was broadcast, including commercials. Television logger files also contain viewer advisories, classification icons and usually a time counter that shows exactly what time the programming was aired. It is the logger file that the CBSC reviews for its decisions.
I have already contacted the station and was not satisfied with their response. What happens when I complain to the CBSC?
The CBSC will acknowledge receipt of your complaint. If you contacted the station by telephone, the CBSC will ask the broadcaster to respond to you in writing, since the CBSC requires written documentation of correspondence. If you are unsatisfied with their written response, you can ask the CBSC to investigate further.
If you already received a written response from the broadcaster, the CBSC will offer the broadcaster a second opportunity to respond in writing in case they want to add any more information now that the CBSC is dealing with the complaint. If they do write to you a second time, and you are not satisfied with that response, you can ask the CBSC to investigate further. If the broadcaster tells the CBSC that the first letter covers everything they want to say, the CBSC will consider that their official response and the CBSC will investigate further.
The process then follows the normal process outlined in “What happens after I make a complaint?”
Can I complain in a language other than English or French?
Yes. You can write your complaint in whatever language you are most comfortable. If the CBSC does not have a staff member who understands that language, it will have the letter translated by professional translators.
You can also complain about a program that was broadcast in a language other than French or English. The CBSC will obtain translated transcripts of the program from objective, independent translators and/or consult with speakers of that language if necessary.
The CBSC publishes some of its information in languages other than English or French.