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Boyce and Clow and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2000-011, 2000-012, 2000-013

Members

  • S R Maling (Chair)
  • L M Loates
  • R McLeod
  • J Withers

Complainants

  • Simon Boyce of Paraparaumu
  • Carey Clow (2) of New Plymouth

Dated

10th February 2000

Number

2000-011–013

Programme

Havoc 2000 Deluxe

Channel/Station

TV2

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Summary

Footage showing a man who had his genitals stapled to a cross – which was then set alight – was included on Havoc 2000 Deluxe broadcast on TV2 at 10.00pm on 9 November 1999. The programme also included a sequence where one of the presenters asked a woman on the street if she would consider "a blow-job for four [dollars]". The programme broadcast on 16 November included reaction to the incident.

Simon Boyce and Carey Clow both complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the sequence showing the man nailing his genitals to the cross was indecent and breached broadcasting standards. Mr Boyce also complained about the approach made to the woman on the street, and Mr Clow complained about the programme broadcast the following week which referred to the stapling incident and the reaction to it.

TVNZ noted that the sequence was clearly identified as being suitable for an adult audience and that it was preceded by a warning that the footage was "quite graphic and quite disgusting". Furthermore, TVNZ noted, the sequence was broadcast late in the evening at a time when it considered programmers could assume that the audience would consist of mature people able to cope with the type of humour presented by Havoc and Newsboy. As for the complaint about the item the following week, TVNZ’s view was that the reference to the earlier programme demonstrated the deliberately mischievous streak of the presenters. It declined to uphold the complaints.

Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s responses, Mr Boyce and Mr Clow referred their complaints to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

For the reasons given below, a majority of the Authority declines to uphold the complaint about one aspect of the programme and unanimously declines to uphold any other aspect.

Decision

The members of the Authority have viewed tapes of the items complained about and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendices. On this occasion, the Authority determines the complaints without a formal hearing.

A sequence in which a young man was shown stapling his genitals to a cross and then setting it alight was included in Havoc Deluxe 2000 broadcast on TV2 on 9 November 1999 beginning at 10.00pm. The programme the following week referred to the incident and the complaints it had generated.

Mr Boyce complained to TVNZ that the sequence breached the good taste and decency standard. He also objected to a report from co-presenter Newsboy in which he asked a young woman if she would do "a blow-job for four [dollars]". Mr Clow’s complaint focused on what he described as "the repugnant scenes" as well as on the supposed apology in the following week’s programme, which he maintained clearly showed that the presenters were not remorseful, or willing to stay within the bounds of what was acceptable.

TVNZ assessed the complaint under standard G2 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which 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 sequence, TVNZ noted, occurred late in the programme and was related by way of a telephone conversation with the man, interspersed with brief extracts from a video which were shown at the same time. TVNZ suggested that the purpose of the sequence had been to make fun of a real event which had occurred in Christchurch.

TVNZ suggested that without the commentary, viewers would have had difficulty in discerning what was going on from the video footage, except perhaps for the final shot where the man was seen lighting the cross which was suspended from his genitals. It also noted that the sequence had been "strongly sign-posted" and deliberately left as late in the programme as it could be. The presenters had, on several occasions, referred to the upcoming footage variously as "a shocker", "quite disgusting" and suggested that some viewers should turn off their televisions.

In reference to the phrase "blow job" complained about by Mr Boyce, TVNZ responded that it was part of a comic sequence which set out to lampoon the "much-vaunted spending which the America’s Cup village was meant to attract".

Commenting overall on the style of the broadcast, TVNZ observed that Havoc’s audience expected not only eccentric humour, but also bizarre and unusual behaviour. It also pointed out that the programme did not start until 10.00pm, well into Adults Only time, and argued that programmers were entitled to assume that its audience would consist of mature people able to cope with the rash style of humour. Furthermore, it continued, the programme was classified as Adults Only which identified it as being unsuitable for those under the age of 18.

TVNZ accepted that the humour was not to everyone’s liking, but said it believed that Havoc and Newsboy had been around for long enough for viewers to decide for themselves whether the material was likely to amuse them. Taking all of the contextual factors into account, it concluded that the programme had not exceeded the expectations of the late night audience watching at that time, and declined to uphold the complaints.

Turning to the complaint about the 16 November item, TVNZ reported that it was an example of the "deliberately mischievous streak" exhibited by Havoc and Newsboy when they set out to make fun of the reaction to the previous week’s item. It said it was inclined to agree with Mr Clow that there was not a lot of sincerity in the apology, but that it was all a part of the joke. It also declined to uphold this aspect.

Mr Boyce and Mr Clow both referred their complaints to the Authority for review. Mr Boyce maintained that the footage of the man stapling his genitals to a piece of wood which was then set alight was indecent. He said his view that the presenters were attempting to create complaints as a publicity stunt was confirmed in the following week’s programme which fabricated a complaint. In his referral, Mr Clow emphasised that there was a difference between mocking a man who had nailed his genitals to a cross, and actually broadcasting the scene for the viewing public. He said that he was himself young and enjoyed a good laugh, and while the story both intrigued and repulsed him, he did not consider it was necessary to show it. He repeated his complaint about the insincerity of the apology on the 16th November programme, and the fact that it repeated some of the scenes.

In its response to the Authority, TVNZ agreed with Mr Boyce that the act portrayed was indecent. However, it argued, what Mr Boyce had failed to recognise was that, in showing largely inexplicit extracts from the taped incident intercut with a telephone conversation, the presenters were clearly making the man seem a fool, or worse. The action itself was indecent but, it argued, the mocking of it was not.

TVNZ advised it had no further comment to make on Mr Clow’s complaint.

Mr Boyce’s final comment reiterated points he had already made, and included observations on other matters outside the ambit of this complaint.

The Authority’s Findings

The Authority – as it is required – takes into account matters of context when it adjudicates on complaints alleging a breach of standard G2. The relevant contextual factors on this occasion are the hour of the broadcast (10.00pm), the programme’s AO classification, and the clear warnings given during the programme that it included content which some viewers would find disturbing. In addition, the Authority notes that Havoc and Newsboy are known for their particular type of humour, and that the late-night audience was likely to be familiar with their style.

The Authority turns first to the videotape footage of the incident filmed in a Christchurch bar of a man stapling his genitals to a cross, which he then set alight. At the same time as the edited footage was being shown, the man was interviewed by the presenters. The sequence was ostensibly included in the programme to make fun of him. Although the incident was described in detail, the Authority notes that the footage was edited so as to exclude the most explicit aspects, and that what was shown was, it transpired, relatively ambiguous. Indeed, it questions whether the act described would have been discernible to most viewers without the commentary. The filming and presentation was unusual and macabre and, while the man’s act in itself could be described as offensive, the Authority concludes that what actually occurred was depicted in a manner which fell just short of transgressing the good taste requirement. It notes that the presenters themselves referred to the inclusion of this sequence as being a deliberate testing of the boundaries of acceptability.

The Authority’s view on this point is confirmed when it takes into account the references made to the incident and consequent complaints during the 16 November episode of Havoc 2000 Deluxe.

The second aspect complained about was Newsboy’s question to a young woman on the Auckland waterfront when he asked whether she would give "a blow-job for four [dollars]". A majority of the Authority considers that, as the context of the exchange was ambiguous, and it was not clear whether the woman’s role was scripted, the question as put to her did not breach any standards. The minority disagrees. It considers that the question was offensive and objectionable no matter whether the woman was participating on her own volition or whether she was, as it appeared to the minority, an innocent victim randomly approached in an aggressive and confrontational manner with an offensive sexual proposition. The minority upholds this aspect as a breach of standard G2.

As a further point, the Authority makes the observation that it finds it incomprehensible, in a programme broadcast at 10.00pm and clearly signposted as being suitable for an adult audience, that the presenters implied by their comments that they expected the audience to include some younger viewers. Examples included their request for 1012-year-old actors to audition for roles in their upcoming movie, and the reference to "young kids" who spent time in the chat room on their web site. The Authority expresses its concerns about any suggestion that the programme may be suitable for family viewing.

 

For the reasons set forth above, a majority of the Authority declines to uphold the complaint that a sequence included in Havoc 2000 Deluxe broadcast by Television New Zealand Ltd on TV2 at 10.00pm on 9 November 1999 breached standard G2 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

The Authority declines to uphold any other aspect of the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Sam Maling
Chairperson
10 February 2000

Appendix I

The following correspondence has been received and considered by the Authority in the determination of this complaint.

1.    Simon Boyce’s Formal Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 10 November 1999

2.    TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 23 November 1999

3.    Mr Boyce’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 13 December 1999

4.    TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 17 December 1999

5.    Mr Boyce’s Final Comment – 21 December 1999

Appendix II

The following correspondence has been received and considered by the Authority in the determination of this complaint.

1.    Carey Clow’s Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – [sic]

2.    TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 9 December 1999

3.    Mr Clow’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 14 December 1999

4.    TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 21 December 1999