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Thomas and TVWorks Ltd - 2009-081

Members

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

Complainant

  • Kerri Thomas of Auckland

Dated

17th September 2009

Number

2009-081

Programme

Blender

Channel/Station

FOUR

Broadcaster

TVWorks Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Blender – music video included segments of a toddler being frightened by people dressed up as monsters – child shown crying and distressed – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency, children’s interests and violence standards

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

Standard 9 (children’s interests) – music video broadcast at 11.33pm – standard does not apply – not upheld

Standard 10 (violence) – video did not contain any scenes of violence – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]   During an episode of the music video programme Blender, broadcast on C4 at 11.30pm on 8 June 2009, a video for a song called “Kids” by the band MGMT was played.

[2]   The video involved a toddler who saw monsters, which were either imaginary or only visible to him. It began with the toddler in his cot being accosted by monsters. While the child was in the cot, a pair of monster-like hands grabbed him from behind and he started crying. The distressed child then stood up in the cot and was shown with his arm stretched out as he apparently tried to get away from the monsters standing around him.

[3]   The child’s mother appeared and lifted him out of the cot. They left the house and went for a walk through an urban retail area. As they walked, the people around them were dressed as monsters and the child began to cry when he saw them.

[4]   The mother then put the child down and the toddler was shown walking on the sidewalk through a gauntlet of monsters. The child seemed to panic, cry and began to run away, ending up in a park-like setting where the band was playing.

[5]   The toddler was briefly shown happy and listening to the band, before a monster dressed in a police uniform picked him up, making him cry, and returned the child to his mother.

[6]   The child was then shown in a car with his mother who was driving. As the toddler looked out the window, all the people looked like monsters, but he did not cry. The video then transformed into an animation showing ghost and monster-like characters chasing a child character for a short time before the end of the song.

Complaint

[7]   Kerri Thomas made a formal complaint to TVWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the video breached standards of good taste and decency, children’s interests and violence. The complainant said that she was “absolutely horrified” by the video and contended that the child shown in it had been “terrorised” and “traumatised repeatedly over and over”.

Standards

[8]   Standards 1, 9 and 10 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice are relevant to the determination of this complaint. These provide:

Standard 1 Good Taste and Decency

In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are responsible for maintaining standards which are consistent with the observance of good taste and decency.

Standard 9 Children’s Interests

During children’s normally accepted viewing times (see Appendix 1), broadcasters are required, in the preparation and presentation of programmes, to consider the interests of child viewers.

Standard 10 Violence

In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are required to exercise care and discretion when dealing with the issue of violence.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[9]   TVWorks stated that, “Thematically, the video plays on the common childhood idea of imaginary monsters and the ignorance of adults to their existence”. It said that the “child who sees monsters theme” could be extended to show the video as an allegory of the idea of loss of innocence. It contended that, “despite the protection of his mother, the infant in this video is faced with the overwhelming reality of a scary and intimidating world which – at this young age – he is ill equipped to deal with or understand”.

[10]   With respect to good taste and decency. The broadcaster noted that the video was rated G (General) and was broadcast at 11.33pm during the AO time-band. However, TVWorks stated that, while a crying child was not an uncommon sight on television, the video’s G rating was inappropriate. It stated that it had since re-classified the video PGR, because “young children, who may lack the experience to understand that the video is a dramatic construction, are the most likely group to be distressed by its content and may require the guidance of an adult”.

[11]   In saying that, the broadcaster reiterated that the video was shown at 11.33pm and argued that children were unlikely to be watching television without the supervision of older family members at that time. It declined to uphold the Standard 1 complaint.

[12]   Turning to Standard 9 (children’s interests), TVWorks said that it understood how some viewers might have found the footage of the child being distressed in the video upsetting. However, it contended that upon closer inspection of the footage, it became apparent that the child was “rarely in the same shot as the monsters that are supposedly scaring him”.

[13]   The broadcaster said that, “While there is no doubt that the boy is at times genuinely upset, this impression is enhanced through film making techniques”, such as “editing”, “shaky camera work”, “creative lighting” and “special effects”.

[14]   TVWorks stated that, after receiving several complaints, it had researched the video’s overseas production in order to identify any behaviour on behalf of the video makers that could cause concern. It said that the record company was unable to supply any detailed information, but supported the band’s claim that “no children were harmed in the making of this video”.

[15]   The broadcaster pointed out that the video was filmed in New Orleans and that the actor playing the mother was in fact the child’s real mother. It referred to information contained on the website of the American Screen Actors Guild which detailed how the guild protected child actors within the industry. It pointed out the guild’s “safety tips numbers 4 and 5” that stated:

  • The minor or minor’s parents always has the right to refuse to perform any activity that might be hazardous to the minor, either physically or emotionally.

  • If the minor believes the situation is dangerous or is fearful (whether real or imagined) the minor cannot be required to perform.

[16]   TVWorks argued that, “in light of the absence of any information to the contrary, the Committee has to assume that precautions were taken for the child’s emotional safety”. Further, it contended that, in the interests of consistency, it had to take the same approach as it would with any other broadcast of an upset child, “be it in a television series, a music video or a movie”.

[17]   While saying it regretted that some people had been upset by the video, the broadcaster stated that, “without any evidence that the child did suffer abuse”, it had no reason to remove the video from C4’s playlist. It declined to uphold the complaint that the broadcast breached Standard 9.

[18]   Dealing with Standard 10 (violence), TVWorks argued that the standard did not apply in the circumstances, because the video did not contain any scenes of violence.

Referral to the Authority

[19]   Dissatisfied with TVWorks’ response, Ms Thomas referred her complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the broadcasting Act 1989.

[20]   The complainant argued that the child had been “purposefully traumatised for the sole purpose of making a music video for entertainment” and that this was akin to child abuse.

Authority's Determination

[21]   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)

[22]   When the Authority considers an alleged breach of good taste and decency, it takes into account the context of the broadcast. On this occasion, the relevant contextual factors include:

  • the programme was broadcast on C4 at 11.33pm

  • Blender was broadcast during the AO time-band

  • the programme had an adult target audience.

[23]   The Authority is divided in its impression of the music video. Two members of the Authority (Paul France and Mary Anne Shanahan) consider that the content of the music video was mildly tasteless, but that it clearly came across as unrealistic fantasy. The other two members (Tapu Misa and Joanne Morris) are of the view that the video's realistic depiction of a young child appearing to be mistreated solely for entertainment was akin to showing child abuse.

[24]   Despite this division of opinion, the Authority notes that there is no evidence that the child was mistreated. While the child appeared genuinely upset at times, the Authority accepts that this impression was likely enhanced through film making techniques. 

[25]   Taking the above contextual factors into account, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint that the programme breached Standard 1.

Standard 9 (children’s interests)

[26]   Standard 9 requires broadcasters to consider the interests of child viewers when broadcasting programmes during their normally accepted viewing times – normally up to 8.30pm. Because the music video was broadcast at 11.33pm, the Authority finds that Standard 9 does not apply on this occasion.

[27]   In these circumstances, the Authority declines to uphold the Standard 9 complaint.

Standard 10 (violence)

[28]   Standard 10 states that broadcasters are required to exercise care and discretion when dealing with the issue of violence. The Authority considers that, while the video included footage of a frightened child, it did not contain any scenes of “violence” for the purposes of Standard 10.

[29]   Accordingly, the Authority declines to uphold this part of the complaint.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
17 September 2009

Appendix

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

1.             Kerri Thomas’ formal complaint – 9 June 2009

2.            TVWorks’ response to the formal complaint – 6 July 2009

3.            Ms Thomas’ referral to the Authority – 9 July 2009

4.            TVWorks’ response to the Authority – 16 July 2009