BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Smits and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2002-003

Members
  • P Cartwright (Chair)
  • B Hayward
  • R Bryant
  • J H McGregor
Dated
Complainant
  • Phillip Smits
Number
2002-003
Programme
The Sopranos
Channel/Station
TV2

Complaint
The Sopranos – scene in which child says "Fuck you, Santa!" – not socially responsible – bad taste

Findings
Standard G2 – context – no uphold

Cross Reference: Decision No. 2000-104

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

[1] An episode of The Sopranos was broadcast on TV2 at 9.30pm on 4 October 2001. The Sopranos is a drama about an American-Italian mafia family living in the eastern United States.

[2] Phillip Smits complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, about a scene in which a child says "Fuck you, Santa!". He considered that it was an "outrage" that "the programme makers would allow a child to say something like that" and socially irresponsible of TVNZ to allow the broadcast.

[3] TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint. It did not consider that the use of the language by the child was offensive in the context of the programme.

[4] Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, Mr Smits referred his complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

For the reasons given, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Decision

[5] The members of the Authority have viewed a tape of the programme complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines this complaint without a formal hearing.

The Programme

[6] An episode of The Sopranos, an American drama series about a mafia family, was broadcast on TV2 at 9.30pm on 4 October 2001.

The Complaint

[7] Phillip Smits complained to TVNZ about a scene in which a child says "Fuck you, Santa!". He considered that it was an "outrage" that "the programme makers would allow a child to say something like that" and socially irresponsible of TVNZ to allow the broadcast.

The Standards

[8] As Mr Smits had requested in his letter of complaint, TVNZ considered the complaint in the context of standard G2 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. Standard G2 requires broadcasters:

G2 To take into consideration currently accepted norms of decency and taste in language and behaviour, bearing in mind the context in which any language or behaviour occurs.

TVNZ’s Response to the Complaint

[9] TVNZ said that it understood Mr Smits’ concern for the child actor asked to deliver the phrase he complained about. But, it noted that:

…the role of the child actor frequently involves children using un-childlike expressions, or indulging in un-childlike activities. It would be unreasonable, we suggest, to require a television broadcaster to remove from its screens every performance from a child which involves that child in adult behaviour.

[10] TVNZ then noted the programme’s time of broadcast, its AO classification certificate and the presence of a warning. It also referred to a previous Authority decision in which a complaint about the use of strong language in The Sopranos had not been upheld: see Decision No. 2000-104.

[11] In TVNZ’s opinion, the phrase had been used in context and served to legitimately reinforce a major theme of the series. It concluded that standard G2 had not been breached.

Mr Smits’ Referral to the Authority

[12] In his referral to the Authority, Mr Smits disagreed with TVNZ’s decision, commenting twice that the use of the phrase by the child had been gratuitous.

The Authority’s Determination

[13] The Authority’s task in assessing this complaint under standard G2 is to determine whether the language complained about breached currently accepted norms of good taste and decency, in the context in which it occurred.

[14] The Authority reiterates the general principle it noted in Decision No. 2000-104:

… language which on its own may be offensive can, in a relevant context, be acceptable. Conversely, language which on its own may be acceptable, may, when used in a specific context, such as in a threatening or abusive manner, breach broadcasting standards.

[15] Here, the Authority considers the context is of paramount importance. The contextual matters the Authority considers to be relevant to its determination include the fact that the programme complained about was broadcast well into AO time, beginning at 9.30pm, and was preceded by a specific warning advising that it contained "frequent use of language that may offend some viewers". Moreover, the Authority considers that the language complained about was consistent with the subject matter of the programme and was a credible aspect of the character portrayed (the child of a mafia family). In the Authority’s opinion, the use of the language on this occasion illustrated the hypocrisy of the key characters, a major theme running through the series. Having considered these factors together, the Authority concludes that the language complained about does not exceed community expectations when its context is taken into account. Accordingly, it declines to uphold the complaint.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Cartwright
Chair
24 January 2002

Appendix

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

  1. Phillip Smits’ Formal Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 6 October 2001
  2. TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 30 October 2001
  3. Mr Smits’ Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 11 November 2001
  4. TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 22 November 2001