BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Cook and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2002-038

Members
  • P Cartwright (Chair)
  • R Bryant
  • J H McGregor
  • B Hayward
Dated
Complainant
  • E P Cook
Number
2002-038
Channel/Station
TV One

Complaint
Mercury Lane – segment on short film Cow – film shown in full – bestiality – bad taste

Findings
Standard G2 – context – no uphold

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

[1] Mercury Lane was broadcast on TV One at 9.05pm on 24 November 2001. The programme is a series which looks at various aspects of the arts in New Zealand. One of the segments was about the short film Cow. The film was broadcast in its entirety, and comment from the actors and the writer/director followed.

[2] E P Cook complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, about a scene in Cow in which one of the characters appears to be having sex with a cow.

[3] TVNZ did not consider that the scene breached standards relating to good taste and decency, in the context in which it was broadcast.

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

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

Decision

[5] The members of the Authority have viewed a tape of the segment of the programme complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines this complaint without a formal hearing.

The Programme

[6] Mercury Lane was broadcast on TV One at 9.05pm on 24 November 2001. The programme is a series which looks at various aspects of the arts in New Zealand. One of the segments was about the short film Cow. The film was screened in its entirety, and comment from the actors and the writer/director followed.

The Complaint

[7] Mrs Cook complained about:

the simulated sexual intercourse (bestiality) between [actor] Ian Mune and a cow, in Michael Bennett’s short film "Cow".

[8] Mrs Cook considered that the material had:

insulted and demeaned another animal species, who was unable to defend itself from a behaviour that its species does not indulge in.

The Standard

[8] TVNZ 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.

TVNZ’s Response to the Complaint

[9] TVNZ maintained that it was contextually significant that the short film Cow was screened within a series that is clearly aimed at a specific audience – those with a serious interest in the arts.

[10] TVNZ explained:

It has been made clear by the Government in its statements about the TVNZ Charter that it expects [TVNZ] to produce programmes which reflect arts and culture in New Zealand – and Mercury Lane was commissioned to do just that.

It was [TVNZ’s] opinion that it is widely accepted in the community that creative artists regularly explore what in cliched terms we call "the cutting edge" of community standards. That has long been the case, and artists continue to serve the community by offering challenging concepts in the work they produce.

[11] TVNZ then noted that the bestiality scene had not been screened without explanation or comment:

In discussion afterwards the director attempted to put the scene in context, stating that as presented the scene was both "funny… but also very sad".

[12] TVNZ also commented that the film had been funded by the New Zealand Film Commission, had won a Nokia Film Award, and had been accepted for screening at several overseas film awards.

[13] TVNZ then listed the following contextual factors which it considered significant to its assessment of whether standard G2 had been breached:

The short film was included in a programme which is directed at a specific audience – the arts community.

The bestiality scene was not explicit.

The programme placed the scene in context by having it discussed in the studio after the screening.

The film was the second item in Mercury Lane which means that the scene to which [Mrs Cook] objected was not shown until about 9.30pm at night.

[14] TVNZ concluded:

[TVNZ] accepted that some viewers would have been offended by the scene. At the same time it recognises that TVNZ does have an obligation to serve the interests of as wide a range of New Zealanders as possible – and that includes those with a serious interest in the arts. The scene was not presented gratuitously but as an integral part of a carefully crafted film.

[15] TVNZ apologised to Mrs Cook for causing her offence but concluded that there had been no breach of broadcasting standards.

Mrs Cook’s Referral to the Authority

[16] In her referral to the Authority, Mrs Cook disagreed with TVNZ’s assessment that the programme did not breach currently accepted norms of good taste and decency. In her view, the film had demeaned and insulted another animal species.

TVNZ’s Response to the Authority

[17] In TVNZ’s response to the Authority it stressed the context in which the film was screened and requested that the Authority have regard to the statement in TVNZ’s Charter:

TVNZ shall support and promote the talents and creative resources of New Zealanders and of the New Zealand film and television industry.

The Authority’s Determination

[18] When it determines a complaint about whether a broadcast contravenes standard G2, the Authority is required to determine whether the material complained about breaches currently accepted standards of good taste and decency, taking into account the context of the broadcast. The context is relevant, but not decisive, to the Authority’s determination of whether the programme breaches standard G2.

[19] Accordingly, the Authority considers the context in which the material Mrs Cook complained about occurred. The Authority considers that relevant contextual matters include the target audience of Mercury Lane, variously described by TVNZ as "the arts community" and "those with a serious interest in the arts", and the fact that the segment in which the depiction of bestiality occurred was not broadcast until about 9.30pm during AO time. Against this the Authority has also considered that the programme was rated PGR, and was not accompanied by any warning about the content of Cow.

[20] Turning to the subject matter of this complaint, the Authority notes that the scene complained about occurred in the context of a segment which premiered the New Zealand short film Cow. The short film was screened in its entirety and the screening was followed by a studio discussion, during which the actors and the writer/director commented on the bestiality scene.

[21] The Authority recognises that Cow’s treatment of bestiality is an integral part of an allegorical tale about how relationships can fall apart. Cow is a black comedy which depicts two men (Long and Short) and a cow lost at sea. The story is told without dialogue, with Long and Short talking to each other through playing their guitars. The film is set in a surreal looking ocean, which was filmed on a sound stage. A broken guitar string sets off an escalating series of events that destroys the men’s friendship and leads to their demise. The bestiality scene is a crucial moment in the film, when Long inflicts on Short what could be seen as the ultimate insult, in view of Short’s affection for the cow and the fact that bestiality is considered one of society’s greatest taboos.

[22] Having considered the relevant contextual matters referred to above at paragraph [19] and taking into account the short film’s message about human frailty, and the fact that the bestiality scene was placed clearly within this context, on balance, the Authority does not consider that the broadcast breached standard G2.

[23] Finally, the Authority notes that TVNZ asked it to have regard to the fact that the series was commissioned to reflect arts and culture in New Zealand, as will be required under the TVNZ Charter. The Authority does not consider that it is appropriate for it to have regard to the Charter before it is in force.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Cartwright
Chair
4 April 2002

Appendix

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

  1. E P Cook’s Formal Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 16 December 2001
  2. TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 20 December 2001
  3. Mrs Cook’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 10 January 2001
  4. TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 17 January 2001