Dove and Sky Network Television Ltd - 2017-016 (15 May 2017)
- Peter Radich (Chair)
- Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
- Paula Rose
- Maria Dove
ProgrammeTop 20 Hits
BroadcasterSKY Network Television Ltd
[This summary does not form part of the decision.]
The music videos for ‘Starboy’ by The Weeknd and ‘Sexual’ by Neiked were screened between 9pm and 10pm on MTV’s Top 20 Hits. The introduction to the music video for ‘Starboy’ featured singer The Weeknd being suffocated to death with a plastic bag. The music video for ‘Sexual’ featured a variety of animated sexual imagery, including animals having sex and a girl lifting her shirt to expose her breasts. The Authority did not uphold a complaint that these videos were offensive and disturbing. It recognised that the content was challenging and understood the complainant’s concerns regarding the graphic content of such music videos and their impact on young audiences. However, the videos were classified 16C and broadcast between 9pm and 10pm on a Sunday evening, and the programme featured an audience advisory for content. Taking into account these contextual factors, the Authority found that the broadcaster took effective steps to inform viewers of the programme’s likely content, so they could make an informed viewing choice. Given the classification of the broadcast, the violent and sexual content would not be outside audience expectations for the music videos featured.
Not Upheld: Good Taste and Decency, Children’s Interests, Violence
 The music videos for ‘Starboy’ by The Weeknd and ‘Sexual’ by Neiked were screened between 9pm and 10pm on MTV’s Top 20 Hits, and were classified 16C. The introduction to the music video for ‘Starboy’ featured singer The Weeknd being suffocated to death with a plastic bag. The music video for ‘Sexual’ featured a variety of animated sexual imagery, including, for example, animals having sex and a girl lifting her shirt to expose her breasts.
 Maria Dove complained that these videos were inappropriate and offensive. Ms Dove said that the violence portrayed in the ‘Starboy’ video was disturbing, graphic and harmful for children. She said that the imagery in the ‘Sexual’ music video, combined with the lyrics in the chorus (‘I’m feeling sexual, we should be sexual’), was offensive and conveyed an irresponsible message about sex.
 The issues raised in Ms Dove’s complaint are whether the broadcast breached the good taste and decency, children’s interests and violence standards as set out in the Pay Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.
 The music videos were broadcast on MTV Music between 9pm and 10pm on Sunday 15 January 2017. 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 broadcast breach broadcasting standards relating to good taste and decency, children’s interests and violence?
 Ms Dove’s complaint raises similar issues under the good taste and decency, children’s interests and violence standards. As the same contextual factors and other considerations are relevant to our assessment of each of these three standards, we have addressed them together.
 The good taste and decency standard (Standard 1) aims to protect audience members from viewing broadcasts that are likely to cause widespread undue offence or distress. Broadcasters should take effective steps to inform audiences of the nature of the programme, and enable viewers to regulate their own and children’s viewing behaviour.3
 The children’s interests standard (Standard 3) states that broadcasters should ensure children can be protected from broadcasts which might adversely affect them.
 Broadcasters should also exercise care and discretion when portraying violence, and ensure that any violent content is appropriate to the context of the programme and classified carefully (Standard 4).
The parties’ submissions
 In relation to the ‘Starboy’ video, Ms Dove submitted that:
- The graphic scene of a man dying through suffocation (with a plastic bag over his head and hands tied behind his back), was disturbing and featured a level of violence outside the expectations of the target audience.
- This initial scene had little context or connection to the song, and child viewers (those under 14 who were likely to be watching programmes such as the MTV Top 20) would have been unaware when watching the programme that they would be watching the death of a helpless man.
 In relation to the ‘Sexual’ music video, Ms Dove submitted that:
- The sexual images were blatant and specific and, in combination with the lyrics of the song, ‘carr[ied] a message that sex is purely a physical activity or pastime with no connection to anything deeper or meaningful in the context of relationships’. Ms Dove found this offensive and was disturbed that this message was being sent to young people.
- The video encouraged touching others sexually, or flashing body parts to another person. This was irresponsible and blurred the boundaries for young people in terms of ‘safe’ and ‘unsafe touching’ and sexual abuse.
- While both videos were classified 16C, many young people under the age of 16 were likely to watch the MTV Top 20 without parental supervision.
 SKY submitted that:
- The content of music videos often pushes boundaries. While SKY did not have influence over the nature of music videos, it provided a greater degree of control to viewers with the parental lock system available and promoted on SKY.
- These videos were classified 16C and a classification warning was provided at the beginning of the programming block (‘C’ for content that may offend). Classification information was also provided in the Electronic Programme Guide (EPG).
- The ‘Starboy’ video represented The Weeknd ‘suffocating his old self’. The video was unlikely to cause undue or widespread offence or distress. While the ‘Sexual’ song contained non-detailed verbal sexual references, the tone of the song and music was light-hearted.
 When we consider a complaint under the nominated standards, we take into account the context of the broadcast. Relevant contextual factors to be taken into account in this case include:
- the music videos were classified 16C and broadcast between 9pm and 10pm on a Sunday evening
- an advisory was broadcast at the beginning of the programme (‘C’, meaning ‘Content may offend some viewers’)
- the availability of filtering technology (parental or rating locks) on SKY
- the nature of the programme, MTV Top 20 Hits, and the channel, MTV Music
- audience expectations of the channel and of music videos generally
- audience expectations of The Weeknd’s and Neiked’s music.
 The content of these music videos was challenging and would be offensive to some viewers. We understand the complainant’s concerns regarding the content of music videos generally and their attraction to young audiences. We have to recognise however that themes which glamorise sex and violence are common in music videos, and, as the broadcaster has noted, music videos increasingly push boundaries to gain notoriety and attract attention for the artist. The complainant has raised legitimate concerns and we recognise the importance of the complainant advocating for children’s interests in this regard.
 While we understand the complainant’s concerns in relation to the graphic and sexual content of these music videos, taking into account the contextual factors above, as well as the importance of freedom of expression, we consider the content featured in the music videos complained about did not reach the level where it breached the nominated standards.
 The approach established by this Authority is to expect broadcasters to provide sufficient relevant and reliable information to enable audiences to exercise discretion and to regulate their own, and their children’s, viewing behaviour.1 In a previous decision by this Authority, McCaw and SKY2, the Authority upheld a complaint that the music video for Nicki Minaj’s song ‘Only’, broadcast on MTV at 6.50pm, was distasteful and unsuitable for uncensored broadcast at a time when younger viewers were watching. In that case, the Authority found that the video should have been classified 16LC rather than MC – suitable for mature audiences 16 years and over with content that may offend. The explicit adult content in that music video, including graphic images, frequent explicit language and references to sexual acts, exceeded audience expectations of the MC classification. The incorrect classification also meant that parental locks (if enabled) may not have been effective in protecting younger viewers from the content.
 In our view the present case is distinguishable, and we consider that here the broadcaster provided sufficient information for viewers to make an informed choice about whether to watch the programme and the music videos, through the programme’s audience advisory and classification. We consider that 16C was the appropriate classification, and enabled parents to use filtering technology (parental or rating locks) if they chose to do so, to protect children’s interests. The programme information provided meant that the level of violent and sexual content would not be outside audience expectations for the broadcasts, particularly when considering expectations of MTV and of music videos generally.
 We therefore, on balance, do not find a breach of Standards 1, 3 and 4.
For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
15 May 2017
The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1 Maria Dove’s formal complaint – 25 January 2017
2 SKY’s response to the complaint – 22 February 2017
3 Ms Dove’s comments on the response – 7 March 2017
4 SKY’s response to Ms Dove’s comments – 7 March 2017
5 Ms Dove’s referral to the Authority – 13 March 2017
6 Ms Dove’s further comments – 15 March 2017
7 SKY’s confirmation of no further comment – 28 March 2017
1 See Guideline 1b to Standard 1 (Good Taste and Decency)
2 Decision No. 2015-011