Mr. Speaker, I am confident that all members in the House join me in genuine concern about ensuring that our children have safeguards against violence on television in this country. To this end, on behalf of the residents in the Churchill riding, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-327, An Act to amend the Broadcasting Act (reduction of violence in television broadcasts) introduced by the member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie.
Upon introduction of the bill on June 19, 2006, the member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie said:
Mr. Speaker, today I am pleased to introduce a bill to reduce television violence, particularly during peak viewing hours for children.
This quote encapsulates the objective the member hopes to achieve with this bill. Before continuing this debate, I would like to acknowledge the integrity of my hon. colleague's aim. As many parliamentarians would know, the bill was initially introduced in the House of Commons during the first session of the 37th Parliament as Bill C-420 and prior to reintroduction, the bill received only slight modifications.
The issue of violence on television has been at the forefront of the public mind over the past couple of decades. In fact, the issue did become a priority for the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, the regulatory body of Canada's Broadcasting Act and in 1990 it commissioned two studies, “Scientific Knowledge about Television Violence” and “Summary and Analysis of Various Studies on Violence and Television”. The findings and recommendations of these studies led to action by the CRTC toward the development of guidelines in Canada by working with the Canadian Association of Broadcasters, provincial ministers and the cable industry.
In 1992 a significant event occurred when a very young woman, Virginie Larivière, submitted a petition to Parliament with 1.5 million signatures seeking a ban on television violence. It was a clear message from Canadians on the issue.
In February 1993 the Action Group on Violence on Television was formed. It was comprised of the Association of Canadian Advertisers, the Canadian Association of Broadcasters, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the Canadian Cable Television Association, Canadian Film and Television Production Association, the Association des producteurs de films et de télévision du Québec, and the licensees of pay television, pay per view services and specialty services.
In September of that year they released a general statement of principles concerning violence on television programming with the aim of a classification system for television programming. Numerous critical actions followed. The CRTC accepted the Canadian Association of Broadcasters' revised voluntary code regarding violence in television programming and announced that compliance would be a condition of a broadcast licence. The code designated the watershed in which broadcasters could not air programs which included violence intended for an adult audience between the hours of 6 a.m. and 9 p.m.
Since that time, Canada has been a leader throughout the world in setting regulatory mechanisms and strong industry codes to ensure that viewing choices for children remain responsive to the concerns of the public. These currently include program ratings systems; on-screen icons; violence guidelines and other content guidelines referring to language and content of a sexual nature; required frequent viewer advisories, both on-screen and audible; and program embedded ratings for use with V-chip technology.
These are a mandatory system of codes and adherence to them is not voluntary. The system was approved by the CRTC in June 1997. Private broadcasters must agree to them and licences are reviewed regularly by the CRTC.
This proposed legislation seeks to amend the Broadcasting Act to grant the CRTC the power to make regulations respecting the broadcasting of violent scenes. However, a great deal has changed in broadcasting standards and practices over the past 15 years on the issue of violence on television and a child or youth audience.
It effectively established a broad set of policies, technologies and rules affecting broadcasters that I would argue address the concerns and even the purpose of this bill. This is largely confirmed by the member's proposed amendment to section 10 with the addition of:
The Commission shall make regulations respecting the broadcasting of violent scenes, including those contained in programs intended for persons under the age of 12 years.
In an effort to safeguard children against violent television programming, various stringent measures were put in place. These policies are complemented by a series of technologies that have steadily increased in television broadcasting since their initial introduction.
For example, the CRTC launched a variety of new technologies set to increase viewer awareness of suitability of a given program. This is done through both voice and print immediately prior to programs as well as during commercial breaks.
Parent friendly rating systems have also been carefully integrated into the suitability warnings. Moreover, the introduction of an advanced parental control technology known as V-chip was created and put into action. It allows concerned parents to filter inappropriate content based on a rating system.
Comparing the existing practices of the CRTC with the member's proposed amendment to the Broadcasting Act, I think it is fair to say that the commissioner has ensured regulations are in place addressing television violence during peak hours and is effectively monitored. In fact, in 1994 the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, an independent organization comprised of public and industry representatives, announced that the children's television program, Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, violated children's programming provisions of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters' violence code. The producers were forced to comply with the code or the broadcasters were to remove it from their schedule.
In fact, to emphasize the results of the positive actions taken by broadcasters, the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has actually reported a decline in the percentage of complaints concerning violence on television. Between 2001 and 2006, public complaints involving violence have dropped by 37% and it ranks sixth as the subject of television complaints to the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council.
After taking into account the current policies and practices of the CRTC governing violence on television and now returning to the member's stated objective, and more important, the contents of his bill, I do not believe the proposed amendments will have an impact in reducing violence during peak hours.
Given the standards and practices that are already in place and enforced by the commission, Bill C-327 is redundant in terms of the Broadcasting Act. It is my assertion that the various mediums in today's market have a significant role to play in terms of the amount of violent content which is available to children and youth. Today's new medium means rapid access to materials through the Internet, video games and DVDs.
While I applaud the spirit of the member's bill, I do believe it is adequately covered through the current Broadcasting Act and regulatory body, the CRTC, to safeguard Canadians and to protect our values, and I cannot lend it my support.