NZ Festival: Numero Bruno – inclusion in documentary of sex scene from Smash Palace – sexually explicit – not essential part of story
Standard G2 – sex scene acceptable in context – no uphold
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
The documentary NZ Festival: Numero Bruno, broadcast at 8.30pm on 12 February 2001, examined the life and work of actor and musician Bruno Lawrence. The documentary included a scene from the film Smash Palace, which showed the character played by Bruno Lawrence having sex with his wife.
Betty McIntyre complained to the broadcaster, Television New Zealand Ltd, that the sex scene was "far too explicit", and crossed the bounds of decency in television entertainment. She believed that the sex scene was not an essential part of the Bruno Lawrence story.
TVNZ advised the complainant that the scene had not been included gratuitously. It was, TVNZ believed, intended to show the "raw and rebellious reality" of the actor. TVNZ noted that the programme had been broadcast with an "Adults Only" certificate and had been preceded by a warning that its content may offend. It declined to uphold the complaint.
Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response, Ms McIntyre 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 item complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines this complaint without a formal hearing.
A scene from the film Smash Palace, showing the character played by Bruno Lawrence having sex with his wife, was shown on the documentary New Zealand Festival: Numero Bruno, broadcast on TV One at 8.30pm on 12 February 2001. The documentary marked a year since the death of the actor and musician, and examined his life and work. It emphasised the unconventional nature of his work and lifestyle.
Betty McIntyre complained to the broadcaster, Television New Zealand Ltd, that the sex scene was "far too explicit" and crossed the bounds of decency in television entertainment. Ms McIntyre wrote:
I object to glorifying Lawrence’s oafish behaviour as a kiwi male role model as ageing contemporaries cry into their beers in the programme, but accept that that was the common psyche of the kiwi male of that era, talented acting and film roles aside.
But explicit intercourse on our screens was not an essential part of the Lawrence story. Viewers shouldn’t be subjected to soft porn material like that and those responsible for not cutting that scene should not be allowed to rationalise their way out of it.
Lawrence being the kind of folk hero he has become, posthumously, shouldn’t cloud this issue please.
TVNZ considered Ms McIntyre’s complaint under standard G2 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice which, in the preparation and presentation of programmes, 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.
TVNZ advised that the shot had not been included on the programme gratuitously. It explained:
It is a famous scene from Smash Palace and perhaps more than any other encapsulates the brutal, honest and controversial nature of the film – an approach which was seen in the context of the documentary to reflect Lawrence’s own way of dealing with his life and his art.
To have confined visual sequences to the "softer" sort would be to mislead in a documentary which was intended to show the raw and rebellious reality of an actor claimed in death as something of a national icon.
TVNZ noted that the programme had been broadcast with a well advertised "Adults Only" certificate, and had been preceded by a warning that content may offend.
In referring her complaint to the Authority, Ms McIntyre reiterated the comments she had made to TVNZ, and added:
It was a cynical ratings, not artistic decision.
In response TVNZ denied that the sex scene had been included as a "cynical ratings decision." It stated:
That argument would make sense only if attention had been drawn to the presence of the sex scene before the broadcast began. It wasn’t.
Finally, Ms McIntyre wrote to the Authority stating:
I withdraw my accusation that the sex scene was screened with thought to ratings on the particular evening it was screened. Having said that, such an explicit, gratuitous sex scene might suggest to a certain section of viewers, probably mainly male, that NZ documentaries in future covering personal profiles are likely to include such a scene. In that way ratings are a consideration.
In considering whether the scene complained about breached standards of good taste and decency the Authority is required to examine the context in which the scene was broadcast. The programme, which included the footage of Bruno Lawrence having sex in a scene from Smash Palace, was a documentary about Bruno Lawrence. In wishing to portray his life realistically, the Authority agrees with TVNZ that material which some people may find offensive needed to be included. The Authority also considers it relevant that the documentary was preceded by a warning that its contents might offend, and that the material complained about was broadcast well after the 8.30pm AO watershed.
The Authority notes that the piece of footage complained about was screened well into the documentary, and was very brief. The inclusion in this documentary of such a scene was in keeping with the profile portrayed and was not in the Authority’s view gratuitous. It does not agree with the complainant that including such a scene sends a signal to a certain section of viewers that New Zealand documentaries covering personal profiles may in future feature such scenes.
For the reasons given the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
7 June 2001
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint: