Holden and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2011-029
- Peter Radich (Chair)
- Leigh Pearson
- Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
- Mary Anne Shanahan
- Suzanne Holden
BroadcasterTelevision New Zealand Ltd
Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Closer – scene involving internet sex-chat contained sexually explicit dialogue – use of the words “fuck” and “cunt” – allegedly in breach of discrimination and denigration, and responsible programming standards
Standard 8 (responsible programming) – Authority has previously found that the movie was appropriately classified AO and screened at 8.30pm – not upheld
Standard 7 (discrimination and denigration) – complainant did not identify a section of the community which she considered had been denigrated or discriminated against – not upheld
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
 Closer, a film based on a play by Patrick Marber which followed the love affairs of two couples, was broadcast on TV One at 8.30pm on Saturday 19 February 2011.
 At approximately 8.40pm, one of the characters used the word “fuck”.
 Just before 9pm, the movie contained an internet sex-chat scene between two male characters in which one of the characters, Daniel, tricked another, Larry, into believing he was a woman named Anna looking for sex. The scene began by showing Daniel sitting on his couch at home with his laptop on his knees, smoking a cigarette and typing sexually explicit messages while in an internet chat-room called “London sex Anon”. Larry was shown sitting at his work desk on a computer typing messages in the same internet chat-room. Larry received and responded to the sexually explicit messages from Daniel, which he believed were coming from a woman named Anna. Viewers could see the message exchanges as they were being typed letter by letter. Some of the exchanges between the two characters during their internet sex-chat included:
Larry: anna, what do you wank about?
Daniel: strangers. they form a Q and I attend to each of them like a cum hungry bitch, 1 in each
hole and both hands
Daniel: they come in my mouth, arse, tits, cunt, hair
Daniel: I lick it off like the dirty slut I am. Wait have to type with one hand am cumming right now...
 Later in the movie, Larry was shown at a strip club talking to Daniel’s ex-girlfriend Alice who was giving him a private dance. Larry was not allowed to touch Alice during the dance. He asked her “What does your cunt taste like?” to which she replied, “Like heaven”.
 The movie was preceded by a verbal and written warning that stated:
This programme is rated Adults Only. It contains language and sexual material that may offend some people.
 Suzanne Holden made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the use of “disgusting four-letter words” breached standards relating to discrimination and denigration, and responsible programming.
 Ms Holden nominated Standards 7 and 8 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice in her complaint. These provide:
Standard 7 Discrimination and Denigration
Broadcasters should not encourage discrimination against, or denigration of, any section of the community on account of sex, sexual orientation, race, age, disability, occupational status, or as a consequence of legitimate expression of religion, culture or political belief.
Standard 8 Responsible Programming
Broadcasters should ensure programmes:
- are appropriately classified;
- display programme classification information;
- adhere to timebands in accordance with Appendix 1;
- are not presented in such a way as to cause panic, or unwarranted alarm or undue distress; and
- do not deceive or disadvantage the viewer.
Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant
 With regard to Standard 7, TVNZ noted that the complainant had not identified which group she believed had been denigrated or discriminated against by the material in the movie. It therefore declined to uphold this part of the complaint.
 The broadcaster noted that Standard 8 related to broadcasters ensuring that programmes were correctly classified and that ratings were displayed. It said that Closer was classified AO and the AO rating was shown at the beginning of each segment. A warning for language and sexual material was given in accordance with guideline 8a, it said. TVNZ maintained that the movie was correctly classified, and noted that the Authority had previously considered the broadcast of Closer at 8.30pm and its AO classification, and “did not find that it was incorrect”. It noted that the Authority declined to uphold the complaint under Standard 1 (good taste and decency) and Standard 9 (children’s interests) in that case, in particular in relation to the internet chat scene and the use of the word “cunt”.1
 Accordingly, TVNZ declined to uphold the Standard 8 complaint.
Referral to the Authority
 Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Ms Holden referred her complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. She maintained that the movie was “disgusting”.
 The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.
Standard 8 (responsible programming)
 Standard 8 requires that programmes are correctly classified and screened in appropriate time-bands. Closer was classified AO and broadcast at 8.30pm.
 The Authority has previously considered the broadcast of Closer in this timeslot, in Findlay and TVNZ.2 The Authority declined to uphold a complaint under Standard 1 (good taste and decency) and Standard 9 (children’s interests), in relation to the internet chat scene and the use of the word “cunt”. With regard to Standard 1, the Authority said:
In the Authority’s view, the language contained in the internet sex-chat scene was not designed to shock or titillate viewers. The words mostly appeared letter by letter and one message at a time on each of the characters’ computer screens. This softened the impact of the words and phrases, instead making viewers concentrate on the hoax being instigated by Daniel.
The scene focused on each of the characters reacting, sometimes humorously, to what the other was writing. It showed a dark and cynical manipulation of one character by another, in a context where the characters were living a lifestyle of infidelity and confusion about their relationships. The scene and its language – which was not abusive in nature – were important to viewers’ understanding of the plotline and to the characters’ development...
With respect to the language used in the strip club scene, the Authority notes that it has previously upheld complaints regarding the use of the word “cunt” on free-to-air television (e.g. Decision 2008-032). However, in those cases the word was found to have been gratuitously used for shock value, and could easily have been removed without affecting the programme’s storyline. On this occasion, the Authority concludes that Larry’s question to Alice “what does your cunt taste like?” was both important to the movie’s plot and to the characters’ ongoing development. It was a defining moment which reflected the low point Larry had reached in his life, and his misery and frustration at not being able to touch Alice.
 In considering Standard 8, we take into account the same contextual factors that are considered in relation to Standard 1, namely the classification, time of broadcast, target audience, and use of warnings. On this occasion, we see no reason to depart from the Authority’s earlier findings that the film’s content was justified by context, that it was appropriately classified AO and screened at 8.30pm, and that it was preceded by an adequate warning.
 Accordingly, we decline to uphold the Standard 8 complaint.
Standard 7 (discrimination and denigration)
 Standard 7 protects against broadcasts which encourage discrimination against, or denigration of, any section of the community on account of sex, sexual orientation, race, age, disability, occupational status, or as a consequence of legitimate expression of religion, culture or political belief.
 Ms Holden did not make any arguments under Standard 7 or identify a section of the community. Accordingly, we have no basis upon which to uphold this part of the complaint.
For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
8 July 2011
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1 Suzanne Holden’s formal complaint – 21 February 2011
2 TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 21 March 2011
3 Ms Holden’s referral to the Authority – 21 March 2011
4 TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 27 May 2011
1Findlay and TVNZ, Decision No. 2008-071
2Decision No. 2008-071