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Viewers for Television Excellence Inc and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2004-197

Members

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

Complainant

  • Viewers for Television Excellence Inc (VoTE) of Christchurch

Dated

18th February 2005

Number

2004-197

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
One News – item regarding the death of actress Janet Leigh who starred in the movie “Psycho” – segment included the scene in which her character was stabbed to death in the shower – allegedly contrary to children’s interests

Findings
Standard 9 (children’s interests) – clearly identified film clip – not realistic – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1] An item on One News broadcast on TV One at 6pm on 5 October 2004 reported on the death of actress Janet Leigh, who had starred in the Alfred Hitchcock thriller “Psycho”. The segment included a scene from that movie in which Ms Leigh’s character was stabbed to death in the shower.

Complaint

[2] On behalf of Viewers for Television Excellence Inc. (VOTE), the secretary, Glenyss Barker, complained to Television New Zealand Ltd that it was unacceptable to broadcast such a violent item at that hour. Mrs Barker contended that the broadcast was contrary to children’s interests.

[3] Quoting an excerpt from an edition of The Times newspaper, Mrs Barker said that the scene from this film had “terrorized a generation”, and that the actress herself had been so deeply affected by it that she had subsequently refused to take showers. She argued that children watching the scene would probably be affected more than the actress had been – “perhaps for life”.

[4] Mrs Barker stated that such scenes are “not suitable viewing for families at a time when the ‘watershed’ is there to protect young children from seeing such violence”. She added that it was well documented that such “lifelike” scenes can instil a real fear of the world in children, and that this was known as “the mean world syndrome”. According to Mrs Barker, this item should not have screened until after the 8.30pm watershed, preferably during a late-night news slot.

[5] Referring to Standard 9 the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, Mrs Barker complained that the item would “disturb or alarm” children (Guideline 9a) and that it contained “realistically menacing or horrifying imagery” contrary to Guideline 9f. She also contended that the item showed people being “badly treated” and that it should have been screened later in the evening consistent with Guideline 9e.

[6] Mrs Barker said the VOTE organisation called on broadcasters to take responsibility for what they show on television, especially during the “watershed” times when “children are allowed special protection for what is shown on screen”.

Standards

[7] TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standard 9 and Guidelines 9a, 9e and 9f of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which provide:

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.

Guidelines

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.

9e  Scenes and themes dealing with disturbing social and domestic friction or sequences in which people – especially children – or animals may be humiliated or badly treated, should be handled with care and sensitivity. All gratuitous material of this nature must be avoided and any scenes which are shown must pass the test of relevancy within the context of the programme. If thought likely to disturb children, the programme should be scheduled later in the evening.

9f   "Scary" themes are not necessarily unsuitable for older children, but care should be taken to ensure that realistically menacing or horrifying imagery is not included.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[8] In its response to VOTE, TVNZ noted that the shower scene from “Psycho” was “one of the most famous scenes in the history of the cinema”. TVNZ observed that Ms Leigh won a Golden Globe for her 45 minute performance in the film, which effectively “made her career”. The broadcaster considered that to “do an obituary of Janet Leigh without the shower scene would be like doing an obituary of Winston Churchill without the Battle of Britain”.

[9] Referring to Standard 9 (children’s interests), TVNZ observed that the obituary of Janet Leigh was presented in the context of a news programme. It referred to an earlier complaint made by the VOTE organisation in which the Authority had declined to uphold the complaint, noting, among other things, that the sequence was “clearly identified as a film clip” (Decision No. 2003-168). The broadcaster argued that the shower scene, which used the “grainy black and white pictures from a film made 44 years ago”, was also clearly identified as a film clip as opposed to real life. 

[10] TVNZ contended that news programmes contain real life material almost every evening that is “inherently far more disturbing and distressing than any Hollywood make believe”. It said that if the “mean world syndrome” actually did exist, it would be more likely generated from present events in Iraq than in “a very famous if aged film clip”.

[11] The broadcaster pointed out the note attached to Appendix 1 of the Code of Broadcasting Practice, which states:

News and Current Affairs programmes, which may be scheduled at any time and may, on occasion, pre-empt other scheduled broadcasts, are not, because of their distinct nature, subject to censorship or to the strictures of the classification system. However, producers are required to be mindful that young people may be among viewers of news and current affairs programmes during morning, daytime and early evening hours and should give consideration to including warnings where appropriate.

In TVNZ’s view, the inclusion of this “well-known and famous moment” did not require any sort of warning when shown in the context of a news programme.

[12] Considering Guideline 9a, the broadcaster did not agree that showing the film clip would “disturb or alarm” children watching a news programme that “regularly touches on material in real life which can be disturbing and distressing”. TVNZ argued that it was entirely different to replay this famous scene in isolation, rather than to view it as part of the entire film when it came as “an unexpected and horrifying development”.

[13] TVNZ did not consider Guideline 9e to be relevant, as it argued that the sequence was “clearly depicted as make believe”. It did not agree that anyone was being “badly treated” as envisaged by the Guideline.

[14] Similarly, the broadcaster was of the opinion that Guideline 9f was not relevant to this broadcast.  It said:

The [complaints] committee believed that a grainy sequence from a 44 year old film, frequently highlighted in the media because of its renown, hardly amounted to “realistically menacing or horrifying imagery”. It may have seemed horrifying to those who saw the scene in context in the 1960s but so well known is the scene today, and so sophisticated is modern day film technology compared with that available to Alfred Hitchcock, that its shock value is greatly diminished.

[15] While expressing sympathy that the organisation had been upset by the scene, TVNZ concluded that no breach of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice had occurred. It declined to uphold the complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[16] Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Mrs Barker referred the complaint to the Authority on behalf of the VOTE organisation. She argued that it was irrelevant if the item had been “clearly identified as a film clip” because that did not affect the impact of the item, “especially if those watching have immature minds”.

[17] Contrary to the note in Appendix 1 of the Code of Broadcasting Practice, Mrs Barker believed that the broadcaster had not been mindful of the fact that young people might be watching the news. The VOTE organisation, she said, did not believe that warnings work because children may be left alone in front of the television. Rather, she believed this item ought to have been kept until the late news timeslot.

[18] Mrs Barker stated that it was not correct that the sequence was “well known and frequently shown”, and said that she herself had not seen it prior to the broadcast. In any event, she did not believe that there was any excuse for the scene to be shown to children. Mrs Barker expressed concern at the broadcaster’s comments that nobody had been “badly treated”, saying:

Death by a most savage attack is not being ‘badly treated’? How could they be MORE badly treated? It makes me wonder what kind of a world these people live in if violent murder is ‘not being badly treated’.

[19] TVNZ’s argument that the “shock value” of the scene was diminished given modern day film technology was irrelevant, she said. Mrs Barker felt that the broadcaster was considering the technical side of the item as opposed to the content, which was her main concern. She felt that in disregarding the violent content of the scene, TVNZ was displaying an “irresponsible” attitude.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[20] In its response to the Authority, TVNZ stressed that it was made clear in the item that what was being shown was an extract from a film, and that it was “all make-believe”. It outlined the introduction to the item emphasising these references:

The actress best known for a shower scene in an Alfred Hitchcock thriller has died at her Beverley Hills home, aged 77.

Janet Leigh starred in more than fifty films and played the love interest of leading men like Errol Flynn and Charlton Heston, but she’ll be forever remembered for one famous sequence.

[21] TVNZ drew the Authority’s attention to several other references in the item which would remind viewers that they were watching acting, and also to “the grainy, black and white pictures and the obvious cinema context”.

[22] While noting that Mrs Barker had not previously seen the sequence, TVNZ observed that it had been shown in another programme approximately one month prior to this broadcast. In addition to that, the broadcaster contended that it had been shown many other times – possibly even in the obituary of Alfred Hitchcock.

[23] TVNZ said that it was clear from Janet Leigh’s own comments about Alfred Hitchcock that she regarded him “as a man of genius”. Comments that come out of Hollywood – such as those in the newspaper article Mrs Barker referred to about Ms Leigh’s experience after shooting the film – should be “treated with a degree of scepticism”, it said.

[24] Finally, the broadcaster observed that it knew of “no English-language television news service anywhere which did not report Janet Leigh’s death with extracts from the shower scene”. For example, it said, overseas programmes broadcast in New Zealand each carried the sequence “at least once an hour” throughout that day.

Complainant’s Final Comment

[25] In her final comment to the Authority, Mrs Barker contended that to “stress that an item is ‘make believe’ does not mean children will not see it as real”. She argued that there is strong evidence to suggest that children do not necessarily distinguish between the two, and even if they had, they may have still been affected by the scene.

[26] Mrs Barker contended that it was irrelevant if other television news services had shown extracts from the shower scene. She submitted that such news services would probably have shown it later in the evening than a 6pm news programme. Even if the scene had been shown many times before, the complainant said, this did “not make it right to show this stuff before the 8.30pm watershed”.

Authority's Determination

[27] The members of the Authority have viewed a tape of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.  The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

[28] Standard 9 requires broadcasters to consider the interests of child viewers. In accordance with Guideline 9a, during children’s normally accepted viewing times broadcasters should avoid screening material which would disturb or alarm them. The Authority acknowledges that the item was screened during children’s normally accepted viewing times.

[29] Some members of the Authority had reservations about the suitability of showing this scene on the early evening news, as they considered that the scene still had the power to disturb and alarm younger viewers.  However, on closer examination, the Authority was unanimous in deciding that there were a number of contextual factors which minimised the effect of the item, and brought it within the boundaries of Standard 9.

[30] Prior to the film clip being shown, the presenter explained that Ms Leigh was an actress best known for her role in the film Psycho, and clearly explained the cinematic context of the item.  The Authority is of the view that the scene is well known and is a famous piece of cinematic history.  Given its repute, the Authority considers that the majority of viewers would have been adequately warned by the introduction as to what was to follow.

[31] In addition to this signposting, the material was clearly identifiable as a film clip. The Authority finds that the grainy, black and white pictures minimised any realistic effect of the piece.

[32] The Authority also notes the complainant’s argument that a person was “badly treated” contrary to Guideline 9e. Guideline 9e notes that scenes showing someone being badly treated should not be gratuitous, and must be relevant in the context of the item.  In the present case, the Authority notes that the item was about the death of Janet Leigh, and that the clip shown was her most famous scene.  Accordingly, the Authority considers that the scene was directly relevant to the story and was not gratuitous, complying with Guideline 9e.

[33] In light of the clearly fictional nature and the minimal realism of the scene, the historical context and signposting, the Authority considers that broadcasting this item was not contrary to children’s interests.  Accordingly, the complaint under Standard 9 is not upheld. 

 

For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
18 February 2005

Appendix

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

  1. VOTE’s formal complaint – 6 October 2004
  2. TVNZ’s decision on the formal complaint – 27 October 2004
  3. VOTE’s referral to the Authority – 11 November 2004
  4. TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 30 November 2004
  5. VOTE’s final comment – 15 December 2004