A line from the movie American Anthem which included offensive language was the subject of a complaint. In the movie, two gymnasts fall in love and deal with stressful personal lives, while training for the US national team trials. The movie was broadcast on TV2 on 10 October 1999 beginning at 12.00pm.
Kellie Watkins complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the language was inappropriate for the time of broadcast.
TVNZ upheld the complaint as a breach of standards G2 and G12. As a consequence, it reported that the movie was reclassified AO, so that future broadcasts in PGR time would be prevented unless the film was cut. TVNZ also apologised to Ms Watkins and her household.
Ms Watkins contended that TVNZ’s action in response to the upheld complaint was inadequate. In her view, TVNZ ought to have broadcast an apology and have paid "an appropriate penalty" for its actions.
Dissatisfied with the action taken by TVNZ, Ms Watkins referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
For the reasons given below, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint that the action taken by TVNZ was insufficient.
The members of the Authority have viewed a tape containing the item complained about and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. On this occasion, the Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.
American Anthem is a movie in which two teenaged gymnasts fall in love and deal with other personal stresses during the build up to the US national team trials. During the movie, one of the characters yells at a child to "Get the fuck out of here!". Ms Watkins complained that this was not suitable dialogue for a film shown during PGR time.
TVNZ upheld the complaint as a breach of standards G2 and G12 of the Television Codes of Broadcasting Practice. Those standards require broadcasters:
G2 To take into consideration currently accepted norms of decency and taste in language and behaviour bearing in mind the context in which any language or behaviour occurs.
G12 To be mindful of the effect any programme may have on children during their normally accepted viewing times.
TVNZ explained that it had overlooked the line of dialogue, which would have been cut had it been noticed. As a consequence of upholding the complaint, TVNZ advised that the movie had been reclassified AO, so that future broadcasts in PGR time would be prevented unless the film was cut. TVNZ also apologised to Ms Watkins and her household.
Ms Watkins complained to the Authority that the action taken by TVNZ was insufficient. She commented:
If the appraiser concerned is incapable of recognising the word "fuck", then he should in no way hold such a position of responsibility to the public and TVNZ should be held accountable for employing such an incompetent person, and be made to pay the appropriate penalty.
She went on to suggest that TVNZ should make a public apology on-air.
When invited to comment, TVNZ advised it had nothing further to add.
The Authority’s task is to determine whether the action taken by the broadcaster was sufficient. As noted above, TVNZ acknowledged that the broadcast breached standards G2 and G12.
The Authority notes both TVNZ’s explanation that it had overlooked the line when it appraised the film and its assurance that it would certainly have cut the language had it been noticed. It also notes that the movie has been reclassified by TVNZ and an apology was made to the complainant’s household for any offence or distress caused.
In these circumstances, the Authority accepts that the action taken by TVNZ upon upholding the complaint was acceptable and sufficient, and that no further action is necessary.
For the reasons set forth above, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
20 December 1999
The following correspondence was received and considered when the Authority determined this complaint:
1. Kellie Watkins’ Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 10 October 1999
2. TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 21 October 1999
3. Ms Watkins’ Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 6 November 1999
4. TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 16 November 1999