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Harrison and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2008-065

Members

  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Paul France
  • Tapu Misa
  • Diane Musgrave

Complainant

  • Aidan Harrison of Christchurch

Dated

18th September 2008

Number

2008-065

Channel/Station

TV2

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Two and a Half Men promo – language of characters – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency, programme classification and children’s interests standards

Findings
Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – humour was self-deprecating and in tone of pantomime or slapstick comedy – contextual factors – not upheld

Standard 7 (programme classification) – promo acceptable during PGR programme – correctly classified – not upheld

Standard 9 (children’s interests) – content of promo did not warrant an AO restriction – not likely to have alarmed or disturbed child viewers – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]    A promo for the comedy programme Two and a Half Men was broadcast on TV2 at approximately 7.53pm on Sunday 4 May 2008 during an episode of Ugly Betty (PGR). The promo advertised that the series would be returning that week, and contained a variety of brief comedic clips of the main characters, including a man saying to a woman “sleep with me now and you’ll be attracted to me later”, and his mother cheerfully greeting another woman at a social function then muttering “you two-dollar whore”.

Complaint

[2]   Aidan Harrison made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the promo breached standards of good taste and decency, accuracy, programme classification, and children’s interests.

[3]   With reference to guidelines 1a and 1b, Mr Harrison considered that the dialogue in the promo was “of a derogatory sexual nature toward women”, and went beyond the norms of good taste and decency. He said that he and his wife were “dismayed and disgusted” by the content of the promo.

[4]   The complainant argued that guideline 5b to the accuracy standard had been breached because the promo was “alarming and misleading” as it “focused on virtually every sexual comment made in the entire episode”.

[5]   Referring to guidelines 7a and 7c, Mr Harrison maintained that the content of the promo was AO not PGR. He said that both he and his wife were offended by the material in the promo, and that it was likely a “significant proportion of viewers” would also consider it unacceptable.

[6]   Citing guideline 9a, the complainant commented that he had two daughters who had viewed the promo with him, and that he was alarmed at the “derogatory sexual nature” of the promo. He said he would like to watch television without fear of his children “being exposed to content of a sexual nature without my preparation”, and would rather discuss “such issues” on his own terms, “not forced by your advertisements”.

[7]   Mr Harrison concluded his complaint by saying he did not think that “smutty” material of a sexual nature should be screened before 8.30pm.

Standards

[8]   Mr Harrison nominated Standards 1, 5, 7, and 9 and guidelines 1a, 1b, 5b, 7a, 7c, and 9a of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice in his 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.

Guidelines

1a    Broadcasters must take into consideration current norms of decency and taste in language and behaviour bearing in mind the context in which any language or behaviour occurs. Examples of context are the time of the broadcast, the type of programme, the target audience, the use of warnings and the programme’s classification (see Appendix 1). The examples are not exhaustive.

1b    Broadcasters should consider – and if appropriate require – the use of on-air visual and verbal warnings when programmes contain violent material, material of a sexual nature, coarse language or other content likely to disturb children or offend a significant number of adult viewers. Warnings should be specific in nature, while avoiding detail which may itself distress or offend viewers.

Standard 5 Accuracy

News, current affairs and other factual programmes must be truthful and accurate on points of fact, and be impartial and objective at all times.

Guideline 5b         

Broadcasters should refrain from broadcasting material which is misleading or unnecessarily alarms viewers.

Standard 7 (programme classification)

Broadcasters are responsible for ensuring that programmes are appropriately classified; adequately display programme classification information; and adhere to time-bands in accordance with Appendix 1.

Guidelines

7a    Broadcasters should ensure that appropriate classification codes are established and observed (Appendix 1). Classification symbols should be displayed at the beginning of each programme and after each advertising break.

7c    Where a promo screens in an unclassified host programme outside AO time (including news and current affairs), the promo must be classified G or PGR and broadcasters must pay particular regard to Standard 9 (Children’s Interests).

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

[9]   TVNZ contended that to constitute a breach of Standard 1, the broadcast material must be unacceptable to a significant number of viewers in the context in which it was shown, including the time of broadcast, the programme’s target audience, its classification, and the use of warnings. It maintained that there was no explicit footage or language in the promo that was deserving of a higher classification.

[10]   TVNZ disagreed with the complainant that the content in the promo was derogatory. It argued that all of the comments were intended to be humorous and that they were not salacious or aggressive. It considered that the phrase “two-dollar whore” did not exceed the limits of a PGR classification which can contain material more suited for a mature audience. The broadcaster noted that the Authority had previously considered the comedic use of the word “whore” in a PGR programme screened at 8pm, and did not find a breach (Decision No. 2002-035).

[11]   With regard to the phrase “you sleep with me now, and you’ll be attracted to me later”, the broadcaster considered that it was also intended to be humorous, it was not explicit sexual language, and it was acceptable within the boundaries of a PGR programme.

[12]   Further, the sexual content in the promo was verbal; it did not include any nudity or explicit sexual content. Accordingly, the broadcaster concluded that the promo would not have offended a significant number of viewers, and it declined to uphold the Standard 1 complaint.

[13]   The broadcaster declined to determine the accuracy complaint on the basis that Standard 5 is designed for news, current affairs and other factual programmes.

[14]   Turning to Standard 7 (programme classification), the broadcaster considered that the promo was appropriately scheduled to screen in Ugly Betty. The episode of Ugly Betty broadcast on 4 May was rated PGR, and the promo for Two and a Half Men received a PGR classification consistent with the rating of the host programme.

[15]   The broadcaster reiterated its argument that the phrase “two-dollar whore” did not exceed the boundaries of a PGR classification. It considered that it “was said in jest by a woman in a non-aggressive manner”. It referred again to the Authority’s Decision No. 2002-035, noting that the Authority considered that “the programme was correctly classified as PGR material and was screened at an appropriate time”. TVNZ concluded that the promo was correctly rated and acceptable for screening during a PGR-rated host programme, and declined to uphold the Standard 7 complaint.

[16]   The broadcaster maintained that the interests of child viewers were adequately considered in screening the promo for Two and a Half Men. It said that there was “nothing injurious to children in the content”, and reiterated that the phrase “two-dollar whore” was humorous and non-aggressive, and did not exceed the PGR classification. TVNZ concluded that in giving the promo a PGR classification and screening it in a PGR time band, the broadcaster was mindful of its effect on children. It declined to uphold the Standard 9 complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[17]   Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response, Mr Harrison referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

[18]   The complainant reiterated many of the arguments contained in his original complaint. He took issue with TVNZ’s argument that the language was “light hearted and intended to be humorous” rather than aggressive. He argued that humour and aggression were subjective, and that TVNZ’s views differed from his own.

[19]   Mr Harrison disagreed with TVNZ that there was “nothing injurious to children” in the promo. He said that children were exposed to the inappropriate language in the promo and were likely to mimic what they had heard.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[20]   TVNZ stated that it had no further comments following the referral of Mr Harrison’s complaint to the Authority.

Complainant’s Final Comment

[21]   With regard to TVNZ’s argument that a significant number of viewers would not have been offended by the promo, Mr Harrison said that he had spoken to over 100 people and they all agreed with him that the language used in the promo was inappropriate. He maintained that the promo breached Standard 1.

[22]   The complainant reiterated his argument that humour and aggression were subjective, and that TVNZ’s views differed from his own. He disagreed that the language in the promo was “not salacious” and “said in jest and in a non-aggressive manner”. Further, children were unable to distinguish between humour and serious dialogue, he said, so that this material should not have been broadcast while children were watching.

[23]   With regard to the quotes from the promo, “sleep with me now and you’ll be attracted to me later” and “two-dollar whore”, Mr Harrison disagreed that the promo was correctly classified, based on the PGR rating which allows material “not necessarily unsuitable for child viewers when subject to guidance of a parent or adult”. He said that the language in the promo was “definitely unsuitable for child viewers” and disagreed with TVNZ that it contained “nothing injurious to children”. He maintained that Standards 7 and 9 were breached because children were exposed to the inappropriate language in the promo and would copy it thinking it was appropriate.

Authority's Determination

[24]   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)

[25]   When the Authority considers a complaint that alleges a breach of good taste and decency, it is required to take into account the context of the broadcast. On this occasion, the relevant contextual factors include:

  • the promo was broadcast at 7.53pm on a Sunday
  • the promo was rated PGR
  • the promo was broadcast during Ugly Betty, which was classified PGR.

[26]   In the Authority’s view, the language in the promo was clearly intended to be humorous and self-deprecating. The line “sleep with me now and you’ll be attracted to me later” was delivered in a light-hearted way that was almost in the nature of pantomime or slapstick comedy. Similarly, the character muttering “you two-dollar whore” did so for comedic effect.

[27]   Taking into account the above contextual factors, the Authority finds that the language did not breach standards of good taste and decency when included in a PGR promo broadcast during a PGR host programme. It declines to uphold the Standard 1 complaint.

Standard 7 (programme classification)

[28]   Standard 7 states that broadcasters are responsible for ensuring that programmes are appropriately classified. Under guideline 7b, promos must be classified to comply with the programme in which they screen. The promo subject to complaint was rated PGR by TVNZ and was screened within a PGR-rated host programme at 7.53pm. Appendix 1 of the Free-to-Air code gives the following definition for PGR programmes:

PGR – Parental Guidance Recommended

Programmes containing material more suited for mature audiences but not necessarily unsuitable for child viewers when subject to the guidance of a parent or adult.

PGR programmes may be screened between 9am and 4pm, and after 7pm until 6am.

[29]   In the Authority’s view, the promo did not contain any material that was unsuitable for supervised child viewers, or anything that warranted an Adults Only classification. It finds that the promo was appropriately classified PGR and screened during a PGR host programme. Accordingly, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint that the promo breached Standard 7.

[30]    A member of the Authority (Tapu Misa) considers the promo was borderline for a PGR classification, and was close to being AO. Ms Misa notes that promos do not give parents and other caregivers time to exercise parental discretion. In Ms Misa’s opinion, sexual references during PGR programmes in children's normally accepted viewing times, should be both visually and verbally inexplicit, even when intended as humour; in other words, they should not be so obvious as to be readily understood by children, nor should they include language and behaviour which children may not be mature enough to contextualise. However, Ms Misa agrees the delivery and brevity of the questionable lines softened their effect so that the promo did not reach the threshold for a breach of Standard 7.

Standard 9 (children’s interests)

[31]   Standard 9 requires broadcasters, in the preparation and presentation of programmes, to consider the interests of child viewers. As discussed above, the Authority considers that the promo was correctly classified and did not contain anything likely to disturb or alarm child viewers. Accordingly, it is satisfied that the broadcaster sufficiently considered the interests of children in classifying the promo PGR and screening it close to 8pm during a PGR programme. It does not 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
18 September 2008

Appendix

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

1.            Aidan Harrison’s formal complaint – 17 May 2008
2.           TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 19 June 2008
3.           Mr Harrison’s referral to the Authority – 2 July 2008
4.           TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 17 July 2008
5.           Further comments from Mr Harrison – 28 July 2008
6.           Comment from the broadcaster – 8 August 2008