Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
I thank the committee for inviting us to express our views on Bill C-327, An Act to amend the Broadcasting Act (reduction of violence in television broadcasts).
The principle aim of the bill, as we understand it, is to contribute to solving the problem of violence in society by reducing violence in the programming offered to the public, including children.
We assume by “solving”, the bill means that violence should not be glorified or depicted too graphically. By “reducing”, we assume the bill means restricting the most graphic and inappropriate portrayals of violence to time periods when children are unlikely to be watching television.
Given these interpretations of the key terms, we regard the aims of the bill as entirely laudable. These aims are ours as well.
However, it is important to remember that the CRTC does not mandate or dictate programming, but rather ensures that it conforms to the objectives of the Broadcasting Act. In particular, the act states that programming should be of a high standard, respectful of equality rights and reflective of Canadian values.
In pursuing these objectives, the act also directs the CRTC to respect freedom of expression, as guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The system we now have in place to deal with these issues is a collaborative one that relies largely on self-regulation by the industry in accordance with an obligatory code on violence. This code was developed by the Canadian Association of Broadcasters and approved by the CRTC. In addition, the CRTC holds the authority to serve as a final arbiter on these issues when required.
Today I will focus on the enforcement of programming standards on violence. I would like to take you briefly through the process to show you how the system works when a complaint is made.
First, the CRTC requires all broadcasters to adhere to a code on violence as a condition of licence. However, it suspends this obligation as long as a broadcaster is a member in good standing of the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, the CBSC, and is therefore bound by the CAB code.
The complainant may bring the issue to the broadcaster or the CRTC. If one of the private broadcasters is involved and that broadcaster is a member in good standing of the CBSC, the complaint may be brought directly to the CBSC, or it is forwarded by the commission to the CBSC, if it comes to us.
The CBSC is an independent organization established by the Canadian Association of Broadcasters with the approval of the CRTC. Once such a complaint is made, the council will determine whether an infraction of the CAB's violence code has occurred.
This is a code that the CRTC regards as an important standard, and its terms provide a framework that is used across all sectors of the industry. Among other things: it prohibits gratuitous violence; it requires that viewer advisories accompany programs with violent content, i.e., the verbal warnings that indicate the nature of the content; it requires broadcasters to display a rating that informs parents of the suitable age groups for the programs; it establishes a watershed hour, such that depictions of violence intended for adult audiences must be broadcast after 9 p.m.; and it sets out detailed restrictions on the portrayal of violence in children's programs.
A private broadcaster who is found to have violated the code must acknowledge the violation with an announcement on the air and must provide the council with evidence that this has been done. If violations of the same kind have occurred more than three times, the broadcaster is required to show within 30 days why they should remain a member in good standing of the CBSC.
When the complaint concerns a public broadcaster such as the CBC, an educational broadcaster, or a broadcaster who is not a member in good standing of the CBSC, it is the CRTC that will hear the complaint. The commission will also hear any complaint in cases where the complainant is not satisfied with the resolution provided by the CBSC.
If the CRTC finds that a violation has occurred, it will issue a public decision to that effect, and this goes on the record of the licensee. Such decisions may be considered when the broadcaster's licence comes up for renewal. Measures, even severe ones, can be imposed at that time. That's the principal difference: with CBSC, it is corrected; with us, not only is it corrected, but it goes on the record and will be considered at the time of renewal.
I have taken you through the enforcement process as it is today so that you may understand our reaction to the bill before you.
We have no problems with clauses 1 and 2 of the bill, given the interpretation I mentioned at the outset. We do, however, have reservations about clause 3, which would add two new sections, identified as 10.1 and 10.2, to the Broadcasting Act. These additions would require the commission to make regulations concerning violent scenes on television, including those in programming intended for children. It would also require the monitoring of compliance and the punishment of non-compliance according to law.
This is contrary to our regulatory approach. For us, it has become a high priority to use regulation as an instrument of policy only when regulation is necessary. That means we will regulate only when no other effective means is available to achieve the desired purpose. When we do regulate, it will be with smarter and lighter regulation.
We believe that the present system, based on industry self-regulation and adherence to obligatory codes, and backed up by the CRTC as the final arbiter, does provide an effective means to achieve the desired purpose. We therefore cannot support the provisions of Bill C-327 that call for prescriptive regulation in lieu of industry self-regulation backed up by conditions of licence.
We do, however, share the aims of this bill when it comes to effective enforcement of our policies governing content standards. For some time, we have felt the lack of a full range of penalties to deal with violations.
Our powers of enforcement would be both stronger and sharper if we were given the power to impose administrative monetary penalties, or AMPs. In other words, the commission should be able to fine a broadcaster for infractions. These fines would be proportionate to the offence. They would be large enough to hurt and serve as a deterrent.
The CRTC has such powers as a means of enforcement under the Telecommunications Act. It strikes us that it is equally needed in broadcasting. At the moment, the only penalties we can impose are either relatively light or excessively heavy. At the light end we have an on-air announcement required by the CBSC or a public decision rendered by the CRTC in response to a complaint. At the heavy end we can shorten the offender's term of licence at renewal time or deny renewal entirely. These are very blunt instruments; we need something in between. Those are the AMPs I mentioned.
If the committee so desires, you could have our legal staff draft the appropriate amendments to Bill C-327, which would replace the proposed sections 10.1 and 10.2 with a system of monetary penalties.
We note that the bill calls for the commission to review the new regulations after five years. Should the bill be enacted with the amendments we suggested, we would have no objection to undertaking such a review.
I thank you for giving me this opportunity to express our views, and we are ready to answer your questions.