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Smits and SKY Network Television Ltd - 2001-134, 2001-135

Members

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

Complainant

  • Phillip Smits of Auckland

Dated

22nd November 2001

Number

2001-134–135

Programme

Bulworth

Channel/Station

SKY Movie Max

Broadcaster

SKY Network Television Ltd


Complaint
Bulworth – film – two screenings – obscene language – fuck – cock sucker

Findings
Standard S2 – context – no uphold

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

[1] The film Bulworth, a political satire, was broadcast on Sky Movie Max at 6.10pm on 13 June 2001 and at 4.40pm on 18 June 2001. It contained a scene during which a young boy swore at a police officer and called him a "fucking pig cock sucker".

[2] Phillip Smits complained to Sky Network Television Limited, the broadcaster, that the language was "obscene".

[3] Sky did not uphold the complaints. It considered that the language used, when considered in context, did not breach currently accepted norms of decency and taste in language.

[4] Dissatisfied with Sky’s response, Mr Smits referred the complaints to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

For the reasons below, the Authority declines to uphold the complaints.

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 Appendix. The Authority determines the complaints without a formal hearing.

The Programme

[6] The film Bulworth was screened on Sky Movie Max at 6.10pm on 13 June 2001, and at 4.40pm on 18 June 2001. The film, a political satire which starred Warren Beatty, contained a scene during which a young boy swore at a police officer and called him a "fucking pig cock sucker".

The Complaints

[7] Phillip Smits complained to Sky that the language contained in the film was "obscene".

The Standard

[8] Sky assessed the complaint under standard S2 of the Subscription Television Codes of Broadcasting Practice. Standard S2 requires subscription television broadcasters:

S2  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 Broadcaster's Response

[9] Sky acknowledged that the language used in the movie was "strong". However, it considered that it did not breach currently accepted norms of decency and taste, when considered in context.

[10] Sky explained that the scene during which the language Mr Smits specifically complained about occurred had shown the main character in an "urban African-American ghetto of LA" saving some young boys from a beating at the hands of a local police officer. One of the boys then abused the officer. Sky said that the language used was "presumably intended to be a fairly realistic depiction of the language used by alienated urban ghetto youth", and that "[m]ore moderate language would have seemed less credible in that context and would have detracted from the impact of the scene". It also commented that the movie was a satire providing social comment on political hypocrisy about the urban poor.

[11] In view of the context in which the language was used, Sky declined to uphold the complaints.

The Referral to the Authority

[12] Dissatisfied with Sky’s decision, Mr Smits referred the complaints to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

The Authority’s Determination

[13] The Authority’s task in assessing these complaints under standard S2 is to determine whether the language complained about breached currently accepted norms of good taste and decency, in the context in which it occurred. The context is relevant, but not decisive, to the Authority’s determination of whether the programme beached standards of good taste and decency.

[14] On this occasion, the Authority considers it relevant that the movie was a political satire, broadcast on subscription television, and classified ML by the broadcaster. The Authority also considers that the language was appropriate in the context of the scene and the storyline of the movie.

[15] Taking into account the context in which the language was broadcast, the Authority concludes that standard S2 was not breached.

[16] The Authority observes that to find a breach of standard S2 would be to interpret the Broadcasting Act 1989 in such a way as to place too great a limit on the broadcaster’s statutory freedom of expression enshrined in s14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990. It prefers to adopt an interpretation of the standard which is consistent with the Bill of Rights.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Cartwright
Chair
22 November 2001

Appendix

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

  1. Phillip Smits’ Complaint to Sky Network Television Ltd – 19 June 2001
  2. Sky’s Response to Mr Smits – 16 July 2001
  3. Mr Smits’ Referral to the Authority – 26 July 2001
  4. Sky’s Report to the Authority – 21 September 2001
  5. Mr Smits' Final Comment – 2 October 2001