Big Wind, Loud Thunder, No Rain
by Patricia Herdman
Average citizens, public advocacy groups, police forces, women's rights advocates and many others took this round of hearings seriously. They took the time to discuss the issues, write reports and drive many miles to appear before the commissioners. Rooms were packed full of people attempting to talk to the CRTC. In Toronto, citizens were met with hours upon hours of delays, and schedules were shuffled to accommodate certain industry representatives. The general public sat and waited, and waited, and waited. Some went home without being heard.
The final verdict resulting from last year's hearings was that the CRTC felt the television and cable industries should implement the now infamous V-chip technology. That way, parents could attempt to manage the ever increasing levels of violent entertainment beamed into their homes, and everybody would be happy.
Funny, but in reading through the dozens upon dozens of briefs submitted to the CRTC, average people weren't clamoring for the V-chip. Yes, some thought it would be helpful, along with other measures such as a reasonable complaints process, funding for public advocacy groups (taken from a percentage of the CRTC licensing fees), penalties or taxes for programs with "high volumes" of violence, and so on.
Who wanted the V-chip? Not even mainstream broadcasters were pushing for the V-chip in a big way. A couple of private broadcasters in Alberta even suggested "blackouts" on American programming that violated Canadian regulations.
Who wanted the V-chip? The cable companies did. Most notably, Rogers Cable really, really wanted the V-chip. Last October, their team of well-coifed lawyers (from Canada and the U.S.), consultants, and high- powered employees sat before the CRTC commissioners in Ottawa while the volunteers and average citizens sat and waited. And waited. And waited. The Coalition for Responsible Television was scheduled to appear at 1:30 p.m., but Rogers Cable had so much to say about the wondrous V-chip and its potential for "empowering" parents that the commission fell behind schedule by a mere four and a half hours. Just enough time to push the Coalition's perspectives out of the day's news deadlines, and out of the news all together.
The next day, and throughout the Fall, the cable company's "cure" for violent TV was well reported. Throughout the Fall, much debate centered around the V-chip. The media didn't focus any attention on all the other ideas that average Canadians put forward as steps toward solving the problem. To my knowledge, no one other than the cable companies pointed to technology as the only solution.
The Coalition for Responsible Television submitted a written brief entitled "Taking the Razor Blade Out of the Apple." The focus of our brief was to encourage broadcasters to take the violence out of children's television and out of advertisements that appear on programs that children are watching. Our brief was focused on the principles contained in a comment made by Jacques Brodeur, our co-president. He had said, "If an apple is given to a child and it has a razor blade in it, we don't just tell the child to be careful about the razor blade and to eat around it. We say: Who put the razor blade in the apple?" The mother of Virginie LaRivière joined us for our presentation, giving us support and pleading with the commissioners to fulfill their duties.
The only result of all the work put forward by average Canadians was that the CRTC focused on a cable company's solution the V-chip. The CRTC mandated that this technology should be available by September 1996. An executive vice president at Rogers assured the commissioners, more than once, that this technology would be available by September 1996. But surprise! It's October and the V-chip solution won't be ready until next Fall they hope.
Many Canadians had pleaded with the CRTC to understand that technology, alone, would not solve the problem. Changes to the complaints process are required. Meaningful public education campaigns are required. For example, chatting about the need for "media literacy" is a far different story that an advertising campaign informing parents that violent entertainment hurts children information supported by well over 30 years of research.
Instead, Canadians got a promise of future technology, and the CRTC allowed the industry that profits from feeding us images of harmful, gratuitous violence to maintain full control of the "solution".
Elijah Harper, an MP, once had the following to say about another matter: "Big Wind, Loud Thunder, No Rain." In terms of fulfilling their public trust, there's been no rain from the CRTC or from our governments for years. There's been a lot of wind and thunder, though. And through all this wind and thunder I can hear the cable companies snicker.