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McIntosh and Nudds and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2008-039

Members
  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
Dated
Complainants
  • Euan McIntosh
  • Michael Nudds
Number
2008-039
Programme
Wolf Creek
Channel/Station
TV2
Standards Breached

Complaints under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Wolf Creek – horror film contained drugging, sexual violence, torture and murder – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency, children’s interests and violence standards

Findings
Standard 10 (violence) – extremely disturbing violence – inadequate classification and warning – upheld

Standard 9 (children’s interests) – outside children’s normally accepted viewing times – not upheld

Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – subsumed into consideration of Standard 10

No Order

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]   Wolf Creek, an Australian horror film, was broadcast on TV2 at 8.30pm on Tuesday 11 March 2007. In the film, two women, Lizzy and Kristy, and their friend, Ben, travelled together to visit the meteorite crater at Wolf Creek National Park. When they returned from the crater, they discovered their car would not go. Night fell, and a seemingly friendly bushman, Mick, came across them, and towed them for several hours to his camp where he said he would fix their car.

[2]   Mick offered the travellers drinks, which turned out to be laced with drugs. At approximately 9.35pm (65 minutes into the programme), Lizzy was shown waking up the next day to find herself lying in a shed, gagged and with her hands and feet bound. She managed to cut herself free and crept through the camp.

[3]   Lizzy could hear Kristy screaming, and peered through a window of another shed, where she saw Kristy bloodied and with her pants removed, tied to a post. Mick was taunting her, threatening her with a rifle and knife, deliberately shooting at her and only just missing, and joking about “having fun” with her. He gestured at a mutilated corpse hanging in the corner of the shed – a woman he had previously “had fun” with. Kristy was extremely distressed, screaming and begging Mick not to kill her. Mick threatened to rape her while she was tied to the post. He advanced towards her, pushing himself up against her while she screamed and spat in his face. He threatened to “cut [her] tits off”. This scene lasted approximately seven minutes.

[4]   Later in the programme, after the girls managed to escape from Mick, Lizzy returned to the camp to find Ben. She prepared to escape in another vehicle, when Mick appeared in the back of the car and stabbed her through the seat with a large hunting knife. She got out of the car and dragged herself along the ground. Mick then lashed at her with the knife and cut off her fingers; the severed fingers were shown landing on the ground, and Lizzy sobbed and screamed at Mick while clutching her bleeding hand. Mick continued to taunt her, joking about turning her into “a head on a stick” as torturers did in the Vietnam War. He picked her up and thrust the knife into her spine, paralysing her. Lizzy was shown lying on the ground unable to move. Mick indicated that he would torture her to discover Kristy’s whereabouts.

[5]   Meanwhile, Kristy ran from the camp. An elderly man pulled up, and put her in the back seat, offering help. While he was looking in the car boot for blankets and water, Mick shot the man from some distance. Blood splattered on the rear windscreen, and Kristy, realising what had happened, frantically started to drive away. Mick caught up in another car; she forced him off the road, and then Mick shot out one of her tyres, causing the car to roll. Kristy dragged herself from the car, and Mick shot her twice in the back. Mick piled her and the elderly man into the car and set it alight.

[6]   In the final scene, Ben was shown bloodied and hanging by his wrists, which were tied up and nailed to a wall. Vicious dogs were in a nearby cage, and mangled half-eaten corpses were shown hanging on either side of him. Shown in close-up, Ben, in agony, slowly pulled his wrists over the nails and freed himself from the ropes to escape.

[7]   The programme was preceded by a visual and verbal warning which stated:

The following programme is rated Adults Only. It contains frequent use of  language that may offend and graphic violence that may disturb some people.

Complaints

Mr McIntosh’s complaint

[8]   Euan McIntosh made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the programme breached standards of good taste and decency. Mr McIntosh said that he was “offended and disturbed” by the brief scenes he saw while channel surfing. These consisted of “graphic violence that was cruel, misogynistic and with the apparent lack of plot detail appeared flippant and gratuitous”, which he doubted could be justified by context. The complainant argued that these scenes, as well as the “hideous” language in the programme, for example “shall I cut your tits off?” and “cunt”, were “entirely inappropriate for free-to-air”.

[9]   Further, Mr McIntosh maintained that the time of broadcast “made no attempt to passively restrict viewing by children”. He said that he was concerned for his young child’s “mental wellbeing” if he had seen any of the scenes he found objectionable.

Mr Nudds’ complaint

[10]   Michael Nudds also made a formal complaint to TVNZ, alleging that the broadcast breached standards of good taste and decency and violence; he referred to guidelines 1a, 10a, 10d, 10e and 10f. He quoted from a number of reviews and articles about the film which he felt supported his arguments.

[11]   Mr Nudds argued that “the sadistic violence in this film was gratuitous and degrading”. He maintained that guideline 10d applied to the scene in which Mick threatened to rape Kristy and “cut her tits off”, and quoted an article which said “the film’s preference for female suffering gives it a misogynist undertow that’s even more unsettling than the gore”. The complainant also felt that guideline 10e applied.

[12]   With reference to guideline 10f, Mr Nudds described the scene where Lizzy was stabbed as “an extended piece of truly unpleasant sadism”. He also felt that in the final scene showing Ben, even though he was not killed, was “explicit, prolonged and repeatedly gratuitous”.

Standards

[13]   TVNZ assessed Mr McIntosh’s complaint under Standards 1 and 9 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, and Mr Nudds’ under Standards 1, 9 and 10. Mr Nudds also nominated guidelines 10a, 10d, 10e and 10f. These 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.

Standard 9 Children’s Interests

During children’s normally accepted viewing times (see Appendix 1), broadcasters are required, in the preparation and presentation of programmes, to consider the interests of child viewers.

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.

Guidelines

10a    Broadcasters should ensure that any violence shown is not gratuitous and is justified by the context.

10d    Programmes in which rape or sexual violence is a theme should be reated with the utmost care. Explicit detail and prolonged focus on sexually violent contact should be avoided. Any programme in which rape is depicted should be preceded by a warning.

10e    The combination of violence and sexuality in a way designed to titillate should not be shown.

10f     When real or fictitious killings, including executions and assassinations, are shown, the coverage should not be explicit, prolonged, or repeated gratuitously.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainants

Standard 1 (good taste and decency)

[14]   TVNZ contended that to constitute a breach of Standard 1, the broadcast material must be unacceptable to a significant number of viewers in the context in which it was shown, including the time of broadcast, the programme’s target audience, its classification, and the use of warnings.

[15]   TVNZ noted that Appendix 1 of the code allows AO programmes to be screened after 8.30pm. It maintained that the AO classification and pre-broadcast warning for “graphic violence” gave viewers a precise indication of the type of material the programme would contain, and ample opportunity to decide if they wanted to watch the programme. It said the pre-screening publicity also mentioned that a well-known horror movie director had described the film as the scariest movie he had ever seen.

[16]   The broadcaster emphasised that its appraiser had ensured that no violence would be shown in the programme until 9.40pm, in line with the restriction by the code of more extreme material to programmes screened after 9.30pm, and also taking into account the transition into AO time.

[17]   TVNZ maintained that viewers’ expectations of the horror genre, which Wolf Creek fell within, were that there would be “extreme grisly violence”. It argued that the type of material that appeared in Wolf Creek was expected in such a movie. It said much of the horror of the movie was created by the “tension as the killer chases the women after they get away”, and the violent scenes did not dominate the movie, but rather an hour had elapsed before any violence was shown. Further, it maintained that the violence was “fairly inexplicit” in some of the later scenes, for example when the killer stabbed Lizzy in her spine.

[18]   TVNZ concluded that Wolf Creek would not have offended a significant number of viewers in the context in which it screened, and declined to uphold the Standard 1 complaint.

Standard 9 (children’s interests)

[19]   The broadcaster emphasised that “children’s normally accepted viewing times” usually end at 8.30pm, and broadcasters can screen AO programmes after that time. It noted that Wolf Creek screened on a week night during school term time.

[20]   In accordance with guideline 9b, TVNZ said, its appraiser had ensured that the violence and coarse language complained about by Mr McIntosh occurred after 9.30pm, more than one hour into the film. It said this, along with the warning for “frequent coarse language and graphic violence” and the AO classification and pre-publicity ensured that parents or adults would be able to decide if they wished their children to see such material.

[21]   Accordingly, TVNZ concluded that it had considered the interests of children in broadcasting Wolf Creek, and declined to uphold the Standard 9 complaint.

Standard 10 (violence)

[22]   TVNZ maintained that the AO classification and pre-broadcast warning that Wolf Creek contained “graphic violence that may disturb” gave viewers ample opportunity to decide if they wished their children to watch the programme, or if they themselves wished to see “graphic violence”. It reiterated that “extreme grisly violence” was expected in a horror movie.

[23]   In response to Mr Nudds’ complaint that “threatening to rape a young woman and ‘cut her tits off’” breached guideline 10d, TVNZ argued that rape and sexual violence were not the theme of the movie so 10d did not apply. It said that no actual sexual violence was shown and the threats while “horrific” were not carried out.

[24]   TVNZ disagreed with Mr Nudds that the film breached guideline 10e. It said that the intention of the programme was to horrify, not to titillate, the viewer and that this was consistent with the horror genre. No sexual violence was shown, it said.

[25]   With regard to guideline 10f, TVNZ disagreed with Mr Nudds that the scene in which Lizzy’s fingers were severed was explicit. It said that the actual severing of the fingers was not shown, and while Lizzy held her hand and screamed there was no close-up of her “wounds”, and the shot of her fingers falling to the floor was “a stock standard of the horror genre”. It argued that none of the footage was “repeated or dwelt on for an extended period of time”.

[26]   Referring to the scene in which Mick severed Lizzy’s spine, TVNZ contended that although Mick described at length what he was going to do, the footage was “relatively discreet” and no cuts were shown; the knife was shown making contact only with clothing, not flesh.

[27]   Looking at the final scene, in which Ben pulled his wrists over the nails that held him to the wall, the broadcaster acknowledged that it was horrifying, but noted that it occurred at the end of the film at 10.20pm. This scene was also “consistent with the expectations of a horror movie scene screening after 10pm”, it said.

[28]   TVNZ concluded that, although the scenes were gruesome, they were not overly explicit nor did they dominate the programme. It found no breach of Standard 10.

Referrals to the Authority

[29]   Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s responses, Mr McIntosh and Mr Nudds referred their complaints to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

Mr McIntosh’s referral

[30]   Mr McIntosh said he did not accept TVNZ’s findings or justifications for the broadcast. He said that while channel-surfing, he saw on Wolf Creek “violence, misogyny, cruelty that... was way outside the norms of decency and taste in language and behaviour”, which was not suitable for public viewing.

Mr Nudds’ referral

[31]   Mr Nudds said he strongly disagreed with TVNZ that the “real violence” occurred after 9.30pm and that “they clearly signalled that it was a horror film and that everyone expects explicit scenes of torture and mutilation in horror films”. He argued that Wolf Creek was “a brutal, sadistic film” that was classified R18 by the New Zealand censor and R18+ by the Australian censor, and was therefore astonished that anyone could justify screening it at 8.30pm on a Tuesday.

Authority's Determination

[32]   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 complaints without a formal hearing.

Standard 10 (violence)

[33]   Standard 10 requires broadcasters to exercise care and discretion when dealing with the issue of violence. In the Authority’s view, TVNZ failed to meet the requirements of that standard on this occasion.

[34]   Wolf Creek was classified Adults Only and screened at 8.30pm with a pre-broadcast warning for “graphic violence”. In the Authority’s view, the extremely cruel and disturbing nature of the violence in this film meant that it should have received an AO 9.30pm classification. That classification is reserved for programmes that contain stronger material which fall outside the AO classification, including “realistic violence, sexual violence, or horrific encounters”. The Authority is in no doubt that Wolf Creek was such a programme. It observes that Wolf Creek received a classification of “R18 Contains sadistic violence, sexual themes and offensive language” from the Office of Film and Literature Classification in New Zealand. Accordingly, the Authority considers that the film should not have been broadcast at 8.30pm.

[35]   The Authority notes TVNZ’s argument that no violence occurred until after 9.30pm. However, the programme must be considered as a whole. A starting time of 8.30pm would have signalled to viewers that this movie would contain a lesser degree of violence than was actually shown.

[36]   Further, the warning for “graphic violence” would not have adequately prepared viewers for the extremely disturbing and realistic violence contained in Wolf Creek. It was, in the Authority’s view, of an extremely cruel, unusual and sickening variety which carried sexual connotations.

[37]   The Authority also considers that TVNZ could not rely on audiences’ expectations of violence in horror films, as there was little to suggest to viewers who had not heard of Wolf Creek that it was in fact a horror film. Neither the title nor the light-hearted tone of the first hour of the film gave any indication that it would contain such horrific violence, and the “pre-publicity” referred to by the broadcaster appeared in the Listener, which viewers could not be expected to have read.

[38]   In these circumstances, the Authority is satisfied that the broadcaster did not exercise sufficient care and discretion in dealing with the issue of violence by screening Wolf Creek – an R18 classified film – at 8.30pm. The Authority upholds the complaint that the broadcast breached Standard 10 (violence).

Standard 9 (children’s interests)

[39]   Standard 9 requires broadcasters to consider the interests of child viewers during their normally accepted viewing times, which usually cease at 8.30pm, unless it is a weekend or school holiday. Wolf Creek was screened at 8.30pm on a Tuesday night during a school term, and therefore the standard does not apply on this occasion. The Authority does not uphold this part of the complaint.

Standard 1 (good taste and decency)

[40]   The Authority considers that the complainants’ concerns about good taste and decency have been adequately dealt with under Standard 10. Accordingly, the Authority subsumes its consideration of Standard 1 into its consideration of the violence standard.

Bill of Rights

[41]   The Authority records that it has given full weight to the provisions of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 and taken into account all the circumstances of the complaint in reaching its determination. The  Authority considers that its exercise of powers on this occasion is consistent with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act’s requirement that limits on freedom of expression must be prescribed by law, be reasonable, and be demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society.

 

For the above reasons the Authority upholds the complaints that the broadcast of Wolf Creek on 11 March 2007 breached Standard 10 (violence) of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[42]   Having upheld a complaint, the Authority may make orders under sections 13 and 16 of the Broadcasting Act 1989. It does not intend to impose an order on this occasion. The Authority considers that the publication of this decision is sufficient to clarify its expectations surrounding the broadcast of R18 films at 8.30pm.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
4 July 2008

Appendix

The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:

1.            Euan McIntosh’s formal complaint – 12 March 2008
2.           Michael Nudds’ formal complaint – 21 March 2008
3.           TVNZ’s response to Mr McIntosh’s complaint – 14 April 2008
4.           TVNZ’s response to Mr Nudds’ complaint – 14 April 2008
5.           Mr McIntosh’s referral to the Authority – 6 May 2008
6.           Mr Nudds’ referral to the Authority – 23 April 2008
7.           TVNZ’s response on Mr McIntosh’s referral – 23 May 2008
8.           TVNZ’s response on Mr Nudds’ referral – 8 May 2008