Cozens and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2005-102
- Joanne Morris (Chair)
- Diane Musgrave
- Tapu Misa
- Paul France
- H A Cozens
BroadcasterTelevision New Zealand Ltd
Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Bogan’s Heroes – extreme satire about prison life – allegedly in breach of standards relating to good taste and decency and violence
Standard 1 – majority considers contextual factors sufficient to avoid a breach – not upheld
Standard 10 – majority considers violence unrealistic and farcical – not upheld
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
 On 20 July 2005 at 11.25pm, TV2 broadcast Bogan’s Heroes, a satire about criminals and life in prison.
 Mr Cozens complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the programme was tasteless and offensive. He noted that the programme was described in the Listener as an AO-rated “extreme prison based comedy”.
 He considered that the programme was excessively violent, indecent, and extremely offensive. He referred to aspects of the story line which included prisoners being beaten up by wardens with resultant fountains of blood, the contents of a toilet being piped into a prisoner’s face, and prisoners with bags over their heads and dog collars, reminiscent of the prisoner abuse scandals in Iraq.
 He also noted a scene where a van carrying new prisoners was greeted with the cry of “fresh meat!” from inmates. This, he believed, alluded to anal rape. Mr Cozens presumed that the programme had not been viewed by TVNZ before it went to air.
 TVNZ assessed Mr Cozens’ complaint under Standard 1 and Guideline 1a and Standard 10 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which provide:
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.
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. The examples are not exhaustive.
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.
Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant
 In its response to the complaint, TVNZ noted that Bogan’s Heroes was made by the same team of New Zealanders that was behind the comedy series Back of the Y, and employed the same “gross and often scatological humour”.
 TVNZ assured the complainant that the programme was appraised before going to air, and was examined by a TVNZ censor. TVNZ noted the subjective nature of humour and the impossibility of pleasing all viewers all the time. TVNZ endeavoured to reflect a diverse range of interests, it added.
 TVNZ observed that the complainant had not elected to watch the programme, but had fallen asleep in front of the television, and had viewed it on waking. It considered that Bogan’s Heroes was not made or scheduled with the complainant in mind.
 The broadcaster asserted that this sort of satirical humour was aimed at a “young adult” audience with a taste for “the rebellious and the anarchic”. TVNZ noted that nobody from this “young adult” audience had complained about the programme, and quoted a review from the Listener, which described it as “brilliant”. TVNZ observed that the programme started at the late time of 11.25pm, which it considered was an appropriate time for exploring “experimental, avant-garde material”.
 In its consideration of Standard 1, TVNZ found that the relevant contextual factors to be taken into account were the late time of the broadcast (at 11.25pm), the warning and the AO-rating of the programme.
 TVNZ was of the view that the notion of satire involved poking fun at concepts such as “taste and decency”. It observed that Bogan’s Heroes had an “anarchic streak” which challenged social norms. In all the circumstances, TVNZ considered that the programme did not breach Standard 1.
 In respect of Standard 10 (violence), the broadcaster acknowledged that violence was present, but believed it was clearly of a farcical nature, noting for example the exaggerated and unrealistic blood-spurting. It also noted that when one character had his head banged repeatedly against the Sydney Opera House the building collapsed, which, TVNZ maintained, undermined any suggestion that the violence was real.
 The broadcaster considered that the complainant took the programme too seriously, in assuming that the cry “fresh meat” referred to anal rape. TVNZ asserted that this was an example of “satirical hyperbole” playing on the perception of life in prison. TVNZ considered that because of the lack of realism of the violence complained of, the programme did not breach Standard 10.
Referral to the Authority
 Dissatisfied with the response from the broadcaster, Mr Cozens referred his complaint to the Authority under s8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
 Mr Cozens reiterated his belief that the programme breached standards relating to violence and good taste and decency. He defined the word “standard” as “the degree of excellence required for a particular purpose”. He considered that Bogan’s Heroes did not comply with this definition.
 Because his was the only complaint did not mean he was the only viewer to be offended, Mr Cozens said. He maintained that his sleeping through the warning did not exonerate TVNZ from its duty to uphold standards.
 Mr Cozens asserted that the warning mentioned only violence and strong language but did not mention “scatology”. He thought the warning was inadequate, as the allusion to violence and strong language was an insufficient description of what the broadcast contained, particularly given its designation as a comedy programme.
 He also pointed out that TVNZ’s response had not dealt with his complaint about the images of prisoners with bags on their heads, which he believed was reminiscent of the hostage abuse scandals in Iraq. He noted that while the abuse in Iraq was screened extensively, he did not believe this justified the use of these images in a comedic context.
Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority
 In its response to the referral, TVNZ stressed the late time at which the programme was broadcast, and that the humour was “experimental and innovative”. Although it acknowledged that Mr Cozens was disgusted by the programme, it did not believe that his personal reaction should deprive other viewers of the opportunity to see it. It acknowledged that the humour was startling and clearly shocked some viewers. However, it noted that such comedic devices had been employed before, such as Monty Python’s images of dismemberment.
 TVNZ also advised the Authority of the wording of the warning that preceded the programme, noting that it was not included on the tape provided. The warning stated:
This programme is rated Adults Only and recommended for a mature audience. It contains violence that may disturb and frequent language that may offend some people.
Complainant’s Final Comment
 In his final comment, the complainant reiterated his concerns. He argued that television had a powerful role in influencing viewer behaviour, and that the programme encouraged violence in society.
 Citing several examples of scenes from the storyline that he found offensive, Mr Cozens considered TVNZ’s comparison of Bogan’s Heroes to Monty Python, to be “obscene”.
 Despite the late time slot, Mr Cozens maintained that the programme was still in bad taste and indecent. Further, he disagreed with TVNZ’s assertion that “to a large extent the very notion of satire involves poking fun at such ideas as ‘taste and decency’”. He argued that such an assertion betrayed the tenets of Standard 1.
 Mr Cozens stated that the fact that the violence was not real was irrelevant to the determination of broadcasting standards. He disagreed with TVNZ’s assertion that he had taken the programme too seriously, maintaining that TVNZ had not taken it seriously enough.
 The members of the Authority have viewed a tape of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.
Standard 1 (Good taste and decency)
 When the Authority considers a complaint alleging a breach of good taste and decency, it takes into account the relevant contextual factors. On this occasion, these include:
- the time of broadcast at 11.25pm
- the young-adult target audience
- the warning preceding the programme
- the AO-rating of the programme
- the satirical nature of the programme
- the manifestly unrealistic nature of the imagery.
 A majority of the Authority – Paul France and Joanne Morris, exercising her casting vote as Chair – considers that while the programme contained gross imagery, the contextual factors listed above saved it from breaching Standard 1. The majority considers that while many people would have found the programme distasteful and unpleasant, it was legitimate in the context of a satirical programme broadcast late at night.
 Especially taking into account the young adult target audience and the late-night broadcast, the majority is of the view that most people watching the programme would have found it acceptable. Accordingly, the majority considers that while Bogan’s Heroes came close to the threshold, in all the circumstances, it did not breach Standard 1.
 A minority of the Authority – Diane Musgrave and Tapu Misa – considers that regardless of the contextual factors, the programme breached standards relating to good taste and decency. The minority is of the view that the content of the programme – in particular the offensive language, faecal imagery and excessive violence – overstepped the bounds of good taste and decency for free to air television.
 The minority accepts that the programme may have been acceptable to the younger viewers at whom it was targeted. Nevertheless, the minority considers that Standard 1 envisages certain minimum broadcasting standards, which Bogan’s Heroes failed to meet. Accordingly, the minority upholds the complaint as a breach of Standard 1.
Standard 10 (Violence)
 Turning to Standard 10, the majority considered that the violence, though excessive, was clearly farcical and unrealistic. The majority notes that the intent of Standard 10 is to prevent society from becoming desensitised to the consequences of violence. It considers that the highly unrealistic nature of the violence on Bogan’s Heroes did not undermine this intent.
 The majority also noted the other contextual factors listed above. In light of these contextual factors, the majority considered that Bogan’s Heroes did not breach the violence standard.
 The minority is of the view that the violence shown in Bogan’s Heroes was frequent, excessive and gratuitous, and its overall impact was not lessened by its unreal context. It considered that the programme was not saved by the allegedly satirical nature of the programme, or the late time at which it was broadcast. Accordingly, the minority would uphold a breach of Standard 10.
For the above reasons, a majority of the Authority does not uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
1 November 2005
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
- Mr Cozen’s formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 25 July 2005
- TVNZ’s response to the formal complaint – 22 August 2005
- Mr Cozen’s referral to the Authority – 30 August 2005
- TVNZ’s response to the referral – 5 September 2005
- Mr Cozen’s final comment – 19 September 2005