"Role Model", a music video for a song by Eminem was screened on Video Hits – New Releases, a music video programme. The programme was broadcast on TV2 at 11.00am on 30 October 1999.
Ms Watkins complained to Television New Zealand Limited, the broadcaster, that the Video Hits – New Releases programme during which the "Role Model" video screened was incorrectly classified PGR, as it contained language and imagery which was potentially harmful to younger viewers.
In its response to the complaint, TVNZ wrote that it believed it had properly classified the programme PGR. In its view, it would be "absurd" to restrict such music video shows to AO audiences because the age group attracted to this sort of music started "a number of years earlier than 18". TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint.
Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, Ms Watkins referred the complaint 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 complaint.
The members of the Authority have viewed a tape of the item complained about, and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. On this occasion, the Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.
The music video programme Video Hits – New Releases was broadcast on TV2 at 11.00am on 30 October 1999. During this programme a video for the song "Role Model" by Eminem was screened.
Ms Watkins complained to TVNZ that the programme during which the video screened was shown at an inappropriate time. She maintained that the broadcast "blatantly" breached standard G12 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. She "strongly recommended" that the programme be given an AO certificate and screened at a later time.
Ms Watkins’ specific complaints about the "Role Model" video centred on what she described as the sexualised behaviour depicted, the language used and what she called graphic violence. First, she contended that the singer:
clearly mouthed a number of obscenities including [the words] "arsehole" and "fucking".
According to Ms Watkins, the lyrics included the lines "I don’t get pissed" and "how the fuck can I be white". She also said the lyrics included "something about ‘genital warts’" and the phrase "I got it on with her", which Ms Watkins said was a reference by the lead singer to his mother.
Ms Watkins complained that a woman, who she said she understood to be the lead singer’s mother, was depicted handcuffed and upside down in a tank of water.
Thirdly, Ms Watkins complained that "two young girls are shown ‘getting it on’ kissing one another, as are a heterosexual couple."
The final aspect of Ms Watkins’ complaint concerned what she saw as the "gratuitous violence" which she said featured throughout the video.
TVNZ considered the complaint in the context of standard G12, as requested by Ms Watkins. The standard requires broadcasters:
G12 To be mindful of the effect any programme may have on children during their normally accepted viewing times.
TVNZ disagreed that it had incorrectly classified the broadcast, saying that it believed it was appropriately classified as PGR. It also noted that the broadcast of the Video Hits programmes did not begin until "well into the time permitted for PGR programmes". TVNZ commented that the PGR certificate attached to the programme acknowledged that the programme content was more suited to adult audiences and recommended that child viewers watch the programme in the company of an adult. While it noted what it called the video’s "uncompromising nature and anarchical themes" and expressed "considerable sympathy" for Ms Watkins’ views, TVNZ said:
it would be absurd to restrict programmes of this nature to AO audiences, because by definition, the age group attracted to this sort of music starts a number of years earlier than 18.
TVNZ also commented:
As well, the music is widely played on radio stations around the country at all hours of the day, while teenagers and young adults who have access to SKY’s digital service can watch such tapes on Juice which screens non-stop.
In response to the specific points Ms Watkins had made in her complaint, TVNZ commented on each in turn. Dealing first with Ms Watkins’ contention that a number of obscenities were mouthed by the singer in the video, TVNZ agreed that it had muted what appeared to be strong language, and that viewers watching carefully might have been able to pick out the words that had been muted. However, it did not agree that this could have an adverse impact on young children. According to TVNZ’s reasoning:
Presumably if they [young children] don’t know what the words are they are not going to pick them up from such imagery.
TVNZ went on to deal with specific lyrics which Ms Watkins had complained about. In its view, the phrase "I don’t get pissed", while fairly strong, was not unacceptable language in the context of a rap song. Turning next to the phrase "how the fuck can I be white", TVNZ said that, having listened carefully to the language in the video, it was not convinced that the word "fuck" was used. As to the reference to "genital warts", TVNZ said that although this was an unusual subject to sing about, it was not obscene. It wrote:
It is a strictly medical term not carrying with it any suggestion of it being foul language.
Next, TVNZ said that it was not convinced that the line "I got it on with her" was a reference to the lead singer’s mother, as Ms Watkins had suggested. Nor was it able to detect any depiction of a woman being submerged in a tank of water.
TVNZ then said that it did not believe that kissing as shown in the video could seriously be regarded as a breach of standards in a PGR programme.
Finally, dealing with Ms Watkins’ complaint that gratuitous violence featured throughout the video, TVNZ did not accept that in the context of a song it described as "heavy on social comment and satire" there was any breach of standards in this regard.
In her referral, Ms Watkins described TVNZ’s decision not to uphold her complaint as "ludicrous", and repeated her contention that the "Role Model" video was:
clearly unsuitable for young children, containing coarse language, and frightening and disturbing imagery.
She observed that the programme had been screened soon after programmes considered to be suitable for children.
Ms Watkins disputed the relevance of TVNZ’s reference to the availability of comparable music videos on SKY’s digital service. She said that at issue was:
The fact that young children in this country no longer have the right to watch state-owned television first thing on a Saturday morning without being exposed to a host of psychologically disturbing material.
Ms Watkins also disagreed with TVNZ’s comments about the wide playing of music of the type she complained about on radio stations. She said that her own informal research had led her to believe this was not the case at all.
A further point of disagreement concerned TVNZ’s comment about the "absurdity" of restricting music video programmes to AO audiences, given the young age of those attracted to music video viewing. To this Ms Watkins replied:
when "youth culture" in general crosses over into mainstream television programming … the effects on young children must be considered.
In her view:
TVNZ [was] guilty of promoting the rights of teenagers at the expense of innocent and vulnerable viewers.
Ms Watkins then commented on TVNZ’s responses to her earlier specific points about the "Role Model" video. To TVNZ’s comment that "mouthing" [lip movement when sound has been deleted] could not have an adverse effect on children who did not know what the mouthed words were, she asked:
If this is the case, then why do TVNZ not broadcast other programmes containing strong language during PGR times by simply muting out this kind of coarse language that normally would be classified as AO viewing?
Ms Watkins disagreed that the line "I don’t get pissed" was acceptable for broadcast. She also took issue with TVNZ’s conclusion that it was not convinced the word "fuck" had been broadcast. Furthermore, she disagreed that the words "genital warts" did not constitute "foul language" in this context
Ms Watkins did not accept that the line "I got it on with her" did not refer to the lead singer’s mother, as TVNZ had suggested, and also repeated her belief that the person submerged in the tank was a woman. She said she had not seen the song’s opening sequence where the person being lowered into the tank was shown to be Eminem.
Ms Watkins also disputed TVNZ’s conclusion that the kissing shown in the video did not offend any broadcasting standard. She wrote:
But surely this depiction of two such incredibly young girls would be confusing in the eyes of a child?
In Ms Watkins final point, she restated her opinion about the gratuitous violence which she believed was featured in the video and disagreed with TVNZ’s comment about what it called its satirical nature. She stressed her belief that the video was more suited to an early evening time slot, when she believed young children would be less likely to see it.
In its response to the Authority TVNZ said it had little further to add. It persisted with its claim that songs such as "Role Model" were familiar to a youth audience through broadcast on Juice and the radio.
The Authority’s task is to consider whether the item Ms Watkins complained about was appropriate for screening during PGR time. In a previous complaint by Ms Watkins about three music videos broadcast on a Saturday morning Video Hits programme (Decision No. 1999-227) the Authority did not uphold Ms Watkins’ complaint that they were inappropriately screened during PGR time. In reaching its decision, the Authority took into account that viewing music videos is generally accepted as mainstream contemporary entertainment.
On this occasion too, the Authority holds that view. In the Authority’s opinion, it is also common for such videos to present challenging views, which are likely to appeal to a youth audience.
Ms Watkins complained about the language and imagery contained in the video. In its response, TVNZ said it muted language which it had considered to be unacceptable in a programme with a PGR certificate. The Authority is unable to discern, from what remains, any lyrics which would have caused the video to warrant an AO classification.
As to the depictedbehaviour complained about, the Authority notes that Ms Watkins did not view the video’s opening sequence. Accordingly, she did not appreciate that it was the lead singer who had been lowered into a tank of water during a circus type performance. This scene formed part of the background to the behaviour depicted later in the video. In this context the Authority considers that images of Eminem submerged in a tank were not unacceptable for inclusion in a PGR rated programme.
Ms Watkins also complained about kissing shown in the video. The Authority finds that showing brief and incidental images of people kissing in a music video is not unacceptable for screening in the PGR time band.
Accordingly, the Authority finds that the programme was properly classified as PGR material. As it was appropriately classified and screened during PGR time, the Authority concludes that TVNZ did demonstrate that it was mindful of the effect of the programme on children. It concludes that no breach of standard G12 occurred.
For the reasons set forth above, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
14 February 2000
The following correspondence was received and considered when the Authority determined this complaint:
1. Kellie Watkins’ Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 30 October 1999
2. TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 16 November 1999
3. Ms Watkins’ Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 6 December 1999
4. TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 15 December 1999