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Findlay and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2010-041

Members

  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
  • Tapu Misa
  • Leigh Pearson

Complainant

  • Rhonda Findlay of Foxton

Dated

6th July 2010

Number

2010-041

Programme

The Tudors

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
The Tudors – included a scene in which a man was tortured by having a burning hot steel rod pushed up his backside – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency, law and order and violence standards

Findings
Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – contextual factors – not upheld

Standard 2 (law and order) – did not promote, glamorise or condone torture – not upheld

Standard 10 (violence) – broadcaster exercised adequate care and discretion with the issue of violence – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]   An episode of The Tudors, a drama series about the reign and marriages of King Henry VIII, was broadcast on TV One at 8.30pm on Sunday 1 November 2010. The programme included a brief scene in which a rebel leader was tortured.

[2]   The beaten and bloodied rebel leader was shown being taken into a room by several men, who bent him over a table and held him down. Standing behind the rebel leader were two other men, one of whom was holding a steel rod with a burning red hot tip. He then handed the rod to the other man, while the rebel leader’s pants were taken down. The rebel leader was pleading not to be hurt when the man holding the hot tipped rod said “Damn you to hell” and made a lunging motion which indicated that he had shoved the tip of the rod into the man’s bottom. As he did this, the rebel leader screamed in agony and the scene ended.

[3]   The scene was shot from in front of the man who was bent over the table, so viewers could not see the rebel leader’s backside or the rod being thrust in to it.

[4]   The programme was preceded by the following verbal and written warning:

The following programme is rated Adults Only. It contains violence that may disturb and sex scenes that may offend some people.

Complaint

[5]   Rhonda Findlay made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the programme breached broadcasting standards relating to good taste and decency, law and order, and violence.

[6]   The complainant argued that, while terrible forms of torture did take place during this time period, the scene depicted a sadistic infliction of pain, injury and sexual violation. She believed the crime could be imitated and that it was a “perverse invention of script writers”.

[7]   Ms Findlay considered guidelines 1a to Standard 1, 2d to Standard 2, and 10a to Standard 10 were relevant.

Standards

[8]   Standards 1, 2 and 10 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice are relevant to the determination of this complaint. They provide:

Standard 1 Good Taste and Decency

Broadcasters should observe standards of good taste and decency.

Standard 2 Law and Order

Broadcasters should observe standards consistent with the maintenance of law and order.

Standard 10 Violence

Broadcasters should exercise care and discretion when dealing with the issue of violence.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[9]   TVNZ stated that The Tudors was in the Sunday Theatre slot, which showcased the best of movies for adults on TV One. “These movies are considered TV One’s premier product and TV One like to present them in as original format as possible for the enjoyment of loyal Sunday Theatre viewers”. To achieve this, the content of the programme was monitored to ensure that the transition between PGR and AO time was not dramatic, it said. TVNZ stated that after 9pm The Tudors screened unedited.

[10]   The broadcaster contended that the Sunday Theatre timeslot was well-known to viewers and that there was considerable expectation that The Tudors would contain adult material.

[11]   With respect to Standard 1, TVNZ noted that the programme was classified AO and that it had been preceded by a verbal and written warning advising viewers that it contained adult material including violence and sex scenes. It also noted that the scene complained about occurred 45 minutes into the broadcast, over half an hour past the 8.30pm AO watershed.

[12]   The broadcaster contended that the torture scene was relatively brief and that the footage was inexplicit. It stated that it was “historically accurate to depict the torture” as the Tudors were well known for torturing people in a variety of ways including the method shown. It stated that viewers’ expectations of the programme were that it was historically accurate in general details, but some characters and incidents were condensed or added to advance the plotline.

[13]   TVNZ argued that there was no sexual element to the torture, and that the main focus was on the torturer’s face as it was being carried out. It considered that the scene was acceptable in the context of an AO-classified programme, and it declined to uphold the good taste and decency complaint.

[14]   Turning to Standard 10 (violence), the broadcaster contended that the violent scenes had not dominated the programme and that no explicit detail of the torture had been shown. It reiterated its argument that the scene did not have any sexual overtones and concluded that the programme had not breached Standard 10. It declined to uphold Ms Findlay’s complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[15]   Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Ms Findlay referred her complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. She noted that the broadcaster had not dealt with the Standard 2 aspect of her complaint and maintained that the scene involved “sexual torture”.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[16]   TVNZ apologised for neglecting to consider Standard 2 in its response. In relation to the law and order standard, it argued that for a breach to occur a broadcast not only had to condemn a particular law, but actively promote disrespect for it.

[17]   The broadcaster said the “same approach is taken with broadcasts that describe or portray criminal behaviour”. It contended that the exceptions tended to be if a broadcast explicitly instructed how to imitate an unusual criminal technique, or suicide, or glamorised the criminal activity.

[18]   TVNZ argued that The Tudors had not glamorised crime or condoned the actions of criminals in the ways alleged by the complainant. It contended that the behaviour shown in the programme was portrayed for what it was; an historic act of torture. It considered that “there was no element of promotion or encouragement of the activities in the drama”, and that the perpetrator and his actions were conveyed to viewers as abhorrent. It declined to uphold the complaint that Standard 2 had been breached.

Authority's Determination

[19]   The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

Standard 1 (good taste and decency)

[20]   When we consider an alleged breach of good taste and decency, we take into account the context of the broadcast. On this occasion, the relevant contextual factors include:

  • The Tudors was broadcast at 8.30pm
  • the scene complained about occurred at approximately 9.15pm
  • the programme was classified AO
  • The Tudors was preceded by a verbal and visual warning
  • the expectations of regular viewers.

[21]   In our view, the torture scene was disturbing and brutal. However, it was in keeping with the subject matter of the programme. We note that the scene was broadcast well after the 8.30pm watershed at approximately 9.15pm, and that the programme was preceded by an explicit warning that it contained “violence that may disturb”.

[22]   Taking into account the above contextual factors, we find that the scene did not breach standards of good taste and decency in the context in which it was shown. We therefore decline to uphold the Standard 1 complaint.

Standard 10 (violence)

[23]   Standard 10 provides that broadcasters should exercise care and discretion when dealing with the issue of violence. We agree that the torture scene amounted to “violence” for the purposes of Standard 10.

[24]   In considering this part of the complaint we have taken into account the context of the broadcast as outlined in paragraph [20] above. We also consider that the scene was well signposted for viewers; the build-up to the moment of torture clearly signalled what was about to happen. Further, because the camera was placed in front of the man bent over the table, we note that the actual event was implied rather than explicit.

[25]   In our view, the broadcaster demonstrated adequate care and discretion when dealing with the issue of violence in this scene. For the reasons outlined above, we do not uphold the Standard 10 complaint.

Standard 2 (law and order)

[26]   The Authority has previously stated that the intent behind the law and order standard is to prevent broadcasts that encourage viewers to break the law, or otherwise promote, glamorise or condone criminal activity (see, for example, Hunt and Maori TV1).

[27]   In our view, this fictional portrayal of historical torture did not promote, glamorise or condone the activity shown. We agree with TVNZ that the perpetrator and his actions were conveyed to viewers as abhorrent, and there was no element of promotion or encouragement in the programme.

[28]   Accordingly, we decline to uphold the Standard 2 complaint.

 

For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
6 July 2010

Appendix

The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:

1.           Rhonda Findlay’s formal complaint – 20 November 2009

2.          TVNZ’s response to the formal complaint – 26 February 2010

3.          Ms Findlay’s referral to the Authority – 23 March 2010

4.          TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 20 May 2010


1Decision No. 2009-010