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Thomson and TVWorks Ltd - 2011-017

Members

  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Mary Anne Shanahan

Complainant

  • Bruce Thomson of Palmerston North

Dated

7th June 2011

Number

2011-017

Programme

Taken

Channel/Station

TV3

Broadcaster

TVWorks Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Taken – movie about former CIA officer’s mission to rescue his daughter from foreign slave traders – contained violent scenes including torture, fighting and shootings – allegedly in breach of standards relating to good taste and decency, children’s interests and violence

Findings
Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – contextual factors – not upheld

Standard 9 (children’s interests) – violent material broadcast outside children’s normally accepted viewing times – not upheld

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. 


Broadcast

[1]   Taken, a fictitious action thriller about a former CIA officer’s mission to rescue his daughter from foreign slave traders, was broadcast on TV3 at 8.30pm on Monday 31 January 2011.

[2]   The movie contained extensive violent footage including fighting and shooting scenes, as well as the depiction of torture in a scene broadcast at approximately 9.50pm. The torture scene showed the former CIA officer standing in a small dark room facing one of his daughter’s kidnappers who was tied to a chair. He hit the man in the face, drove two large nails through his legs and connected them to electrical wires before interrogating him about his daughter’s whereabouts. When the man failed to answer his questions he was gagged and the electricity was repeatedly switched on. The man was shown breathing heavily, sweating and shaking uncontrollably.

[3]   Later in the movie, the father visited a corrupt police officer who had connections with his daughter’s kidnappers. He questioned the police officer about his involvement with the slave traders and shot the officer’s wife in the arm in an attempt to coerce him to reveal information.

[4]   The movie was preceded by the following visual and verbal warning:

          This film is rated Adults Only and contains violence that may disturb some people.

Complaint

[5]   Bruce Thomson made a formal complaint to TVWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the movie breached standards relating to good taste and decency, children’s interests and violence. He argued that the movie was “characterised by constant extreme murderous violence against the ‘baddies’ by the angry ‘goodie’”. In particular, the complainant referred to scenes which showed the “hero” torturing a man, and shooting a police officer’s “innocent” wife for the purpose of extracting information about his daughter. The violent content screened prior to 10pm, which he argued was a time when many children and young adults would have been watching.

Standards

[6]   Standards 1, 9 and 10 and guidelines 10a and 10b of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice are relevant to the determination of this complaint. These provide:

Standard 1 Good Taste and Decency

Broadcasters should observe standards of good taste and decency.

Standard 9 Children’s Interests

During children’s normally accepted viewing times (see Appendix 1), broadcasters should consider the interests of child viewers.

Standard 10 Violence

Broadcasters should exercise care and discretion when dealing with the issue of violence.

Guidelines

10a   Any violence shown should be justified in the context of screening and not be gratuitous.

10b   Broadcasters should be mindful of the cumulative effect of violent incidents and themes:

  • the impression that violence is dominating a single programme, a programme series, or a line-up of programmes screened back-to-back should be avoided.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[7]   TVWorks agreed that the movie contained “strong violence”, but considered that it was acceptable in the context of an AO-classified film restricted to screening after 8.30pm and preceded by a visual and verbal warning for violent content. It said that the movie was not targeted at children and noted that the scenes subject to complaint screened after 9pm, outside children’s normally accepted viewing times. It argued that these factors meant that parents had ample opportunity to exercise discretion with regard to their children’s viewing. As Taken was a “popular and successful” film that was well-promoted by TV3, the broadcaster did not consider that the violent content would have surprised viewers or departed from audience expectations. This was reinforced by the subject matter it said, which made violence an inevitable and justifiable aspect of the film.

[8]   The broadcaster argued that the scenes specifically complained about were not gratuitous, but were important to the main character’s quest for information about his daughter’s whereabouts. TVWorks said that while the torture scene contained an aspect of “revenge”, in the context of a man desperate to rescue his daughter from a “horrific fate”, there was a sense of “brutal justice” which it considered to be “understandable”.

[9]   TVWorks concluded that most viewers would have accepted the film as a dramatic construction that was not intended to promote violence or offer a prescription for “normal” behaviour. It therefore declined to uphold the complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[10]   Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Mr Thomson referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. He maintained that Standards 1, 9 and 10 had been breached.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[11]   TVWorks maintained that the violence shown was justified by the storyline and crucial to creating an “authentic and tense atmosphere”. The violence inflicted was “unsurprising” given the nature of the criminals the main protagonist was dealing with, his own history as a highly trained CIA operative and the “extremely fraught and personal nature” of the situation, it said.

[12]   The broadcaster reiterated that the violence subject to complaint was not gratuitous, but was critical to showing how information was extracted that enabled the father to eventually rescue his daughter. With regard to the torture scene, it said that filmic techniques were used to “imply” rather than “graphically depict it – focusing on the faces and reactions of the two men rather than showing the nails penetrating the man’s legs”. TVWorks considered that the torture scene was a “significant and crucial set-piece within the film” and that the violence was “convincingly and dramatically conveyed without including unnecessarily graphic material.”

[13]   TVWorks was of the view that Taken, like most action films, “did not pretend to offer a sophisticated character study and was simply the action-packed filmic thrill-ride” that viewers would have expected.

Complainant’s Final Comment

[14]   Mr Thomson argued that the movie’s AO classification and pre-broadcast warning did not excuse the level of violence in the film. He said that the material exceeded what was acceptable and noted that people of all ages may have been involuntarily exposed to such content.

[15]   Mr Thomson referred to TVWorks’ contention that the violence was justified by the storyline and was crucial to creating an “authentic and tense atmosphere”. In the complainant’s view, the torture scene and other violent content was unnecessary, and he argued that “legitimate drama” could have been used to engage the audience.

[16]   With regard to the broadcaster’s reference to “filmic processes”, Mr Thomson said that this did not reduce the perception of violence, but in fact increased it by showing “huge nails swinging down to be driven into the tied-up man’s knees, then showing his face screaming in excruciating agony”.

Authority’s Determination

[17]   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 1 (good taste and decency)

[18]   When we consider an alleged breach of good taste and decency, we take into account the context of the broadcast. On this occasion, the relevant contextual factors include:

  • Taken was broadcast at 8.30pm on a Monday
  • the movie was classified AO
  • it had an adult target audience
  • the movie was preceded by a visual and verbal warning for violence
  • the torture and shooting scenes screened after 9.30pm.

[19]   We note that Taken was an action thriller which dealt with contemporary issues including teenage safety in an increasingly dangerous and globalised world, as well as human trafficking and drug addiction. In this context, we consider that violent content, including fighting and shooting scenes, formed an integral part of the movie’s storyline.

[20]   Turning to the scenes specifically complained about, we do not consider that they were gratuitous, as they showed the lengths to which the character was prepared to go to save his daughter, while drawing on his skills as a former CIA officer. We note that the torture scene was broadcast at approximately 9.50pm, well after the 8.30pm watershed and well into a movie which had by then established itself as containing violent and mature themes. We do not consider that the scenes would have offended viewers in the context of an AO-classified movie screened at 8.30pm and preceded by an explicit warning for “violence that may disturb”.

[21]   Taking into account the above contextual factors, we find that Taken did not breach standards of good taste and decency in the context in which it was shown, and we therefore decline to uphold the Standard 1 complaint.

Standard 9 (children’s interests)

[22]   Standard 9 requires broadcasters to consider the interests of child viewers during their normally accepted viewing times, which are usually up to 8.30pm. Taken screened at 8.30pm on a Monday night during the school term and the violence specifically complained about did not screen until more than an hour after the AO watershed. Accordingly, we decline to uphold this part of the complaint.

Standard 10 (violence)

[23]   For the reasons given above under our consideration of Standard 1, we find that the broadcaster demonstrated adequate care and discretion when dealing with the issue of violence. Accordingly, we decline to uphold the complaint that the movie breached Standard 10.

 

For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
7 June 2011

Appendix

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

1    Bruce Thomson’s formal complaint – 31 January 2011

2   TVWorks’ response to the formal complaint – 11 February 2011

3   Mr Thomson’s referral to the Authority – 11 February 2011

4   TVWorks’ response to the Authority – 8 April 2011

5   Mr Thomson’s final comment – 18 April 2011