BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Langford and Gruijters and Television New Zealand Ltd - 1995-088, 1995-089

Members
  • J M Potter (Chair)
  • R McLeod
  • L M Loates
Dated
Complainant
  • Alva Langford, Elisabeth Gruijters
Number
1995-088–089
Channel/Station
TV One


Summary

The performance of a modern dance titled "Forever" was one of the items on Work of

Art broadcast on TV One on Sunday 28 May 1995 at 9.40pm.

Mrs Langford and Mrs Gruijters complained to Television New Zealand Ltd that the

dance item was a breach of the good taste and decency standard because it contained

blatant sexual overtones and offensive language. In addition Mrs Langford claimed

that TVNZ employed a deceptive programme practice because it showed

pornography in the guise of art.

Rejecting the accusation that the item amounted to pornography, TVNZ explained

that neither nudity itself nor the sexual activity implied in the dance was

pornographic. Rather, it argued, the dance was a complex work which had attracted

wide critical acclaim and was worthy of being brought to a television audience. It

maintained that it was necessary to take into account contextual considerations such as

its broadcast late at night and the fact that it was preceded by a warning and rated AO.

TVNZ denied any deceptive programming practice was involved. Dissatisfied with

TVNZ's decision not to uphold the complaints, Mrs Langford and Mrs Gruijters

referred their complaints to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of

the Broadcasting Act 1989.

For the reasons given below, the Authority upheld the complaints that the language

contained in the broadcast breached good taste and decency.


Decision

The members of the Authority have viewed the item complained about and have read

the correspondence (summarised in the Appendices). As is its usual practice, the

Authority has determined the complaints without a formal hearing

On Sunday evening 28 May 1995 at 9.40pm in the Works of Art programme, the

Douglas Wright dance company presented a dance entitled "Forever". The production

was a television adaptation of a stage production which had toured throughout New

Zealand in 1993. Its themes were love and death, relationships and conflict, and

underscored the feelings of defiance and futility of young people, particularly those

who are socially stigmatised.

Mrs Langford and Mrs Gruijters complained to TVNZ that the display of nudity, the

simulated sexual activity and use of bad language in the dance breached the standard

requiring observance of good taste and decency. In addition, Mrs Langford argued that

TVNZ had employed a deceptive broadcasting practice which took advantage of the

confidence viewers have in the integrity of broadcasting, because it showed

pornography in the guise of "art".

TVNZ responded that it had assessed the complaint under standards G2 and G7 of

the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice which require 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.

G7  To avoid the use of any deceptive programme practice which takes

advantage of the confidence viewers have in the integrity of

broadcasting.


TVNZ observed that the performance was part ballet and part drama and reflected a

harsh view of the world by young people as it focused on their sexuality, their

relationships and AIDS. It noted that the Douglas Wright dance company was highly

acclaimed both in New Zealand and overseas, and that this programme had received

critical acclaim when it was performed on stage. Commenting on the allegation that

the dance was pornographic, TVNZ denied that was so, pointing to the definition of

pornography as stimulating erotic rather than aesthetic feelings and declaring that

nudity in itself was not pornographic. Further, it noted, implications of sexual

activity in dance, theatre, film and literature were commonly portrayed without the

obscenity which was the hallmark of pornography. Pointing to the critical reviews of

the performance, TVNZ highlighted the complex issues that were explored in the

dance and the challenges made of the audience to understand those issues. It

considered that it had a responsibility to bring works of New Zealand art such as this

to the wider television audience.

In addition, TVNZ submitted that the Work of Art programme was a well-established

forum for avant garde artistic material and that the work of this dance company would

not have been beyond the expectations of the majority of the audience, many of whom

would have already been familiar with the work in question. It also noted that the

programme, which was screened about 10.10pm, was preceded by a specific warning

as to its content, and was classified AO.

Responding to the complaint that the programme breached standard G7, TVNZ denied

that any deception had been involved. It noted that the television adaptation had been

carefully made, and of necessity had to include aspects of the original work in order to

convey its power and meaning. It emphatically rejected the complaint that it was

pornography.

Concluding, TVNZ wrote that the critical acclaim for the stage production was a fair

indication of interest in the artistic community and accordingly it was legitimate to

broadcast the television adaptation in a programme legitimately aimed at that

community. It declined to uphold any aspect of the complaints.

The Authority considered first the contextual arguments raised by TVNZ. It accepted

that the arts slot on a Sunday evening would often contain avant garde works which

tested boundaries and at that hour, with an appropriate warning, challenging material

would be broadcast. It also acknowledged that the Douglas Wright company was

highly respected, and its productions known for their physicality and dramatic flair,

and further, that the production of "Forever" had successfully toured New Zealand.

The Authority then examined the television adaptation of "Forever". It perceived the

work as a theatrical dance containing elements of theatre which made a strong

statement about love, futility, despair, anger, sexuality and relationships as

experienced by many young people. It could understand why some people were

affronted by the production because of the nudity, sexuality (including homosexuality)

and the offensive language used.

Next, the Authority considered the allegation made by both complainants that the

work was pornographic. In response to that allegation, TVNZ had defined

pornography as arousing erotic rather than aesthetic feelings and rejected the

contention that the dance contained elements of pornography. The Authority was in

agreement with TVNZ that the term pornography has a specialised meaning which

was not applicable to the scenes of nudity and sexual innuendo which the dance

contained. It too, rejected the allegation that the dance was pornographic.

The Authority then assessed the production itself. In its view, when a stage

production is transferred from the stage to television, the producers have a

responsibility to ensure that the adaptation reflects accurately the full picture and

sense of composition of the original work. Because the television audience sees only

what the camera is directed to, some details, such as for example, the nudity, would

have been emphasised on television in a different way than they would have been for a

theatre audience unable to zoom into close-ups of, for example, the dancers' genitals.

However, the Authority did not consider the nudity in itself breached any of the

broadcasting standards. It believed the physicality of the performance was acceptable

in the context of avant garde dance and the nudity, which was arguably relevant to the

themes, was not gratuitous or designed simply to titillate.

Turning to the other aspect of the performance complained about, the Authority

examined the language used and concluded that the offensive language, delivered in a

strident, aggressive tone, exceeded the expectations of an audience of a dance

programme. It accepted that while boundaries need to be explored in theatre and in

dance, some responsibility must be exercised by the producers of a television

adaptation to ensure that the work is consistent with broadcasting standards.

Referring to its research on language usage, the Authority noted that most New

Zealanders find the language that was used in the performance does not meet

community standards and is a breach of good taste. Accordingly the Authority upheld

the complaint that the language used was a breach of standard G2.

With respect to the complaint that the item breached standard G7, the Authority

observed that on previous occasions it has interpreted a "deceptive programme

practice" as being a technical or editorial device which distorts the original piece. It did

not consider that the fact that a viewer was misled about a programme's content was a

breach of that standard and declined to uphold that aspect of the complaint.

 

For the reasons set forth above, the Authority upholds the complaints that the

language used in the performance of "Forever" in Work of Art broadcast by

Television New Zealand Ltd on TV One on Sunday 28 May 1995 breached

standard G2 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.


It declines to uphold any other aspect of the complaints.


Having upheld a complaint, the Authority may make an order under s13(1) of the

Broadcasting Act 1989. On the basis that only part of the complaint was upheld, the

Authority decided that it was not an appropriate case for an order to be imposed.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Judith Potter
Chairperson
24 August 1995


Appendix I

Mrs Gruijters' Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd - 29 May and 7 June

1995

Mrs Elisabeth Gruijters of Auckland complained to Television New Zealand Ltd that

the dance item titled "Forever" included in Works of Art on Sunday 28 May 1995 at

about 9.40pm breached broadcasting standards. She addressed the original letter to the

Broadcasting Standards Authority which was then forwarded to TVNZ. When she

was notified that the Authority had forwarded her letter she wrote a second letter of

complaint dated 7 June in which she elaborated on some matters.

Describing the dance item as "an often vulgar display of disgusting behaviour with

needless use of the two "F" words", Mrs Gruijters complained that she was given no

advance warning that its content would be so offensive. She enclosed a clipping from

the New Zealand Herald which showed that the programme was classified as G.

Citing the particular incidents which she found unacceptable, Mrs Gruijters wrote that

she felt sick some of the time while she was watching the programme. She expressed

her surprise that it had been classified as G and broadcast relatively early in the

evening.

She pleaded with TVNZ to show better taste and, in the future, to advertise

programmes accurately. She complained that the dance sequence was nothing but

pornography in disguise.

TVNZ's Response to the Formal Complaint - 15 June 1995

Describing the performance as part ballet, part drama, TVNZ observed that it reflected

an unpromising view by young people of life around them, with a particular emphasis

on love and sex and the fear of AIDS.

TVNZ believed that although nudity was shown, and sexual activity implied in the

programme, it did not constitute pornography. It defined pornography as

"stimulating erotic rather than aesthetic feelings" and argued that there was no erotic

stimulation in this programme. It also argued that nudity in itself was not

pornographic and neither was the implication of sexual activity in dance.

Recognising that "Forever" was a complex work, TVNZ provided some quotations

from reviews of the stage performance. It expressed its view that it had a

responsibility to bring works of New Zealand art to the wider public, adding:

The Work of Art programme is now well-established as the repository of

artistic material, often avant-garde in nature. The programme was clearly

marked with an on-air symbol indicating that it was for "adults only" and was

preceded by a warning which specifically mentioned male nudity.

TVNZ noted that the programme listing in the New Zealand Herald which Mrs

Gruijters had sent did not give it an AO classification. While it regretted that the

correct information (which had been supplied) was not printed, it noted that that was

no fault of TVNZ.

Turning to the G2 aspect of the complaint, TVNZ noted that the standard specifically

allowed for context. In this case, it noted that the matters to be taken into account

were the late hour of the broadcast (the item started about 10.10pm), the specific

warning, the AO rating and the well-established nature of the arts programme Works

of Art.

Taking these factors into account, TVNZ concluded that the content of the programme

would not have been beyond the expectations of most of the audience.

As far as standard G7 was concerned, TVNZ believed no deception was involved. It

wrote:

The television adaptation of the performance was carefully made, but of

necessity, had to include some aspects of the original stage production in order

to convey the power and meaning of the work. As indicated above TVNZ

emphatically denies that this was "pornography".

It concluded with the observation that the production was highly acclaimed and that

indicated the widespread interest of the arts community. It believed the television

adaptation was legitimately placed in a programme primarily aimed at that

community. In that context it did not believe there was any breach of programme

standards.

Mrs Gruijters' Complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority - 16 June

1995

Dissatisfied with TVNZ's decision, Mrs Gruijters referred the complaint to the

Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

Mrs Gruijters expressed her frustration with the complaints process and TVNZ's

apparent ability to avoid upholding complaints.

In response to TVNZ's favourable reviews of the item, she enclosed some letters to

the paper which expressed feelings similar to her own about the programme. She also

noted that many people with her views had expressed their outrage about the item on

a radio talkback show.

She asked that the Authority review the whole film so that it would see everything,

including parts which she had not quoted.

TVNZ's Response to the Authority - 23 June 1995

TVNZ re-emphasised the context of the time and the critical acclaim which the

theatrical version had earlier received. It added:

While nudity and language such as "fuck" are generally removed from

entertainment programmes they are not absolutely forbidden and we submit

that in the case of a theatrical performance of this class, presented within the

Work of Art series at 10.30pm on a Sunday night neither the nudity nor the

language was out of place.

TVNZ submitted a couple of letters to the editor which appeared to support its

perspective.

Mrs Gruijters' Final Comment - 30 June 1995

Mrs Gruijters repeated that what she expected from the programme was

entertainment. She noted a statement about Work of Art in the summer issue of New

Zealand on Air which read: "De Nave has always insisted that each programme must

be accessible to all New Zealanders".

She concluded:

Now I am left with a feeling of dismay instead whenever I see the words

"work of art".

Appendix II

Mrs Langford's Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd

In an undated letter, Mrs Alva Langford of Gisborne complained to Television New

Zealand Ltd about the programme Work of Art broadcast on TV One on Sunday 29

May 1995 at 9.40pm.

She described the modern dance part of the programme as the most distasteful,

disgusting thing she had ever seen or heard, adding that the dance had disgusting sexual

overtones, not only between men and women but between men and men. She decried

the nude shower scenes which she claimed contained sleazy homosexual innuendoes

and in no way added to the "art" of the programme. Likewise she deplored the

spoken words used.

In her view, TVNZ used a deceptive programme practice which took advantage of the

confidence viewers have in the integrity of broadcasting by showing pornography in

the guise of art.

Finally, Mrs Langford wrote that the fact that the programme was shown at 9.40pm

was not a license for pornography. She stated that it was a fact that most crimes of a

sexual nature have been committed by people who were influenced by pornography,

adding:

It (pornography) is a cancer in our society and it is very serious when we

cannot trust our broadcasters to show a sense of responsibility in this area.

TVNZ's Response to the Formal Complaint - 14 June 1995

TVNZ's response was identical to that sent to Mrs Gruijters and is summarised in

Appendix I.

Mrs Langford's Complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority - 26 June

1995

Dissatisfied with TVNZ's response, Mrs Langford referred the complaint to the

Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

She took issue with several of TVNZ's observations. First, Mrs Langford wondered

why TVNZ bothered to screen the programme when it conveyed such a bleak outlook

on relationships. She challenged TVNZ's claim that because the venture had been

highly acclaimed it should be shown on television, asking whether acclamation made

the performance ethically and morally right.

Responding to TVNZ's assertion that it did not stimulate erotic feelings and therefore

was not pornography, Mrs Langford wrote:

The question should be asked, would this programme arouse feelings of beauty

and good taste? Would it have heightened a nation's sensitivity to beauty? Or

was it a carnal display of purely sexual desire expressed through the medium of

dance? Was it dance at all? I would suggest it was erotic in content and not

aesthetic. Being erotic in nature and intent, the judgment of pornography can

be upheld.

Mrs Langford disputed TVNZ's claims that there appeared to be no erotic stimulation

and that nudity in itself was not pornographic. Referring to the latter she stated that it

all depended on the subject matter, adding that in her view, nudity which results in the

portrayal of sexual activity to the public was pornographic.

In response to TVNZ's statement that it had a responsibility to bring such

programmes to air, she argued that TVNZ had a responsibility to find out what its

viewers found acceptable before going to air. Turning to TVNZ's contextual

arguments, Mrs Langford asked whether TVNZ intended to broadcast sex and nudity

in its evening programmes. She suggested that the audience for that material was

already catered for by the video market. She wrote:

In that way sexually explicit material IS A MATTER OF CHOICE TO

WHICH WE DO NOT HAVE TO FINANCIALLY CONTRIBUTE IF WE

DO NOT WANT TO.

Referring to TVNZ's denial that the material was pornography, Mrs Langford wrote

that it should be noted that that was TVNZ's opinion and not a statement of fact. She

argued that the matter was debatable.

Finally Mrs Langford referred to some of the standards in the Television Code of

Broadcasting Practice which she believed were breached. She cited standards G11, G2,

G7, G9, V4, V5 and V11.

TVNZ's Response to the Authority -17 July 1995

In a brief response, TVNZ noted that it had nothing further to add to its previous

letter, except to say that Mrs Langford had endeavoured to introduce new standards

when she referred the complaint to the Authority which were not part of her original

complaint. TVNZ drew the Authority's attention to the original complaint which

mentioned taste and decency and deceptive programme practices. It noted that

nothing in that letter indicated that G9, G11, V4, V5 or V11 were to be considered.

Mrs Langford's Final Comment - 26 June 1995

In her final comment, Mrs Langford stated that she did not appreciate the

confrontational tone of TVNZ's response. She repeated that she stood by her

complaint and added that she considered it her democratic right to have the matter

brought before the Authority.