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. On this occasion, the Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.
Mulholland Falls, a film about organised crime in Los Angeles, was broadcast on TV2 on 25 October 1999 beginning at 8.30pm. It followed the adventures of a special police squad which had been set up to destroy gangs.
Stuart Maclean complained to TVNZ that the opening sequence, which depicted what he said was the beginning of oral sex, was not of a standard consistent with good taste and decency and was completely unacceptable at 8.30pm on a channel which purported to be a family channel.
TVNZ assessed the complaint under standards G2 and G12 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. Those standards require 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.
G12 To be mindful of the effect any programme may have on children during their normally accepted viewing hours.
TVNZ noted that the sequence to which Mr Maclean objected lasted for just one minute, and consisted of grainy black and white pictures reminiscent of early home movie footage. In assessing whether the film breached the good taste standard, TVNZ examined the pictures themselves, as well as the classification context in which the film was screened. Its first observation was that although the scene depicted was intended to show the beginnings of a sexual encounter, that was conveyed more by impression than by explicit detail. The images, it noted, were grainy black and white pictures made more obscure by the superimposition of the film’s opening credits. In its view, this concealed any explicit sexual activity. In addition, it argued, as the sequence was "curiously lacking in passion", it was consequently not salacious.
It then observed that the film had been classified as AO, and had been broadcast during adult viewing time. The AO symbol had been shown at the beginning of the film and after each commercial break, it noted. It also pointed out that the film had been preceded by a verbal and visual warning which stated:
Mulholland Falls is rated Adults Only. It contains violence, sex scenes and language that may offend some people. We recommend discretion.
Taking all the contextual matters into account, TVNZ concluded that the film would not have exceeded the expectations of viewers who would have been aware that it was rated AO and that it would contain sex scenes and violence.
As far as standard G12 was concerned, TVNZ contended that the classification and specific warning pointed unambiguously to a programme not recommended for children. It maintained that by attaching an AO certificate and preceding the film with a warning, it had demonstrated that it was mindful of children. It also noted that 8.30pm was outside children’s normally accepted viewing times. It ruled that standard G12 was not breached.
When he referred the complaint to the Authority, Mr Maclean advised that he was dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response, and asked that its decision be reviewed.
As Mr Maclean did not explain why he was dissatisfied with the decision on his complaint, TVNZ advised that it had nothing further to add to is previous letter.
When Mr Maclean had the opportunity to make a final comment, he elaborated on the reasons for referring the complaint. He commented first on the length of time of the sequence complained about, suggesting that 60 seconds was a long time on a television programme. To TVNZ’s point that it was grainy and in black and white, Mr Maclean responded that it was the content which was of concern, and not whether the images were shown in black and white.
Mr Maclean also referred to TVNZ’s argument that, as the scene lacked passion, it was consequently not salacious. Surely, he argued, the content and actions depicted were either acceptable or not acceptable according to the standard. He then turned to the dictionary definition of decent, which he noted included "seemly", "modest", "respectable" and "not obscene". He argued that as the segment offended him, it could not possibly be in good taste. He concluded by stating that anything which complied with standard G2 could not – by definition – cause offence in the manner that this material had.
When the Authority deals with a complaint that the good taste and decency standard was breached, it is required to take into account the context in which the broadcast occurred. It begins by noting the time of broadcast (8.30pm), the AO classification, and the verbal and visual warning preceding the film. In addition, it notes, the sequence complained about was indistinct, and partially obscured by the superimposition of the film’s credits. Furthermore, the Authority was unable to detect what the complainant described as the depiction of the commencement of oral sex.
Taking these matters into account, the Authority concludes that the brief sequence did not breach community standards relating to good taste and decency. The Authority emphasises the importance of the contextual factors as well as its own research which indicates that for the majority of the community, the images complained about would not have breached standard G2.
Turning to the complaint that standard G12 was breached, the Authority observes that the film was screened during AO viewing time, and was clearly targeted at an adult audience. Notwithstanding that this was the opening sequence of the film, and therefore shown around the time of the watershed, the Authority does not consider the standard was transgressed. In reaching this conclusion, the Authority takes into account the indistinct nature of the activity being portrayed, and the fact that the opening sequence included a variety of scenes depicting a range of action and events and did not focus solely on the sexual encounter.
For the reasons set forth above, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
17 February 2000
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1. Stuart Maclean’s Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 28 October 1999
2. TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 16 November 1999
3. Mr Maclean’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 18 November 1999
4. TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 25 November 1999
5. Mr Maclean’s Final Comment – Received 6 December 1999