BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Begin and Maori Television Service - 2016-075 (19 January 2017)

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Paula Rose
Dated
Complainant
  • Tom Begin
Number
2016-075
Channel/Station
Māori Television

Summary

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

How to Make Money Selling Drugs, a documentary film about the United States’ drug industry, featured a mock ‘how to’ guide for being a successful drug dealer. The documentary then examined and critiqued the United States’ ‘War on Drugs’. The Authority did not uphold a complaint that the documentary provided ‘information and tips to... potential drug dealers’ and encouraged crime. How to Make Money Selling Drugs was a satirical documentary which used broadcasting devices to gain viewers’ attention and highlight a significant problem in our society. While the documentary may have initially appeared to present positive aspects of drug dealing, it went on to explore the negative consequences, such as incarceration and death. The documentary did not condone drug dealing, and offered alternative solutions to combatting drug use in society. In this context How to Make Money Selling Drugs could not be interpreted as seriously encouraging or instructing viewers to engage in drug dealing, and did not undermine law and order.

Not Upheld: Law and Order


Introduction

[1]  How to Make Money Selling Drugs is a documentary film about the illegal drug industry in the United States. It began as a mock ‘how to’ guide for being a successful drug dealer, and then examined and critiqued the United States’ ‘War on Drugs’.

[2]  Tom Begin complained that the documentary provided ‘information and tips to the potential drug dealers in [New Zealand]’, and considered it would increase and encourage crime.

[3]  The issue raised in Mr Begin’s complaint is whether the broadcast breached the law and order standard as set out in the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[4]  The documentary was broadcast on 23 August 2016 at 8.30pm on Māori Television. The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

Nature of the programme and freedom of expression

[5]  Freedom of expression, including the broadcaster’s right to impart ideas and information and the public’s right to receive that information, is the starting point in our consideration of complaints. We may only interfere and uphold complaints where the limitation on the right would be reasonable and justified in a democratic society.1

[6]  How to Make Money Selling Drugs initially premiered at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival and has received some critical acclaim.2 The documentary screened as part of Māori Television’s ‘Tuesday Festival Documentaries’ series. It was classified Adults Only (AO) and broadcast at 8.30pm, and was preceded by an audio and visual warning, as follows:

This programme is recommended for adults only viewing. It may include offensive language and content which may disturb some people.

Mā ngā pākeke anake tēnei hōtaka. He reo kanga pea kei roto me ētahi kaupapa whakarihariha.

[7]  The documentary began with news footage relating to poverty and high unemployment in the United States. The narrator said, ‘If the American dream broke its promise to you, don’t worry – we have an answer.’ One of the interviewees said, ‘Let me help you help yourself.’ The narrator then introduced the documentary as follows:

Welcome to the game. This is your guidebook. Our experts are going to give you everything you need. You can make $1,000 in an hour... You can have a six-figure starting salary... You can make a million dollars in a week. In this programme, masters of the trade are going to reveal to you their secrets on how to get paid in this exciting 400-billion-dollar global industry.

[8]  The documentary then used a video game structure to guide the viewer through the different ‘levels’ of drug dealing, beginning at ‘getting started’ and ‘corner hustler’, and moving all the way up to ‘kingpin’ and ‘drug lord’. This segment largely comprised interviews with former and current drug dealers, law enforcement officers, lawyers and judges. The narrator used data and statistics, interspersed with personal anecdotes from the interviewees, to explain how drug dealers make money, how to be successful and the risks involved. The narrator made comments such as:

If you choose to be a cocaine dealer, you need to know the risks. If you are black, you are about four times more likely to be arrested than a white dealer – which is counter-intuitive, because white Americans buy and sell more cocaine than anyone else.

[9]  The documentary also contained ‘tips’ for budding drug dealers, such as ‘by dealing small amounts, the nicer the neighbourhood, the less chance of getting busted’, and mounting counter surveillance operations on law enforcement officers.

[10]  The latter part of the documentary then seriously examined the basis for the United States’ ‘War on Drugs’ and critiqued existing drug policy. The documentary outlined the negative outcomes on both sides of the drug war, for example fatalities among law enforcement officers and those involved in drug dealing, as well as civilians who are caught in the cross-fire. Celebrities, academics, advocates and former drug dealers were interviewed, who offered different solutions to combatting drug use in society, such as decriminalisation and treating addiction. The documentary concluded with a statement from the narrator:

If we decriminalised all drugs, we would have billions of dollars to battle addiction, drug abuse and poverty. But as long as we support a drug war, we will continue to encourage our children to pick up the game and discover for themselves how to make money selling drugs.

[11]  The documentary carried high public interest and high value in terms of freedom of expression. It discussed a serious and harmful issue in our society, namely drug use and the supply of drugs. Our task is to weigh the value of the programme against the level of harm alleged to have been caused by the broadcast, in terms of the underlying objectives of the relevant broadcasting standards. The complainant has argued that the documentary caused harm by undermining law and order, specifically by encouraging drug dealing, which he considered would increase New Zealand’s crime rate.

Did the broadcast encourage viewers to break the law, or otherwise promote, condone or glamorise criminal activity?

[12]  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.3 The standard is concerned with broadcasts that actively undermine, or promote disrespect for, the law or legal processes.

The parties’ submissions

[13]  Mr Begin submitted that:

  • The documentary gave explicit instructions on how to perform a criminal technique, for example tips on how to deal drugs.
  • The entire documentary discussed how rich drug dealers can be and their wealthy lifestyle.
  • Rates of crime and drug use in New Zealand are already very high and there should be more positive programmes to show people how to make money through legal avenues.

[14]  Māori Television submitted that:

  • The documentary portrayed a realistic picture of the risks involved in the sale of illegal drugs in the United States, not New Zealand.
  • The documentary was satirical in nature and any reasonable person viewing the programme would not be incited to sell drugs in New Zealand, nor would be incited to commit unlawful acts.
  • The drug dealers featured clearly advanced arguments against taking drugs and selling drugs.
  • The documentary was from an authorial perspective based on the producer’s views regarding the selling of drugs.
  • The documentary was broadcast at 8.30pm, classified AO and preceded by a warning.
  • There is significant public interest in the subject matter of drug dealing, consumption and its effects on the community and this documentary clearly showed the risks and effects.

Our analysis

[15]  The Authority has previously found that the law and order standard is generally concerned with broadcasts that amount to a promotion of serious illegal activity among New Zealand audiences.4 This documentary focused on drug dealing and the ‘War on Drugs’ in the United States. However we accept it also contained material which could translate to a discussion of drug dealing in New Zealand.

[16]  Overall, we are satisfied that How to Make Money Selling Drugs did not promote drug dealing or encourage viewers to engage in illegal activity for the following reasons, which we expand on below:

  • The first segment of the documentary was satirical and was not seriously encouraging viewers to deal drugs.
  • The documentary did not contain instructions, or information, about drug dealing that was not already widely known or readily available.
  • The first segment of the documentary was balanced by later segments, which focused on the negative consequences of drug dealing.
  • The documentary’s critique of current drug laws and policy is protected by the right to freedom of expression and did not amount to a promotion of illegal activity.

[17]  The first segment of the documentary, a mock ‘how to’ guide to being a successful drug dealer, was satirical, using video game references to describe the different ‘levels’ of being a drug dealer. We acknowledge that if viewed in isolation, some viewers may have seen this segment as providing tips on how to deal drugs or positively portraying this lifestyle, for example by discussing how wealthy drug dealers can become. However, satire and the video game comparison were editorial techniques used to draw the audience’s attention to the issues being discussed. We are satisfied that this segment was not intended to encourage or instruct viewers to become drug dealers.

[18]  How to Make Money Selling Drugs did not contain any details or instructions about drug dealing or drug use that are not widely known or readily available. The latter part of the documentary clearly focused on the ‘dark side’ of the industry. It used statistics, data and the interviewees’ personal experiences to emphasise the negative consequences of drug dealing, including incarceration and death. The drug dealers interviewed were mostly former drug dealers, who now work to combat drug use in their communities.

[19]  The law and order standard does not prevent genuine criticism – even provocative criticism – of laws or their enforcement by the courts and police.5 The documentary was critical of current American drug policy and laws, as well as state institutions such as law enforcement and politicians. However, it does not follow that by taking this angle the documentary advocated selling drugs or other illegal activity. This was an authorial documentary that presented a particular perspective, namely that the ‘War on Drugs’ is not working, and offered other potential solutions such as the decriminalisation of drugs and the re-direction of government funds towards treating addiction.

[20]  As we have said, the documentary’s discussion of the ‘War on Drugs’ carried high public interest and value in terms of the exercise of the right to free expression. The documentary was a provocative, challenging and innovative vehicle for gaining viewers’ attention and highlighting drug dealing as a serious problem.

[21]  In this context, we do not consider that the documentary undermined law and order, and we do not uphold the complaint under Standard 5.

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

 

Peter Radich
Chair
19 January 2017

 

Appendix

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

1      Tom Begin’s original complaint – 23 August 2016
2      Māori Television’s acknowledgment of the complaint – 26 August 2016
3      Māori Television’s response to the complaint – 21 September 2016
4      Mr Begin’s referral to the Authority – 22 September 2016
5      Mr Begin’s response to the Authority – 7 October 2016
6      Māori Television’s response to the Authority – 21 October 2016
7      Mr Begin’s submissions on the law and order standard – 23 November 2016
8      Māori Television’s submissions on the law and order standard – 30 November 2016

 


1 See sections 5 and 14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990
2 For example, the documentary won the audience prize for Best American Independent Film at the 2013 Champs-Elysees Film Festival.
3 See, for example, Keane and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2010-082
4Arlidge and SKY Network Television Ltd, Decision No. 2016-009
5 Commentary: Law and Order standard, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook at page 15