The Craft – film – theme witchcraft and sorcery – evil and violent – unsuitable for children
Standard G2 – warning – AO – fantasy theme – acceptable in context
Standard V1 – minimal violence – neither gratuitous nor prolonged – justifiable in context
Standard V16 – warning – 8.30pm – broadcaster mindful of effect
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
Sorcery and witchcraft were themes in the film The Craft which was broadcast on TV2 on 28 October 2000 beginning at 8.30pm.
Mark Singh complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that "the evil and violent content" of the programme was unacceptable. He expressed concern about its impact on younger viewers.
In its response, TVNZ emphasised that the film was a fantasy thriller which was quite divorced from reality. In its view, there was nothing intrinsically wrong with a work of fiction being built around a theme of witchcraft, magic and sorcery. It noted that the film had an AO certificate and was preceded by a warning to enable viewers to make an informed decision about whether to watch it. In that context, it did not consider it breached any broadcasting standards.
Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, Mr Singh referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
For the reasons given below, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
The members of the Authority have viewed a tape of the film complained about and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines this complaint without a formal hearing.
The Craft was broadcast on TV2 on 28 October 2000 beginning at 8.30pm. It was a fantasy thriller about a group of school girls who discovered that they could perform acts of sorcery. While it began innocently, the girls in time lost their sense of morality. The film’s themes included witchcraft, magic and sorcery.
Mark Singh complained to TVNZ that the film was "indecent and not in good taste". In his view, the film was an example of "unwanted levels of violence, sex and swearing which is increasing[ly] appearing in television".
In its response, TVNZ advised that it had assessed the complaint under standards G2, V1 and V16 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. Standard G2 requires broadcasters:
G2 To take into consideration currently accepted norms of decency and taste in language and behaviour, bearing in mind the context in which any language or behaviour occurs.
The other standards read:
V1 Broadcasters have a responsibility to ensure that any violence shown is justifiable, ie is essential in the context of the programme.
V16 Broadcasters must be mindful of the effect any programme, including trailers, may have on children during their generally accepted viewing periods, usually up to 8.30pm, and avoid screening material which could unnecessarily disturb or alarm children.
The film, TVNZ noted, was a fantasy thriller about a group of school girls who discovered they could perform acts of sorcery. It was clear, it noted, that this was a work of fiction, a fantasy adventure quite divorced from reality.
Turning to the complaint that standard G2 was breached, TVNZ noted that it was obliged to consider the context in which any potentially offensive language or behaviour occurred. In this case, the context included the hour of the broadcast, the AO certificate, the presence of a warning and the expectations of the audience.
The film began at 8.30pm, which is during adult viewing time, TVNZ observed. Further, it noted, the first part of the film (that closest to the 8.30pm watershed) was relatively innocuous and there was no potentially offensive language before the first commercial break. In addition, The Craft had an AO certificate, and the AO symbol had been displayed at the beginning of the programme and after each commercial break. A warning was broadcast before the film which stated:
The Craft is rated Adults Only. It contains violence and language that may offend some viewers. We advise discretion.
TVNZ emphasised that the purpose of the warning was to provide information as well as to enable viewers to make an informed decision about whether to watch the programme. In its view, it was made clear that there was some violence, and language which might offend some viewers.
As far as audience expectations were concerned, TVNZ considered that the advance publicity and knowledge about the movie meant that most viewers would have known that it was going to deal with the supernatural. It concluded that in the context, it did not exceed the boundaries of accepted norms of decency and good taste, and that standard G2 was not infringed.
Applying standard V1, TVNZ noted that the violence was mainly of the fantasy variety, and was integral to the plot. In the circumstances it found no breach of the standard.
Turning to the complaint under standard V16, TVNZ noted that the programme began at 8.30pm which was widely recognised as being the end of children’s viewing time. It also observed that the first part of the film had been relatively free of violence or potentially offensive language. In its view, there was sufficient opportunity to remove vulnerable children from the television set. It found no breach of the standard and declined to uphold the complaint.
When he referred the complaint to the Authority, Mr Singh said that he would like this type of programme to be banned from television. He argued that children stayed up later these days, and that parents did not regulate children’s viewing, even if there was a warning. In his opinion, viewers should have been warned that the programme contained themes which could be disturbing to younger viewers. He added:
The problem with this programme is that it started as fantasy thriller then deteriorated into disturbing supernatural actions which can have psychological impacts on individuals. Furthermore where there are instances of younger viewers copycatting what they see on television, the potential danger to people delving into this is frightening.
Mr Singh asserted that it was the Authority’s job to ensure that people were exposed to safer and more wholesome viewing. He wrote:
I strongly encourage you to uphold the laws of decency regarding the "rampant" violence, sex, language and immoral themes that you must agree have been appearing more often on television. Please act for the betterment of society as a lot of people get their education and information from television.
In his correspondence, Mr Singh expressed concern about what he described as the rampant immorality in some programmes on television. In particular, he complained that the film, The Craft, was an example of a programme which contained excessive levels of violence and sex.
The Authority’s statutory function is to determine complaints about specific programmes when the complainant is dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s initial ruling on the complaint. Accordingly, it has confined its deliberations on this occasion to assessing whether The Craft complied with the standards G2, V1 and V16 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. Briefly, those standards refer to accepted norms of good taste and decency, the level of violence, and the broadcaster’s obligation to be mindful of the effect of a programme on children during their normal viewing times.
The provision referring to the accepted norms of good taste and decency is promulgated in standard G2, which contains a requirement to consider the context of the programme. The relevant contextual elements on this occasion were the time of broadcast, 8.30pm, the classification of the programme as AO, and the broadcast of a warning before the programme began. Taking these matters into account together with the film’s fantasy theme, the Authority does not accept that standard G2 was contravened.
Standard V1 requires that any violence must be essential to the context of the broadcast. The Authority acknowledges that the film contained some, albeit limited, violence. However, the violence was neither gratuitous nor prolonged and, in the Authority’s opinion, does not breach standard V1.
The other standard cited, standard V16, requires broadcasters to be mindful of the effect of the programme on children during their usual viewing time. The standard notes specifically that the usual viewing time for children finishes at 8.30pm. The Authority is aware from its research however, that it is a common practice for many children to watch television beyond 8.30pm on Friday and Saturday evenings. Thus, although the broadcast complained about began at 8.30pm, the Authority looked for action on the broadcaster’s part, beyond scheduling the film at 8.30pm, as evidence of the broadcaster’s compliance with the standard. The Authority considers that the broadcast of a warning before the start of the film indicated the broadcaster was aware of its obligations and, accordingly, it concludes that standard V16 was not transgressed.
For the above reasons, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
22 February 2001
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint: