The bounds of good taste.

The complainant, Christine Wilson, objected to a film review on CBC Ottawa’s All in a Day. There was talk of rape, torture and violence, and she thought it inappropriate to be broadcast at a time children might be listening. The review began with a warning; there were no gratuitous descriptions of what happens in an award-winning film. There was no violation of policy.

COMPLAINT

You were disturbed by a film review broadcast on May 11, 2017 on the CBC Ottawa afternoon show, All in a Day. The regular film reviewer, Robert Fontaine, reviewed an Australian film entitled “Hounds of Love”. You objected to its content and wondered why such a disturbing movie would be reviewed in the late afternoon when children would be at home:

I found it offensive, disturbing and inappropriate for a family audience – one can assume there are children who are in the home at that time of day.

Fontaine talked of the sadistic kidnapping, sexual torture and killing of young girls who were chained to beds and disposed of in horrific ways.

You thought the reviewer sensationalized the movie’s portrayal of torture and sexual abuse. You also objected to the tone used by the reviewer and the host, Alan Neal. You said that the tone they usually used for reviews was not appropriate, given the gravity of the subject matter. You stated that they “seemed light hearted, and verged on laughter during the review, which shocked me.”

MANAGEMENT RESPONSE

The Managing Editor for CBC Ottawa, Ruth Zowdu, responded to your concerns. She explained that when a decision is made to deal with content that might be offensive to some, there is careful consideration of how to present it. She told you the first consideration is the motivation for including the content. In this case, the film was about to be shown in Ottawa, and it had been in the “public discourse.” The film had also won several major awards at international film festivals. She pointed out that the host warned the audience in his introduction to his conversation with Robert Fontaine, the reviewer, that the film dealt with “very disturbing content about murder, torture and sexual assault.” She added that the reviewer also mentioned early on that this film was not for everyone.

Ms. Zowdu said that she thought the conversation between the host and the reviewer was handled appropriately in its treatment of disturbing information, including the use of warnings. She thought they mentioned the disturbing portrayals in the movie without providing great detail or dwelling on them. She told you that the purpose of a review is to inform audience members so that they can decide whether they wish to pay to see a film or not:

This was Robert Fontaine's purpose in reviewing this award winning film. He did not, in my opinion, belabour the gruesome details of the film nor use offensive language, but alluded to the story enough to ensure listeners could make their own determination. In the end he recommended the film, comparing it to two other well known movies with dark themes. He again described the film as "not for the faint-of-heart."

REVIEW

There are two policies from the CBC’s Journalistic Standards and Practices that pertain here. One is Explicit sexual or violent content:

Violence, nudity and sexuality are never presented without good reason. They may be justified when they are important to an understanding of the world we live in. Where they are necessary, we present them without undue exploitation, voyeurism or sensationalism and without trivializing, encouraging or glorifying.

We treat painful scenes with discretion and restraint and without prolonging them unduly.

When it is necessary to present explicit content that some could find shocking, we provide an audience advisory.

The second is similar in intent and concerns Language level and good taste:

We respect and reflect the generally accepted values of society. We are aware that the audiences we address do not all have the same definition of good taste. We choose a tone that will not gratuitously offend audience sensitivities. In particular we avoid swearing and coarse, vulgar, offensive or violent language except where its omission would alter the nature and meaning of the information reported.

Ms. Zowdu explained to you why the programmers believed there was value in providing a review of this film. Having made that decision, which is a valid one, there was an obligation to provide a warning - that was also done. The introduction clearly laid out the subject matter and provided an explicit warning:

ALAN NEAL

Robert Fontaine is here to look at a modest Australian film that has been attracting attention at various film festivals. Hounds of Love won the Best actress and best director prize at the Brussels Film festival and also took the prize for Best Actress in a debut film at the Venice Film Festival. Robert has seen it and he wants to warn the listeners that the following film review contains very disturbing content-- about torture, murder, and sexual assault.

ROBERT FONTAINE

Hounds of Love tells a horrific story. It is based on a real-life husband and wife couple who committed a series of murders in Australia in the 1980's. The couple abducted teenage girls and held them captive in the house while they raped and later killed them. They were finally caught after one of the girls managed to escape…this is the stuff that nightmares are made of Alan, and it is not a movie for everyone.

The subsequent discussion alludes to a level of violence and degradation. It does not explicitly describe the violence or rape; it is mentioned in the context of the plot line of the movie. The only scene described in a more elaborate way is the opening sequence - which while ominous, does not involve anything that would be offensive. I acknowledge that for you the mere mention of these themes was inappropriate. It would be almost impossible to anticipate each individual's reaction - that is why the policy refers to the fact that all people do not have the same definition of good taste - and there is an obligation to consider overall community standards. We may bemoan it, but the level of explicit language and violence in television and cinema would not put this film on the margins. The reviewer felt it had artistic merit and was worth reviewing. I respect you heard it as sensationalizing violence. Listening to it with your characterization in mind, I did not concur. In fact, there are very few mentions of explicit acts - the violence is discussed as one of the defining features of the film, but in the context of the director's technique and the performances of the actors. It is a film review about a “psychological horror film” as Mr. Lafontaine called it.

You also questioned the tone, saying that it was too lighthearted given the subject matter. There are some jocular moments between host and reviewer, but at those points they are not talking about the violent or unpleasant part of the narrative. The discussion is about what makes this genre effective. It, in no way, endorsed or made light of the violence perpetrated in this work of fiction.

The language used and the framing of the review, while unsettling for you, did not violate the journalistic standards of CBC.

The programmers took too long to reply to your complaint, and I note Ms. Zowdu apologized for that. While it is not always possible for programmers to respond within the guidelines, this was an inordinate delay.

Sincerely,

Esther Enkin
CBC Ombudsman