Star Trek: Discovery is available via streaming in the USA on CBS All Access and via Netflix in 188 countries around the world, and there therefore not subject to traditional broadcast television standards. However, in Canada the first run showings of Discovery are broadcast as a standard TV show on the Bell Media owned Space channel, on Sundays at 8 pm.
On Wednesday, the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council issued a ruling based on a complaint received over the fifth episode “Choose Your Pain,” which aired on Space on October 15. The complaint was regarding the use of profanity and violence in the show and whether it violated the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ Code of Ethics and Violence Code. These codes state that programming with profanity or violence “intended for adult audience,” should only be broadcast between the hours of 9 pm to 6 am.
Space defends not censoring episode on behalf of “loyal and engaged fan base”
“Choose Your Pain” is noteworthy as the first episode in the Star Trek franchise which contained the word “fuck,” or specifically the phrase “fucking cool” which was used by Cadet Sylvia Tilly and Lt. Paul Stamets. There were also a number of fight scenes as well as scenes depicting torture on board a Klingon ship which had captured Captain Lorca.
After the complaint was filed, Space responded to the CBSC, and explained their choice to air the episode at the 8 pm hour without edits. Here is part of their response:
After having viewed the episode prior to airing, Space acknowledged that the use of the word “fuck” “was surprising given the series and franchises’ previous 51 year track record of being fairly clean with regards to its content.” The broadcaster further explained that the “Star Trek franchise has an extremely loyal and engaged fan base so we took into consideration how the coarse language was used and we decided to air the episode uncut and uncensored in order to deliver the content our Space viewers expect.”
Council finds Space breached standards
In the lengthy finding, the CBSC states that Space did violate the Canadian broadcast standards by not bleeping out the profanity or choosing to air the show after 9 pm. They came to the same conclusion with regards to violence, stating “The majority of adjudicators concluded that given the large number and graphic nature of the scenes the program was intended exclusively for adult audiences and should have been broadcast after 9:00 pm.”
The CBSC has determined that Space has to air the following announcement on the air in prime time twice over the next week:
The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has found that Space breached the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ Code of Ethics and Violence Code in its broadcast of Star Trek: Discovery on October 15, 2017 at 8:00 pm. The program contained coarse language and violence intended for adult audiences which should only have been broadcast after 9:00 pm as required by Clause 10 of the Code of Ethics and Article 3 of the Violence Code. A classification icon should have appeared at the beginning of the program as required by Article 4 of the Violence Code.
A spokesperson for Bell Media provided TrekMovie with a brief statement on the ruling, saying:
In response to CBSC ruling, we are a member in good standing of the CBSC and will abide by the decision.
It is unclear how this ruling will impact Space’s approach to Star Trek: Discovery for the second season. The same spokesperson tells TrekMovie “The broadcast details for Season 2 are still to be confirmed.” If Space continues airing Discovery before 9 pm, it is possible this issue will arise again and in order to remain compliant, they would have to add bleeps or make other edits to stay within standards. Moving the show to 9 pm or later would avoid future issues like this.
Challenging content is nothing new for Star Trek
Discovery running into issues with controversial content is actually a bit of a tradition for the franchise, going all the way back to the beginning. NBC was quite concerned over The Original Series episode “Plato’s Stepchildren” due to the inter-racial kiss between Kirk and Uhura, although it doesn’t appear there were any serious complaints. However, in the UK the “sadistic” nature of that episode made it one of four TOS episodes that the BBC deemed inappropriate for what they regarded as a show meant for children. The others were “Whom God Destroys,” “The Empath” and “Miri.” And in Germany the episode “Patterns of Force” wasn’t aired originally due to the Nazi Party subject matter.
Later Star Trek shows also ran into controversy. A scene in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Phantasms” where Data stabs Troi garnered complaints and led to the scene being later edited out for airing in the UK. Graphic imagery from the TNG episode “Conspiracy” was edited out the first airing in the UK and when the episode airs in Canada (on Space), it caries a viewer discretion warning. TNG’s “The High Ground” was originally not aired at all in the UK and the Republic of Ireland due to references to the reunification of Ireland being achieved through terrorism. And according to Ron Moore at least one station in the US South cut the same-sex kiss with Jadzia from Deep Space Nine’s “Rejoined.” And as recently as 2004, for the Star Trek: Enterprise episode “Harbringer,” UPN cropped a scene showing Jolene Blalock’s T’Pol nude from behind. Interestingly, the unedited version of the scene aired in Canada.
You can read the full decision by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Board on Discovery at cbsc.ca.
Star Trek: Discovery is available exclusively in the USA on CBS All Access. It airs in Canada on the Space channel and streams on CraveTV. It is available on Netflix everywhere else.
Keep up with all the Star Trek: Discovery news at TrekMovie.