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Young and TVWorks Ltd - 2009-068

Members

  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
  • Paul France
  • Tapu Misa

Complainant

  • Roderick Young of Waikato

Dated

19th August 2009

Number

2009-068

Programme

South Park

Channel/Station

FOUR

Broadcaster

TVWorks Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
South Park – characters who were parodies of Michael Jackson and his son moved into the neighbourhood using the last name Jefferson – local police discovered Mr Jefferson was a "rich black man" and decided to frame him for various crimes – allegedly in breach of the law and order standard

Findings
Standard 2 (law and order) – satirical cartoon known for making fun of societies' institutions – material intended to be humorous – did not encourage viewers to break the law or otherwise promote, condone or glamorise criminal behaviour – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]  An episode of the cartoon South Park was broadcast on C4 at 9pm on 14 May 2009. The episode began with two characters, who were parodies of Michael Jackson and his son Blanket, moving into the South Park neighbourhood under the last name Jefferson.

[2]  The local children soon found out that Mr Jefferson's house was full of arcade games and toys and that he had a train and a Ferris Wheel in his backyard. The children began visiting the Jeffersons’ house to play and Mr Jefferson was shown acting like a child, dressing up in costumes and playing with the children.

[3]  Mr Jefferson and his son were invited to a neighbour's house for dinner. One of the parents commented on the black American basketball player Kobe Bryant and whether he was guilty of charges he was facing in court. Mr Jefferson defended Mr Bryant, believing that the police went around framing rich black people because they were jealous.

[4]  The local police force found out that Mr Jefferson had bought his house with cash and that he was a "rich black man". The police chief and an officer had the following exchange:

Officer:    Take a look at this. Looks like a new family has just moved into South Park. A one
               Mr Jefferson, aged 50, bought a house there and paid cash. He seems to have a
               lot of money.
Chief:      What’s the problem?
Officer:    Take a look. Says here he's black.
Chief:       By God, so he is. Black and rich. Time to take this Mr Jefferson down just like we
               did Kobe. Let’s go people. We’ve got another rich black guy. I want him humiliated
               and dragged through the dirt and I want it done by the book.

[5]  The police then set about framing Mr Jefferson for various crimes by planting evidence in his house.

[6]  During the programme, police officers and the police chief made various corrupt and racist remarks including :

  • "Why do we do it Harris? Why is it that us policemen around the country have such a passion for framing wealthy African Americans for crimes they didn’t commit? 25 years I’ve been on the force, seen every kind of sick depraved act known to humanity, and still, I see a black man walk by who has more money than me and I want to vomit my gizzards right in the gutter..."
  • "...I'm never going to frame an innocent man again, unless I know he’s black for sure."
  • "...the last 13 hours I've been working on a case, trying to get a real scumbag off the streets. And when he walked up to the door, I could have sworn he was white. Maybe I can’t tell the difference anymore? Maybe it doesn’t matter? Because it seems like every time we frame a rich black guy he's back out on the streets in no time. It’s just like OJ. Do you know how hard those cops worked to frame him?"

[7]  Towards the end of the episode, the police went to Mr Jefferson's house to arrest him. As the police were standing outside the house, one of the child characters gave a speech saying that all the bad rumours about Mr Jefferson could be lies and that his bizarre behaviour was due to him not having a real childhood. Mr Jefferson stated that he was going to give away all his money and pay more attention to providing a good childhood for his son, rather than trying to re-live his.

[8]  Hearing this, the police chief stated, "Well, if you're going to give away all your money I guess we can drop all those charges. No point putting another poor black man in jail." The episode finished with all the characters taking part in a sing-along.

Complaint

[9]  Roderick Young made a formal complaint to TVWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the episode breached the law and order standard. He noted the police were "portrayed as actively being corrupt and racist" and that police were shown planting evidence in Mr Jefferson's house because he was a "rich black man".

[10]  The complainant argued that the programme undermined law and order "in the gravest way" and that it undermined the public's confidence in the police force. He said it was "racist to show prejudice and institutional power abused in this way" and that the language of the programme aimed to "legitimise racist acts as being normal".

Standards

[11]  TVWorks assessed the complaint under Standard 2 and guidelines 2a, 2c and 2d of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. These provide:

Standard 2 Law and Order

In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are responsible for maintaining standards which are consistent with the maintenance of law and order.
Guidelines
2a    Broadcasters must respect the principles of law which sustain our society.
2c    Programmes should not depict or describe techniques of crime in a manner which
        invites imitation.
2d    Ingenious devices for, and unfamiliar methods of, inflicting pain, injury or death,         particularly if readily capable of easy imitation, should not be shown, except in         exceptional circumstances which are in the public interest.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[12]  TVWorks stated that South Park was an established series, with a loyal audience who enjoyed and appreciated the satirical comedic programme that made fun of anything including parents, teachers, police, Americans, Canadians, the clergy and God. It pointed out that the programme was animated satire, with the animation being simple and crude and bearing no resemblance to reality.

[13]  The broadcaster argued that to breach the law and order standard, a broadcast "must not only implicitly condemn a particular law, but also glamorise or actively promote disrespect for it". It found that "nothing in this episode of South Park could be considered to be a glamorised or realistic depiction of criminal activity or anti-social behaviour", and that it was unlikely to incite viewers to commit unlawful acts.

[14]  TVWorks argued that the programme's storylines were "housed in a satirical context" and, as such, did not promote breaking the law. It declined to uphold the complaint that the episode breached Standard 2.

Referral to the Authority

[15]  Dissatisfied with TVWorks' response, Mr Young referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. He stated that New Zealand's police force was one of the "best non-corrupt police bodies in the world" and that he did not want the police to be shown in the manner depicted on South Park.

[16]  The complainant reiterated his argument that Standard 2 (law and order) had been breached.

Authority's Determination

[17]  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.

[18]  The Authority has stated on a number of occasions that the intent behind the law and order standard is to prevent broadcasts that encourage viewers to break the law, or otherwise promote, condone or glamorise criminal activity (e.g. Decision No. 2005-133).

[19]  South Park is a well-established satirical cartoon series that has made fun of a number of institutions, including the church, government, police and schools. On this occasion, the programme satirised both the stereotype of a racist, white police force and the idea that all rich, black men are the target of racist policing. The stereotypes were exaggerated for both humorous and satirical effect, and were clearly not intended to be taken seriously or as a portrayal of real life.

[20]  The Authority finds that the programme in no way encouraged people to break the law or promoted, condoned or glamorised criminal activity. Accordingly, it declines 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

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
19 August 2009

Appendix

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

1.         Roderick Young's formal complaint – 14 May 2009
2.        TVWorks' response to the formal complaint – 15 June 2009
3.        Mr Young's referral to the Authority – 16 June 2009
4.        TVWorks' response to the Authority – 22 June 2009