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Cameron and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2017-011 (15 May 2017)

Dated

15th May 2017

Number

2017-011

Programme

The Windsors

Channel/Station

TVNZ 1

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd

Summary

[This summary does not form part of the decision.]

Four episodes of The Windsors, a British satirical comedy series, parodied the British Royal Family with reference to topical events. The episodes featured exaggerated characters based on members of the British Royal Family and contained offensive language and sexual material. The Authority did not uphold a complaint that the episodes failed general standards of common taste and decency, and denigrated and ridiculed the Queen and her family. The Authority found that the episodes were clearly satirical and intended to be humorous. While this particular brand of humour may not be to everyone’s liking, the right to freedom of expression includes the right to satirise public figures, including heads of state. In the context of an AO-classified satirical comedy series, which was broadcast at 8.30pm and preceded by a warning for coarse language, viewers were sufficiently informed about the episodes’ likely content and were able to make a different viewing choice. The episodes did not contain any material which promoted illegal or antisocial activity, raised privacy issues, or triggered the discrimination and denigration standard.

Not Upheld: Good Taste and Decency, Law and Order, Discrimination and Denigration, Privacy


Introduction

[1]  Four episodes of The Windsors, a British satirical comedy series, parodied the British Royal Family with reference to topical events. The episodes featured exaggerated characters based on members of the Royal Family. Each episode contained offensive language and sexual material.

[2]  Perry Cameron complained that these episodes failed general standards of common taste and decency, and denigrated and ridiculed the Queen and her family.

[3]  TVNZ upheld Mr Cameron’s complaint about Episode 1 under the good taste and decency standard, finding that it should have been preceded by a warning for potentially offensive language and sexual content. It did not uphold any other aspects of his complaints about the four episodes.

[4]  Mr Cameron referred the remaining not upheld aspects of his complaints about the four episodes to the Authority, on the basis he was dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision.

[5]  The issues are therefore:

  • whether Episodes 2, 3, or 4 breached the good taste and decency standard of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice; and
  • whether any of the four episodes breached the law and order, discrimination and denigration and privacy standards of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[6]  The four episodes subject to complaint were broadcast on TVNZ 1 at 8.30pm or 8.35pm on 8, 15, 22 and 29 December 2016. The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcasts complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

Did Episodes 2, 3, or 4 threaten current norms of good taste and decency?

[7]  The purpose of the good taste and decency standard (Standard 1) is to protect audience members from viewing broadcasts that are likely to cause widespread undue offence or distress, or undermine widely shared community standards. Broadcasters should take effective steps to inform audiences of the nature of a programme, and enable viewers to regulate their own and their children’s viewing behaviour.1

The parties’ submissions

[8]  Mr Cameron submitted:

  • ‘The crass attempt at satire targeting Britain’s (and New Zealand’s) Royal Family has failed general standards of common taste and decency’.
  • The episodes would be ‘likely to offend or disturb a significant section of the audience’ in breach of guideline 1c.2
  • ‘Crude “entertainment” and critical satire of the Royal Family, based on fiction, remains inappropriate for public broadcast.’

[9]  TVNZ submitted:

  • Viewers have a right to receive information and view programmes (artistic works) that are interesting and entertaining, and broadcasters have the right to broadcast such material.
  • The episodes were suitable in the context of the broadcasts, which includes the following factors:
      o The episodes were classified Adults Only (because of the occasional use of offensive language and unrealistic sex scenes) and broadcast in the AO timeband.
      o The characters, sets and storylines are crude and silly, making it clear to a new audience that the programme is a comedy.
      o A warning for coarse language was screened at the beginning of each episode to inform viewers of the adult-orientated content, and enabled viewers to make a different viewing choice.
      o The episodes contained a ‘smattering’ of potentially offensive language which was included for comedic effect and was not gratuitous given the genre of the programme, its AO classification, the adult target audience and the time of broadcast.
  • While this type of satirical humour is not to everyone’s taste, this is a matter of personal preference, which cannot be resolved by the formal complaints process.

Our analysis

[10]  When we consider a complaint about good taste and decency, we take into account relevant contextual factors, which here include:

  • the episodes’ AO classification
  • the episodes’ 8.30pm or 8.35pm time of broadcast
  • the episodes formed part of a satirical comedy series
  • the episodes were preceded by a warning for coarse language
  • the target, and likely, audience of adult viewers.

[11]  In this context, we do not consider the episodes of The Windsors contained any material that threatened current norms of good taste and decency. The episodes were clearly highly satirical. They were intended to provide humour and entertainment to viewers by referring to, and giving satirical commentary on, topical events involving the British Royal Family. The Authority has previously acknowledged,3 and some standards in the Code recognise,4 that humour and satire are important forms of speech on which society places value. We have also previously recognised that the right to freedom of expression includes the right to satirise public figures, including heads of state.5 Accordingly a high threshold would need to be met before this standard was found to be breached.

[12]  We acknowledge that the form of satirical humour employed in The Windsors may be seen by some as crude, and may not be to everyone’s liking. The episodes contained frequent use of offensive language and sexual material. However, we are satisfied this did not exceed audience expectations of an AO-classified satirical comedy series. The programme’s AO classification, pre-broadcast warning, 8.30pm (or 8.35pm) time of broadcast, and exaggerated, over-the-top comedic style (which was immediately evident from the beginning of each episode) would have informed viewers of the likely content of the show and enabled them to make a different viewing choice if desired.

[13]  Therefore, we do not uphold the complaint under good taste and decency.

Did any of the four episodes encourage viewers to break the law, or otherwise promote, condone or glamorise criminal activity?

[14]  The purpose of the law and order standard (Standard 5) is to prevent broadcasts that encourage audiences to break the law, or otherwise promote criminal or serious antisocial activity.6 The standard is concerned with broadcasts that actively undermine, or promote disrespect for, the law or legal processes.

The parties’ submissions

[15]  Mr Cameron submitted that sedition7 is no longer a crime in New Zealand law, but any such related practice should not be tolerated in the media.

[16]  TVNZ submitted that none of the episodes glamorised crime or condoned the actions of criminals.

Our analysis

[17]  In determining whether a broadcast breaches the law and order standard, context is crucial in assessing the programme’s likely practical effect. A distinction will usually be drawn between factual, and fictional or dramatic, depictions.8

[18]  We are satisfied that in the context of a highly dramatised satirical comedy series targeted at adults, the four episodes of The Windsors could not be said to have promoted illegal or antisocial activity. It is not illegal, nor in our view antisocial, to satirise public figures, including the British Royal Family. As discussed under the good taste and decency standard, satire is a legitimate form of humour and entertainment that is accepted and valued in our society.

[19]  For these reasons, we do not uphold the complaint under Standard 5.

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

[20]  The objective of the discrimination and denigration standard (Standard 6) is to protect sections of the community from verbal and other attacks. The standard protects against broadcasts that encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, 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.

[21]  Guideline 6c to the discrimination and denigration standard states that this standard is not intended to prevent the broadcast of material that is:

  • factual
  • a genuine expression of serious comment, analysis or opinion
  • legitimate humour, drama or satire.

The parties’ submissions

[22]  Mr Cameron submitted that the programme denigrated and ridiculed Her Majesty the Queen and her family, and by extension, New Zealand’s Governor General.

[23]  TVNZ submitted:

  • None of the episodes encouraged the denigration of, or discrimination against, any section of the community as defined under the standard.
  • The programme is clearly satirical and is therefore permitted under guideline 6c.

Our analysis

[24]  The discrimination and denigration standard applies only to recognised sections of the community, which are consistent with the grounds for discrimination set out in the Human Rights Act 1993.9 As the Queen, the British Royal Family and the Governor General are not a recognised section of the community to which this standard applies, we do not uphold this aspect of the complaint.

Did any of the four episodes breach the privacy of the Windsor family?

[25]  The privacy standard (Standard 10) states that broadcasters should maintain standards consistent with the privacy of the individual.

The parties’ submissions

[26]  Mr Cameron submitted that the episodes breached the privacy of the Royal Family.

[27]  TVNZ submitted that none of the episodes, which are satirical, revealed any private facts about the Windsor family.

Our analysis

[28]  The privacy standard applies only to identifiable individuals featured or referred to in broadcasts. It is unlikely that this standard would apply to a satirical comedy series such as The Windsors.

[29]  In any event, the complaint does not explain which aspects of the episodes breached the Windsor family’s privacy, or any private information that was allegedly disclosed about them. We are satisfied that none of the four episodes contained any material which raised privacy issues.

[30]  Accordingly, we do not uphold the complaint under Standard 10.

 

For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

 

Peter Radich
Chair
15 May 2017

 

Appendix

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

1      Perry Cameron’s formal complaint regarding episodes 1, 2 and 3 – 21 and 23 December 2016
2      TVNZ’s response to the complaint regarding episodes 1, 2 and 3 – 8 February 2017
3      Mr Cameron’s formal complaint regarding episode 4 – 30 December 2016
4      TVNZ’s response to the complaint regarding episode 4 – 10 February 2017
5      Mr Cameron’s referral to the Authority – received 22 February 2017
6      Mr Cameron’s further comments – 11 March 2017
7      TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 24 March 2017
8      TVNZ’s further comments – 24 March 2017

 

 


1  Guideline 1b.
2  Guideline 1c to the good taste and decency standard states ‘If content is likely to offend or disturb a significant section of the audience, an appropriate audience advisory should be broadcast prior to the content’. 
3  See, for example, Taiuru and New Zealand Media and Entertainment Ltd, Decision No. 2015-045 at [7]
4  See, for example, guideline 6a to Standard 6 (Fairness) and guideline 7a to Standard 7 (Discrimination and Denigration) 
5  See, for example, Young and TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2012-085 at [12]
6  See, for example, Keane and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2010-082
7  ‘Conduct or speech inciting people to rebel against the authority of a state or monarch’: https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/sedition 
8  Commentary: Law and Order, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 15
9  Section 21