Skip to main content

Carter and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2002-085

Members

  • P Cartwright (Chair)
  • R Bryant
  • B Hayward
  • J H McGregor

Complainant

  • Kerry Carter of Auckland

Dated

20th June 2002

Number

2002-085

Channel/Station

TV2

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint
Promo – The Mind of the Married Man – references to anal sex – offensive language

Findings
Standard 1 and guideline 1a – context – borderline – no uphold

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

[1] An episode of The Mind of the Married Man was broadcast on TV2 at 9.55pm on 13 February 2002. In a part of the episode during which a married couple argued about the state of their marriage, there was reference by the wife to anal sex, using terms such as "arse-fuck", "fuck me in the arse" and "deep in my arse".

[2] Kerry Carter complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, about the dialogue, which she considered "lewd and offensive" and "only fit for a porn video".

[3] TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint. It did not consider that that the use of the language complained about breached broadcasting standards.

[4] Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, Ms Carter referred her complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

For the reasons given, 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 listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines this complaint without a formal hearing.

The Programme

[6] An episode of The Mind of the Married Man, a comedy/drama series, was broadcast on TV2 at 9.55pm on 13 February 2002. In a part of the episode during which a married couple argued about the state of their marriage, there was reference by the wife to anal sex, using terms such as "arse-fuck", "fuck me in the arse" and "deep in my arse".

The Complaint

[7] Ms Carter complained to TVNZ about the language used in the broadcast. She said she was "appalled and enraged" about the programme, which she described as "lewd and offensive" and "only fit for a porn video".

The Standards

[8] TVNZ assessed Ms Carter’s complaint against Standard 1 and guideline 1a of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which 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.

TVNZ’s Response to the Complaint

[9] TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint. It began its response to Ms Carter by explaining that:

The Mind of the Married Man is a comedy/drama series about three friends and co-workers who are long time married and going through the various stresses and strains that arise in modern-day married life.

[10] TVNZ noted that the programme:

was clearly aimed at adult audiences

was not screened until nearly an hour and a half after the recognised "adults only" watershed at 8.30pm

carried an AO certificate

was preceded by a warning which drew viewers’ attention to the fact that it contained potentially offensive language.

[11] TVNZ also considered that the way the sequence was delivered was an important contextual matter. It wrote:

This was not a raunchy sexual encounter with a siren luring a helpless male into an act of sodomy. It was part of an over-dinner argument between a securely married husband and wife who were having a low period in their relationship. He had been down-loading sexy pictures from the Internet and fantasising about a new female employee at the office. She had been developing her own career, while longing for another baby. The references to "arse fucking" are heavy with sarcasm.

[12] TVNZ provided the Authority with a transcript of the sequence in which the language occurred. It then commented:

It seemed to [TVNZ’s complaints committee] that the whole passage in which the wife used the term "arse-fuck" was intended to mock her husband’s insistence that she had not done all that she might to improve their sex life. It was exaggerated, and over-the-top but did not suggest to the committee that at any time the conversation was actually going to lead to anal sex.

[13] TVNZ considered that the "cliches of the ‘blue movie’" had been used for sarcastic effect, and wrote:

The puerile dialogue of the porn movie was used to make a point to her husband about her contribution to their sex lives – a use of fantasy language abruptly brought down to earth by her reference to doing the dishes and putting the baby to bed.

[14] In conclusion, TVNZ said:

The committee recognised that material of this sort should not be shown on free-to-air television at a time when children may be watching. However, it did not believe that in the context of a late night programme aimed at an adult audience, and a storyline reflecting marital strain, these coarse references to anal sex used only in a sarcastic manner would be regarded by that adult audience as something they should not be permitted to see. It was the committee’s view that for a mature audience the sequence did not stray beyond "current norms of decency" and that standard 1 was not breached.

[14] Recognising that she had been offended by the broadcast, TVNZ apologised to Ms Carter.

Ms Carter’s Referral to the Authority

[15] As she was dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, Ms Carter referred the complaint to the Authority. She wrote:

I cannot, even in 2002, get my head around [why] dialogue that talks about "arse-fucking" – "deep and hard" etc is okay for national television in whatever context.

TVNZ’s Response to the Authority

[16] In its response to the Authority, TVNZ emphasised that the language complained about had been delivered in a very sarcastic manner within a programme classified AO, and preceded by a verbal and visual warning, which said:

This programme, The Mind of the Married Man, is rated adults only and is recommended for a mature audience,. It contains frequent offensive language. We recommend discretion.

[17] TVNZ urged members of the Authority to view the programme in its entirety "so that the programme type can be assessed". It also commented:

The series (which screens each Wednesday night on TV2) has been described as a male Sex in the City which takes a "funny, insightful look at the challenges of modern-day marriage".

The sequence Ms Carter described was not presented in a titillating fashion – but as a representation of tension within the married couple’s life.

Ms Carter’s Final Comment

[18] Ms Carter did not accept that the language was acceptable if used in a sarcastic manner, and she did not consider the programme "funny or insightful". She "fervently" maintained her complaint.

The Authority’s Determination

[19] When it determines a complaint that a broadcast contravenes Standard 1 of the Television Code, the Authority is required to determine whether the material complained about breached currently accepted standards of good taste and decency, taking into account the context of the broadcast. The context is relevant, but not determinative of whether the programme breached the standard. Accordingly, the Authority has considered the context of the comments complained about.

[20] The contextual matters relevant to this complaint include the time of screening (in a programme which began nearly an hour and a half after the AO watershed) and the warning (both verbal and visual) before the programme which gave notice of the offensive language. Another significant contextual factor is the utterly humdrum domestic setting in which the offending dialogue takes place. The husband and wife are sitting at a table eating their evening meal. A maid or home help hovers in the background. The wife asks the husband if he has thought anything more about them having another baby. The husband’s ambivalent response leads the wife to observe testily: "I’ve done everything you want to spice up our sex". It is against that background that the heated exchange about sex occurred. The sarcasm of the repartee was palpable. Obviously, the programme was aimed at an adult audience.

[21] Ms Carter maintained that the language was unacceptable in any context. She considered the language was only fit for a "porn-video".

[22] The Authority appreciates Ms Carter’s concerns. However, it considers that the episode was in fact a parody of the language used in a "porn-video". Moreover, in view of the sarcastic manner in which the language was used, the Authority accepts that, given these contextual matters, the broadcast did not contravene Standard 1. Nevertheless, the Authority also records it considers that the language is at the very limit of what is acceptable on free-to-air television, even at such a late hour. Further, the Authority notes that The Mind of the Married Man is screened on HBO in the United States, rather than free-to-air television.

[24] Finally, the Authority observes that to find a breach of broadcasting standards on this occasion would be to interpret the Broadcasting Act 1989 in such a way as to limit freedom of expression in a manner which is not reasonable or demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society (s.5 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990). As required by s.6 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, the Authority adopts an interpretation of the relevant standards which it considers is consistent with and gives full weight to the provisions of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.

 

For the above reasons, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

 Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Cartwright
Chair
20 June 2002

Appendix

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

  1. Kerry Carter’s Formal Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 15 February 2002
  2. TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 4 March 2002
  3. Ms Carter’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 12 March 2002
  4. TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 27 March 2002
  5. Ms Carter’s Final Comment – 13 April 2002