BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Pieruschka and TVWorks Ltd - 2010-158

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
Dated
Complainant
  • Peter Pieruschka
Number
2010-158
Programme
Sons of Anarchy
Broadcaster
TVWorks Ltd
Channel/Station
TV3 # 3

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Sons of Anarchy – fictional drama about outlaw motorcycle gang – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency and law and order standards

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

Standard 2 (law and order) – fictional adult drama did not encourage viewers to break the law or otherwise promote, glamorise or condone criminal activity – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]   An episode of Sons of Anarchy was broadcast on TV3 at 9.30pm on Wednesday 10 November 2010. The drama series revolved around the lives of members of a close-knit outlaw motorcycle gang, and their various rivals and associates.

Complaint

[2]   Peter Pieruschka made a formal complaint to TVWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the programme breached standards relating to good taste and decency, and law and order.

[3]   The complainant argued that the programme trivialised organised crime in a manner that was likely to attract people towards joining such organisations. It glorified criminal activity by portraying members of the motorcycle gang as “some sort of warm-hearted big family that takes care of each other and (rightfully) stands up for its ‘freedom’ towards the outside world,” he said.

[4]   Mr Pieruschka argued that Sons of Anarchy trivialised the “de facto prostitution of women” as the “bikie chicks [were] shown as [the] willing sexual property of all men in the gang, depending on the rank of the male in the organisation, in return for the provision of food, shelter etc”.

Standards

[5]   Mr Pieruschka nominated Standards 1 and 2 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice in his complaint, which provide:

Standard 1 Good Taste and Decency

Broadcasters should observe standards of good taste and decency.

Standard 2 Law and Order

Broadcasters should observe standards consistent with the maintenance of law and order.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[6]   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 classification, the time of broadcast, the programme’s intended audience, and the use of warnings.

[7]   On this occasion, the broadcaster noted that Sons of Anarchy was rated Adults Only, restricted to screening after 9.30pm, and was preceded by a visual and verbal warning for violent content. TVWorks considered that most viewers would have understood that the programme was a fictional drama and was not intended to be “prescriptive for everyday behaviour”. It contended that characters were “more interesting if they [were] complex and not totally ‘good’ or totally ‘bad’ and this is what the programme [was] setting out to achieve – to be entertaining”. The adult target audience were presumed to have “already developed the faculty” to make their own moral judgments about the behaviour depicted on the programme, it said.

[8]   Accordingly, the broadcaster declined to uphold the Standard 1 complaint.

[9]   TVWorks noted that the Authority had previously stated that the intent behind the law and order standard was to prevent broadcasts that encouraged viewers to break the law, or otherwise promoted, glamorised or condoned criminal activity.1 The broadcaster emphasised that Sons of Anarchy was a fictional drama with storylines “housed within a dramatic context”. It did not consider that anything in the programme encouraged viewers to break the law, and it therefore declined to uphold the complaint under Standard 2.

Referral to the Authority

[10]   Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Mr Pieruschka referred his complaint to the Authority under Section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

[11]   The complainant argued that TVWorks had interpreted and applied the law and order standard too narrowly, meaning that unless the broadcast made a direct appeal calling on people to commit acts of crime and violence, the standard would never apply to fictional programmes. He maintained that Sons of Anarchy clearly depicted a criminal lifestyle as a “viable, if not pleasant, alternative to a law abiding way of life”, and argued that it should be banned from New Zealand television.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[12]   TVWorks argued that gang life and all it entails on the programme Sons of Anarchy would likely be viewed “without empathy and with the likely veritable consequences in mind”. It referred to Dobson and TVWorks,2 where the Authority stated that it was “highly unlikely that viewers would have felt any empathy” with the main character who had committed a number of violent murders, and that it was made clear in the programme that the character’s actions “were illegal and that he would face serious consequences if he was caught”.

[13]   The broadcaster considered that the programme was similar to other dramas that screened on New Zealand television, such as The Sopranos and Underbelly, which told stories based on a criminal subculture.

Authority’s Determination

[14]   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)

[15]   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:

  • Sons of Anarchy was broadcast at 9.30pm an hour after the AO watershed
  • the programme was rated Adults Only
  • it was preceded by a warning for violent content
  • the programme’s adult target audience.

[16]   The complainant argued that the programme trivialised and glorified organised crime by portraying gang members as a “warm-hearted big family that takes care of each other”, and trivialised the “de facto” prostitution of women.

[17]   While we accept that the episode subject to complaint contained themes of criminality and prostitution, we find that these themes are not inappropriate in an AO classified drama broadcast at 9.30pm. There was nothing particularly graphic or disturbing about the way that these themes were presented, and it is our view that such content would have been consistent with audience expectations of programmes of this genre.

[18]   Taking into account the above contextual factors, we decline to uphold the complaint that the broadcast breached Standard 1.

Standard 2 (law and order)

[19]   The Authority has previously stated (see, for example, Taylor and TVWorks3) that the intent behind the law and order standard is to prevent broadcasts that encourage viewers to break the law, or otherwise promote, condone or glamorise criminal activity. Although the characters were shown engaging in anti-social and often illegal behaviour, in our view, nothing in the programme would have encouraged viewers to adopt a similar lifestyle. We consider that viewers would have appreciated that Sons of Anarchy was a fictional adult drama that was not intended to condone or promote the sort of behaviour depicted on the programme.

[20]   Accordingly, we decline to uphold the complaint that the programme breached Standard 2.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
3 May 2011

Appendix

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

1                  Peter Pieruschka’s formal complaint – 13 November 2010

2                 TVWorks’ response to the complaint – 15 November 2010

3                 Mr Pieruschka’s referral to the Authority – 17 November 2010

4                 TVWorks’ response to the Authority – 12 February 2011


1Byles and TVNZ, Decision No. 2006-051

2Decision No. 2008-067

3Decision No. 2010-008