Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Family Guy – cartoon comedy – male character injected with “gay gene” – went to “Straight Camp” where he was encouraged to drink, play full contact football, and “find loose women to have sex with” – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency, discrimination and denigration, children’s interests, and liquor standards
Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – scene had clear humorous and satirical intent – contextual factors – not upheld
Standard 9 (children’s interests) – scene was not unsuitable for supervised child viewers – broadcaster adequately considered children’s interests – not upheld
Standard 7 (discrimination and denigration) – broadcast did not encourage denigration of, or discrimination against, a section of the community – not upheld
Standard 11 (liquor) – broadcast did not amount to “liquor promotion” – not upheld
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
 An episode of the cartoon comedy Family Guy was broadcast on FOUR at 7.30pm on Friday 1 April 2011. In the episode, the main male character Peter signed up to participate in medical experiments. In one experiment, he was injected with the “gay gene”. Having witnessed the effects, two of Peter’s family members decided to kidnap him and put him into a “straight camp”. At the camp, Peter participated in an exercise with the camp leader, in which they had the following exchange:
Teacher: Alright, this next exercise will train you to talk like a straight man. Peter, we’ll start with you.
Repeat every word I say exactly as I say it:
“Tonight, me and my friends Pauly and Matty are going out to drink a tonne of beers.”
Peter: Tonight my friends and I are going out but we’re not drinking because those are empty calories.
Teacher: “Then we’ll play full contact football in the park with no pads or helmets.”
Peter: Then we’re gathering at Alan and Omar’s for bad movie night.
Teacher: “Then it’s straight to the bars to find loose women to have sex with.”
Peter: Then it’s straight to the gym for three hours of crunches and extended eye contact
 The episode was preceded by the following warning:
This programme contains sexual material and language that may not be suitable for younger viewers. Parental guidance is advised.
 Roderick Young made a formal complaint to TVWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the scene breached standards relating to good taste and decency, discrimination and denigration, children’s interests, and liquor.
 Mr Young argued that the programme had presented for young viewers the idea that “males drink alcohol and have sex with women as (normal and natural)”. He considered that broadcasting this at 7.30pm was inappropriate.
 TVWorks assessed the complaint under Standards 1, 7, 8, 9 and 11 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. These provide:
Standard 1 Good Taste and Decency
Broadcasters should observe standards of good taste and decency.
Standard 7 Discrimination and Denigration
Broadcasters should not encourage discrimination against, or denigration of, any section of the community on account of sex, sexual orientation, race, age, disability, occupational status, or as a consequence of legitimate expression of religion, culture or political belief.
Standard 8 Responsible Programming
Broadcasters should ensure programmes:
- are appropriately classified;
- display programme classification information;
- adhere to timebands in accordance with Appendix 1;
- are not presented in such a way as to cause panic, or unwarranted alarm or undue distress; and
- do not deceive or disadvantage the viewer.
Standard 9 Children’s Interests
During children’s normally accepted viewing times (see Appendix 1), broadcasters should consider the interests of child viewers.
Standard 11 Liquor
Broadcasters should observe restrictions on the promotion of liquor appropriate to the programme genre being broadcast. Liquor Promotion should be socially responsible and must not encourage consumption by people who are under the legal age to purchase liquor.
Liquor Promotion comprises:
- promotion of a liquor product, brand or outlet (‘promotion’)
- liquor sponsorship of a programme (‘sponsorship’)
- advocacy of liquor consumption (‘advocacy’)
 The broadcaster considered that Mr Young’s complaint related to the scene between Peter and the camp leader at “straight camp”, in which he was encouraged to speak like a heterosexual man.
 TVWorks contended that to constitute a breach of Standard 1, the broadcast material must be unacceptable in the context in which it was shown, including the programme’s classification, time of broadcast, target audience, and the use of warnings. It noted that Family Guy was rated PGR and restricted to screening after 7pm.
 The broadcaster argued that Family Guy was satirical in nature, and contained a number of levels of content appealing to a wide range of viewers, “from the older child viewer who can generally understand its concept and ideas, to an adult who would understand the more sophisticated connotations”. It considered that the scene complained about was consistent with the programme’s PGR rating, as “the scenes were not realistic and are unlikely to harm or disturb children”. Given the storyline of the episode, in which Peter was injected with a “gay gene” as part of an experiment, then kidnapped by his family members, one of whom is a dog, TVWorks was of the view that the story was clearly not realistic and therefore the scene that caused Mr Young concern was “unlikely to be taken seriously by any audience member”. It maintained that the references to drinking and women were “included as a juxtaposition to create humour”.
 The broadcaster asserted that Family Guy was in its tenth season on New Zealand television, and had been playing in similar timeslots on channel FOUR for many years, and therefore considered it was “very familiar” to its audience. It said, “The show centres on the Griffin family and regularly indulges in anarchic humour and slapstick”. TVWorks accepted that the programme’s humour was not to everyone’s taste and acknowledged that the complainant found it offensive, but it considered that regular viewers would not have been surprised by the content and would have found it humorous. It noted that the Authority had previously stated that the purpose of Standard 1 was not to prohibit challenging material, or material that some people may find offensive, but rather to ensure that sufficient care was taken so that challenging material was not so offensive that it was unacceptable regardless of context.
 TVWorks emphasised that the episode was preceded by a warning advising parents that its content may not be suitable for younger viewers. It considered that this gave parents ample opportunity to decide if they wanted their children to watch the programme.
 For these reasons, TVWorks declined to uphold the complaint under Standard 1.
 Looking at Standard 7, the broadcaster noted that Mr Young had not identified a section of the community. However, it maintained that the programme was satirical and that it did not contain hate speech or vitriol, and did not denigrate or discriminate against women or gay people. TVWorks therefore declined to uphold this part of the complaint.
 With regard to Standard 8, TVWorks noted that the PGR classification was defined as “programmes containing material more suited for mature audiences but not necessarily unsuitable for child viewers when subject to the guidance of a parent or an adult”. It reiterated that the programme was preceded by a warning for “sexual material and language that may not be suitable for younger viewers” and recommending parental guidance. TVWorks maintained that the programme did not contain any strong language or material which warranted an AO classification. It declined to uphold the complaint under Standard 8.
 For the same reasons, the broadcaster considered that the classification and warning were adequate and that it had therefore adequately considered the interests of child viewers. It declined to uphold the Standard 9 complaint.
 Looking at the liquor standard, TVWorks argued that “the unrealistic nature of the programme and scenario and the relatively insignificant mention of alcohol could not be described as socially irresponsible”, and it declined to uphold the complaint under Standard 11.
 Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Mr Young referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
 The Authority invited TVWorks to make further submissions on the standards raised by Mr Young in relation to the whole episode, rather than only the segment it had interpreted as being the subject of the complaint (in which Peter participated in an exercise with the teacher at “Straight Camp”).
 TVWorks submitted that widening the scope of the complaint was outside the Authority’s jurisdiction. It maintained that Mr Young’s complaint was “very confined to one aspect only of the programme”.
 In response, Mr Young commented that, “A child watches the whole programme as a package and is attracted to do so by the cartoon nature.” However, he did not make any submissions relating to specific content in the episode, beyond reiterating his concern that “as a heterosexual male I was degraded in the suggestion that males get drunk and go out and sleep with women”. He also referred to “youth drinking culture” and the need to raise children to “treat women with respect”.
 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.
 When we first considered this complaint, we felt some confusion about what exactly the complainant’s concerns were. He had identified the date of a future broadcast, and the grounds for his complaint were unclear. Based on what he had written, TVWorks identified the scene described above, from another episode (see paragraph ). Upon viewing the episode, we became concerned about the nature of its other content. It was for this reason that we offered the broadcaster a further opportunity to make submissions under the standards in relation to the full episode.
 We acknowledge that our jurisdiction allows us to consider only the content that has been complained about, and does not allow us to widen the scope of the complaint. As we have explained, there was some confusion about the grounds for Mr Young’s complaint. Taking into account the further submissions from both parties, we have reached the conclusion that Mr Young’s complaint was confined to the scene identified by the broadcaster. Accordingly, we proceed to consider the standards in relation to that scene only.
 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:
 In our view, the scene subject to complaint, in which the camp leader attempted to coach Peter to talk like a “straight man”, was clearly intended to be humorous, and to offer satirical comment on common stereotypes associated with heterosexual versus homosexual men. While there was one brief reference to sex, we consider that the scene was not unsuitable for children subject to the guidance of a parent or an adult, and therefore that it was consistent with the programme’s PGR rating. In our view, the pre-broadcast warning was adequate to inform viewers of the episode’s likely content, and to allow parents an opportunity to exercise discretion with regard to their children’s viewing. We note in this respect, that while Family Guy is in a cartoon format, it is not necessarily targeted at child viewers.
 As noted above, Family Guy is now in its eighth season on New Zealand television. It has screened on channel FOUR in similar timeslots for a number of years, so that, in our view, regular viewers of the programme are familiar with its sometimes challenging content.
 For these reasons, we find that the scene subject to complaint would not have been surprising or unexpected in the context in which it was shown. Accordingly, we decline to uphold the complaint that the scene breached Standard 1.
 Standard 9 requires broadcasters to consider the interests of child viewers during their normally accepted viewing times – usually up to 8.30pm.
 As outlined above, we consider that the scene that caused Mr Young concern had a clear satirical and humorous intent. It was preceded by a clear warning that the episode contained material that may not be suitable for younger viewers, allowing parents ample opportunity to make a decision about their children’s viewing. In any case, we are of the view that this particular scene was not unsuitable for supervised child viewers.
 Accordingly, we are satisfied that the broadcaster adequately considered children’s interests in broadcasting the episode at 7.30pm, and we decline to uphold the complaint under Standard 9.
 Standard 7 protects against broadcasts which encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, a section of the community.
 The Authority has consistently defined “denigration” as blackening the reputation of a class of people (for example, Mental Health Commission and CanWest RadioWorks1), and “discrimination” as encouraging the different treatment of members of a particular group, to their detriment (for example, Teoh and TVNZ2). It is also well-established that in light of the requirements of the Bill of Rights Act, a high level of invective is necessary for the Authority to conclude that a broadcast encourages denigration or discrimination in contravention of the standard (for example, McCartain and Angus and The Radio Network3).
 Mr Young did not identify a section of the community and did not make any arguments under standard 7, although he referred to “stereotyping that males drink alcohol and have sex with women”. TVWorks maintained that the programme did not denigrate or discriminate against women or gay people.
 Guideline 7a states that the standard is not intended to prevent the broadcast of legitimate humour or satire. In our view, Family Guy clearly falls within this category. This episode in particular offered satirical comment on the stereotyping of different sexualities, and on the debate surrounding the origins of sexual identity. We are satisfied that the segment identified by Mr Young, which contained a brief reference to men drinking beer, playing football and going to bars “to find loose women to have sex with”, did not carry the level of invective necessary to encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, men as a section of the community. Nor do we consider that any material in the programme denigrated or discriminated against women or homosexual men.
 Accordingly, we decline to uphold the Standard 7 complaint.
 There is a two-stage test involved in determining whether there has been a breach of Standard 11. We must first decide whether the broadcast constituted “liquor promotion” and, if it did, we must then consider whether the liquor promotion was socially responsible. Looking at the first limb of the test, we note that Standard 11 defines “liquor promotion” as:
 Mr Young argued that the programme presented the idea that “males drink alcohol and have sex with women as (normal and natural)”. TVWorks interpreted the complaint as relating to the exchange between Peter and the “straight camp” leader, in which Peter was encouraged to think like a straight man going out to “drink a tonne of beers”. As this clearly does not amount to promotion or sponsorship, we have considered whether the programme included liquor promotion in the form of “advocacy”.
 In our view, the brief reference to alcohol during the scene between Peter and the camp leader, within the context of a 30-minute cartoon comedy programme, did not amount to advocating liquor consumption. Alcohol was not an integral part of the episode and was not dwelt upon. As outlined above, we consider that the scene subject to complaint was clearly satirical in nature and intended to be humorous. Accordingly, we are satisfied that the broadcast did not constitute “liquor promotion” for the purposes of Standard 11 and we decline to uphold this part of the complaint.
For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
13 September 2011
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1 Roderick Young’s formal complaint – 4 April 2011
2 TVWorks’ response to the complaint – 25 May 2011
3 Mr Young’s referral to the Authority – 27 May 2011
4 TVWorks’ response to the Authority – 8 June 2011
5 TVWorks’ response to the Authority’s request for further submissions – 3 August 2011
6 Mr Young’s response to the further submissions – 4 August 2011
7 TVWorks’ final comment – 9 August 2011
1Decision No. 2006-030
2Decision No. 2008-091
3Decision No. 2002-152