Greig and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2023-060 (3 October 2023)
- Susie Staley MNZM (Chair)
- John Gillespie
- Tupe Solomon-Tanoa’i
- Aroha Beck
- Juliet Greig
BroadcasterTelevision New Zealand Ltd
[This summary does not form part of the decision.]
The Authority has not upheld a complaint that broadcasting the film Jason Bourne at 7.30pm breached the offensive and disturbing content and children’s interests standards, due to violent opening scenes. The Authority found the scenes did not feature violence exceeding the film’s ‘MV’ rating (suitable for mature audiences 16 years and over and containing violence that might offend viewers) and was therefore suitable to be broadcast at 7.30pm, during children’s normally accepted viewing times. Further, the broadcaster had sufficiently signposted the nature of the programme, by showing the classification and advisory before the film started, and again after every ad break. Parents and caregivers were therefore adequately apprised of the nature of the film in order to make informed viewing choices for children in their care. The Authority also noted the film is part of a well-known franchise about a CIA assassin, and scenes of killing and violence would not be unexpected.
Not Upheld: Offensive and Disturbing Content, Children’s Interests
 On 17 June 2023, TVNZ broadcast the film Jason Bourne at 7.30pm. The film was preceded by the warning ‘The following programme is rated M, it contains violence’.
 During the opening scene, Jason Bourne states ‘I remember, I remember everything’. It is followed by scenes from the first Bourne film, where Bourne is recruited as a CIA assassin, and a scene of him pointing a gun at the man who recruited him. This is followed by a montage of other ‘flashback’ scenes from previous movies of Bourne killing people, including:
- shooting a person who is tied up with a hood over their head, who then slumps in their chair
- shooting a person in a field
- garrotting a person
- shooting someone in a bedroom
- strangling a person
- shooting a person with a sniper rifle.
 The clips were blurry and shaky, and cut away from the scene after each assassination. Two of the victims were shown struggling, with blood on their faces. There was brief audio of a woman’s cries. After the clips of his previous assassinations, Bourne jolts awake in a van, and is driven up to a group of men, where he gets out of the van, and participates in an organised fist fight.
 Juliet Greig complained that the broadcast breached the offensive and disturbing content standard of the Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand due to the violence contained in the broadcast, advising:
- Within a few minutes of the starting the film her children were exposed to a graphic and gory scene of the character Jason Bourne murdering a man who was restrained and wearing a black hood by shooting him in the head, and a scene showing a person's face covered in blood, which her children found disturbing. ‘This was extreme and brutal violence and totally unacceptable to see on television at 7:30pm.’
- ‘I believe this film, with violent scenes at the beginning, should have been screened by TVNZ at a later time than 7:30pm (when many children would have been exposed to it).’
 In referring the complaint to us, the complainant also identified the children’s interests standard as having been breached. This standard states that broadcasters should ensure children can be protected from broadcasts which might adversely affect them, during children’s normally accepted viewing times.1 This may include material that unduly disturbs them, is harmful or is likely to impair their development.2
 Under section 8(1B) of the Broadcasting Act 1989, we are only able to consider the standard(s) raised in the original complaint to the broadcaster. The High Court has clarified that in certain circumstances:2a
…it is permissible [for the Authority] to fill gaps…or cross boundaries between Code standards…but only if these things can be done within the wording, reasonably interpreted, of the original complaint, and if a proper consideration of the complaint makes that approach reasonably necessary…
 In this case we consider it is evident from the original complaint that the complainant’s primary concern was the impact of the film’s violence on children. We therefore consider that the children’s interests standard can reasonably be implied in the complaint, and that this is necessary to give proper consideration to the complaint. We also note the broadcaster, in its response to the original complaint, responded under both the offensive and disturbing content, and children’s interests standards.
 We have therefore considered the complaint under both the offensive and disturbing content, and children’s interests standards in making our decision.
The broadcaster’s response
 TVNZ did not uphold the complaint for the following reasons:
- Jason Bourne was certified MV and aimed at an adult audience. It was preceded by a written warning which stated “The following programme is rated M. It contains violence.”
- ‘The MV certificate means M - Mature Audiences: Suitable for mature audiences 16 years and over: Programmes might contain violence, sexual material, offensive language, adult themes, nudity, or other content that some children and adults find challenging. May contain material with a moderate impact and themes that require a mature outlook. V - Contains violence.’
- ‘MV classified programmes may be screened between 9am and 3pm on weekdays (except during school and public holidays, as designated by the Ministry of Education) and after 7.30pm until 5am.’
- ‘Parents are able to use parental locks on their television to block M content if they wish to prevent their children seeing such material...’
- Quoting the Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand, ‘The ability for people to choose and control what they and the children and young people in their care encounter on TV or radio means the responsibility for safe viewing or listening is shared by audiences too. Broadcasters provide audiences with a number of tools for this, such as parental locks, classifications, audience advisories and timebands on free-to-air TV...’3
- ‘The Jason Bourne movies are popular, and the likely content of these programmes would be known to viewers. The scenes… complained about would be expected, and they provide background to the storyline which is important in the context of the movie.’
- The scene complained about is ‘where Jason Bourne remembers being introduced into the Treadstone program. He worked as an assassin so his memories of this are shown. The way that these brief scenes are presented is not graphic or gory. The footage is distorted to reflect that what the viewer is seeing is a recovered memory, not real time, and what is shown is acceptable within the context of the MV certificate.’
- While TVNZ understood that the complainant did not like her children seeing the footage mentioned, TVNZ considered that ‘sufficient information was provided’ to enable child viewers to be protected from any potentially adverse material. TVNZ did ‘not agree that it would offend or disturb a significant number of viewers in the context of screening.’
 The purpose of the offensive and disturbing content standard4 is to protect audiences from viewing or listening to broadcasts that are likely to cause widespread disproportionate offence or distress or undermine widely shared community standards.5 The standard takes into account the context of the programme, and the wider context of the broadcast, as well as information given by the broadcaster to enable the audience to exercise choice and control over their viewing or listening.
 The children’s interests standard6 requires broadcasters to ensure children can be protected from broadcasts which might adversely affect them. Material likely to be considered under this standard includes violent or sexual content or themes, offensive language, social or domestic friction and dangerous, antisocial or illegal behaviour where such material is outside the expectations of the programme’s classification.7
 We have watched the broadcast and read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.
 When we consider a complaint about broadcasting standards, our starting point is to recognise the importance of the right to freedom of expression, which is protected by the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990. This includes both the broadcaster’s right to offer ideas and information and a range of programmes, and the audience’s right to receive those. We may only intervene and uphold a complaint where we find actual or potential harm caused by the broadcast complained about, at a level which justifies regulatory intervention and placing a reasonable limit on freedom of expression.8
 Broadcasters must schedule programmes responsibly, giving careful consideration to the likely and target audience, children’s interests, the audience’s ability to exercise choice and control, and all applicable broadcasting standards.9
 Where broadcasters provide consistent, reliable information to audiences about the nature of their programmes, and enable them to exercise choice and control over their own and their children’s viewing or listening, they are less likely to breach standards.10
 The harm alleged in this case is the violence depicted in the opening scenes of the film, and the effect this may have had on younger viewers.
 The context of the broadcast is crucial to our assessment of potential harm under both the offensive and disturbing content and children’s interests standards, including the steps taken by the broadcaster to inform audiences of the nature of the programme. We considered the following contextual factors were relevant in this case:
The broadcast’s classification
- The movie was classified M, with an audience advisory for violence. This classification signalled the movie was suitable for mature audiences 16 years and over and contained violence that might offend viewers.11
- The classification and advisory was shown 15 seconds before the movie started, and was shown again after every ad break.
- The broadcaster’s selection of an M classification is the same as that set by Te Mana Whakaatu | The Classification Office for the Jason Bourne film.12
The time of broadcast
- While the programme screened during children’s normally accepted viewing times (for free-to-air television this is usually up to 8.30pm),13 M rated programmes may be played after 7.30pm.14
The target and likely audience
- The movie had an adult target audience.
Audience expectations of the programme
- The Bourne series is a well-known movie franchise about a CIA-trained assassin. There is an established audience expectation in relation to this movie and its prequels, the first being released in 2002, and the movie in question (the fifth and final in the series) having been released in 2016. Footage of violence and assassinations would not be unexpected and is consistent with the theme of the movies.
- The depictions of the assassinations were brief, and cut away immediately after each one, so did not linger on the portrayal of the deaths.
- The responsibility for safe viewing is shared by broadcasters and parents/caregivers.15
 We acknowledge the movie, and in particular, its opening scenes, depicted violence, and we understand the complainant’s concerns that this may have been disturbing for children to watch. However, the Code of Broadcasting Standards acknowledges it is not possible or practicable for broadcasters to shield children from all potentially unsuitable content.16 A key consideration in this case is whether the content complained about was outside audience expectations for the type of programme or the programme classification.
 We consider the opening scenes did not exceed an ‘MV’ rating. The classification signalled that the film was suitable for mature audiences 16 and over, and contained violence that might offend. We do not consider the violence depicted in the opening scenes exceeded such a rating, noting the depictions were brief, and in our view, were not of a graphic or gory nature. Accordingly, the scenes were not outside audience expectations for the type of programme (a Jason Bourne film) or the programme classification. The film was therefore suitable for broadcasting at 7.30pm, during children’s normally accepted viewing times.
 Further, we consider the broadcaster sufficiently signposted the nature of the programme, through showing the classification and advisory before the movie started, and showing it again after every ad break. Parents and caregivers were therefore adequately apprised of the nature of the film in order to make informed viewing choices for children in their care.
 In the circumstances, we consider the broadcaster took reasonable steps to inform the audience of the nature of the programme to ensure children could be protected from content which might adversely affect them. We further consider the broadcast was not likely to otherwise cause widespread disproportionate offence or distress, or undermine widely shared community standards, in breach of the offensive and disturbing content standard.
 Accordingly, we do not consider there was sufficient potential harm caused by the broadcast to warrant regulatory intervention and consider upholding the complaint would unreasonably limit the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression on this occasion.
For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
3 October 2023
The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1 Greig's formal complaint to TVNZ - 17 June 2023
2 TVNZ’s decision on complaint – 13 July 2023
3 Greig’s referral to the Authority - 14 July 2023
4 Greig’s confirmation of standards – 23 August 2023
5 TVNZ’s final comments – 25 August 2023
6 Greig’s confirmation of no further comment – 1 September 2023
1 Standard 2, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand
2 Commentary, Standard 2, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand at page 10
2a Attorney General of Samoa v TVWorks Ltd  NZHC 131,  NZAR 407 at 
3 Introduction, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand at page 4
4 Standard 1, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand
5 Commentary, Standard 1, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand at page 8
6 Standard 2, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand
7 Guideline 2.2
8 Introduction, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand at page 4
9 Guideline 1.13
10 Guideline 1.3
11 Guideline 1.4
12 Te Mana Whakaatu | Classifications Office “Find a rating” (accessed 1 September 2023) <classificationoffice.govt.nz>
13 Guideline 2.1
14 Guideline 1.16
15 “Choice and Control”, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand at page 4
16 Commentary, Standard 2, Code of Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand at page 10