BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

McIlroy and Television New Zealand Ltd - 1998-167

  • S R Maling (Chair)
  • J Withers
  • L M Loates
  • R McLeod
  • Kelly McIlroy


The Sunday movie broadcast at 8.30pm on TV2 on 20 September 1998 was Desperado. It starred Antonio Banderas and was classified by TVNZ as AO.

Ms McIlroy complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the broadcast of a grossly violent movie at that hour breached broadcasting standards. She contended that as the film contained sustained violence and included numerous scenes where people were killed, it breached the requirement to avoid portraying excessive violence. In addition she complained that as the star of the film was popular with young people, they would have been keen to watch it.

TVNZ observed first that the film was classified as AO, which clearly indicated to viewers that it was intended for an adult audience. It was also preceded by a warning. Acknowledging that it contained a good deal of violence, TVNZ submitted that most of it verged on being farcical. It said its understanding of the research about the link between screen violence and actual violence was that graphic and relentless violence was more disturbing than the choreographed violence which was a feature of this film. It concluded there was no breach of standards.

Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, Ms McIlroy referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

For the reasons given below, a majority of the Authority declines to uphold the complaint that standard V10 was breached. The Authority declines to uphold any other aspect.


The members of the Authority have viewed the film complained about and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. On this occasion, the Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

The film Desperado was the Sunday night movie on TV2 on 20 September 1998, and was broadcast at 8.30pm. It was classified AO, and was preceded by a written and verbal warning advising viewers of its violent content. The film starred Antonio Banderas and was set in Mexico.

Ms McIlroy complained to TVNZ that the film’s relentless violence breached two of the standards contained in the Authority’s Violence Code. She also argued, that if screened at all, it should have been screened later than 8.30pm. In her view, the Sunday night slot was traditionally a time for family movies and it was totally irresponsible to screen a movie as violent as Desperado in that time slot. She emphasised that the star, Antonio Banderas, was currently featuring in a movie popular with younger viewers, and they would therefore have been likely to have been attracted to Desperado.

In its response, TVNZ advised that it had assessed the complaint under standards G8, V10 and V11 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. Standard G8 requires broadcasters:

G8 To abide by the classification codes and their appropriate time bands as outlined in the agreed criteria for classification.

The other standards read:

V10 The cumulative or overall effect of violent incidents and themes in a single programme, a programme series or a line-up of programmes back to back, must avoid giving an impression of excessive violence.

V11 Any realistic portrayal of anti-social behaviour, including violent and serious crime and the abuse of liquor and drugs, must not be shown in a way that glamorises the activities.

TVNZ began by addressing the question of the appropriateness of the time slot and Ms McIlroy’s claim that Sunday evening on TV2 was a "family time slot". It noted that 8.30pm was the established watershed hour, after which AO programmes could be broadcast, and pointed to the definition of AO in the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice which reads:

AO  Programmes containing adult themes or those which, because of the way the material is handled, would be unsuitable for persons under 18 years of age.

TVNZ emphasised that the AO symbol was clearly displayed at the beginning of the programme and after each commercial break. The film was correctly classified, it argued, and since it did not finish until 10.40pm, it would have been unreasonable and unfair to adult viewers to have delayed its start time beyond 8.30pm. Taking those matters into account, TVNZ concluded that it had complied with the requirements of standard G8.

TVNZ acknowledged that the film’s content was violent, but submitted that it verged on being farcical. It argued that the violence was far from realistic and suggested that the film was a spoof on famous western movies. Identifying some sequences which defied credibility, such as when the main character single handedly killed most of the heavily armed clientele in a tavern and when he survived an attack of daggers, TVNZ suggested there was a detectable comic element within the violence.

TVNZ accepted that the genre was not to all viewers’ tastes. However, it argued, the fact that a viewer did not like a particular programme did not necessarily mean that standards were breached. In this case, it emphasised, viewers were advised that the film carried an AO certificate, and were given a very clear warning that the content could offend. In its view, viewers had been given sufficient information in order to make an informed choice about whether to watch the film.

Before examining the complaint under the Violence Code, TVNZ made some observations about the results of recent research, reported in the United Kingdom. There it was suggested that the most disturbing violence was that with which the viewer identified, and which was graphic and relentless. Choreographed violence of many action films was seen to be less shocking.

Applying those findings, TVNZ reasoned that the violence, while cruel in a remote and uninvolved way, was neither realistic nor personal. It was not violence with which the viewer identified.

Turning to standard V10, TVNZ argued that the absence of any sense of reality diminished the overall impact of the violence portrayed. It argued that the violence was very impersonal and that the feeling of stylised western acting and film sets was ever present. TVNZ noted that cuts were made to the film specifically to avoid breaching standard V10.

TVNZ advised that it did not consider standard V11 was relevant because in its view Desperado was not a realistic portrayal of anti-social activity. It was clearly fantasy.

TVNZ concluded that no broadcasting standards were breached.

In her referral to the Authority, Ms McIlroy challenged TVNZ’s claim that the violence verged on the farcical. She argued that even if some of the scenes were extremely ludicrous, there was still a large amount of bloodshed, and the violence was realistic because there were so many close-up shots of the injuries sustained.

Referring to the R18 theatre classification of Desperado Ms McIlroy argued that even if there were cuts to the film, there was no justification for showing an adult film at 8.30pm on a Sunday night.

With respect to TVNZ’s analysis of the research on violence, Ms McIlroy noted that the research findings were still equivocal. She said she strongly disagreed with TVNZ’s conclusion that standard V10 was not breached. She pointed out that the film contained a high level of violence, the cumulative effect of which was to give an impression of excessive violence.

She also disagreed with TVNZ’s interpretation of standard V11, arguing that the presence of the star Antonio Banderas glamorised the violence.

The Authority’s Findings

The Authority turns first to the complaint that as Desperado was classified R18 at the cinema, it was therefore unsuitable for broadcast on free to air television at 8.30pm, in spite of the cuts which were made by TVNZ.

The Authority notes that the broadcaster’s obligation is to classify programmes and to place them in the appropriate time bands. It also notes that Desperado was classified by TVNZ as AO, which clearly designated that it was intended for adult audiences. It was broadcast at 8.30pm, which is AO time. In addition, it was preceded by a clear verbal and on screen warning which emphasised that it contained violence. While these precautions do not give a broadcaster carte blanche to broadcast any R18 material, when they are combined with the cuts which were made to the film on this occasion, the Authority considers that the broadcaster fulfilled its responsibility under the standard.

Next the Authority deals with the complaint about the film’s relentless violence, which the complainant contended breached two standards under the Violence Code. As a preliminary point, the Authority records that it is familiar with the research about the effects of television violence, including that which was cited by TVNZ in its submissions. The Authority’s own research, conducted in 1997 in association with its review of the Pay Television Code of Practice, reveals that among a representative sample of New Zealanders, over 60% of respondents expressed major to extreme concern about violence in films which had an R18 classification. The Authority’s informal correspondence endorses that concern, although somewhat perversely it is not borne out in formal complaints, with relatively few complaints being made about violent themes on television.

The Authority is divided in its findings on the complaint that the film breached standard V10. A majority finds that the violence was stylised and clearly exaggerated. Although the film contained a number of violent incidents, the majority considers that because they were so implausible, the net effect was that the violence was simply farcical, and even ludicrous. An example, it noted, was the scene in the bar when the hero singlehandedly decimated the entire clientele, many of whom were armed with machine guns. The hero emerged unscathed, having demonstrated remarkable shooting prowess with two handguns which appeared to always find their mark, and having avoided the bullets of the many patrons who were firing at him with their machine guns. The majority also notes that the broadcast was preceded by a clear warning advising viewers that the film contained violence. On balance, the majority considers that although the film contained a large number of violent incidents, because they were so far removed from reality, the standard was not breached.

A minority disagrees. It finds that even if the violence was not realistic, it was gratuitous and excessive. The entire film, it notes, was premised on the notion that irritations, however small, could be dealt with by resorting to weapons, including guns and knives. In the minority’s view, the standard was designed to protect viewers against the cumulative effect of excessive violence. It considers that the excesses highlighted in this film breached the standard.

With respect to the complaint that standard V11 was breached, the Authority notes that in order for a breach to occur, the activities must first be realistic, and secondly to be glamorised. In the Authority’s view, that did not occur. First, it finds that the violence portrayed was implausible and unrealistic. It was, the Authority considers, clearly contrived. On that basis it concludes that the complaint fails. However, even if it were to hold that the behaviour was realistic, it does not agree that it was shown in a way that glamorised the activities. Accordingly, it declines to uphold this aspect of the complaint.


For the reasons set forth above, a majority of the Authority declines to uphold the complaint that the film Desperado broadcast on TV2 on 20 September 1998 at 8.30pm breached standard V10 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

The Authority declines to uphold any other aspect of the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Sam Maling
17 December 1998


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

1. Kelly McIlroy’s Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 5 October 1998
2. TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 16 October 1998
3. Ms McIlroy’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 9 November 1998
4. TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 11 November 1998
5. Ms McIlroy’s Final Comment – 24 November 1998