FREDERICTON — A New Brunswick anti-bullying activist has suffered a setback in his campaign against a TV reality show that pits bullies against mixed martial arts fighters for cash.
Rob Frenette of Fredericton launched a complaint with the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, a non-governmental organization, after watching an episode of Bully Beatdown on MTV Canada in April 2009.
Frenette, 21, asked the council to investigate whether the program, which he said promotes violence as a solution to violence, was in breach of broadcasting standards.
But in a decision released Wednesday, a council panel that examined the episode Frenette watched ruled that no standards were violated under the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ violence code.
“In the end, although sympathetic to the complainant’s concerns about the best societal solution to the bullying problem, the panel finds no breach of any of the foregoing standards as a result of the type, timing, or advisory choices regarding the violent content of the challenged episode,” reads the 10-page decision dated April 1.
Frenette, who recalls suffering years of physical and mental torment from bullies while growing up, said he was upset with the panel’s decision.
“The violence itself was something that I don’t agree with, the money is another thing and the whole program doesn’t seem like it’s something that really needed to be done,” Frenette, the founder of BullyingCanada.ca, said Wednesday.
Brad Schwartz, senior vice-president and general manager of Much MTV Group, said the decision was fair. “The show takes an entertaining and creative spin on the topic, but it certainly brings the topic of bullying into debate and into the conversation, which is what we want to do,” Schwartz said.
“Bully Beatdown” is a production of MTV in the United States. Schwartz said about 16 episodes have aired in Canada, though the show is not currently being broadcast.
The show sees bullies challenged to a match against a mixed martial arts fighter in hopes of walking away with $10,000. If the bully loses the fight, the person they’ve been picking on gets the cash instead.
The episode that prompted Frenette’s complaint aired April 21, 2009, on MTV Canada, which is wholly owned by CTV Inc., and centred around two brothers.
According to the panel’s decision, the episode showed a videotaped plea from one of the brothers asking the show to teach his verbally and physically abusive sibling a lesson.
The episode also featured shots of the bully training for his match against a professional fighter, as well as the actual fight. The two-round match, which involved grappling moves and kick-boxing, took place before an audience and in a cage similar to those used in actual mixed martial arts competitions.
At the end of the episode, the two brothers hugged and reconciled.
In its decision, the panel ruled the show’s nighttime slot was appropriate. It also agreed with the episode’s 14-plus age classification, which allows for intense scenes of violence, though the panel described the show’s violence as moderate.
The panel said “it does not consider that the challenged episode in any way promotes or glamorizes violence” but that “it attempts the opposite, namely, the criticizing of bullying violence.”
It also pointed out that the bully consented to the fight, had a training session, followed mixed martial arts rules and wore protective gear.
While the panel said it appreciates Frenette’s belief that “Bully Beatdown” sends the wrong message, it is not its role to decide whether the “approach of a program taken by a broadcaster is right or wrong.”
The panel also noted that MTV provided Frenette with a “thorough” response when it learned of his complaint.
The letter, dated June 5, 2009, and signed by Schwartz, says MTV is “a non-conformist, unconventional television station that pushes boundaries while adhering to … broadcast codes.”
It also commends Frenette for his efforts to raise awareness about bullying.
Frenette said he plans to take the matter to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, the independent public organization that regulates Canada’s broadcasting system.
According to its website, the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council does not have an internal appeals mechanism. Complainants who are unhappy with a decision are advised to contact the commission.
— By Melanie Patten in Halifax