Thank you, Mr. Chair. Mr. Chair and honourable members of the committee, good morning. Thank you for the invitation to appear before you today.
As the chair said, my name is Ronald Cohen, and I'm the national chair. With me are John MacNab, CBSC's executive director; Teisha Gaylard, our director of policy; and Burhaan Warsame, the manager of the CBSC's ethnocultural outreach project.
While we appreciate the invitation to appear before you, we are acutely aware of the fact that the CBSC's role is in the area of private broadcasting, and of course your investigation focuses on the role of the public broadcaster. Our members are Canada's 609 private broadcasters, covering conventional television, specialty services, AM and FM radio, and satellite radio—effectively about 95% of the commercial private broadcasters who are eligible to join the council.
Although it does not fall within our mandate to comment directly on issues involving public broadcasters, what the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council does is so unique and central to the Canadian broadcasting system that you may find elements of what we accomplish at least indirectly worthy of consideration in your deliberations.
There are two major aspects of our work that are unique—and, you may conclude, worthy of replication in the public broadcasting area. The first is the breadth of public concerns to which we are responsive, and the second is the extent of our outreach into all Canadian communities.
The council's mandate is to oversee the administration of the Canadian private broadcaster codes. These currently include the CAB Sex Role Portrayal Code and the CAB Violence Code (both of which are imposed by the CRTC as conditions of licence for Canadian broadcasters), the CAB Code of Ethics and the Radio and Television News Directors Association of Canada (RTNDA) Code of (Journalistic) Ethics.
I should add that last week the CRTC issued a public notice calling for comment on a new CBSC code, the journalistic independence code. It will also be administered by the CBSC and be a CRTC condition of licence on Canadian broadcasters with ownership interests in both print and broadcast areas.
There is also another code, the equitable portrayal code, in the offing. In due course, it will extend to all communities the benefits hitherto available on the basis of gender alone, under the terms of the sex role portrayal code for television and radio programming. It should be the subject of another CRTC public notice this year.
It is essential to note that the codified standards reflect Canadian values. The enforcement tools are also Canadian—that is to say, effective without being heavy-handed, and industry-driven rather than government-driven.
This is particularly pertinent as we have watched the unravelling of the Don Imus debacle in the United States in the past couple of weeks. The concerns of the American regulatory system are limited to nudity and coarse language—not violence on television, human rights, portrayal issues, nor respect for the dignity of individuals on the basis of their race, ethnic origin, colour, sexual orientation, religion, and so on. Those are Canadian values and central to our standards and enforcement system. Canada does not depend on advertisers to force program change on an ad hoc basis as in the United States. We have rules that broadcasters willingly accept.
In the exercise of our mandate the CBSC has since 1991 received complaints from tens of thousands of Canadians about all forms of programming, whether in the news and public affairs area, drama, comedy, talk radio or television, reality programming, entertainment, news magazine shows, feature films, children's programming, and so on.
The CBSC has quite a comprehensive knowledge about the subjects of complaint. Moreover, it receives the expression of those concerns directly and indirectly. Even those which are initially sent to the CRTC are, with rare exception, forwarded to the CBSC for resolution. We deal with approximately 2,000 complaints every year from Canadians who are unhappy about something they have seen or heard on the airwaves.
I should add parenthetically that a number of these complaints concern the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Ironically, since the CBC does not have an equivalent system of our own, we forward these to the CRTC to deal with.
In fact, having just mentioned the subject of children's programming on the one hand and audience complaints about many subjects on the other, I note that tomorrow you will be debating a private member's bill on the subject of violence in the media, Bill C-327, proposed by the member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie.
You should be aware, first of all, that as a percentage of complaints, those relating to violence on television have been steadily declining, by a huge margin, namely, 37%, between 2001 and 2006. Moreover, the Bigras bill's proposals would add nothing to the panoply of tools we have to deal with the subject, since issues relating to violence on television are already thoroughly covered by the combination of the CAB Violence Code and the CAB Code of Ethics, and rigorously enforced by the self-regulatory system solidly entrenched in the Canadian broadcasting system.
We already have a watershed hour that is not limited to violence intended for adults. It restricts violence, to be sure, and all forms of adult content to the post-9 p.m. period. We already have provisions for ratings and viewer advisories that apply well beyond the violence-on-television area.
Also, we already have the most detailed provisions to protect children from inappropriate television programming that you can find anywhere in the world. If passed, Bill C-327 would deliver less to the Canadian public than we already have.
Our process encourages the resolution of complaints by meaningful broadcaster dialogue with the complainants. When this does not lead to complainant satisfaction, the CBSC rules on those complaints via adjudicating panels made up of equal numbers of public and industry adjudicators. There are five regional panels, dealing with the Atlantic region, Quebec, Ontario, the Prairies, and British Columbia. There are also two national panels, one of which deals with conventional television and the other with speciality services.
Biographies of every public and industry adjudicator are available on the CBSC website. They include former members of Parliament, cabinet ministers, a lieutenant governor, a provincial premier, CRTC commissioners, and Canadians of many walks of life who have manifested their concern about the public good.
The private broadcasters' self-regulatory process is predicated on full disclosure and the publicity of all formal CBSC decisions, whether rendered for or against broadcasters. Consequently, the press release announcing every decision is forwarded to the print media, broadcasters, and any person in Canada or elsewhere in the world wishing to be on the recipient list. The nearly 400 decisions rendered since 1991 are posted on our website with their full written reasons. They form an extensive and thorough body of jurisprudence, dealing with and defining for the future the widest possible range of content issues.
We deal with all forms of content in all kinds of radio and television programming, period. We also do this in an independent, arm's-length fashion, with considerable public involvement in our deliberations and decisions.
With the exception of the CBC's ombudsmen, who work in the narrower area of news and public affairs, Canada's public broadcasters have no equivalent process.
The council is also proud that it reaches out into all corners of Canada's great multicultural environment, by informing citizens of Canada's broadcast standards and the self-regulatory system in English, French, and forty other languages, both in print and on this CBSC website.
Two sets of all of these foreign language versions of the brochure have been deposited with the clerk. We would certainly be delighted to provide any of you with a set, and/or any individual language of interest to you or indeed to your constituents.
I should have added earlier that our adjudicating panels reflect that diversity as well. It is also worth noting that 13.9 million Canadians—not out of the last census, the result of which are just available, but from a couple of years ago—speak one or more of the forty languages. There are programs broadcast in all of these languages in Canada.
May I clarify that the forty languages of comfort reflect Canada's Latin American hemispheric communities; Canada's indigenous communities, in Inuktitut, Inuinnaqtun, Cree, Ojibwa and Mohawk; Canada's eastern and western European communities; Canada's African communities; Canada's Near and Far Eastern communities; and Canada's South Asian communities, in Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi, Gujarati, Bengali, Tamil, and Sinhala.
The CBSC works very hard to ensure that the results of its decisions are known to all who are affected by them. Its volunteer adjudicators, on both the public and industry side, are dedicated to the emergence of a set of principles that will fairly circumscribe public expectations. It is a mark of the thoughtfulness and impartiality of the adjudicators, both public and industry, that all but five of 398 decisions have been rendered unanimously, whether for or against broadcasters.
It is a mark of the success of the Canadian private broadcasters' self-regulatory system that it does not require the huge financial penalties of the American regulatory process in order to work.
The system works because the private broadcasters have committed themselves to the process. They created it; they support it financially. More importantly, they support it morally. After all, they live in the communities in which they broadcast. They want us to deal with all substantive public concerns about content, not just some of them. They also want us to tell all Canadians, in their languages of comfort, how to assess the self-regulatory process. It makes good sense, good Canadian sense. It's good for every corner of the Canadian broadcasting system.
Thank you for your attention. We are now available to answer your questions.