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Wong and World TV Ltd - 2012-031


Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Ip Man – movie about a martial arts legend, based on historical events, was broadcast in various timeslots during children’s viewing times – contained violence – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency, controversial issues, discrimination and denigration, responsible programming, children’s interests and violence standards

Findings
Standard 8 (responsible programming) – broadcaster accepted that the movie was incorrectly classified ‘M’ when it should have been AO, and that it should have been broadcast in the AO time-band, not during children’s viewing times – upheld 

Standard 9 (children’s interests) – broadcaster did not adequately consider children’s interests by incorrectly classifying the movie and screening it outside of AO time – upheld

Standard 10 (violence) – while there was some violent behaviour it was not excessive and was consistent with expectations of a martial arts film – however inappropriate classification and timeslots meant broadcaster did not exercise adequate care and discretion when dealing with the issue of violence – upheld

Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – viewers would not have been surprised or offended by the content in the context of a martial arts movie – not upheld

Standard 4 (controversial issues) – movie was not a news, current affairs or factual programme to which Standard 4 applied – not upheld

Standard 7 (discrimination and denigration) – standard not intended to prevent the broadcast of legitimate drama – movie did not encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, a section of the community – not upheld

No Order

This headnote does not form part of the decision. 


Introduction

[1]  A movie entitled Ip Man, about a martial arts legend, was broadcast by World TV on TV9 on Freeview at 8pm on Saturday 18 February 2012, and at 7am, 2pm and 7pm on Sunday 19 February 2012. The movie contained martial arts fighting.

[2]  Stephen Wong made a formal complaint to World TV Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the movie breached broadcasting standards because it contained “extreme violence”, was incorrectly classified, broadcast in an inappropriate time-band, and was not preceded by a warning.

[3]  The issue is whether the broadcast of Ip Man breached Standards 1 (good taste and decency), 4 (controversial issues), 7 (discrimination and denigration), 8 (responsible programming), 9 (children’s interests) and 10 (violence) of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

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

Was the movie correctly classified and broadcast in an appropriate timeslot?

[5]  Standard 8 (responsible programming) requires broadcasters to ensure that programmes are correctly classified and adhere to the time-bands set out in the Appendix to the Code. The standard exists to create consistency and certainty for viewers, who rely on the classification of a programme and its time of broadcast to give them a fair indication of its content. Standard 8 also plays an important role in the protection of children, because it assists parents and guardians in making informed choices about children’s viewing.

[6]  World TV informed the Authority that the movie had been classified ‘M’ and carried a warning which stated, “contains violence”. ‘M’ is a classification in the Pay Television Code, and is defined as “suitable for mature audiences 16 years and over”. The movie screened on TV9 on Freeview, which is free-to-air. World TV accepted that the film was incorrectly classified and that it should have been classified Adults Only (AO), in accordance with Appendix 1 to the Free-to-Air Television Code. It also acknowledged that the time-bands had been overlooked, and that the movie should have been broadcast in AO time after the 8.30pm watershed. Nevertheless, World TV did not uphold Mr Wong’s complaint.

[7]  In our view, the movie’s incorrect classification for free-to-air television and the inappropriate times of broadcast meant that viewers were not properly informed of its likely content. Viewers should have been able to rely on their own knowledge and expectations of free-to-air television programmes during children’s viewing times. Instead, insufficient and incorrect information meant that the audience was denied a reasonable opportunity to make a different viewing choice, or to exercise discretion with regard to their children’s viewing.

[8]  Upholding the complaint would not, in our view, unreasonably restrict the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression. We are not making a finding that the movie should not have been broadcast on television at all. We acknowledge that this was a well-regarded film that was worthy of broadcasting. The movie could have screened without breaching broadcasting standards, if it had been correctly classified and screened outside of children’s viewing times.

[9]  We are therefore satisfied that the harm caused in terms of the objectives of Standard 8 (that is, a misinformed audience) outweighed the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression on this occasion, and we uphold this part of the complaint.

Did the broadcaster adequately consider children’s interests?

[10]  Standard 9 requires broadcasters to consider the interests of child viewers during their normally accepted viewing times – usually up to 8.30pm. The purpose of the children’s interests standard is to protect children from broadcasts which might adversely affect them.1 In the Authority’s 2006 publication Freedoms and Fetters, it was observed that:

...children are worthy of special protection. Whether about radio or television, the BSA’s decisions emphasise its strong expectation that material likely to be heard or seen by children should recognise their innocence and vulnerability. The television classification and watershed systems underpin this special protection.

[11]  Having found that the movie was incorrectly classified and screened in inappropriate time-bands, we are satisfied that the broadcaster did not adequately consider the interests of child viewers. Although parents were given some indication of the movie’s content by the ‘M’ rating and the warning “contains violence”, parents should be able to rely on free-to-air programming during the day on the weekend to be suitable, at the least, for a supervised child viewer. They should be able to rely on the time-bands set out in Appendix 1 to the Code, in the belief that their children will not be exposed to AO material before 8.30pm.

[12]  The Free-to-Air Television Code defines a child as being under the age of 14 years, so a movie classified ‘M’ – suitable for people over the age of 16 – should not have screened during the day and before the 8.30pm AO watershed.

[13]  We therefore find that the potential harm caused in terms of the objectives of Standard 9 (protecting child viewers from unsuitable content) outweighed the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression, and we uphold this part of the complaint.

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

[14]  Standard 10 states that broadcasters should exercise care and discretion when dealing with the issue of violence. In Knight and TVWorks Ltd,2 the Authority described the objective of Standard 10 as follows:

...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.

[15]  While some very violent behaviour was shown, this reflected the historical events which were the subject of the film. It would not have been unexpected in the context of a movie of the martial arts genre.

[16]  Nevertheless, for the reasons discussed in relation to responsible programming and children’s interests – namely, that the movie was incorrectly classified and should have been restricted to screening after 8.30pm – we find that the broadcaster did not exercise adequate care and discretion.

[17]  We therefore uphold the complaint that the movie breached Standard 10.

Did the broadcast threaten current norms of good taste and decency?

[18]  Standard 1 states that broadcasters should observe standards of good taste and decency. The standard is primarily concerned with the broadcast of sexual material, nudity, coarse language or violence.3

[19]  When we consider an alleged breach of good taste and decency, we take into account the context of the broadcast, which here includes:

  • Ip Man was broadcast at 7am, 2pm, 7pm and 8pm, during children’s normally accepted viewing times
  • the broadcast stated that it was rated “M”, which was incorrect
  • the movie was preceded by the warning, “contains violence”
  • this was a well-regarded film which was widely distributed
  • the film was based on historical events
  • expectations of the martial arts genre.

[20]  While we have found above that the movie was incorrectly classified and should have been broadcast in AO time, this does not necessarily mean that it strayed beyond current norms of good taste and decency in the context in which it screened. In this respect, we reiterate that Standard 1 is primarily concerned with four categories of material, the relevant category here being violent content. The level of violence was not extreme, and in our view it did not dominate the movie. We consider that the content would have been consistent with audience expectations of a film about a martial arts legend, particularly given the pre-broadcast warning for “violence”. We find that overall, the level of violence, the movie’s genre, and the pre-broadcast warning outweighed the movie’s incorrect classification and times of broadcast, so that when taken in context, it would not have surprised or offended most viewers.

[21]  We therefore decline to uphold the complaint under Standard 1.

Did the broadcast encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, any section of the community?

[22]  Standard 7 protects against broadcasts which encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, a section of the community. Mr Wong argued that the movie promoted discrimination against cultural beliefs.

[23]  Guideline 7a to Standard 7 states that the standard is not intended to prevent the broadcast of material that is legitimate drama. Ip Man fell within this category. It was a well-regarded film which was widely distributed, and which dealt with historical events in a dramatised way. We therefore disagree that the movie could be seen as encouraging the denigration of, or discrimination against, any section of the community.

[24]  We therefore decline to uphold the Standard 7 complaint.

Did the broadcast breach standards relating to the discussion of controversial issues?

[25]  Mr Wong argued that the movie promoted hatred between different nationalities.

[26]  Standard 4 applies only to news, current affairs and factual programmes. While Ip Man was based on historical events, it was clearly dramatised for the purposes of entertainment, and does not fall within any of the categories to which the standard applies.

[27]  We therefore decline to uphold the complaint under Standard 4.

 

For the above reasons the Authority upholds the complaint that the broadcast by World TV Ltd of Ip Man on 18 and 19 February 2012 breached Standards 8, 9 and 10 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[28]  Having upheld the complaint, we may make orders under sections 13 and 16 of the Broadcasting Act 1989. We do not intend to do so on this occasion. This is the first complaint that has been upheld against World TV, and the broadcaster has acknowledged in its decision on the complaint that it overlooked the requirements of the Code in this instance. We consider that the publication of this decision will serve to clarify for the broadcaster our expectations regarding its adherence to the standards and particularly the classification system.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
17 July 2012