Lilley and TVWorks Ltd - 2011-078
- Peter Radich (Chair)
- Leigh Pearson
- Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
- Mary Anne Shanahan
- Susan Lilley
Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Family Guy – cartoon comedy – scene implied killing of cat with a razor – character was continuously splattered with blood as he sliced the cat off-screen and cat squealed – character stated, “...I have a lucky cat’s foot”, as he held up a severed cat’s paw – allegedly in breach of standards relating to good taste and decency, children’s interests and violence
Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – actual killing of cat not shown – animated scene unrealistic and farcical – clear satirical and humorous intent – contextual factors – not upheld
Standard 9 (children’s interests) – Family Guy classified PGR and not necessarily aimed at children – scene unrealistic and farcical – would not have disturbed or alarmed children when subject to the guidance of an adult – broadcaster adequately considered interests of child viewers – not upheld
Standard 10 (violence) – violence inferred rather than explicit – clear warning – broadcaster exercised adequate care and discretion when dealing with the issue of violence – not upheld
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
 An episode of the cartoon comedy Family Guy was broadcast on FOUR at 7.30pm on Friday 6 May 2011. At the beginning of the episode, the character Quagmire introduced his friends to his new cat.
 Deciding that the cat had assumed too much importance, his friends planned to sneak into his house and shave it. The main character Peter exclaimed “Yeah! Shaving time, okay, hand me the razor”. He grabbed the cat, held him down (off-screen) and proceeded to shave it, at which point he was splattered with blood and the cat could be heard squealing. Peter’s dog observed, “Peter you killed it”, to which he responded, “Will you guys relax he’s got eight more lives”, as he continued to slice the cat, counting down the number of lives left as he was repeatedly splattered with blood. When he got to three, one of his friends said, “Peter, stop doing what you’re doing.” The dog stated, “Alright, alright, I have an idea. We hide the cat’s body and we leave that window open and that way it will seem like the cat ran away.” Another character said, “We will never get away with that,” to which Peter responded, “Oh, we just might, you see I have a lucky cat’s foot”, as he held up a severed cat’s paw.
 The episode was preceded by the following warning:
This programme may not be suitable for younger family members and parental guidance is advised.
 Susan Lilley made a formal complaint to TVWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the episode breached standards relating to good taste and decency, children’s interests, and violence. She argued that the “animal cruelty” depicted in the episode was “totally unacceptable”, especially in a PGR programme broadcast at 7.30pm when children were likely to be watching. The complainant questioned, “What does this teach children? That cruelty to animals is funny and acceptable?” She requested that TVWorks make a “substantial” donation to the SPCA.
 The complainant nominated Standards 1, 9 and 10 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice in her complaint. These provide:
Standard 1 Good Taste and Decency
Broadcasters should observe standards of good taste and decency.
Standard 9 Children’s Interests
During children’s normally accepted viewing times (see Appendix 1), broadcasters should consider the interests of child viewers.
Standard 10 Violence
Broadcasters should exercise care and discretion when dealing with the issue of violence.
Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant
 TVWorks said that to constitute a breach of Standard 1, the broadcast material must be unacceptable in the context in which it was shown, including the programme’s classification, time of broadcast, target audience, and the use of warnings. It noted that Family Guy was rated PGR and restricted to screening after 7pm. The broadcaster contended that the PGR timeslot was not specifically aimed at children, who were unlikely to be watching without their caregiver’s knowledge or consent.
 The broadcaster argued that Family Guy was satirical in nature, and contained a number of levels of content appealing to a wide range of viewers, “from the older child viewer who can generally understand its concept and ideas, to an adult who would understand the more sophisticated connotations”. It considered that the scene subject to complaint was consistent with the programme’s PGR rating, because “While cruelty to animals is for some viewers a sensitive topic this depiction of the cat killing was overtly unrealistic and no explicit action carrying out the killing was shown”. It said that the scene did not contain any offensive language or explicit sexual or violent imagery.
 TVWorks noted that Family Guy was in its eighth season on New Zealand television, and had been playing in similar timeslots on channel FOUR for many years, and therefore considered it was “very familiar” to its audience. It said, “The show centres on the Griffin family and regularly indulges in anarchic humour and slapstick.” The broadcaster said that the programme was a “more risqué and rebellious descendant of The Simpsons”, in that it employed a “similar narrative style but generally presents more challenging content”. It did not consider that the material subject to complaint would have offended regular viewers.
 The broadcaster noted that the Authority had previously stated that the purpose of Standard 1 was not to prohibit challenging material, or material that some people may find offensive, but rather to ensure that sufficient care was taken so that challenging material was not so offensive that it was unacceptable regardless of context.
 TVWorks emphasised that the episode was preceded by a warning advising parents that its content may not be suitable for younger viewers. It considered that this gave parents ample opportunity to decide if they wanted their children to watch the programme.
 For these reasons, the broadcaster declined to uphold the complaint that Standard 1 had been breached.
 TVWorks said that while Family Guy was targeted at a wide range of age groups, on this occasion the episode was censor edited to ensure that it was appropriately rated, and “specific care was taken to ensure that the programme did not contain material that would be deemed harmful or alarming to older children”. For this reason, in addition to those outlined under Standard 1, the broadcaster found that it had adequately considered the interests of child viewers and it declined to uphold this part of the complaint.
 The broadcaster argued that the violence depicted in the episode was unrealistic “as the animation style is very simple and crude”. It said that the scene was not gratuitous but was “clearly justified” by the storyline.
 Accordingly, TVWorks declined to uphold the Standard 10 complaint.
Referral to the Authority
 Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Ms Lilley referred her complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
 The complainant argued that the “action of torturing a cat to death by a cut-throat razor was not merely ‘suggested’”, as contended by TVWorks, but was “graphic” and “realistic”, showing large quantities of blood as well as an image of the cat’s severed paw. She said that the perpetrators treated animal cruelty as a joke, which she considered “quite disturbing” given that those characters were the “heroes” of the show, to whom children could easily relate.
 Ms Lilley argued that this episode of Family Guy was incorrectly rated PGR and maintained that Standards 1, 9 and 10 had been breached.
Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority
 The broadcaster reiterated that Family Guy was rated PGR, was not specifically targeted at children and was preceded by a warning advising parents that the content may not be suitable for younger viewers. It disagreed with the complainant that the content complained about was realistic, emphasising that it was animated and occurred in a programme that consistently depicted unrealistic situations.
 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 1 (good taste and decency)
 When we consider an alleged breach of good taste and decency, we take into account the context of the broadcast. On this occasion, the relevant contextual factors include:
- Family Guy was a cartoon comedy rated PGR
- it was broadcast at 7.30pm on a Friday during children’s normally accepted viewing times
- the programme was preceded by a warning advising that the content may not be suitable for younger viewers
- the programme’s target audience
- the programme was in its eighth season on New Zealand television
- expectations of regular viewers.
 In our view, the scene subject to complaint was intended to be humorous by invoking satire with regard to the idea that cats have nine lives. We note that the actual killing of the cat was implied rather than explicit; it occurred off-screen and was inferred through blood splattering on Peter and the sound of the cat squealing. We consider that it was highly unrealistic, largely due to its animated style which removed the action from the realm of a young viewer’s reality. In our opinion, the pre-broadcast warning was adequate to inform viewers of the episode’s likely content, and to allow parents an opportunity to exercise discretion with regard to their children’s viewing.
 As noted above, Family Guy is now in its eighth season on New Zealand television. It has screened on channel FOUR in similar timeslots for a number of years, so that, in our view, regular viewers of the programme are familiar with its sometimes challenging content.
 For these reasons, and taking into account the above contextual factors, we find that the scene subject to complaint would not have been surprising or unexpected in the context in which it was shown. Accordingly, we decline to uphold the complaint that the scene breached Standard 1.
Standard 9 (children’s interests)
 Standard 9 requires broadcasters to consider the interests of child viewers during their normally accepted viewing times – usually up to 8.30pm.
 This episode of Family Guy was rated PGR and screened at 7.30pm. While the scene subject to complaint was broadcast during children’s normally accepted viewing times, we do not consider that it contained any content that was likely to disturb or alarm unsupervised children. As noted above, the actual killing of the cat was not shown and we consider that it was removed from reality, largely due to the programme’s cartoon genre. In our view, it would have been clear to child viewers that the actions depicted were fanciful, and not an example of conventional or normal behaviour. We note that another character told Peter to “stop doing what you’re doing”, indicating that he disapproved of his behaviour and that his actions were unacceptable.
 As noted above, we consider that the pre-broadcast warning, which informed viewers that the episode contained material that may not be suitable for younger viewers, gave parents adequate opportunity to make a decision about whether to allow their children to watch the programme. We note in this respect, that while Family Guy is in a cartoon format, it is classified PGR, and not necessarily targeted at child viewers.
 For these reasons, and taking into account the contextual factors outlined above at paragraph , we consider that TVWorks adequately considered the interests of child viewers in broadcasting the scene during their normally accepted viewing times. Accordingly, we decline to uphold the complaint that Standard 9 was breached.
Standard 10 (violence)
 Standard 10 states that broadcasters should exercise care and discretion when dealing with the issue of violence.
 As stated above at paragraph , any violence shown in the scene was implied rather than explicit; it was inferred through blood splattering on Peter, the sound of the cat squealing and the subsequent dialogue between the characters. In our view, the level of violence was acceptable a PGR-rated programme screened at 7.30pm and preceded by a clear warning. We are therefore satisfied that the broadcaster exercised adequate care and discretion when dealing with the issue of violence, and we decline to uphold a breach of Standard 10.
For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
13 September 2011
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1 Susan Lilley’s formal complaint – 7 May 2011
2 TVWorks’ response to the complaint – 3 June 2011
3 Ms Lilley’s referral to the Authority – 4 June 2011
4 TVWorks’ response to the Authority – 22 July 2011