KEN FRANCIS AGAINST TVNZ

Case Number: VoD 1

Council Meeting: AUGUST 2020

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: TVNZ

Ruling Categories: VOD Classification

Overview

TVNZ on Demand is running season 2 of The Lawyer.The Lawyer is described as a fast-paced Danish Nordic-noir thriller about a young and promising defence lawyer who infiltrates the criminal world to investigate his parents’ untimely deaths. The Danish dialogue is subtitled in English.

The series was rated 16-C by TVNZ.

The Complaint

Ken Francis complained that he had watched season2 episode 1 of The Lawyer and noted that it was rated 16-C.He took this to mean there must be no offensive language or it would have been rated 16-CL. However it turned out that the “f-word” was used at least six times.

Mr Francis rejected the TVNZ response (below) saying that viewers could not be expected to know there would be some offensive language if this was not actually indicated. He thought it should not be up to the channel to determine how much profanity was too much. Even one use of the word should trigger the L warning.

Mr Francis was not satisfied with the TVNZ response and brought his complaint to the Media Council Video on Demand Classification Committee.

The Response

TVNZ noted that, as set down in the Code, 16-classified programmes should not be viewed by people under 16 years.

They contain stronger material or special elements which are outside the M classification. These programmes may contain a greater degree of sexual activity, potentially offensive language, realistic violence, sexual violence or horrific encounters.

The C advisory means: Content may offend.

It was therefore reasonable to expect viewers to be aware that 16-C classified programmes may contain offensive language.

The L advisory would be triggered when the incidence or strength of language went beyond the expectations of the 16-C classification. This might arise if the offensive language was of the strongest degree (the “c word” for example) or when it was frequent or pervasive.

TVNZ’s classifier considered that approximately six instances of the “f word” throughout the whole episode was within audience’s expectations of a 16-C classification and their Complaints Committee agreed.

The Decision

The Video on Demand Classification Committee viewed the episode of The Lawyer complained about. They noted that the classification 16-C was clearly to be seen in the list of episodes when a viewer is selecting which episode to watch and also just beside the precis of the storyline for each episode. With the 16-C rating a viewer should have an expectation of the potential for some coarse language as long as it was not gratuitous or excessive.

They noted that the first incidence of the complained-about word was in the context of the introduction to the episode and was not subtitled. It was in English.

Subsequent incidences of the word, or derivations of it, were at approximately 13.10, 23.39, 39.08, 42.27, 43.06 and 43.12. One was in English, the remainder in Danish with subtitles. The increasing frequency followed the increasing intensity of the drama being played out in the storyline.

The Committee was of the view that the intended audience of a gritty Scandi criminal law drama would likely not have been surprised that the episode contained some instances of coarse language. The language was the vernacular of the characters, the language was of the sort that might be expected in a drama involving lawyers and crime, and it was spoken in context and was not gratuitous or pervasive.

The visual warning symbol L should be preserved for content that has an unexpected or excessive amount of coarse language. For the reasons given, this programme did not.

The Video-on-Demand Classifications Code says additional visual warning symbols, such as L, should be applied when the language is likely to offend a significant number of the intended audience. Given TVNZ only received one complaint on this matter, and given the reaction of Committee members when they viewed the episode, the Committee was confident a significant number of viewers were not offended.

The Committee also noted that the first incidence was in the introduction to the episode, and was in English with no subtitles. This gave a viewer a clear indication of what was to come, and a decision to view or not to view the episode could be made at that point.

Finding: The Classification Committee upholds the TVNZ decision to classify Season 2 Episode 1 ofThe Lawyer as 16-C. The complaint is not upheld.

Classification Committee members considering this complaint were Hon Raynor Asher (Chair), Nina East, Sean Lyons, Dianne Martin and Andrew Martin. Andrea Fasching stood down because the complaint was against TVNZ and Dianne Martin was the substitute member.