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Mikkelsen and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2013-022

Members

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

Complainant

  • Lawrence Mikkelsen of Auckland

Dated

3rd September 2013

Number

2013-022

Programme

Seven Sharp

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Seven Sharp – instrumental excerpts from the song “Smack My Bitch Up” by Prodigy played in the background during item reporting on violence against women – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency standard

Findings
Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – broadcast not unacceptable in context and within broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression – only viewers who knew the song would have recognised it from the instrumental excerpts – use of the instrumental excerpts did not undermine the important message of the segment but drew attention to, and raised awareness of, the issue – rhythm and tone of music fitted segment – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Introduction

[1]  An item on Seven Sharp, a New Zealand current affairs and entertainment programme, sought to test the public’s reaction to an incident of violence committed against a woman in a public place. A hidden camera was used to film the reaction of bystanders who witnessed a woman (an actress) being verbally and physically abused by her male companion (an actor) in a busy Auckland park. During the broadcast of the footage, instrumental excerpts from the song “Smack My Bitch Up” by Prodigy played in the background. The programme was broadcast at 7pm on 18 March 2013 on TV One.

[2]  Lawrence Mikkelsen made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the use of the song “Smack My Bitch Up” during a segment on violence towards women was “hugely inappropriate” and “offensive” and undermined the message of the segment.

[3]  The issue is whether the broadcast breached the good taste and decency standard, as set out in 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 threaten current norms of good taste and decency?

[5]  The good taste and decency standard (Standard 1) is primarily aimed at broadcasts that contain sexual material, nudity, coarse language or violence.1  The Authority will also consider the standard in relation to any broadcast that portrays or discusses material in a way that is likely to cause offence or distress.2

[6]  We are satisfied that the use of instrumental excerpts from the song “Smack My Bitch Up” as background music in the item was not unacceptable in context, and was within the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression.

[7]  The song’s title and lyrics were not mentioned in the broadcast, and we accept TVNZ’s contention that only viewers who knew the song well would have identified it from the instrumental excerpts, without the words. In this sense, audience members fell into two categories.

[8]  Some viewers may have known the song and consciously applied the words “smack my bitch up” even though no lyrics were broadcast – this being the category with which the complainant identified. For most of these viewers, we do not think the choice of music would have been unduly offensive in the context of the item, as it was a legitimate technique used to reinforce, as opposed to undermine, the important objective of the segment – namely, raising awareness of the issue of violence against women and the need for people to stand up to the perpetrators of such violence. The use of the instrumental elements only, without reference to the song’s title or lyrics, helped draw attention to a serious issue, without being so “in your face” as to cause unwarranted offence.

[9]  For other viewers who did not know the song (or did not know it well enough to recognise it from the instrumentals excerpts), we think the music would have been merely background noise or a soundtrack, which carried little, if any, significance. The instrumental and its rhythm were unnerving and sinister, matching the dramatic sequence of events as they unfolded, and in this sense it was a fitting accompaniment for the tone and subject matter of the segment.

[10]  Accordingly, we are satisfied that upholding the complaint would be an unreasonable limit on the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression, and we decline to uphold the complaint.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
3 September 2013

Appendix

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

1           Lawrence Mikkelsen’s formal complaint – 19 March 2013

2          TVNZ’s response to the complaint –  17 April 2013

3          Mr Mikkelsen’s referral to the Authority – 17 April 2013

4          TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 6 June 2013


1Turner and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2008-112

2Practice Note: Good Taste and Decency (Broadcasting Standards Authority, November, 2006)