Questions Concerning CBSC Decisions
- What happens after I request a CBSC ruling?
- Who decides whether a particular broadcast has met the existing standards?
- How long will it be before I get the CBSC's decision about my complaint?
- Can I attend the hearing of my complaint?
- What happens if the CBSC finds a Code violation?
- Can I appeal a CBSC Decision?
- Are all decisions of CBSC Panels unanimous?
- Will my name be made public if I make a complaint?
What happens after I request a CBSC ruling?
The CBSC will order logger file copies of the broadcast from the broadcaster and review the issue.
If your complaint raises issues that have been decided in the past NOT to be in violation of any Code, you will receive a letter from the CBSC Secretariat that explains this result and quotes previous CBSC decisions which reached a similar conclusion. The broadcaster in question will receive a copy of the letter, but the letter will not be made public or posted on the CBSC website.
If your complaint raises new issues or ones that have been found in violation of a Code in the past, your complaint will be sent to the appropriate Adjudicating Panel. The Panel Adjudicators will review all correspondence from both the complainant and the broadcaster and watch or listen to the programming in question. They will examine the broadcast under the Codes and make a determination. You will receive a copy of the Panel Decision. The decision will also be posted on our website and various media organizations will be notified of its release.
Who decides whether a particular broadcast has met the existing standards?
Each decision is taken by one of the CBSC Adjudicating Panels, each of which is composed of equal numbers of representatives of the public and the broadcasting industry. There are eight Adjudicating Panels, five of them regional, two of them national and one journalistic independence panel.
The five Regional Panels (Atlantic, Quebec, Ontario, Prairie and British Columbia) review complaints about local radio and television broadcasters. The National Conventional Television Panel reviews complaints about television programs aired across Canada on a network with national reach, as well as syndicated programs about which the CBSC has received complaints from three or more regions. The National Specialty Services Panel reviews complaints about specialty and pay television services. The Journalistic Independence Panel examines complaints that raise issues under the Journalistic Independence Code.
As noted above, each Panel is composed of equal numbers of Adjudicators from the broadcasting industry and from the general public. They are selected on a representative basis, reflecting gender, ethnicity, geography and other pertinent criteria. Adjudicators are also chosen on basis of their ability to conduct fair, thorough and objective assessments of the issues. You can read biographies of the current Panel Adjudicators at “What is the CBSC?”.
When Panels sit on adjudications, depending on availability, there are no fewer than four persons (at least two of whom must be from each of the public and industry sides) and no more than six (no more than three of whom will be from either side).
How long will it be before I get the CBSC’s decision about my complaint?
Due to a number of factors, including the number of complaints the CBSC receives in a year, there can be a significant amount of time lapsed between the broadcast date and the release date of a decision. At any time, it is the intention of the CBSC to have a decision released within 6 months of the date it receives the complainant’s Ruling Request form.
The inevitable length of the CBSC process reflects several material considerations. First, every decision must be considered very carefully and thoughtfully by the Adjudicating Panel. Second, the reasons for any decision must be drafted equally carefully and thoughtfully and must explain in sufficient detail why the particular result was arrived at. It must also be appreciated that, although each individual complainant sees his or her file as a single matter, at any time, the CBSC Panels are in the process of adjudicating and drafting a large number of decisions.
More important, one of the primary values of the decisions is that they are “evergreen” in nature. That means that the decision applies not only to the broadcaster and the program which was the subject of the complaint, but to all CBSC broadcaster members and all programming of a similar nature which may be broadcast in the future.
Can I attend the hearing of my complaint?
No. The CBSC does not hold open hearings during which witnesses are called upon to make statements. Instead, the CBSC’s Regional Panel Adjudicators, composed of an equal number of public representatives and representatives of the broadcast industry, deliberate on the basis of the actual tape of the television show or the radio broadcast. They carefully consider the complaint, the broadcaster’s response and any other correspondence, as well as the tapes of what was actually broadcast. In a sense, the CBSC has concluded that the best evidence of the program content is what is found on the tape of the program. Either the complainant or the broadcaster may argue in their correspondence whether they believe the broadcast to constitute a Code breach or not but there is no additional evidence that can be brought regarding what was actually said.
It should also be borne in mind that holding hearings would only increase delays in the timing of the adjudication process and the release of decisions. Moreover, there is every chance that the public complainant would be more inconvenienced than the broadcaster in having to be present at such hearings, both in terms of time and expense. Therefore, in order to keep a well-balanced and objective outcome, the CBSC relies on the members of the Regional Panels to handle the process of decision-making without additional oral input from either side.
What happens if the CBSC finds a Code violation?
If a CBSC Adjudicating Panel decides that the programming has violated one or more Code provisions, the broadcaster must announce that result on air. It must make the announcement twice, once within three days following the release of the decision in prime time for television or peak listening hours for radio, and again within seven days following the release of the decision in the time period in which the offending content was broadcast. It must also write a letter to the complainant(s) within 14 days thereafter indicating that the announcements have been made. The broadcaster then must provide the CBSC with a copy of that letter and with copies of the tapes containing the broadcast announcements.
It is also expected that a similar violation will not recur; that is, the broadcaster will not air similar material in the future. It is up to the broadcaster to determine the appropriate means to ensure that the offending type of broadcast does not recur.
The CBSC does not have the authority to levy fines to broadcasters, revoke broadcast licences or demand that a program be removed from the airwaves. It is up to the broadcaster to determine the appropriate means to ensure that the offence does not recur.
Can I appeal a CBSC decision?
No and yes. The CBSC does not have an internal appeals mechanism, which would permit an appeal from the decision of one Panel to, say, another appellate Panel. Consequently, in the event that a complainant is discontent with a CBSC decision, he or she must take the matter to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). Upon receipt of a request to review a CBSC decision, the Commission undertakes a review "de novo" of the matter, that is to say, they will not confine themselves strictly to standards of appellate review but will rather look at the matter afresh. As part of this review, they will likely ask for further submissions from the "appellant" and the broadcaster in question and they will request that the provide them with our file, including the broadcast tapes, relating to the matter.
Are all decisions of CBSC Panels unanimous?
Not all are, although very few are not. More to the point, there is no requirement that they be unanimous. In those very few cases where we were unable to achieve unanimity among all the members of the Panel, which is composed of an equal number of public representatives and representatives from the broadcast industry, the decision text so states and there is then a "dissenting opinion" published along with the decision of the majority.
Will my name be made public if I make a complaint?
No. When the CBSC receives a complaint, it forwards it to the broadcaster for response. It is forwarded to upper management at the station, NOT to any on-air personalities.
Broadcasters are NOT allowed to announce your name on air. In cases where a program host did provide a complainant's name and city, the CBSC considered this an extremely serious breach of broadcasting standards.
The complainant's name and other identifying information DOES 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 CBSC will sometimes provide the name of the complainant to journalists when the complainant is an organization.