Evidence of meeting #22 for Canadian Heritage in the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was code.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Emily Noble  President, Canadian Teachers' Federation
Shari Graydon  Director, Media Action
Myles Ellis  Director of Economic and Member Services, Canadian Teachers' Federation
Al MacKay  As an Individual

March 13th, 2008 / 3:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Gary Schellenberger

I'm going to call the meeting to order. Sorry, we're a little late. We had a late vote. Welcome to meeting number 22 of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage. Pursuant to the order of reference of Tuesday, October 16, 2007, we are here to study Bill C-327, An Act to amend the Broadcasting Act (reduction of violence in television broadcasts).

I welcome our witnesses from the Canadian Teachers' Federation, Emily Noble and Myles Ellis; and from Media Action, Shari Graydon. Thank you for coming.

I'm going to ask the Canadian Teachers' Federation to give the first presentation.

Go ahead, ma'am.

3:35 p.m.

Emily Noble President, Canadian Teachers' Federation

Thank you very much.

The Canadian Teachers' Federation, CTF, is the national voice for teachers in Canada on education and related social issues. Our membership includes teacher organizations in every province and territory, representing 220,000 teachers across the country. We appreciate the opportunity to present this submission to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage as it debates Bill C-327, An Act to amend the Broadcasting Act.

Next to parents, who best understands the impact media violence has on our young? Teachers often stand as witness to the physical and psychological fallout from media violence.

With your permission, we will speak to what we know and what we see that is needed. We will speak to more than just media violence by way of TV; we will speak to our concerns about bullying and violence that has the potential to or does directly affect our students, our schools, and teachers, through all entertainment and communications media.

What we know. On November 19, 2003, we released the results of a landmark national survey of 5,756 students in grades 3 to 10--and these would be eight-year-olds to 15-year-olds--entitled, “Kids' Take on Media”. This survey was made possible by a Government of Canada grant through the Department of Justice's National Crime Prevention Centre.

Among results were the following: 48% of Canadian kids aged eight to 15 have their own TV--and this was in 2003--and 35% have their own VCR; 75% of the kids in grades 7 to 10 watch restricted movies at home; in grade 7, 25% of children have personally rented an R-rated video; and 60% of boys in grades 3 to 6 play video and computer games almost every day.

One of the top choices for both francophone and anglophone boys in grades 3 to 6--and this would be eight-year-olds to 11-year-olds--is Grand Theft Auto, an ultraviolent action game aimed at mature audiences, which involves murder, bludgeoning, and prostitution. In grades 3 to 6, roughly 30% of kids claim they have never had any adult input about what TV shows they can watch; by grade 6 it rises to 50%, and by grade 8 it is 60%.

With game playing, adult involvement is as follows: in grades 3 to 4, the top figure for parental involvement never rises above 50%; by grade 7, 75% of adults never tell children what video or computer games they can or cannot play.

Another finding was that 51% of kids in grades 7 to 10 stated they had witnessed imitation or some violent act from a movie or TV show. Violent acts can include imitating a dangerous stunt; it does not necessarily mean aggressive violence directed against another person.

Some of the most important findings: the “Kids' Take on Media” study shows that kids and adolescents whose parents supervise their TV viewing and who discuss violence, racism, and sexism in the media are more likely to be aware of the negative impact of media violence. Many children, however, are on their own.

In response to this survey, the Canadian Teachers' Federation, with partners like Media Awareness Network, the Canadian School Boards Association, and the Canadian Home and School Federation, developed a tips bulletin for parents and a teachers' study activity guide.

Some of the other findings and more recent data from teachers we see in the 2005 Canadian Teachers' Federation's national teachers poll: 78% of teachers reported witnessing a student physically assaulting and/or intimidating another student; 75% of teachers reported witnessing a student verbally abusing another student.

In the 2006 Canadian Teachers' Federation's national issues in education poll, the public was asked what they consider serious problems in community schools. Tied for first as most serious were bullying and violence: 76% said “very or somewhat serious” and 44% said “very serious”.

In November 2007, in a release of the most comprehensive survey of teachers ever conducted in Canada, entitled “School Teachers in Canada: Context, Profile, and Work”, the following was found.

In response to the question, “To what extent do the following hinder the accomplishment of your duties when considering various school concerns?”, the second highest response of teachers, 51%, was intimidation or bullying among students.

Now we come to the most recent form of threat and potential violence by way of a communications medium, one that we have targeted as a major component of this whole issue, and that is cyber-bullying.

Cyber-bullying is described as “the use of information and communication technologies, such as e-mail, cellphone, pager, text messages, instant messaging, and websites to support deliberately repeated and hostile behaviour that is intended to harm others. That was a definition by Bill Belsey, teacher and founder of bullying.org.

Cathy Wing of the Media Awareness Network calls it an online culture of cruelty.

This is an issue closely linked to violence in television broadcasting, as many of the same assumptions on context and outcomes are relevant in promoting an ambivalence towards the use of violence in our daily lives.

In July 2007, at the Canadian Teachers' Federation annual general meeting in Toronto, a mandate was given to our organization to address the rapidly emerging issue and determine what we know about it.

An extensive study of Canadian youth—5,200 children in grades 4 through 11—conducted between 2003 and 2005 by the Media Awareness Network and entitled “Young Canadians in a Wired World” found that 94% go online at home; 86% have their own e-mail accounts; 89% of grade 4 students play games online; 34% of students in grades 7 to 11 report being bullied, while 2% of those reported talk about being severely harmed; 59% report assuming another identity on the Internet, and of those, 17% say they pretended to be someone else because “I can act mean to people and not get into trouble”.

The most recent survey on the topic, whose initial findings were released February 2008 and which involved 2,000 students in Toronto in grades 6 and 7 and grades 10 and 11, was conducted by Associate Professor Faye Mishna from the Faculty of Social Work at the University of Toronto. The findings include the following: 21% reported being cyber-bullied, 35% reported cyber-bullying others, 46% have a computer in their bedroom, 33% have given a password to a friend, 28% have watched someone else being bullied online, and 67% of parents don't supervise Internet use.

Finally, results from the recent Canadian Teachers' Federation “National Issues in Education” poll conducted in February 2008 reveal that 85% of the public are familiar with the term “cyber-bullying”; 34% indicate that they were aware of students in their community school being cyber-bullied; 91% believe that parents should become knowledgeable and responsible in monitoring their children's activities with the Internet and electronic communication devices; 71% believe that the development of legislation that better protects students and teachers from cyber-bullying would be somewhat or very effective in preventing cyber-bullying; 56% believe holding Internet service providers and wireless telephone providers accountable, if their services are used for cyber-bullying, would be somewhat or very effective; and 70% believe school boards should hold students accountable, even if the cyber-bullying originates from outside the school.

We cannot ignore the obvious. It is clear that for teenagers the web has become a virtual hangout. For instance, it was reported in MCT Business News in May 2007 that in the U.S. more than 70% of girls aged 15 to 17 use social networking sites, such as MySpace and Facebook.

Our children are adopting and adapting to the new communication technology. With the new opportunities, however, come new negative realities. Cyber-bullying combines the devastating psychological effects of both verbal and social bullying. The impact, however, can be even more profound, because the child who is being victimized often doesn't know who's doing the harassing, and many people can covertly witness or join in the bullying.

We're here today to speak not only to the issue of violence on TV but to the threats, bullying, and violence through all communications media. We include in this the threat of cyber-bullying. Therefore, we are here today to speak not only to the issue of violence on TV but also to cyber-bullying.

Bill C-327 may or may not be a particularly good tool to address this issue; however, something must be done. The CTF is addressing the issue of media violence, and particularly cyber-bullying, in two ways: first, using opportunities to educate the public, parents, teachers, children, school boards, and governments on the issue; and second, searching for ways in which the regulatory framework can further serve to protect everybody from the negative impact of violence and the inappropriate use of communication technology.

If we extend these strategies to this discussion, we would recommend two things: education and protection. Education means funding support for continued research into bullying and violence through any media as well as the development of resources and supports to assist students, teachers, and parents in appropriate responses to perceived and realized media threats and violence. Protection, our second recommendation, includes the development of more appropriate classification and monitoring mechanisms on the part of federal regulatory bodies in light of the development of even more violent and reprehensible video games, amendments to the Criminal Code that make the law more effective in controlling the capabilities of emerging technology, and the development of a national-international legal collaborative framework to address the hosting and delivery of offensive, illegal, inappropriate materials from outside our country, i.e., the inter-service providers.

Thank you.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Gary Schellenberger

Thank you.

Ms. Graydon, please.

3:45 p.m.

Shari Graydon Director, Media Action

Good afternoon. Thank you very much for inviting me to appear before the committee today.

My name is Shari Graydon, and I'm here representing Media Action, Action média. We are a national non-profit organization that is dedicated to raising public awareness of the social impacts of media and to encouraging more responsible industry practice. My written brief provides more detailed information about my particular expertise as a media producer, educator, and author of media literacy books.

I would like to start by saying that I really appreciate the opportunity to be here and the opportunity that this bill is providing to pay attention to violence in the media. I share the concerns behind it and the concerns being expressed by the CTF. In fact, I'm currently working on a new media literacy book specifically looking at the gap between the violence we consume as entertainment and the violence that surrounds us in society, and the disconnect that young people in particular have between those two.

As I hope you've already heard, there is a very significant body of research in peer-reviewed academic journals about the impacts of media violence, which essentially comes to three conclusions. Although there are invariably a variety of variables that influence how people respond to media violence, essentially media violence contributes to increased fear, increased aggressive behaviour, and decreased sensitivity to the suffering of others. That goes obviously not just for television violence but for violence in all media. That's the bad news.

The good news is, and I am sure the broadcasters have told you this, that Canada has a very progressive anti-violence broadcasting code. Unfortunately, the way the code is administered is problematic for at least three reasons.

Although I respect the efforts of the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, which administers the code—and indeed I have worked with Ron Cohen and his colleagues—the current process is complaint-driven. In other words, the onus is on consumers to know that the code exists, to know what's in the code, and to complain about the code, and that's how the existing code is complied with. That's how compliance gets enforced, and, necessarily, because it's complaint-driven, all of the enforcement of the code happens after the fact, after the material that breaks the code has already aired. Thirdly, the present way of administering the violence code contains, really, to my mind, absolutely no disincentives to broadcasters to air material that's in contravention of their own code.

In theory, broadcasters can lose their licence if they fail to comply with the violence code. In practice, this is never going to happen. It hasn't happened yet; I would suggest it's not going to. Only once in 20 years has a station come close to losing its licence, and that was the process involving a Quebec City radio station, CHOI, which in fact took five years to play out. The very nature of the humour of shock jock Howard Stern was fundamentally in contravention of the code. It took six years for that process to play out and for Howard Stern to be removed from Canadian airways. So the codes exist to prevent material that's blatantly offensive to Canadians, but in practice it happens after the fact, and it is not, in my submission, very effective.

Indeed, when the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council spoke with you last year they confessed they have upheld 72% of the complaints that have come to them over the last eight or nine years. What penalties have been meted out to the broadcasters who were in contravention of the code? They are essentially required to write a letter to the complainant--the person who knew enough to make the complaint in the first place--and they are required to run two on-air apologies for having broken the code. I suggest this is not really much of a disincentive.

No doubt you have also been told that the CBSC is currently receiving fewer complaints about violence in the media than it did ten years ago. I suggest this is probably not evidence of more responsible or less violent programming; it is more likely due to the fact that increasing levels of violence in other media have led to a greater acceptance of material on television that would have been unacceptable 10 years ago.

Second, there is also much less public discourse about TV violence and media violence today than there was a decade ago, for a number of reasons.

Third, because of this, Canadians are much less aware of the complaint process. Very few people know of the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council's existence, let alone that there's a CAB violence code, let alone what's in it.

Finally, the complaint process itself happens after the fact. It takes months to play out, and it doesn't result in any meaningful penalty.

As for the proposed bill, although I appreciate its attention to the issue, I regret to say that I don't believe it will be effective. The CRTC is not currently set up to engage in the kind of monitoring the bill requires. My guess is there are no plans to give the CRTC additional funds to undertake that monitoring. In addition, the violence code is supposed to prevent the airing of offensive material, not study it after the fact.

So I have a better idea, one that would reduce inappropriate violence on Canadian television by more effectively enforcing the existing violence code. It's very simple, and it essentially works on the same principle as the children's advertising code does. And I'll explain that.

The children's advertising code and the process involved is not in fact relevant to the Province of Quebec, which had the foresight 30 years ago to implement a prohibition against advertising to children. However, in English-speaking Canada, we haven't been quite so smart and progressive. When an advertiser in English Canada wishes to advertise to children under the age of 13, that advertiser must submit its commercial to Advertising Standards Canada in advance of it being broadcast. It pays a fee for the service that is then provided. The Advertising Standards Canada people look at the ad. They gauge it against the code. They make sure that it in fact adheres to the code, and then they give it approval. Only when the commercial has been approved is it subject to airing on Canadian airwaves.

My suggestion is that if we genuinely want to prevent inappropriate violence, gratuitous violence--the violence that is explicitly indicated in the broadcasters' own violence code as being inappropriate--from being aired in the first place, we should require broadcasters wishing to air violent material to submit that material in advance of the broadcast. They should have it adjudicated and cleared in advance by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, who would then say that it was in compliance with the code and would give the broadcaster clearance and make it eligible to be broadcast. That would essentially prevent, in advance, the airing of inappropriate material. It would put the onus on the broadcasters themselves, not on members of the public, who typically, as I mentioned, are unaware of the process.

Finally, I would encourage this committee to recommend that all media producers be required to contribute to a fund in support of media literacy programming and resources. Here I am effectively echoing the urgings of the Canadian Teachers' Federation and those of another witness you're going to hear after us.

As the author of two media literacy books for young people, I spend a lot of time in schools speaking to students and speaking to teachers, and it's very clear to me that....

In our democracy, we think of literacy as the ability, the capacity, to read and write critically. Increasingly, kids get much more information from audiovisual media than they do from the printed word. If we don't provide them with the critical tools to be media literate, to interrogate, to challenge, and to resist messages that are not in their best interest from other forms of media, we are essentially abdicating responsibility to the media producers themselves. And I'm sure you all know from your own media consumption that the lessons and the learning outcomes that are being visited upon us through commercial media are not parent or ministry approved.

Thank you. Merci beaucoup.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Gary Schellenberger

Thank you for that.

Our first question today comes from Mr. Scott.

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Andy Scott Liberal Fredericton, NB

Thank you.

I'm going first to Ms. Graydon, because of the idea she proposed.

You take the position that the capacity to measure appropriateness of violence, as they're trying to get to in this bill, exists, but that it's being applied after the fact. Who would be the determinant as to the interpretation of those measurements?

3:55 p.m.

Director, Media Action

Shari Graydon

Currently that's the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council. If a complaint is made, the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has panels of citizens and broadcasters who get together. They review the material that has been complained about, and they adjudicate it against the violence code, which is fairly explicit and detailed about what's defensible and what's not. They make a ruling based on that.

That's currently happening. The CBSC is equipped to do that, but they're doing it on a volunteer, after-the-fact basis. I'm suggesting--

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Andy Scott Liberal Fredericton, NB

Do you have any idea of the volumes we're talking about?

3:55 p.m.

Director, Media Action

Shari Graydon

I couldn't answer that; the CBSC probably could. Right now they're only adjudicating material that's complained about. I would suggest that there is all sorts of other material that would fall under the--

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Andy Scott Liberal Fredericton, NB

Could you consider a regime where there was a consequence, even after the fact, that would have a prohibitive impact on productions? For instance, the CRTC proposed the possibility of administrative monetary penalties; I think that was the reference they used. It would be a system of fines. They were making the case that the space between an apology and a cancelled licence is perhaps a little large, and therefore if there were something in the middle.... How do you respond to that?

4 p.m.

Director, Media Action

Shari Graydon

Certainly I think fines would have more of a deterrent factor than the apology does currently. I'm proposing, though, that money gets spent up front that would prevent the material from being on in the first place.

4 p.m.

Liberal

Andy Scott Liberal Fredericton, NB

To the Teachers' Federation, I'm curious about the familiarity of the present system. First of all, I didn't really gather your position on the bill from your intervention. Perhaps you can....

4 p.m.

Myles Ellis Director of Economic and Member Services, Canadian Teachers' Federation

Our position is that the bill may in some format have an impact on it, but we see it as a larger problem. It's only a piece of a greater puzzle that we're concerned about. For example, many TV programs that kids watch are accessed through the Internet. They access things like YouTube. One of the greatest concerns teacher organizations all over the world have is the degree to which they're able to get at the Internet service providers who host the platforms and servers, such as social networking sites, programs like YouTube, to get the kind of cooperation or laws, be they national or international, that can get at inappropriate materials in any media coming to our children.

We have heard in the most recent survey in Toronto that half of students have computers in their room now, and 75% of parents don't monitor what they watch.

4 p.m.

Liberal

Andy Scott Liberal Fredericton, NB

I took the point, and I think everybody has talked about the fact that we're talking about a very small part of the available entertainment information and that we need to do something else, which then lends itself to something more proactive, broader.

Back to the teachers. I think at the end of the day we're going to have to figure out some way to enable young people to be more discerning. I think it's coming. It's not going to become less. We're going to have to equip kids to deal with what's coming rather than feel that somehow we can protect them. We have to do everything we can to make sure that the inputs are as civilized as we can make them, if that's not too subjective a term, but at the same time we have to recognize that our efforts may be overwhelmed by the incoming....

4 p.m.

Director of Economic and Member Services, Canadian Teachers' Federation

Myles Ellis

I couldn't agree more. What we've done is part of an overall strategy of what we're doing as an organization to take on the issue. First of all, with regard to the “Kids’ Take on Media”, which was about TV, we have copies of this here if anyone is interested. It has a teachers' guide. It has a guide for parents.

The strategies we're recommending and we're doing right now are two-pronged. One is education--and you're right on the mark with the idea of the Internet being a virtual playground for our kids. That is absolutely correct. They are utilizing the new technologies far more than we ever would have imagined, and education has to be a major component of it for students and for parents.

4 p.m.

Liberal

Andy Scott Liberal Fredericton, NB

Have either of you ever lodged a complaint?

4 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Gary Schellenberger

Mr. Scott, that's it.

4 p.m.

President, Canadian Teachers' Federation

Emily Noble

I can speak to that. I was president of the Elementary Teachers' Federation for five years. Under that, while we didn't lodge complaints, we would write to express our concern about certain advertisements on TV, and we will continue to do that.

One of the comments you made was on being proactive. I think that's key. Shari Graydon is an expert in this whole area, and according to her, media literacy is where we need to go, at least as one component.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Gary Schellenberger

Ms. Mourani, please.

4:05 p.m.

Bloc

Maria Mourani Bloc Ahuntsic, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Firstly, I would like to thank you for your presentations. I was delighted that you provided us not only with a down to earth analysis but also with some suggested solutions, as solutions have been somewhat thin on the ground thus far. I was also very pleased to hear you state that there are problems.

Since we first began this study, we keep being told that everything is going swimmingly. However, I understand that this is not the case; everything is not going swimmingly. You raised a number of very interesting points regarding the Internet. There seems to be a general feeling that the Internet is part of the modern reality and nothing can be done about it. You, however, Ms. Noble, spoke about the possibility of harnessing the Criminal Code and the government's regulatory powers to address the problem. You also spoke about developing a national framework. Indeed, your proposed solutions go beyond simply educating parents. That is a separate issue and one that I am sure is already well in hand.

I would like to discuss with you the issue of government and institutional responsibility. I am not going to address parental responsibility, as I know that it is something that is already well in hand in Quebec. Furthermore, I am confident that you are doing an excellent job. Instead, I would like to know whether you think that the CRTC has a role to play in terms of regulating the Internet and, in particular, Internet service providers. Is there a role for the CRTC to play in regulating Internet content?

4:05 p.m.

Director of Economic and Member Services, Canadian Teachers' Federation

Myles Ellis

My answer to that would be yes, but I believe some regulatory body, be it the CRTC or something else, needs to be there to play a role with that, in our opinion.

The second part of what we were talking about as a strategy was a protection strategy. That has to do with the whole area of protection and regulation that you're referring to. The education piece is for the parents, students, and so on.

We're saying the regulatory piece starts with the Criminal Code. We've met with the parliamentary secretary, Rob Moore, from Justice. We've put out a question for contacts around media across Canada and in our teacher organizations asking what recommendations they have for the Criminal Code.

We want to meet with the regulatory authority to look at gaming. You've probably heard about our asking for the boycott of the video game Bully that's just come out this past week. That video game, for instance, is rated as teen. That means 13-year-olds can view it. We brought in a focus group to look at that game, and a 16-year-old boy said he would not want his 14-year-old brother to play this game.

We want to look at that regulatory body and see what they can do better to provide more guidance around gaming. We are asking provincial bodies with regard to ministries of education to look at their school acts to offer more protection through that regulatory format right down to the school level. If the CRTC or a body like that can play a role in intervening with international Internet service providers, then we would absolutely be supportive of that.

4:05 p.m.

Bloc

Maria Mourani Bloc Ahuntsic, QC

What is happening on the international front?

4:05 p.m.

Director of Economic and Member Services, Canadian Teachers' Federation

Myles Ellis

Yes, and we also have a partnership with the RCMP, looking for ways to work with it in developing curriculum that it can go into schools with and talk to schools about cyber-bullying.

4:05 p.m.

Bloc

Maria Mourani Bloc Ahuntsic, QC

Could you briefly state whether you think that we should, either through the Criminal Code or CRTC regulations, require all Internet service providers to give the RCMP the IP addresses of all computers that are used to access child pornography. At the moment no such mandatory requirement exists; we rely on the good will of Internet service providers.

4:05 p.m.

Director of Economic and Member Services, Canadian Teachers' Federation

Myles Ellis

I was supposed to attend a meeting, at the invitation of the RCMP, with ISPs in Halifax about a month ago, and I couldn't attend because Halifax was fogged in, unfortunately. The intent of that meeting was that the RCMP wanted to speak with ISPs to say that they need to do something, they need to look at something, they need to find a way to work better together so that the RCMP doesn't have to get a subpoena every time it wants to access an ISP's material because of threats to children and so on. If there are things that can be done to amend the Criminal Code, to bring it more in line with the new technologies, to offer protection to children, then we would be very interested in seeing that happen.