BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Beattie and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2003-046

Members
  • P Cartwright (Chair)
  • J H McGregor
  • Tapu Misa
  • R Bryant
Dated
Complainant
  • Linda Beattie
Number
2003-046
Programme
The Assignment
Channel/Station
TV2

Complaint
The Assignment film – sexual behaviour and nudity – offensive – excessive violence – unacceptable at 8.30pm

Findings
Standard 1 and Guideline 1a – context – no uphold

Standard 9 and Guidelines 9a, 9b, 9c – 8.40pm on Saturday – violent scene screened soon after the watershed – warnings by themselves may not be sufficient – insufficient discretion exercised – uphold

Standard 10 and Guideline 10a – violence not gratuitous given factual basis – no uphold

No Order

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

[1] The film The Assignment was screened on TV2 at 8.30pm on Saturday 19 October 2002. Based on the life of the notorious terrorist Carlos (The Jackal), the film’s story-line involved a CIA scheme to persuade Carlos’s allies to suspect his motives and to assassinate him.

[2] Linda Beattie complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, about the sexual behaviour and nudity shown soon after the start of the film, and the excessive violence which followed shortly thereafter.

[3] In response, TVNZ said the film dealt with terrorism, which it described as a current reality. It did not consider the sexual activity offensive, and it said that the violence was fantasy which was suitable for a fictional suspense thriller. Pointing to the warning and the AO classification, TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint.

[4] Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision Linda Beattie referred her complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

For the reasons below, the Authority upholds the complaint that the broadcast of the film at 8.30pm, containing violence at 8.40pm, was a breach of Standard 9.

Decision

[5] The members of the Authority have viewed a video of the film complained about and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

The Programme

[6] The Film The Assignment was screened on TV2 at 8.30pm on Saturday 19 October 2002. Based on the life of the notorious terrorist Carlos (The Jackal), the film’s story-line involved a CIA scheme to persuade Carlos’s allies to suspect his motives and to assassinate him.

The Complaint

[7] Linda Beattie complained to TVNZ about the sex scene near the beginning of the film. It involved the sounds of passion and shots of a naked woman and the back view of a naked man. It was followed by a scene in which a man threw a hand grenade in a restaurant full of people, and by another scene showing graphic details of people being killed at an "OPEC" Conference.

[8] Ms Beattie complained that the scenes were shown shortly after 8.30pm and she expressed particular concern that the film was screened at all in light of the events in New York on 11 September. The scenes referred to, she wrote, had failed to comply with acceptable programme standards.

The Standard

[9] In view of the issues raised, TVNZ assessed the complaint under the following Standards. The Standards, and relevant Guidelines, read:

Standard 1 Good Taste and Decency

In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are responsible for maintaining standards which are consistent with the observance of good taste and decency.

Guideline

1a  Broadcasters must take into consideration current norms of decency and taste in language and behaviour bearing in mind the context in which any language or behaviour occurs. Examples of context are the time of the broadcast, the type of programme, the target audience, the use of warnings and the programme’s classification (see Appendix 1). The examples are not exhaustive.

Standard 9 Children’s Interests

During children’s normally accepted viewing times (see Appendix 1), broadcasters are required, in the preparation and presentation of programmes, to consider the interests of child viewers.

Guidelines

9a  Broadcasters should be mindful of the effect any programme or promo may have on children during their normally accepted viewing times – usually up to 8.30pm – and avoid screening material which would disturb or alarm them.

9b  When scheduling AO material to commence at 8.30pm, broadcasters should exercise discretion to ensure that the content which led to the AO rating is not shown soon after the watershed.

9c  Broadcasters should have regard to the fact that children tend to stay up later than usual on Friday and Saturday nights and during school and public holidays and, accordingly, special attention should be given to providing appropriate warnings during these periods.

Standard 10 Violence

In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are required to exercise care and discretion when dealing with the issue of violence.

Guideline

10a  Broadcasters should ensure that any violence shown is not gratuitous and is justified by the context.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[10] Dealing first with the comment about terrorism, TVNZ considered that terrorism was now a significant social issue, and argued that fiction should reflect reality. Nevertheless, it added, the methods of violence used in the film did not provide instruction as to how a terrorist attack could be carried out. Moreover, TVNZ described the violence in the film as "fantasy, similar to a James Bond movie, or other fictional suspense thriller."

[11] TVNZ said that the requirements for good taste and decency in Standard 1 had to be considered in context. Context on this occasion included the AO classification, the warning delivered verbally and visually before the film, and its broadcast after the AO watershed of 8.30pm. The watershed, it added, was widely recognised in the community.

[12] Turning to the scene itself, TVNZ said that while sounds of passion were heard, no sex was shown and the shots of nudity were relatively static. TVNZ compared the nudity to paintings in art galleries and contended that it would not give offence.

[13] In view of the "thriller" nature of film and the contextual matters outlined above, TVNZ considered that Standard 1 had not been breached.

[14] Standard 9, TVNZ wrote, required a broadcaster to consider the interests of child viewers. It contended that it had complied with this requirement in view of the AO classification, the warning, and the time of screening. Moreover, such information would enable parents to decide whether their children were allowed to view the film. It declined to uphold the Standard 9 aspect of the complaint.

[15] As for Standard 10, TVNZ took into account the fantasy nature of the violence and considered that it was not gratuitous in "a tale about ruthless spies and stop at nothing terrorists, and the innocents who came between them".

The Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority

[16] Ms Beattie explained that her complaint focused on three scenes which were shown within the film’s first ten minutes. She emphasised that children could well be viewing at that time and the context of the full film was not applicable. Moreover, the violence was graphic and, she said, "we are fooling ourselves by categorising this ‘garbage’ as ‘fantasy’".

[17] As for the "sex scene", Ms Beattie said that she was not complaining about the nudity, but the implied nature of the act and the implication that sex is necessary before carrying out a violent attack. Referring to the incidents in schools in the United States, Ms Beattie stated:

We, as a society, have to take more responsibility for what is fed to the next generation under the guise of "entertainment".

[18] In concluding, Ms Beattie emphasised that her complaint was not about the material which was shown, but the time at which it was screened. She also sought a review of the AO rating time.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[19] TVNZ said that the good taste and decency requirement in Standard 1 required that context be taken into account. It was not possible, it insisted, to confine the assessment of a feature film to the first 10 minutes.

The Complainant’s Final Comment

[20] Ms Beattie reiterated that her concern focused on the initial content of the film which was screened at an early time in the evening. She pointed out that the film followed a family movie and was a complete contrast. She maintained that it was possible to consider the first ten minutes which, she argued, breached the standards.

The Authority’s Determination

[21] Ms Beattie complained that the sexual behaviour, the nudity and violence, which was contained in the first 10 minutes of the film The Assignment, breached some of the standards in the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. TVNZ countered by arguing first that the sexual activity and nudity were not offensive, and second, that the violence was related to terrorism which it maintained was not inappropriate given the current reality and, moreover, was suitable for a fictional suspense thriller.

[22] When it determines a complaint that a broadcast contravenes the requirement for good taste and decency in Standard 1 of the Television Code, the Authority is required to determine whether the material complained about breaches currently accepted standards, taking into account the context of the broadcast. The context is relevant, but does not determine whether the programme breached the standard. Accordingly, the Authority has considered the aspects of context in relation to the film complained about.

[23] The scene dealing with the sexual encounter included sounds of sexual activity and then showed the naked couple’s subsequent interaction. The visuals included a supine woman and did not show the couple’s genitalia. As TVNZ pointed out, the film was preceded with a verbal and written warning, and was screened during the AO time band. In view of the treatment of the scene and the other contextual matters noted, the Authority concludes that Standard 1 was not contravened.

[24] In her referral to the Authority, the complainant expressed concern as to the implication that sex was necessary before carrying out a violent attack. The Authority is satisfied that there was no coupling or fusion of the sexual activity which preceded the hand grenade attack on the restaurant with the attack itself.

[25] In assessing the complaint under Standard 10 that the violence was gratuitous, the Authority considers TVNZ’s reference to the current international climate of terrorism and its description of the violence as fantasy "similar to a James Bond movie".

[26] The Authority does not share TVNZ’s view in regard to the description of the violence as fantasy. Unlike a James Bond movie, it found that the violence in this case was brutally realistic and not of the Bond genre. It was based on the story of Carlos (The Jackal) who was not a fictional character. In the situation portrayed however, the Authority concludes, the violence was not gratuitous and did not breach Standard 10.

[27] The Authority agrees with TVNZ that the warning made clear that some viewers might find the film offensive in view of its content. However, the Authority points out, the inclusion of warnings does not absolve broadcasters from a possible breach of Standard 9. Standard 9, unlike Standard 1, does not require the Authority to assess the range of contextual matters considered in paragraph [23] above. Guideline 9b requires broadcasters to ensure that the content which led to the AO rating is not shown soon after the watershed. The Authority refers to Decision No: 2002-120, dated 19 September 2002, which upheld a complaint that the film Scream breached Standard 9, despite a warning, as a "gruesome and horrific" scene was shown at 8.45pm "soon after the watershed". The Authority believes that the violence portrayed in the first ten minutes of The Assignment, when a grenade was thrown into a crowded restaurant and scenes of dismembered bodies were visible, was "soon after the watershed".

[28] The Authority does not accept that parental responsibility, with appropriate information from the broadcaster, is the sole criterion for viewing by children after 8.30pm on Friday and Saturday evenings. The Television Code expects broadcasters to exercise discretion regarding material which might not be suitable for children soon after the watershed. Given the graphic and grisly violence shown in the scene at about 8.40pm when a grenade is thrown in a crowded restaurant, the Authority concludes that insufficient care was shown by the broadcaster in screening the quite graphic violence included in the film so soon after the watershed. Accordingly, it upholds the Standard 9 aspect of the complaint.

[29] The social objective of regulating broadcasting standards is to guard against broadcasters behaving unfairly, offensively, or otherwise excessively. The Broadcasting Act clearly limits freedom of expression. Section 5 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act provides that the right to freedom of expression may be limited by "such reasonable limits which are prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society". For the reasons given in Decision No. 2002-071/072, the Authority is firmly of the opinion that the limits in the Broadcasting Act are reasonable and demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society. The Authority records that it has given full weight of the provisions of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 when exercising its powers under the Broadcasting Act on this occasion. For the reasons given in this decision, the Authority considers that the exercise of its powers on this occasion is consistent with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act In reaching this conclusion, the Authority has taken into account all the circumstances of this complaint, including the nature of the complaint and the graphic nature of the violence screened.

 

For the reasons above, the Authority upholds the complaint that the broadcast by Television New Zealand Ltd of the film The Assignment at 8.30pm on Saturday 19 October 2002 breached Standard 9 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

It declines to uphold any other aspect of the complaint.

[30] Having upheld a complaint, the Authority may make orders under ss.13 and 16 of the Broadcasting Act 1989. It invited submissions from the parties. Having considered all the circumstances of the complaint and taking into account the fact that this is the first time that the Authority has upheld a complaint in regard to a broadcast by TVNZ measured against Standard 9 and Guidelines 9a, 9b and 9c, the Authority does not consider that an Order is warranted.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Cartwright
Chair
5 June 2003

Appendix

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

  1. Linda Beattie’s Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 21 October 2002
  2. TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 21 November 2002
  3. Ms Beattie’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 1 December 2002
  4. TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 19 December 2002
  5. Ms Beattie’s Final Comment – 18 January 2003
  6. TVNZ’s Submission on Order – 5 May 2003
  7. Ms Beattie’s Submission on Order – 27 May 2003