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Russell and TVWorks Ltd - 2012-056

Members

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

Complainant

  • Cameron Russell of Auckland

Dated

17th July 2012

Number

2012-056

Programme

Homeland

Channel/Station

TV3

Broadcaster

TVWorks Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Homeland – fictional drama series in which the CIA investigates a possible terrorist threat – allegedly in breach of discrimination and denigration standard

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

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Introduction

[1]  An episode of Homeland, a drama series in which the CIA investigates a possible terrorist threat, was broadcast on TV3 at 8.30pm on 12 March 2012.

[2]  Cameron Russell made a formal complaint to TVWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the “Islamophobia that this programme promotes is unacceptable in New Zealand”.

[3]  The issue is whether the episode breached Standard 7 (discrimination and denigration) 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.

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

[5]  Standard 7 protects against broadcasts which encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, a section of the community.

[6]  The term “denigration” has consistently been defined by the Authority as blackening the reputation of a class of people (see, for example, Mental Health Commission and CanWest RadioWorks1). “Discrimination” has been consistently defined as encouraging the different treatment of the members of a particular group to their detriment (see for example Teoh and TVNZ2).

[7]  It is also well-established that in light of the requirements of the Bill of Rights Act 1990, a high level of invective is necessary for the Authority to conclude that a broadcast encourages denigration or discrimination in contravention of the standard (see, for example, McCartain and Angus and The Radio Network3).

[8]  Mr Russell considered that, “The programme is highly political and contrasts Muslims, who are intrinsically evil… with a righteous America, whose ethical good guy in the CIA is a Jewish character”. He also noted that the Jewish character had used the phrase “Jesus fucking Christ” which he argued was offensive to both Muslims and Christians.

[9]  TVWorks argued that the programme was “very clearly a drama, with fictional characters and storylines, constructed with the intent to entertain audiences”. It considered that Homeland had a legitimate dramatic storyline, and that the drama and tension inherent in the storyline (Muslims versus the “righteous America”) was the primary motivation behind its construction, rather than an attack on the Muslim community. The characters were complex and not wholly “good” or “bad” which was what made them interesting, TVWorks said. Further, the programme was classified AO and broadcast in AO time, so there was an expectation that the audience would have the faculty to make up their own mind as to the relevance of the storylines to real life. The programme did not amount to hate speech and did not encourage the negative treatment of Muslims, it said.

[10]  Guideline 7a to Standard 7 states that the standard is not intended to prevent the broadcast of material that is legitimate drama. The guideline recognises that legitimate drama is an important form of speech on which society places value.

[11]  In our view, Homeland was a “legitimate drama”, targeted at an adult audience. While the programme had political themes, it followed fictional characters and fictional storylines. Many programmes and other forms of entertainment are based on cultural stereotypes, sometimes stemming from real life events. Since the terror attacks in September 2001, numerous programmes have referenced, or offered commentary on, terrorism. It is a fundamental component of the right to freedom of expression that broadcasters and programme makers should be entitled to employ dramatic licence in this way, and objections to particular characters or storylines, in and of themselves, are insufficient justification for us to interfere with that right.

[12]  In any event, we agree with the broadcaster that the programme’s characters and plot are complex; the series blurs the distinction between ‘good’ and ‘evil’ and reflects the complexity of the current international political environment. We consider that the programme was intended primarily to entertain, rather than to make any comment on Muslims in general, and could not reasonably be seen as encouraging the different treatment of Muslims, to their detriment, or as blackening their reputation.

[13]  Mr Russell also argued that the phrase “Jesus fucking Christ” was offensive to both Muslims and Christians. The Authority has previously declined to uphold complaints under Standard 7 about the use of variations of “Jesus” and “Christ” on the basis that, while they are offensive to some people, for many New Zealanders they are a common part of everyday colloquial speech, when used as an exclamation to express irritation, dismay or surprise.4 The Authority has also declined to uphold complaints under Standard 1 (good taste and decency) about the use of “Jesus fucking Christ” and “fucking Jesus Christ”, because they were used as exclamations, and were justified by both the internal context of the programme, and external contextual factors such as the programme’s classification and time of broadcast, and the use of warnings.5

[14]  We consider that the present situation is analogous. In this instance, one of the main characters in Homeland used the expression “Jesus fucking Christ” as an exclamation of shock, upon finding out that the CIA’s primary suspect may have been involved in assisting with the suicide of a key witness in the investigation. The comment was clearly not intended as an attack against Muslims or Christians as a section of the community, and could not be considered to have blackened the reputation of those groups, or encouraged the different treatment of them, to their detriment. Further, we reiterate that Homeland was “legitimate drama”, which is afforded protection under guideline 7a to the standard.

[15]  We therefore decline to uphold the complaint that the programme breached Standard 7.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
17 July 2012