Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Sons of Anarchy – fictional drama about outlaw motorcycle gang – scene broadcast at 10.24pm showed a man being shot and characters having sex in the presence of his dead body – allegedly in breach of violence standard
Standard 10 (violence) – broadcaster exercised adequate care and discretion when dealing with the issue of violence – not upheld
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
 An episode of Sons of Anarchy was broadcast on TV3 at 9.30pm on Wednesday 8 December 2010. The drama series revolved around the lives of members of a close-knit outlaw motorcycle gang, the Sons of Anarchy, and their various rivals and associates. The episode contained a storyline that focused on one of the gang members, Jax, and his relationship with his high school sweetheart, Tara. Tara was being stalked by her ex-boyfriend, whom she had a restraining order against.
 At approximately 10.04pm, Tara’s ex-boyfriend was shown entering her bedroom and attacking her. Tara managed to get a gun from her bedside table and shoot him in the stomach. Unsure what to do next, she called Jax, who immediately came to her assistance and they talked about what to do with him. Tara’s ex-boyfriend yelled at her, calling her a “pathetic whore”, at which point Jax retaliated by shooting him in the head as Tara stood in the doorway screaming.
 In the following scene, broadcast at approximately 10.24pm, Jax sat down on the bed, and Tara, who was in shock, sat down beside him. Jax tried to comfort Tara by putting his arms around her and holding her face in his hands. They began kissing passionately and lay back on the bed. The programme cut to scenes involving other club members and storylines, before briefly returning to footage of the couple. Jax was lying on top of Tara, moving back and forth as they lay naked on the bed. The scene was shot in dim lighting and did not contain any nudity apart from one brief shot of Jax’s buttocks.
 The programme was preceded by the following visual and verbal warning:
This programme is rated Adults Only and contains violence that may disturb and language and sexual material which may offend some people.
 M Aminian made a formal complaint to TVWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the programme breached Standard 10 (violence).
 The complainant considered that the broadcast was “reckless” and “irresponsible”, and argued that it encouraged violence and glamorised gangs and criminals. In particular, the complainant referred to scenes in which the “woman’s boyfriend shot and killed her ex and then they had sex while the dead man’s body [was] still lying on the ground”.
 Standard 10 and guidelines 10a and 10c of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice are relevant to the determination of this complaint. These provide:
Standard 10 Violence
Broadcasters should exercise care and discretion when dealing with the issue of violence.
10a Any violence shown should be justified in the context of screening and not be gratuitous.
10c Programmes in which rape or sexual violence is a theme should be treated with care.
- Explicit detail and prolonged focus on sexually violent contact should be avoided.
- Any programme in which rape is depicted should be preceded by a warning.
- The combination of violence and sexuality in a way designed to titillate should not be shown.
 TVWorks noted that Sons of Anarchy was rated Adults Only, restricted to screening after 9.30pm, and preceded by a visual and verbal warning for offensive violent and sexual content.
 The broadcaster said that the programme involved characters that engaged in anti-social behaviour, but who had “redeeming characteristics”, which made them more interesting because they were “not totally ‘good’ or totally ‘bad’”. TVWorks considered that most viewers would have understood that the programme was a fictional drama and was not intended to be prescriptive for everyday behaviour. The violent content was reflected in the programme’s classification, it said, and the adult target audience had the ability to make their own judgements about what was “morally right or wrong”.
 TVWorks accepted that the scene subject to complaint constituted “challenging television”, but noted that it screened towards the end of the programme at 10.24pm. The broadcaster argued that the “bedroom scene” clearly distinguished between the violence and the sexual relationship between the two characters. It said that the female character obviously felt shock and remorse at the shooting of her ex-boyfriend, and the gang member was struck by the reality of his actions and sat down on the bed in a defeated posture. The characters were not presented as being “aroused” by the violence that preceded the sex scene, but were drawn together by the “trauma of the moment”, TVWorks argued.
 In the broadcaster’s view, the scene was not gratuitous, there was no connection between the shooting and the sex scene, and the programme did not glamorise or promote crime or violence. Accordingly, TVWorks declined to uphold the complaint.
 Dissatisfied with TVWorks’ response, M Aminian referred the complaint to the Authority under Section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
 The complainant maintained that the programme encouraged violence and glamorised gangs and criminal activity.
 TVWorks argued that gang life and all it entails on the programme Sons of Anarchy would likely be viewed “without empathy and with the likely veritable consequences in mind”. It referred to Dobson and TVWorks,1 where the Authority stated that it was “highly unlikely that viewers would have felt any empathy” with the main character who had committed a number of violent murders, and that it was made clear on the programme that the character’s actions “were illegal and that he would face serious consequences if he was caught”.
 The broadcaster disagreed with the complainant’s assertion that the broadcast was “reckless” and “irresponsible”. It considered that the series was similar to other dramas on New Zealand television that told stories based on a criminal sub-culture.
 The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.
 Standard 10 requires broadcasters to exercise care and discretion when dealing with the issue of violence. We acknowledge that Sons of Anarchy contained several violent scenes, including sexual violence. In considering whether Standard 10 was breached, the following contextual factors are relevant:
 In our view, the violence shown in Sons of Anarchy would not have departed from audience expectations of a programme based around the activities of an outlaw motorcycle gang and its related criminal subculture. In addition to the scenes specifically complained about, other violence shown in the programme included footage of a man suffering bloody injuries to his head and leg after being in a truck accident, and a shoot-out between rival gang members which resulted in injuries and fatalities. These scenes were not particularly graphic, and we consider that they were consistent with the programme’s AO classification and time of broadcast.
 The complainant specifically referred to scenes in which the “woman’s boyfriend shot and killed her ex and then they had sex while the dead man’s body [was] still lying on the ground”. We note that this material consisted of two separate scenes, interspersed between scenes involving other characters and storylines. The first scene, which involved the shooting, was very brief. The camera focused on Jax as he pulled the trigger and there was one fleeting shot of the ex-boyfriend as he fell to the ground. Jax and Tara began kissing and lay back on the bed. The programme cut to other storylines before returning to very brief footage of the couple having sex.
 While some viewers may have felt discomfort at the characters’ behaviour, we consider that the scenes were so brief and inexplicit that they were unlikely to disturb a majority of viewers in the context in which they were shown.
 We consider that the violent material contained in the episode was consistent with the contextual factors outlined above, in particular the programme’s gang related themes and the nature of the characters. Accordingly, we find that TVWorks exercised sufficient care and discretion when dealing with the issue of violence, and we decline to uphold the complaint.
For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
29 March 2011
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1 M Aminian’s formal complaint – 9 December 2010
2 TVWorks’ response to the complaint – 14 December 2010
3 M Aminian’s referral to the Authority – 15 December 2010
4 TVWorks’ response to the Authority – 27 January 2011
1Decision No. 2008-067