BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Burlace and TV3 Network Services Ltd - 2000-159

Members
  • P Cartwright (Chair)
  • J H McGregor
  • R McLeod
  • R Bryant
Dated
Complainant
  • Brian Burlace
Number
2000-159
Programme
Courage Under Fire
Channel/Station
TV3

Complaint
Courage Under Fire – film – blasphemy – offensive language – "Jesus fucking Christ"

Findings
Standard G2 – context – AO classification and time of broadcast – warning – no uphold

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

The film Courage Under Fire was broadcast on TV3 on 21 May 2000 beginning at 8.30pm. During a combat scene in the film, one of the characters was heard to say "Jesus fucking Christ".

Brian Burlace complained to TV3 Network Services Ltd, the broadcaster, that the language used was blasphemous and offensive.

TV3 explained that the programme was rated AO and had been preceded by a warning about its language. It also observed that the film had been edited to remove much of its coarse language. In its view, the retention of the language in question was important to the storyline of the movie, and its use had not been gratuitous.

Dissatisfied with TV3’s decision, Mr Burlace referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

For the reasons given below, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Decision

The members of the Authority have viewed a tape of the item complained about and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines this complaint without a formal hearing.

The film Courage Under Fire was broadcast on TV3 on 21 May 2000 beginning at 8.30pm. The film was about a US Army officer who had returned from the Gulf War, and had been given the responsibility of investigating a female commander’s worthiness for a medal of honour. During a flashback combat scene in the film, a character was heard to say "Jesus fucking Christ", as he realised orders given had resulted in the death of fellow American troops.

Brian Burlace complained to TV3 Network Services Ltd, the broadcaster, that the language used was blasphemous and offensive.

TV3 advised that it had assessed the complaint under standard G2 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which requires broadcasters:

G2  To take into consideration currently accepted norms of decency and taste in language and behaviour, bearing in mind the context in which any language or behaviour occurs.

TV3 explained that the film was rated AO and had been preceded by a verbal and written warning about its language. It also observed that the film had been edited to remove much of its coarse language. In its view, the retention of the language in question was important to the storyline of the movie, and its use had not been gratuitous. Furthermore, the broadcaster considered that the language was acceptable in the context of the scene, explaining that:

This is not just because of what is happening in the movie itself, but also because of the wider context including the hour of screening and the warning for language.

According to TV3, its comments applied equally to Mr Burlace’s complaint about the "f-word", and about the words "Jesus Christ". TV3 continued:

Our TV3 appraisers base their decisions not just on the context in which the language appears but also with reference to precedent from decisions made by the BSA, their surveys and our own audience feedback. The BSA has in the past found that the use of the "f-word" and blasphemy, while offensive to some viewers, is acceptable to the majority of adult viewers, provided it is used in an appropriate context.

Finally, TV3 commented that the "overwhelming majority" of viewers apparently did not find the phrase "Jesus fucking Christ" to be offensive, as Mr Burlace’s was the only complaint received.

In the referral of his complaint to the Authority, Mr Burlace wrote:

I must confess I felt somewhat shocked to learn that TV3 could justify such disturbing language on the basis of situational ethics. There is absolutely no human situation where such disgusting language could be justified.

Mr Burlace also commented that the war movies he had seen when young did not contain offensive language, and in his view did not suffer by the omission.

Mr Burlace concluded that swearing should be regarded as offensive, as there were still many who were offended by what was allowed to be printed or broadcast today.

The Authority's Findings

When the Authority considers a complaint alleging a breach of standard G2, it takes into account the context in which the broadcast complained about occurs. The context is relevant, but not decisive, to the Authority’s determination of whether the programme breached standards of good taste and decency.

The relevant contextual factors on this occasion are the film’s AO classification, its broadcast during AO time, and the visual and verbal warning about language which preceded the film and reminded viewers that it was deemed suitable for an adult audience. The Authority also notes TV3’s advice that its had edited out "much of the coarse language" and that that which was retained was deemed important in the context of the story.

Taking these matters into account, the Authority finds that the language used was not inappropriate in the context of the film. It considers that there was dramatic justification for its use, and that it would have been difficult to remove it without affecting the way in which the story was told.

The Authority acknowledges that the complainant considered the language was offensive, and that the Authority’s public opinion surveys indicate that the community’s views on blasphemous language are polarised. However, taking into account the contextual matters referred to above, the Authority concludes that standard G2 was not breached.

 

For the reasons given, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Cartwright
Chair
6 November 2000

Appendix

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

  1. Brian Burlace’s Complaint to TV3 Network Services Ltd – undated
  2. TV3’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 27 June 2000
  3. Mr Burlace’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 16 July 2000
  4. TV3’s Response to the Authority – 8 September 2000