Violence on Canadian TV growing, study says

CBC's French service shows biggest increase

Globe and Mail Quebec Bureau
November 18, 2020

Quebec -- Violence on Canadian television is growing at an alarming rate, with publicly funded networks responsible for a greater percentage of the increase than private networks, according to a study released today. Violent acts on television increased by 50 per cent between 1995 and 1998, according to the study, which was conducted by Laval University's Centre d'étude sur les médias.

The study found that the greatest increase in violence was in shows aired by the TV arm of the CBC's French-language service, Société Radio-Canada. It also found that children are exposed to more acts of physical violence and an ever-increasing number of violent shows on prime-time television.

The study by professors Jacques De Guise and Guy Paquette examined 697 television shows aired between 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. on six networks during one week in March in each of 1993, 1994, 1995 and 1998. The study recorded more than 10,300 acts of both physical and psychological violence, which includes depictions of degrading situations or suffering. The study focused on three French-language networks (SRC, TVA, TQS) and three English-language networks (CBC, CTV, Global).

The authors acknowledged that they were unable to determine the impact the increase in television violence might have, particularly on children. And they argued that people expressing concerns about the increase of violence on television have had virtually no influence on what the networks put on the air. Yet in 1996, the Canadian Association of Broadcasters and Canada's cable-television industry assured the public that action would be taken to protect children from gratuitous violence on television.

After their 1996 pledge, the networks moved to offer a rating system and a more vigorous programming code to help parents protect children from violent shows. But prime-time television has more violence now than ever, allowing few alternatives for parents, the study says. It also says that half the violence was gratuitous and did little to contribute to the comprehension of the shows' plots.

The industry's promises were made following a campaign led by a Montreal teenager, Virginie Larivière, whose sister was murdered in 1992. At age 13, she launched a petition against television violence and received the support of 1.5 million Canadians. Even Keith Spicer, former chairman of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, promoted the use of a "V-chip" that would have allowed parents to block out violent scenes.

"What we can say is that Ms. Larivière's campaign in 1996 has accomplished nothing," said study co-author Prof. De Guise. "Perhaps it is because [blaming] television violence is no longer in fashion. . . . I can only say that perhaps the recent shootings [in high schools] were no longer leading people to blame television but rather video games or the easy access to firearms. However, that does not mean television does not bear part of the responsibility."

The study found that public broadcasters' share of violent acts rose to 24.3 per cent in 1998 from 6.6 per cent in 1995. In 1998, public networks were broadcasting almost as many acts of violence per hour as the private networks, the study states. The networks were responding, the study said, to viewers' thirst for entertaining shows, mainly U.S. programs, which often included violence. But the authors argued there was no reason for publicly funded networks to follow that trend. "If television violence is a concern for citizens, it should not be subsidized by the state," the authors argued.

Radio-Canada broadcast more violence in 1998 than CBC or CTV, a private network that has reduced considerably the number of violent shows it broadcasts. Radio-Canada's rate of violence increased because of a larger number of movies -- often U.S. movies dubbed into French -- now being aired by the public broadcaster.