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Chaney and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2013-007

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

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring – characters referred to smoking “weed” and “leaf” – allegedly in breach of broadcasting standards

Standard 2 (law and order) – references to “weed” and “leaf” did not encourage viewers to break the law or otherwise promote or condone criminal activity – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1]  During The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, characters made two brief references to “weed” and “leaf”. Bilbo Baggins the hobbit, and Gandalf the wizard, were shown smoking pipes as Bilbo commented, “Old Toby, the finest weed in the South Farthing.” Later, Gandalf said to Saruman the wizard, “All these long years [the ring] was in the Shire, under my very nose”. Saruman replied, “Yet you did not have the wits to see it. Your love of the halflings’ leaf has clearly slowed your mind.” The movie was rated PGR and was broadcast at 7.30pm on 28 December 2012 on TV2.

[2]  Louise Chaney made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the references to “weed” and “leaf” alluded to marijuana use, stating, “drugs are illegal and it’s sad that the magic of this book be spoiled and cheapened by drug references”. Ms Chaney did not raise any broadcasting standards in her complaint, and TVNZ assessed the complaint as a possible breach of the law and order standard.

[3]  The issue therefore is whether the movie breached the law and order standard (Standard 2) 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 movie encourage viewers to break the law, or otherwise promote, condone or glamorise criminal activity?

[5]  The intent behind the law and order standard is to prevent broadcasts that encourage viewers to break the law, or otherwise promote, glamorise or condone criminal activity.1 The standard exists to ensure that broadcasters refrain from broadcasting material which does not respect the laws which sustain our society.2

[6]  Ms Chaney argued that the movie, and specifically the references to “weed” and “leaf”, glamorised marijuana use. She referred to an image of Gandalf blowing “a ship of smoke with one of his puffs”. Guideline 2d to the law and order standard states that the realistic portrayal of anti-social behaviour, including the abuse of liquor and drugs, should not be shown in a way that glamorises these activities.

[7]  TVNZ argued that the references to “weed” and “leaf” were fleeting and did not glamorise crime or condone the actions of criminals. It asserted that the terms were traditionally used to describe tobacco products, with the definitions being later expanded to include cannabis; it was not made clear which substance was being referred to, it said. The broadcaster contended that, in any event, the references were not solely positive and indicated there were negative effects of smoking cannabis.

[8]  We agree with the broadcaster. We are satisfied that the references to, and images of, characters smoking “weed” and “leaf” did not amount to a “realistic portrayal of anti-social behaviour” and did not glamorise marijuana use, as envisaged by guideline 2d. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring was the first of Peter Jackson’s movies based on the well-known Lord of the Rings trilogy by author J.R.R Tolkien. It deviated to some extent from the original novel as is expected when filmmakers employ dramatic licence to adapt and visually portray a story. The movie was of the fantasy-adventure genre and was set in an imaginary land with strange characters, including hobbits, beasts, and wizards. It was clearly not based in, nor intended to reflect, reality.

[9]  In any event, we agree that the use of the terms “weed” and “leaf” were not necessarily references to cannabis; they were open to being interpreted as references to tobacco or other plant products.

[10]  Further, the movie was rated PGR and was preceded by a warning that it contained scenes that may not be suitable for a younger audience and recommending the guidance of a parent or other adult.

[11]  For these reasons, we are satisfied that the broadcast did not encourage viewers to break the law or otherwise promote or condone criminal activity, 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
7 May 2013


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

1           Louise Chaney’s formal complaint – 10 January 2013

2          TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 11 February 2013

3          Ms Chaney’s referral to the Authority – 25 February 2013

4          TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 27 March 2013

See, for example, Keane and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2010-082

2Hunt and Māori Television, Decision No. 2009-010