BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Orsulich and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2006-036

  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
  • E M Orsulich
TV One

Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Canterbury Tales – "The Miller’s Tale" – a spurned lover apparently burns his rival’s buttocks with a red-hot piece of pipe – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency and violence standards

Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – contextual factors – not upheld

Standard 10 (violence) – implicit violence justified by context – care and discretion shown – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1] A modern day television adaptation of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales – "The Miller’s Tale" was screened on TV One at 9.35pm on Sunday 5 March 2006. Near the end of the story, a spurned lover apparently burns his rival’s buttocks with a red-hot piece of pipe.


[2] Mr E M Orsulich complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, about that act, which, he contended, involved inserting a length of red-hot copper tubing into a man’s anus. Describing it as “grossly cruel behaviour”, Mr Orsulich considered that the act was “utterly disgusting to witness”, and not funny.


[3] TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standards 1 and 10 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. Together with the relevant guidelines, they read:

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. The examples are not exhaustive.

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.

Guideline 10a

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

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[4] Pointing out that the programme presented a modern day adaptation of a great work of medieval literature, TVNZ explained that the essence of the 14th century story was unchanged. It added:

The incident to which you refer is central to this tale. It is, if you like, the denouement in which the unctuous Nick gets his comeuppance.

[5] TVNZ said that viewers saw the pipe being heated and being raised but did not, as the complainant implied, see the pipe being inserted into the man’s anus. TVNZ stated that the sequence faithfully reflected the portrayal in the original story, which it quoted. To have removed the scene, it argued, would have been like “bowdlerising Shakespeare”.

[6] As for the Standard 1 (good taste and decency) requirement, TVNZ noted that guideline 1a required that the context of the broadcast be taken into account. The programme, it noted, had been classified AO, had been broadcast an hour after the watershed and had been preceded by a verbal and visual warning. Further, it was the adaptation of a classic work which made a point of staying close to the original text.

[7] Turning to Standard 10 (violence), TVNZ said that the issue of violence was handled with care and discretion. While the sequence had stayed close to the original text, the violence was implied and not actually shown.

[8] TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[9] Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, Mr Orsulich referred his complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. He listed five reasons for the referral.

[10] First, he disputed TVNZ’s contention that the violence was implied and not actually shown. While he accepted that the insertion of the pipe into the anus was not actually seen, he maintained that there was no doubt as to what was being depicted.

[11] Second, he argued that the portrayal was not faithful to the original story as the piping could not be described as a branding tool, or the actions described as a branding.

[12] TVNZ’s argument that the story was faithfully reflected in the adaptation was dealt with in Mr Orsulich’s third point. Given the advances in civilisation, he contended that the barbarities and depravities of earlier ages could not now be portrayed legitimately. A presentation which was totally faithful to the original story might be acceptable, he wrote, but not in a modern adaptation.

[13] Fourthly, Mr Orsulich maintained that the scene was not acceptable at any hour when included in a light-hearted programme.

[14] Lastly, he noted TVNZ’s apology that he had been offended. He responded that it was not his sensitivities which were of concern, but the inclusion of the “grossly cruel” act.

Authority's Determination

[15] 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.

[16] As a preliminary point, the Authority observes that the scene complained about was far less explicit than as described by the complainant. Rather than showing a man inserting a length of red-hot copper tubing “into the anus of his rival”, as contended, the scene was inexplicit and comedic, showing the victim yelling in pain after being apparently branded on his buttocks with a hot pipe. Nothing of the actual branding was visible.

[17] When the Authority considers a complaint that a broadcast breaches Standard 1 (good taste and decency), it is required to take context into account. In addition to the relevant contextual matters cited by TVNZ – the programme’s AO classification, the 9.35pm time of broadcast (an hour after the AO watershed), and the verbal and visual warning – the Authority also notes the inexplicit nature of the scene complained about. In light of these contextual factors, the Authority concludes that the broadcast fell well within the boundaries of the good taste and decency standard.

[18] Standard 10 (violence) requires the exercise of care and discretion by the broadcaster when dealing with the issue of violence. Guideline 10a states that violence should be justified by the context, and not gratuitous.

[19] The Authority considers that the broadcast did not approach the threshold for a breach of the violence standard, for several reasons. First, as discussed above, the scene was not explicit, and contained only the implication of violence; the overall effect was in fact unmistakably comedic.

[20] Second, the violence was not gratuitous. The scene was an essential element of the Miller’s Tale as originally told by Chaucer and could not reasonably have been omitted from the adaptation.

[21] Finally, it was clear from the remainder of the story that the injury was not serious. Shortly after the branding scene, the victim was seen, apparently completely recovered, resuming his cuckolding behaviour.

[22] Accordingly, the Authority finds that the broadcast breached neither Standard 1 (good taste and decency) nor Standard 10 (violence).


For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Joanne Morris
28 June 2006


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

  1. Mr E M Orsulich’s formal complaints – 7 and 20 March 2006
  2. Television New Zealand Ltd’s response to Mr Orsulich – 18 April 2006
  3. Mr Orsulich’s referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 26 April 2006
  4. TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 4 May 2006