BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Hull-Brown and Wilson and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2004-137

Members
  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
Dated
Complainants
  • Carol Hull-Brown
  • Kathy Wilson
Number
2004-137
Programme
Eating Media Lunch
Channel/Station
TV2

Complaints under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Eating Media Lunch – scene purported to show Shrek the sheep being slaughtered – allegedly breached good taste and decency

Findings
Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – item not overtly graphic – contextual factors – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcasts

[1] An episode of Eating Media Lunch broadcast on TV2 on 8 June 2004 at 9.30pm included a scene purporting to show “Shrek” the sheep being slaughtered and then skinned. Shrek came to national prominence after he was captured on a high country farm in central Otago where he had been hiding out for six years. He was shorn on national television and had a fleece weighing 27.5kgs.

[2] Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, described Eating Media Lunch as:

… a largely satirical programme (though it might object to being “pigeon-holed” in this way) which comments on and lampoons excesses in the media – especially the New Zealand media.

Complaints

[3] Carol Hull-Brown and Kathy Wilson complained separately to TVNZ about the Shrek scene.

[4] Ms Hull-Brown wrote:

We were horrified while watching Eating Media Lunch … to see the sheep, and especially Shrek, graphically killed. Showing this and showing the sheep being skinned was repulsive and way beyond what one would expect to view on television.

[5] Kathy Wilson considered that the Shrek part of the show breached broadcasting standards requiring the maintenance of good taste and decency, and accuracy. She wrote:

No amount of warnings would suffice for these scenes which were repugnant. I am still physically revolted by what I saw on this show and the fact that this is a satirical show and therefore the portrayed slaughter of a sheep was supposed to be funny has made the sequence even more sickening. This story was in poor taste.

[6] In relation to accuracy, Ms Wilson noted that Eating Media Lunch was not a news, current affairs or factual programme required to be accurate under Standard 5 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. She considered, however, that the story was “fabricated and clearly misleading and deceptive.” She did not believe that it was made clear to viewers that the story was a fabrication.

[7] Ms Wilson concluded:

Having been a long time viewer of TV2 this programme has really upset me. I had previously enjoyed Newsboy’s wit and satire but I will never watch any of his programmes again. I find it hard to believe that TV2 has allowed such a programme to be broadcast, and I believe that TV2 owes its viewers an explanation and an apology.

Standards

[8] TVNZ assessed both complaints under Standard 1 and Guideline 1a of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which state:

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.

Guideline 1a

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 (see Appendix 1). The examples are not exhaustive.

[9] TVNZ also considered Ms Wilson’s complaint under Standard 5 and Guidelines 5a, 5b and 5d, which the complainant had nominated. They read:

Standard 5 Accuracy
News, current affairs and other factual programmes must be truthful and accurate on points of fact, and be impartial and objective at all times.

Guideline 5a

Significant errors of fact should be corrected at the earliest opportunity.

Guideline 5b

Broadcasters should refrain from broadcasting material which is misleading or unnecessarily alarms viewers.

Guideline 5d

Factual reports on the one hand, and opinion, analysis and comment on the other, should be clearly distinguishable.

Broadcaster's Responses to the Complainants

[10] TVNZ advised the complainants that, having viewed the programme complained about, its first observation was that satire was not always funny. It wrote:

Humour is just one of the possible elements employed in satire, others being irony, exaggeration, hyperbole, ridicule etc. A scan of satirical cartoons in the daily newspapers shows that subject matter can often be biting, and deadly serious.

[11] TVNZ considered that the main satirical element in the Shrek sketch was irony. In its view the item:

… set out to show up an inherent contradiction in what could be regarded as the excessive and fawning coverage in the media of what was in the end simply a very woolly sheep. Without its wool, the sketch indicated, it would be indistinguishable from the thousands of sheep which are slaughtered and skinned in abattoirs and on farms every day in New Zealand.

[12] TVNZ noted that viewers were not asked to laugh at the sketch. Rather, they were invited to consider whether the whole “Shrek phenomenon” had:

… perhaps got out of hand, and whether the perspective of the public, or at least the media had become distorted.

[13] Noting that the sheep slaughtered was not in fact Shrek, TVNZ considered that the immediate reaction of viewers who thought it was Shrek “suggest[ed] that the satirical point had validity”. TVNZ advised Ms Hull-Brown that the sheep in question was not slaughtered specifically for the programme, but was slaughtered as part of a routine kill and the farmer had allowed the camera to record the event.

[14] TVNZ did not uphold the complaints under Standard 1 (good taste and decency). It considered that in the context of a satirical programme the item did not stray outside current norms of decency and taste. TVNZ noted that Eating Media Lunch was preceded by a warning about content, and that the presenter added an “extra warning” just before the Shrek scene. It noted that the programme did not begin until 9.30pm, one hour after the beginning of the AO time band, and that the AO symbol was shown at the beginning of the programme and after each commercial break.

[15] In relation to the Standard 5 (accuracy) aspect of Ms Wilson’s complaint, TVNZ advised that the accuracy standard and guidelines were not relevant. It wrote:

As you have noted this standard specifically refers to “news, current affairs and factual programmes”. Clearly satire, which depends on exaggeration sometimes to an outrageous extent, is not expected to be strictly truthful and accurate. None of the guidelines under standard 5 are applicable to programmes outside the news, current affairs and factual area.

Referrals to the Authority

[16] Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decisions, the complainants referred their complaints to the Authority. Both referrals contended that the item breached Standard 1; Ms Wilson, in her referral, did not pursue her original complaint that the item also breached the accuracy requirement in Standard 5.

[17] Ms Hull-Brown said she found TVNZ’s response “totally unacceptable”. She was “totally disgusted” by the programme and said it was offensive to show animals being killed and the way they were treated after being killed. TVNZ’s suggestion that people realised the shorn sheep in the item was not Shrek was:

… ridiculous as Shrek is recognised by a lot of people by his coat.

[18] Ms Hull-Brown advised the Authority that she had complained to the Royal New Zealand Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, as “no doubt have a lot of other people”. She concluded:

I suggest that this offensive programme be taken off the air and the people who are responsible for it disciplined, maybe to do volunteer work at a local SPCA. An apology to the public would also be good.

[19] In her referral, Ms Wilson considered that:

  • the warnings were inadequate
  • the scenes of the sheep being slaughtered were “graphic and brutal and caused myself and I am sure many other viewers great distress”
  • naming the sheep Shrek and portraying it as Shrek by covering it in a named blanket was: …

           misleading and deceptive conduct which is inconsistent with current standards of decency
           and good taste. This portrayal also increased the distress suffered by myself and I am
           sure many other viewers.

Broadcaster’s Responses to the Authority

[20] In relation to Ms Hull-Brown’s complaint, TVNZ advised the Authority that it had nothing further to add.

[21] In relation to Ms Wilson’s complaint, TVNZ advised the Authority that it was sorry she had been distressed by the satirical sketch, but it did not accept that in context the item strayed outside the bounds of good taste and decency. It repeated its view that Standard 5 did not apply to satirical programmes.

Authority's Determination

[22] 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 complaints without a formal hearing.

[23] The Authority declines to uphold the complaints. Both complainants referred to the portrayal of the sheep’s slaughter as “graphic”. The Authority does not agree. It notes that the pictures used in the item do not explicitly show the slaughter of the sheep, and instead show the farmer readying the sheep for slaughter, one fleeting and largely obscured view of the farmer apparently killing the sheep, followed by scenes of the carcass being hung and skinned, while an intentionally over-dramatised commentary discusses the events. It is the Authority’s view that the pictorial content of the item was relatively mild, and it was instead the elaborate set-up and deliberately over-the-top commentary, in conjunction with the funereal music, that created the impression of drama in the viewer’s imagination. The Authority considers that the item was not graphic or offensive and did not threaten the standard of good taste and decency.

[24] In addition, the Authority notes a number of contextual factors which reinforce its view that the programme did not breach broadcasting standards:

  • The programme was screened at 9:30pm, and the actual item complained of was near the end of the 30-minute show;
  • The programme was classified as “Adults Only” and was preceded by a warning that it “contains material that may offend some people”;
  • The item complained of was preceded by an additional warning, “Now many are asking, ‘What happened to Shrek?’ The answer may surprise you. A warning: some of the footage in the following item may disturb some viewers.”

[25] The Authority considers that given the time when the item was screened and the “AO” classification, the presenter’s introduction and the warning served as effective notice to viewers that the item was likely to contain controversial material surrounding the supposed fate of Shrek.

[26] It is the Authority’s view that, in light of these contextual considerations and as the content of the item was not unduly graphic or offensive, the broadcast did not breach Standard 1.

 

For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
15 October 2004

Appendix

The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined these complaints:

Carol Hull-Brown’s Formal Complaint

  1. Carol Hull-Brown’s Formal Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 9 June 2004
  2. TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 25 June 2004
  3. Ms Hull-Brown’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – received 12 July 2004
  4. TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 16 July 2004

Kathy Wilson’s Formal Complaint

  1. Kathy Wilson’s Formal Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 8 June 2004
  2. TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 24 June 2004
  3. Ms Wilson’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 1 July 2004
  4. TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 15 July 2004