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Preston and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2012-022

Members

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

Complainant

  • Stephen Preston of Auckland

Dated

1st May 2012

Number

2012-022

Channel/Station

TV2

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
The Last House on the Left – horror movie contained scene which showed the violent rape of a young teenage girl – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency and violence standards

Findings
Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – rape scene was justified by the movie’s “external” and “narrative” context – viewers were provided with sufficient information to regulate their own viewing behaviour – not upheld

Standard 10 (violence) – contextual factors – rape scene was not gratuitous or designed to titillate – explicit warning for graphic and sexual violence – broadcaster exercised sufficient care and discretion when dealing with the issue of violence – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Introduction

[1]  The Last House on the Left, a remake of a 1972 horror movie by Wes Craven, was broadcast on TV2 at 10.50pm on Sunday 15 January 2012. At the start of the movie, a young teenage girl and her parents arrived at their isolated country home, and the girl went off into town to meet her friend, despite her mother’s concerns. The girls were kidnapped by three criminals and taken into a forest. After trying to escape, the friend was stabbed, and the young girl was violently raped. The rape scene was broadcast at approximately 11.45pm.

[2]  The movie was preceded by the following written and verbal warning:

This film is rated Adults Only. It contains frequent use of language and sex scenes that may offend, and graphic violence and sexual violence that may disturb some people.

[3]  Stephen Preston made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the scene showing the “graphic rape” of a young girl should have been censored. He said that he was “upset”, “disgusted” and “distressed” by the footage.

[4]  The issue is whether the movie, and in particular the rape scene, breached Standards 1 (good taste and decency) and 10 (violence) of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[5]  The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

Did the movie, and specifically the rape scene, threaten current norms of good taste and decency?

[6]  Standard 1 states that broadcasters should observe standards of good taste and decency. The Authority has previously stated that standards relating to good taste and decency are primary aimed at broadcasts that contain sexual material, nudity, coarse language or violence.1

[7]  When we consider an alleged breach of good taste and decency, we take into account the context of the broadcast. This includes both the “narrative” context (the context in which any content occurs, for example the storyline or premise of the programme) and the “external” context (the wider context of the broadcast such as programme classification, target audience, the type of programme and warnings).2

[8]  The Authority has determined that certain extreme material is unacceptable regardless of context.3 However, for all other material, the approach developed by the Authority is to require broadcasters to give viewers sufficient information to regulate their own viewing behaviour. This places a degree of responsibility on viewers to inform themselves about the viewing choices they make.4

[9]  The relevant “external” contextual factors include:

  • The Last House on the Left was broadcast at 10.50pm on a Sunday
  • the rape scene occurred at approximately 11.45pm
  • the movie was classified AO
  • it was preceded by a warning for “graphic violence and sexual violence”
  • the movie was rated R18 GVSV by the Film & Video Labelling Body
  • the movie, including the rape scene, was censor edited to screen on television
  • it was a horror movie
  • the adult target audience
  • audience expectations.

[10]  In our view, this information, and particularly the Adults Only classification, time of broadcast, and explicit warning for “sexual violence”, would have alerted most viewers to the strong possibility that the movie contained themes such as rape. Further, the horror movie genre is well-known for its gruesome content and themes that are not suitable for, nor likely to appeal to, those affronted by violence. We note that the Authority has previously declined to uphold good taste and decency complaints about scenes depicting rape, based on the broadcast’s “external” context.5 

[11]  Turning to the “narrative” context, we must consider “what leads up to and what follows the scene... as well as the broader storyline and themes...” of the movie.6 We note that the rape scene occurred approximately one hour into the movie, by which time viewers would already have seen a considerable amount of other violent and gruesome content. Further, the scene itself was well signposted by the content of the preceding scenes and their indication of sexual violence, giving viewers an opportunity to decide whether to continue watching.

[12]  While we accept that the rape scene was violent and unpleasant to watch, we do not consider that it was gratuitous, or in itself took the movie outside what was acceptable, given its “narrative” context. The plot of the movie revolved around the horrific nature of the girl’s ordeal, which is what motivated her seemingly kind and caring parents to brutally murder those responsible. The movie was described in an online review as follows:7

Last House on the Left, one of Wes Craven’s early films, builds its horror on one of the greatest fears of parents and their teenage daughters – the very real threat of strangers and a night when your kid never comes home.

...

It’s a heartbreaking twist that makes you want to scream and cry and throw things at the TV. At least until those parents find out what the villains did and snap in the most ingenious and awesome way possible.

[13]  We agree with TVNZ that the scene played an important role in the plot of the movie, and that it would have been difficult to remove it completely without significantly altering the story. While the Authority has previously found a particular rape scene broadcast late at night to be in breach of the good taste and decency standard, we consider that the present case can be distinguished, because it was important to the storyline, rather than being included for the purpose of titillating the audience.8

[14]  Given the “external” and “narrative” context of the broadcast, particularly the movie’s classification, timing and genre, and the specific warning for “sexual violence”, we consider that viewers were provided with sufficient information about the likely content of the movie to enable them to make an informed decision about whether or not to watch.

[15]  Accordingly, we find that the broadcast of the rape scene in this context did not breach Standard 1 and we decline to uphold this part of the complaint.

Did the broadcaster exercise adequate care and discretion in dealing with the issue of violence?

[16]  Standard 10 states that broadcasters should exercise care and discretion when dealing with the issue of violence. The violence standard exists to ensure that broadcasters use care and discretion to exclude unsuitable violent material and to promote the use of warnings where necessary to protect viewers – particularly child viewers.9

[17]  We accept that the scene subject to complaint contained sexual violence, in the form of rape, for the purposes of Standard 10. Guideline 10c states that programmes in which rape or sexual violence is a theme should be treated with care, and in particular, that:

  • 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.

[18]  As noted above, the movie was preceded by an explicit visual and verbal warning for “sexual violence” and was restricted to screening in Adults Only time. The rape scene was broadcast more than two hours after the AO watershed and on a Sunday night when children and young people were unlikely to be watching. The scene was relevant and important to the storyline and was not presented in a manner that combined violence and sexuality in a way designed to titillate. In addition, as noted above, the scene was well signposted which gave viewers an opportunity to make a different viewing choice. The broadcaster also informed us that the movie, and specifically the rape scene, was censor-edited to screen on television.

[19]  For these reasons, we find that TVNZ exercised sufficient care and discretion when dealing with the issue of violence, and we decline to uphold the Standard 10 complaint.

Name Suppression

[20]  Mr Preston requested that his name be suppressed in the decision. Name suppression is granted rarely, usually in cases where an individual’s privacy has been breached, or in other exceptional circumstances. We do not consider that any such circumstances exist in the present case, and we therefore decline the complainant’s request on this occasion.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
1 May 2012

Appendix

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

1                  Stephen Preston’s formal complaint – 19 January 2012

2                 TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 15 February 2012

3                 Mr Preston’s referral to the Authority – 17 February 2012

4                 Mr Preston’s request for name suppression – 24 February 2012

5                 TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 14 March 2012


1Turner and TVNZ, Decision No. 2008-112

2TVNZ v West PDF3.33 MB, CIV2010-485-2007-8

3See, for example, Miller and TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2008-037.

4Practice Note: Good Taste and Decency (Broadcasting Standards Authority, November, 2006)

5See, for example, Mackenzie and Smith and TVNZ, Decision No. 2004-167; Wightman and Turley and Buchanan and TVNZ, Decision No. 1999-145-147.

6TVNZ v West PDF3.33 MB, CIV2010-485-2007-8 at paragraph [37] per Asher J

7http://horrornews.net/30374/film-review-the-last-house-on-the-left-1972/

8See Hueting and Sky Ltd, Decision No. 2004-007.

 9Knight and TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2008-137