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Denham and TVWorks Ltd - 2009-094

Members

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

Complainant

  • Rita Denham of South Canterbury

Dated

17th September 2009

Number

2009-094

Programme

Futurama

Channel/Station

FOUR

Broadcaster

TVWorks Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Futurama – animated cartoon series – contained sexual references – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency and children’s interests

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

Standard 9 (children’s interests) – broadcaster adequately considered the interests of child viewers – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]   An episode of the comedy cartoon Futurama was broadcast on C4 at 7pm on Wednesday 27 May 2009. The show revolved around the main character Fry, who was cryogenically frozen in 1999 and then thawed 1,000 years later. The episode began with a flashback to New York in 1999 and showed Fry delivering a pizza to the local television station, which was showing a fictional programme called Single Female Lawyer. The technician invited Fry to sit down and watch the programme, which he did.

[2]   The episode of Single Female Lawyer began by showing the lead female lawyer character, Jenny McNeil, and a judge in a toilet area of a courthouse. The following exchange took place:

Judge:    Counsellor, I’d remind you that it’s unethical to sleep with your client. If you really
              care about the outcome of the case, you should sleep with me.

Lawyer:  Your honour, it’s bad enough to proposition a single female lawyer in court, but this
              is a unisex bathroom.

Judge:    Overruled, counsellor.

[3]   The Judge then grabbed the lawyer and kissed her. As they kissed, the lawyer made some amorous noises. A court stenographer then opened a cubicle door and asked, “Could you repeat that last part?”

[4]   After this scene, Fry accidentally spilt a can of beer over the controls, ending the transmission of the programme.

[5]   The Futurama episode then went 1000 light-years into the future and showed the television transmission being beamed into space and onto the television set of an alien leader. The alien planet was 1000 light-years from Earth, so the television signal had only just got there. The alien was shown watching the same episode of Single Female Lawyer and the show cut out at the part when Fry knocked out the transmission.

[6]   The alien leader became angry that the episode had cut out before it had finished, so he went to Earth with his army to find out what had happened. After arriving on Earth, the alien leader threatened to destroy the planet unless he found out how the episode ended.

[7]   After learning that no copies of the episode remained, the Futurama characters tried to recreate the final scenes to appease the alien leader and save the planet.

[8]   The remake’s dialogue included a Judge character saying, “Jenny McNeil, you are charged with jury tampering in last week’s case, on account of your hot naked affair with the foreman. How do you plead?” To which a character playing the lawyer said, “Your honour, I move for a mistrial on the grounds that I’m having a hot naked affair with the foreman of this jury”.

Complaint

[9]   Rita Denham made a formal complaint to TVWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the programme breached broadcasting standards.

[10]   The complainant noted that Futurama was broadcast at 7pm, and argued that the programme’s dialogue was inappropriate for the timeslot, because children could have been watching.

Standards

[11]   TVWorks assessed the complaint under Standards 1 and 9 and guideline 9a of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. 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.

Guideline 9a

Broadcasters should be mindful of the effect any programme or promo may have on children during their normally accepted viewing times – usually up to 8.30pm – and avoid screening material which would disturb or alarm them.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[12]   TVWorks stated that Futurama was a satirical animated comedy series and that it had screened on C4 for four years. It said the series contained a “number of levels of content appealing to a wide range of viewers: from the older child viewer who can generally understand its concept and ideas, to an adult who would understand the more sophisticated connotations”.

[13]   With respect to good taste and decency, the broadcaster noted that Futurama was rated PGR, “because it contained material that could be considered too sophisticated for very young children, but not so challenging that it could harm or disturb children with parental guidance”. It contended that the programme occupied a timeslot dedicated to animations which appeal to a wide audience, as opposed to a child audience. It argued that, “At 7pm it is unlikely that very young children will be watching”, as they preferred programming that screened between 3pm and 4.30pm.

[14]   TVWorks stated that the programme’s PGR classification indicated to parents that they may wish to make their own judgment as to whether the programme was suitable for their children to watch.

[15]   The broadcaster contended that the programme’s dialogue had not contained any expletives or any detailed visual or verbal references to sex. Further it noted that in the dialogue to which the complainant objected, the “euphemism ‘sleep with’ was used instead of ‘sex’”. TVWorks stated that, while characters were shown kissing, the scene was not salacious or titillating and was within the bounds of its PGR rating.

[16]   TVWorks considered that the programme’s audience would have expected the type of material shown in the episode and argued that nothing contained in the scene complained about would have fallen outside the expectations of the programme’s audience. It declined to uphold the Standard 1 complaint.

[17]   Turning to children’s interests, the broadcaster reiterated the points made under its consideration of good taste and decency. It argued that it was unlikely that children would have understood the sexual references contained in the episode and that the programme had not contained any material that would have disturbed or alarmed child viewers. It declined to uphold the children’s interests complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[18]   Dissatisfied with TVWorks’ response, Ms Denham referred her complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. The complainant maintained that the programme’s dialogue, such as “having a hot naked affair” and “sleeping with a client”, was inappropriate for broadcast at 7pm.

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 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 7pm

  • Futurama was broadcast during the PGR time-band and was rated PGR

  • the programme had a wide target audience including adults and children.

[21]   The Authority notes that Futurama has been broadcast on C4 for over four years and that its style and satirical content is well known to the programme’s audience. The Authority considers that the content objected to by the complainant was intended to be humorous and did not threaten standards of good taste and decency within a fictional cartoon programme that was rated PGR and broadcast at 7pm.

[22]   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)

[23]   Standard 9 requires broadcasters to consider the interests of child viewers when broadcasting programmes during their normally accepted viewing times. The Authority agrees with TVWorks that the programme’s dialogue did not contain any expletives or any detailed visual or verbal references to sex and that the dialogue to which the complainant objected used the euphemism “sleep with” instead of “sex”.

[24]   The Authority also agrees with the broadcaster that it would have been unlikely that young children would have understood the sexual references contained in the episode and that the programme did not include any material that would have disturbed or alarmed child viewers.

[25]   As stated above in paragraph [21], Futurama was an established comedy programme on C4 that was well known for its satirical content and style. The Authority finds that the programme was correctly rated PGR and that this classification informed parents that the programme contained themes more suited for a mature audience, but not necessarily unsuitable for child viewers when subject to the guidance of an adult.

[26]   Accordingly, the Authority concludes that TVWorks adequately considered the interests of child viewers and it declines to uphold the Standard 9 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.            Rita Denham’s formal complaint – 4 June 2009

2.           TVWorks’ response to the formal complaint – 23 July 2009

3.            Ms Denham’s referral to the Authority – 27 July 2009

4.            TVWorks’ response to the Authority – 7 August 2009