Merci, monsieur le président. Thank you very much, everyone.
My name is Ronald Cohen. I'm the national chair of the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council. With me today is John MacNab, the executive director of the CBSC.
I thank the committee for inviting us to express our views on the bill. We are also grateful that we have been accorded the opportunity to speak at the end of these deliberations. It gives us the opportunity to respond to issues raised during the appearance of other witnesses. And we will of course look forward to the additional questions you will have for us.
Let us begin by making our position utterly clear: we do not believe that Bill C-327 is either necessary or even moderately useful in dealing with the issue of violence on television.
We have filed a written presentation with the committee clerk that will hopefully provide a useful tour d'horizon of the issue. I will try to limit this oral presentation to the clarification of matters raised by witnesses and members of this committee.
The first issue is the nature and extent of the problem of exposure of our children to violence in the media. Is problematic violent content increasing or decreasing? The answer is that it is decreasing. The best evidence of this, as mentioned by Cathy Wing a few moments ago, is the level of complaints filed with the CBSC and the CRTC. Between 2000 and the end of February 2008, the level of complaints about violence on television fell by 22%. The statistics cited by Monsieur Bigras are neither recent nor appropriate. They do not extend beyond 2002, and even then they do not disclose what they cover or represent.
It is essential to acknowledge that not all violence is created equal. The original study of Mr. De Guise and Mr. Paquette, covering the period 1993 to 1998, made no distinction between appropriate and inappropriate violence. Monsieur Bigras referred to the eminent authority in the area, Professor George Gerbner, with great respect this past Tuesday. But what he did not acknowledge to you was that the Laval study did not follow Professor Gerbner's methodology.
The authors of the Laval study said:
Unlike Gerbner, who considers sequences of violence, we decided to count violent acts, such that, in this study, each separate gesture, action and event is considered as a separate act of violence.
Those are their words. They underscore that the numbers they report are exaggerated. Moreover, they make no distinction between our common goal of protecting children, on the one hand, and violence that may not be problematic or inappropriate at all, on the other. The bottom line is that there is simply no evidence that there is, in 2008, any problem that needs parliamentary intervention of any kind.
Second, the system is actually working.
When Mr. Scott observed on Tuesday that he knew that Mr. Bigras believed that the present system was failing, he added that he had not understood Mr. Bigras' explanation as to why he thought the system was failing.
Nor will the committee members have missed the response to the question put by Mr. Abbott regarding the absence of complaints about children's programming subsequent to the CBSC's Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers decision.
Monsieur Bigras was either unable or unwilling to cite a single example of problematic children's programming since the 1994 CBSC decision. It's because there hasn't been one.
Third, much justification for Bill C-327 has been placed on the fact that the violence code is voluntary. The only aspect, members of this committee, of the violence code that is voluntary is its title. As the CRTC chairman said on Tuesday, the code is obligatory: it is a condition of licence for every television broadcaster in this country. It could not be more involuntary.
Moreover, the statement by Monsieur Bigras that the adjudication is undertaken by industry peers, les pairs qu'li a mentionnés, is totally wrong. The adjudicating panels are all composed of at least 50% members of the public, including former CRTC commissioners, former members of Parliament and cabinet ministers, a former provincial premier, a former lieutenant governor, communications professors, the former head of the Vanier Institute of the Family, the head of the Centre de recherche-action sur les relations raciales of Montreal, the former head of Media Watch, and many other highly credible and committed Canadians who are devoted to public service.
Fourth, much emphasis has been placed on the fact that the violence code is a creation of the private broadcasters. I will not dwell on the notion that because broadcasters had something to do with its creation, they would have done so only to serve their own self-interest. That concept is outrageous.
Any one of you will readily confirm, on the basis of your own constituency experience, that local broadcasters devote considerable time, energy, resources, and promotional benefits to telethons and other local community initiatives. In good times and in bad, in ice storms, fires, and floods, broadcasters are there for the good of the public.
Leaving that aside, do not forget for an instant that as the CRTC chairman pointed out Tuesday, the commission vetted every word of the violence code before it was approved. Having participated in that process in 1993, I can tell you on an anecdotal basis that the wording went back and forth several times before all the CRTC's issues were resolved.
Moreover, the consultation process with stakeholders was substantial. During the development of the code, comments were invited from many public representatives, a list of which is appended to the CBSC's written presentation that the clerk has distributed to all of you.
The public organizations included Media Watch, Owl Centre for Children's Film and Television, the Alliance for Children and Television, l'Association nationale des téléspectateurs et des téléspectatrices, le Groupe de recherche sur les jeunes et les médias pour la coalition contre la violence dans les émissions pour enfants, le Conseil du statut de la femme, Canadians Concerned About Violence in Entertainment, and the Animal Alliance of Canada, among others.
Fifth, Monsieur Bigras is not satisfied by the present complaints-driven system. He proposes a monitoring system of some unspecified description. I fully expect that Monsieur Bigras was surprised, if not shocked, to learn that both the CRTC and the CBSC operate on the basis of complaints made to them by members of the public. That was unequivocally confirmed by the CRTC chairman on Tuesday, and that is as it should be, for two reasons.
First, censorship is anathema to Canadians. When Mr. Abbott asked Monsieur Bigras whether the bill's proposer was not talking about censorship, Monsieur Bigras was at pains to avoid such a characterization, understandably. He admitted that he did not favour censorship, yet that is essentially the effect of Bill C-327. Let us not mince words. That is exactly what a monitoring system not based on public complaints is: censorship, nothing more or less.