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Payne and 3 Others and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2004-015–2004-018

Members

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

Complainants

  • Alan Payne of Auckland
  • Janet Hoffman of Auckland
  • Phillip Smits of Auckland
  • G J O'Neill of Auckland

Dated

11th March 2004

Number

2004-015–018

Programme

Eating Media Lunch

Channel/Station

TV2

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint
Eating Media Lunch – satirised television series Target which uses hidden cameras to watch workmen in a private house – workers behaved in crude and coarse manner which the complainants regarded as offensive

Findings
Standard 1 – majority – satirical context – not upheld – minority – overstepped boundaries despite satire – upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision


Summary

[1] The Target series was satirised during Eating Media Lunch broadcast on TV2 at 9.30pm on 25 November 2003. Target often uses hidden cameras to portray the sometimes offensive behaviour of workmen who believe they are alone in a private home. Eating Media Lunch is a series which sets out to satirise and parody aspects of the media. The behaviour suggested in the Target parody included telephone sex, drug use, masturbation, defecation and urination.

[2] Alan Payne complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the programme was offensive and “essentially pornography”. Expressing her disgust, Janet Hoffman maintained the programme was inappropriate family viewing. Phillip Smits contended the programme included “objectionable” scenes which would have been unacceptable to the Office of Film and Literature Classification. G J O'Neill argued that the programme was unacceptable and was “just low class filth, porn”.

[3] In response to each complainant, TVNZ stated that the programme lampooned the Target series through the use of satire. Pointing also to the time of broadcast, the programme 's rating and the warning, it declined to uphold the complaints.

[4] Dissatisfied with TVNZ's decision, the complainants each referred their complaints to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

For the reasons below, a majority of the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Decision

[5] The members of the Authority have viewed a tape of the programme complained about and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendices. The Authority determines the complaints without a formal hearing.

Programme

[6] Eating Media Lunch was a series which, TVNZ wrote, set out to satirise and parody aspects of the media and the way it worked in New Zealand. Part of the programme broadcast on 25 November 2003 satirised the television series Target which includes the use of hidden cameras to portray the sometimes offensive behaviour of workmen who believe they are alone in a private home.

[7] The Eating Media Lunch programme included depictions of the workmen which suggested among other things: telephone sex, drug use, masturbation, defecation on a stove, and urination.

Complaints

[8] Alan Payne complained to TVNZ that the programme was “essentially pornography”. He argued that it should not have been broadcast.

[9] Janet Hoffman expressed her disgust at the contents of the programme – “it was about as low as you can get” – and said that the behaviour depicted was not family viewing. She asked whether the programme should have been preceded with a warning.

[10] Phillip Smits also complained that there had been no warning that the programme would include “objectionable” scenes. He maintained that the Office of Film and Literature Classification would have banned the scenes complained about. Some of his younger workmates, he added, had also thought the programme was sick and a “shocker”.

[11] G J O'Neill expressed his disgust at the behaviour depicted, commenting that such garbage should not be broadcast in the pursuit of ratings.

Standard

[12] TVNZ assessed the complaints under Standard 1 and Guideline 1a of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. They read:

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.

Guideline

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.

Broadcaster's Responses to the Complainants

[13] TVNZ advised the complainants that the programme was satirical and said that the purpose of satire was to ask questions about individuals or society through the medium of humour. Satirists, it continued, identified and lampooned aspects of “our lives which seem absurd or raise questions about how we interact.” Satire was often achieved through the use of exaggeration. In regard to Eating Media Lunch , TVNZ wrote:

The [complaints] committee accepted that the aim this time was to use satire to highlight and question the public's apparent acceptance of, and enjoyment in watching surreptitiously (through hidden cameras) the bad and sometimes disgusting behaviour of the people who appear in shows such as Target? The satire implicitly asked whether this voyeuristic interest was healthy, and how far it could go.

The item presented the behaviour of the film crew in a manner almost identical to that used in Target. It showed the behaviour becoming more and more outrageous, as it exaggerated the type of incidents shown on the programme it was satirising. The programme 's host Jeremy Wells acted as the commentator on viewer tolerance – observing on more than one occasion “surely that is inappropriate?”

[14] TVNZ maintained that the images of the characters behaving in a crude and coarse manner were “blurry” and that their actions “while clearly implied”, were concealed by electronic marking.

[15] Noting that Standard 1 required the consideration of context, TVNZ argued that the satirical context was highly relevant and Eating Media Lunch had been described by one columnist as “skewering the excesses of the media”. That column was attached.

[16] Other relevant contextual matters TVNZ stated were time of broadcast (one hour after the 8.30pm AO watershed), the programme 's AO classification and the warning, delivered both visually and verbally before the programme , which said:

This programme contains scenes and language that may offend some people. We advise discretion.

[17] TVNZ concluded that Standard 1 had not been breached.

Referrals to the Authority

[18] Mr Payne focused on the following points when he referred his complaint to the Authority. First, while he accepted that satire could be cruel at times, he considered that it was not necessary to be crude. Secondly, he did not accept that electronically masking the actors sufficiently disguised their behaviour. Not only children but adults could be offended by the programme, he said. Finally, he advised that he had not seen the warning and questioned the value of warnings. He concluded:

There was the mention of current norms of decency and taste in TVNZ's letter. I am sure that television, being the powerful medium that it is, shapes those norms by the material that is allowed to be shown. By allowing material that stretches these norms to their limits, the broadcasting industry is moving the standards further into the gutter.

I trust that you will conclude that this programme was in poor taste and should not have been broadcast.

[19] Ms Hoffman maintained that the standard of the show was “rock bottom” and asked what TVNZ considered to be in bad taste. She added that she was well aware of the meanings of parody and satire and that the acts represented in the item were neither.

[20] Mr Smits argued the programme was not satire but a deliberate attempt to “shock, disgust, dismay” and was a “blatant challenge” to current norms of good taste and decency.

[21] Complaining about the quality of the item, G J O'Neill sought the maintenance of standards of good taste and decency.

Broadcaster's Responses to the Authority

[22] In response to the points raised by Mr Payne, TVNZ agreed that satire did not often need crudity to make a point. However, it continued:

… when the subject of the satire is itself somewhat crude, it is sometimes necessary to exaggerate the crudity to make a point.

What the programme makers saw as the underlying crudity in Target could not have been treated satirically if it had gone no further than Target itself went. The point of the satire was to ask “how far can this sort of show go?”

[23] As for the use of electronic masking, TVNZ said it was employed because the people were naked. However, they were actors, who were pretending to perform the “disgusting acts” shown.

[24] Acknowledging that Mr Payne found the programme offensive, TVNZ said it had to cater for a variety of tastes and interests. Eating Media Lunch, it observed, “was deliberately unconventional, and made a virtue of challenging the very concept of good taste and decency”. Moreover, it noted, the Broadcasting Act acknowledged that complaints based merely on a complainant's preferences were not, in general, capable of being resolved through the complaints procedure.

[25] As for the use of warnings, TVNZ accepted that they had to be used sparingly in order to make an impact. A warning had been justified on this occasion and, TVNZ concluded:

It is not possible to prepare a television schedule on the basis of what a viewer who is channel-surfing may come across. Nor is it possible or desirable to remove all potentially offensive material from television programme s because, as indicated above, tastes vary and what one viewer finds perfectly acceptable will cause offence to another. Besides, some of the great works of literature contain themes and scenes which when translated onto a television screen require the presence of a warning. Shakespeare is the obvious example – Arthur Conan Doyle is another.

[26] Dealing with Ms Hoffman's concerns, TVNZ maintained that the concept of good taste and decency was not absolute. The concept, it maintained, was comparative and relative and context was highly relevant.

[27] TVNZ had nothing further to add in its response to the referrals from Mr Smits and G J O'Neill.

Authority's Determination

[28] Ms Hoffman described TVNZ's reply as inappropriate and “self-serving”.

[29] Final comments were not received from the other complainants.

[30] An item broadcast on Eating Media Lunch was designed to satirise the television series Target which includes the use of hidden cameras to portray the sometimes offensive behaviour of workmen who believe they are alone in a private home. The Authority is aware that the behaviour shown on Target has included workmen sometimes examining female underwear and, on one occasion for which the person was charged by the police, masturbating. The Authority notes that the behaviour in the satirised item on Eating Media Lunch unambiguously suggested, among other things, telephone sex, drug use (smoking and injection), masturbation, defecation on a stove, urination and the examination and use of many articles in the home. Such use included one “workman” wiping his bottom with a bra, and another who wrapped his body, while naked, in cling film.

[30] The Authority notes that the item, broadcast at 9.30pm, was preceded by a warning and was included in a series which is targeted at young adult viewers. Nevertheless, it also notes, there is an implicit assumption in the broadcaster's correspondence that, in view of the behaviour depicted, the broadcast would have breached the requirement for good taste and decency in context but for its satirical nature. The Authority unanimously agrees that the broadcast of this material would have breached the standard if it were not satire.

[31] Upon assessing the item, a majority concludes that the item's satirical component is sufficient for it to concur with TVNZ that the standard was not contravened. The majority acknowledges that the item was at the boundaries of what is acceptable on free-to-air television at 9.30pm.

[32] A minority of the Authority upholds the complaint as it considers that there is a limit to acceptable satire, and that the limit was transgressed on this occasion.

[33] The Authority notes that satire and parody are means of communication which are valuable in conveying attitudes, but that there are limits to what is acceptable. Speech, for example, ridiculing attitudes held by groups in society has the potential to develop into hate speech, and lampooning attitudes to sexual behaviour, despite a traditional approach in some satire towards crudity, can become unacceptably offensive.

[34] The majority of the Authority on this occasion concludes that the broadcast of the satirical contents did not cross the line of acceptability. It observes that the commentary by the presenters, as occurred with Target , highlighted the parody.

[35] A minority (Joanne Morris) considers that the item breached Standard 1. While acknowledging the important role for television to broadcast humorous exaggerated imitations of aspects of society, the minority emphasises that there are limits to what can be accepted even in a satirical context. Those limits, the minority believes, were overstepped on this occasion. The minority considers it significant that the item was drawn out, being approximately three minutes in length, because it contained so many scenes designed to challenge the limits of acceptability. As well, the minority considers that some of the scenes were presented in a gratuitously detailed manner (eg, printing on the screen the words used by the “telephone sexworker”, having one workman apparently urinate on the other) which was not essential to the humorous intention of the item. Accordingly, the minority concludes, the programme breached the Standard 1.

 

For the reasons above, a majority of the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
11 March 2004

Appendix I

The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined the complaint from Mr Payne:

1.    Alan Payne's Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 26 November 2003

2.    TVNZ's Response to the Formal Complaint – 11 December 2003

3.    Mr Payne's Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 17 December 2003

4.    TVNZ's Response to the Authority – 6 January 2004

Appendix II

The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined the complaint from Ms Hoffman:

1.    Janet Hoffman's Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 26 November 2003

2.    TVNZ's Response to the Formal Complaint – 12 December 2003

3.    Ms Hoffman's Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 1 January 2004

4.    TVNZ's Response to the Authority – 13 January 2004

5.    Ms Hoffman's Final Comment – 30 January 2004

Appendix III

The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined the complaint from Mr Smits:

1.    Phillip Smit's Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 30 November 2003

2.    TVNZ's Response to the Formal Complaint – 2003

3.    Mr Smit's Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 5 January 2004

4.    TVNZ's Response to the Authority – 21 January 2004

Appendix IV

The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined the complaint from G J O'Neill:

1.    G J O'Neill's Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 29 November 2003

2.    TVNZ's Response to the Formal Complaint – 15 December 2003

3.    G J O'Neill's Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 18 December 2003

4.    TVNZ's Response to the Authority – 21 January 2004