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Findlay and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2008-071

Members

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

Complainant

  • Rhonda Findlay of Foxton

Dated

21st October 2008

Number

2008-071

Programme

Closer

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Closer – scene involving internet sex-chat contained sexually explicit dialogue – use of the word “cunt” – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency and children’s interests

Findings
Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – language was relevant to the storyline and character development – 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]   Closer, a film based on a play by Patrick Marber which followed the love affairs of two couples, was broadcast on TV One at 8.30pm on Sunday 10 February 2008.

[2]   The movie contained an internet sex-chat scene between two male characters in which one of the characters, Daniel, tricked another, Larry, into believing he was a woman named Anna looking for sex. The scene began by showing Daniel sitting on his couch at home with his laptop on his knees, smoking a cigarette and typing sexually explicit messages while in an internet chat-room called “London sex Anon”. Larry was shown sitting at his work desk on a computer typing messages in the same internet chat-room. Larry received and responded to the sexually explicit messages from Daniel, which he believed were coming from a woman named Anna. Viewers could see the message exchanges as they were being typed letter by letter. Some of the exchanges between the two characters during their internet sex-chat included:

Larry:        anna, what do you wank about?

Daniel:       strangers. they form a Q and I attend to each of them like a cum hungry bitch, 1
                 in each hole and both hands

Larry:        then?

Daniel:      they come in my mouth, arse, tits, cunt, hair

Larry:        then?

Daniel:       I lick it off like the dirty slut I am. Wait have to type with one hand am
                 cumming right now...

[3]   Later in the movie, Larry was shown at a strip club talking to Daniel’s ex-girlfriend Alice who was giving him a private dance. Larry was not allowed to touch Alice during the dance. He asked her “What does your cunt taste like?” to which she replied, “Like heaven”.

[4]   The movie was preceded by a verbal and written warning that stated:

This programme is rated Adults Only. It contains language and sexual material that may offend some people. 

Complaint

[5]   Rhonda Findlay made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the movie breached standards of good taste and decency and children’s interests.

[6]   In reference to the internet sex-chat scene, the complainant stated that “although Anna is a man posing as a woman online, I consider its explicit detail not only indecent, but to be in particularly bad taste, as it presents the idea that women fantasise and want to be penetrated in all their orifices simultaneously by strangers”. She believed that “some viewers may be influenced by this – i.e. it could encourage sexual assault, especially pack rape”.

[7]   Ms Findlay argued that the movie had breached guideline 9b of the children’s interests standard because it contained a strong sexual theme and the internet sex-chat scene was broadcast “at 8.50, shortly after children’s viewing time”.  

[8]   The complainant objected to the use of the word “cunt” on television, and “especially in this case, where the literal meaning of the swear word is being referred to, i.e. women’s sexual body parts”. She argued that the use of the word was indecent, in bad taste and degrading to women.

Standards

[9]   TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standards 1 and 9 of the Free-to-Air 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 9b

When scheduling AO material to commence at 8.30pm, broadcasters should exercise discretion to ensure that the content which led to the AO rating is not shown soon after the watershed.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[10]   TVNZ stated that Closer 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 movie was monitored to ensure that the transition between PGR and AO time was not dramatic, it said. TVNZ stated that after 9pm, the movie screened unedited.

[11]   The broadcaster said that Closer was based on an award winning play and “followed the love affairs of two couples as they negotiate their relationships and their assorted infidelities”. It also noted that, although the movie contained a lot of dialogue about sex, no actual sex scenes were shown.

[12]   With reference to the internet sex-chat scene, TVNZ argued that the scene was “not sexual but farcical, as one party believes that what is happening is real and the other is cynically using the chat-room to market his book”. It considered Daniel’s sexual forwardness (as he pretended to be Anna) was not intended to be titillating to the viewer, but rather “gives the viewer a depth of understanding of Daniel’s character and perhaps causes some amusement at the expense of Larry”.

[13]   Turning to Standard 1 (good taste and decency), the broadcaster stated that to constitute a breach of this standard, the broadcast material must have been unacceptable to a significant number of viewers in the context in which it was shown. It argued that the movie’s AO classification and warning gave a precise indication of the type of material the movie would contain “including coarse language and sexual material intended for adult viewers”. It pointed out that 8.30pm was the time when broadcasters can broadcast AO-classified movies “even during the weekend and public holidays”. By removing the language until near 9pm, TVNZ took into account the transition between PGR and AO time, it said.

[14]   TVNZ pointed out that the movie’s pre-screening publicity indicated that it was classified AO.  

[15]   The broadcaster noted that the strip club scene occurred at 9.47pm. It argued “the word ‘cunt’ was not used in an aggressive or violent manner in the movie and in the strip club scene the question was not intended to belittle Alice”. TVNZ contended “in the context of this movie which explores the disintegration of four people’s sexual relationships (and manages to do so without actually depicting any sex scenes), the Committee finds the language important in the ‘sexual’ scenes and consistent with the other material in the movie and therefore the expectations of the viewer”.

[16]   TVNZ found that the contents of the movie would not have offended a significant number of viewers in the context of the screening. It declined to uphold the complaint that the movie breached Standard 1 (good taste and decency).

[17]   With respect to Standard 9 (children’s interests), the broadcaster argued that 8.30pm was not considered to be children’s normally accepted viewing time and it was permitted to broadcast AO-classified programmes after this time. It contended “the movie was monitored to ensure that no extreme adult footage screened before 9pm” to ease the transition between PGR and AO time “in accordance with guideline 9b”.

[18]   TVNZ noted the movie was preceded by a warning advising viewers of the movie’s content. The broadcaster declined to uphold the complaint that the movie breached Standard 9 (children’s interests).       

Referral to the Authority

[19]   Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response, Ms Findlay referred her complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. She reiterated the arguments contained in her formal complaint.

Authority's Determination

[20]   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)

[21]   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:

  • Closer  was broadcast at 8.30pm
  • the programme was classified AO
  • a verbal and written warning preceded the programme
  • Closer was targeted at an adult audience.

[22]   In the Authority’s view, the language contained in the internet sex-chat scene was not designed to shock or titillate viewers. The words mostly appeared letter by letter and one message at a time on each of the characters’ computer screens. This softened the impact of the words and phrases, instead making viewers concentrate on the hoax being instigated by Daniel.

[23]   The scene focused on each of the characters reacting, sometimes humorously, to what the other was writing. It showed a dark and cynical manipulation of one character by another, in a context where the characters were living a lifestyle of infidelity and confusion about their relationships. The scene and its language – which was not abusive in nature – were important to viewers’ understanding of the plotline and to the characters’ development.

[24]   The Authority disagrees with Ms Findlay’s contention that the scene presented the idea that women fantasise about group sex with strangers or that it would encourage sexual assault. The internet sex-chat scene did not have any women in it, and focused solely on one character tricking another into believing he was a woman looking for sex. Taking the above contextual factors into account, the Authority concludes that the scene did not breach standards of good taste and decency.  

[25]   With respect to the language used in the strip club scene, the Authority notes that it has previously upheld complaints regarding the use of the word “cunt” on free-to-air television (e.g. Decision 2008-032). However, in those cases the word was found to have been gratuitously used for shock value, and could easily have been removed without affecting the programme’s storyline. On this occasion, the Authority concludes that Larry’s question to Alice “what does your cunt taste like?” was both important to the movie’s plot and to the characters’ ongoing development. It was a defining moment which reflected the low point Larry had reached in his life, and his misery and frustration at not being able to touch Alice.

[26]   Taking the above contextual factors into account, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint that the language in the movie breached Standard 1 (good taste and decency).          

Standard 9 (children’s interests)

[27]   Standard 9 requires broadcasters to consider the interests of child viewers during their normally accepted viewing times, usually up to 8.30pm. Ms Findlay argued that the movie had breached guideline 9b of the children’s interests standard because it contained a strong sexual theme and the internet sex-chat scene was broadcast shortly after children’s viewing time.

[28]   The Authority notes that the internet sex-chat scene began at approximately 8.51pm, which was 21 minutes after the 8.30pm watershed. In the Authority’s view, it is significant that Closer was broadcast on TV One on a Sunday evening, in a timeslot which regularly screens adult dramas that are unlikely to attract child viewers.

[29]   The Authority agrees with TVNZ that it adequately considered the interests of child viewers by classifying the movie AO (Adults Only), broadcasting it at 8.30pm on a Sunday evening on TV One, and including a verbal and visual warning advising viewers that it contained language and sexual material that may offend. It also finds that the broadcaster acted appropriately in moderating the movie’s content through to nearly 9pm.

[30]   Accordingly the Authority declines to uphold the complaint that the movie breached Standard 9.        

 

For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
21 October 2008

Appendix

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

1.           Rhonda Findlay’s formal complaint – 27 May 2008
2.          TVNZ’s response to the formal complaint – 13 June 2008
3.          Ms Findlay’s referral to the Authority – 9 July 2008
4.          TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 22 August 2008