Sime and TVWorks Ltd - 2009-080
- Joanne Morris (Chair)
- Tapu Misa
- Paul France
- Mary Anne Shanahan
- Marnie Sime
Channel/StationTV3 # 3
Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
3 News – item on MTV music awards – showed actor Sacha Baron Cohen as his character Bruno dressed as an angel and only wearing a harness – Bruno was lowered in front of musician Eminem who was sitting in the crowd – Bruno was suspended upside down so that his buttocks were in the musician’s face – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency and children’s interests
Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – contextual factors – not upheld
Standard 9 (children’s interests) – unsupervised children unlikely to watch news programmes – item did not contain material that would have disturbed or alarmed child viewers – not upheld
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
 An item on 3 News, broadcast on TV3 at 6pm on 2 June 2009, reported on a prank played at the MTV music awards by comedian Sacha Baron Cohen and musician Eminem. The presenter introduced the item by saying:
Yesterday’s bottoms up stunt at the expense of Eminem at the MTV music awards may not have been all it seemed. Dressed as an angel and sporting only a harness, Sacha Baron Cohen was lowered on top of the controversial rapper as he sat in the audience. A disgusted Eminem got up and left, but it’s now being suggested the prank was a well planned publicity stunt in time for the launch of his new album.
 During the presenter’s introduction, a still shot was displayed behind the news reader showing part of Cohen’s buttocks with the straps of the harness obscuring his genitals.
 The item also included brief footage of Cohen suspended upside down in front of Eminem so that his buttocks were in the musician’s face.
 Marnie Sime made a formal complaint to TVWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the item breached standards of good taste and decency and children’s interests.
 The complainant argued that the footage was “lewd” and “repulsive”, and that Mr Cohen’s genitalia had been “barely concealed”. She contended that the footage was inappropriate for broadcast during the 6pm news, because children may have been watching.
 TVWorks assessed the complaint under Standards 1 and 9 and guideline 9a of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. These provide:
Standard 1 Good Taste and Decency
In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are responsible for maintaining standards which are consistent with the observance of good taste and decency.
Standard 9 Children’s Interests
During children’s normally accepted viewing times (see Appendix 1), broadcasters are required, in the preparation and presentation of programmes, to consider the interests of child viewers.
Broadcasters should be mindful of the effect any programme or promo may have on children during their normally accepted viewing times – usually up to 8.30pm – and avoid screening material which would disturb or alarm them.
Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant
 With respect to good taste and decency, TVWorks noted that the item formed part of an unclassified news programme that had an adult target audience. It contended that children were more likely to watch programmes directed at them screening on other channels.
 The broadcaster said that the story was about “a well publicised prank that the comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, in the guise of fashion guru Bruno, supposedly played on Eminem”. It stated that the story had been published on internet sites and covered by the press all over the world.
 TVWorks argued that Mr Cohen was infamous for his highly publicised movie Borat, a “mockumentary” comedy where unwitting participants were tricked into thinking they were talking to a Kazakhstani journalist. It said that it had not provided the contextual background of the prank, because it considered it to be common knowledge that he was releasing a similar movie as his character Bruno.
 The broadcaster considered that the news item had correctly characterised the prank as a publicity stunt and that it had not contained any objectionable material “such as genitals”. It also contended that partially exposed buttocks could be regularly seen in television promos and advertising. TVWorks declined to uphold the Standard 1 complaint.
 Turning to children’s interests, the broadcaster pointed out that, prior to the item and before the second advertisement break, the story was highlighted when the newsreader asked, “And what’s behind this intimate encounter between Eminem and Sacha Baron Cohen?” It said that while the newsreader asked the question, a vision of Mr Cohen suspended upside down in front of Eminem wearing only a harness was shown for five seconds. The broadcaster argued that the coming up highlight shown earlier in the programme had given parents sufficient time and information to “make a viewing choice on behalf of their children”.
 TVWorks considered that the item did not contain any material that would have disturbed or alarmed child viewers. It reiterated the points it made under Standard 1 and argued that it had adequately considered the interests of child viewers. The broadcaster declined to uphold the complaint that the item breached Standard 9.
Referral to the Authority
 Dissatisfied with TVWorks’ response, Ms Sime referred her complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the broadcasting Act 1989.
 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)
 When the Authority considers an alleged breach of good taste and decency, it takes into account the context of the broadcast. On this occasion, the relevant contextual factors include:
the item was broadcast at 6pm
3 News was an unclassified news programme
the programme had an adult target audience.
 The Authority notes that the footage of Mr Cohen suspended upside down in front of Eminem was fleeting and not intended to titillate. While Mr Cohen’s buttocks were briefly visible, the harness he was wearing covered his genitals.
 Taking the above contextual factors into account, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint that the item breached Standard 1.
Standard 9 (children’s interests)
 The Authority has stated on a number of occasions that unaccompanied young children are unlikely to watch news programmes (see, for example, Angus and TVWorks1). Further, the Authority considers that there is nothing inherently harmful to children in seeing a fleeting image of a man’s buttocks, and that the brief news item would have been more likely to puzzle than disturb young children.
 The Authority finds that the item did not contain any material that would have disturbed or alarmed child viewers, and it declines to uphold the Standard 9 complaint.
For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
17 September 2009
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1. Marnie Sime’s formal complaint – 3 June 2009
2. TVWorks’ response to the complaint – 30 June 2009
3. Ms Sime’s referral to the Authority – 5 July 2009
4. TVWorks’ response to the Authority – 14 July 2009
1Decision No. 2009-009