No breach! The eclectic world of ACMA’s complaints dept

Studio 10, Outlander, Nine News and a Hannibal movie -just some of the colourful TV offerings that have one thing in common: they have all been the target of complaints to the media watchdog.

But after severe scrutiny by the Australian Communications and Media Authority they all got the clearance, each for different reasons.

So what sort of things do people complain about? Here’s a snapshot.

Studio 10, TEN. 17 February 2017

A ’90s tribute episode saw the ‘Studio 10 Boys’ mimicking the Backstreet Boys and hugging members of the audience. But not everyone saw the funny side of it.

According to one complainant, “As the panellists considered Jonathan Coleman’s performance, he said: ‘Watch this – it’s called a slut drop, as he attempted to perform the so-named dance move.”

ACMA agreed the term ‘slut’ may be offensive but in this context was part of a dance move rather than being directed to anybody. It was clear from the audience’s laughter they were amused by his antics.

“Considering all of these factors, the impact of the infrequent coarse language did not exceed ‘mild’ and was contextually justified. Therefore, the ACMA considers the program was appropriately classified PG,” it ruled. No breach.

Nine News Melb, Nine. 19 February 2017.

Footage of a severe car accident in Perth was played repeatedly but upset one viewer.

“My concern is not the use of the footage but the airing of the instant of the collision and the distress it caused me but more importantly the distress it would have caused children who happened to be watching,” said the complainant.

But Nine defended it had reported on a reckless driver with a fatal lack of regard to other road users, informed the public of criminal activity and serious anti-social conduct, and included persons using motor vehicles as weapons to deliberately take lives.

ACMA agreed there was an identifiable public interest in the footage, but did investigate whether the repetition of the footage was gratuitous. It found the report was pre-empted with a warning of “confronting pictures.”

“Despite the footage containing elements that may distress or offend some viewers, the ACMA does not consider that the material reached the high threshold of being likely to ‘seriously’ distress or ‘seriously’ offend a ‘substantial’ number of viewers,” it said.

“The ACMA considers the warning was adequate for the likely adult audience of the program.”

No breach.

Outlander SBS 5 January 2017

Those harrowing rape scenes scenes between Jamie (Sam Heughan) submit to rape by Randall (Tobias Menzies) in exchange for Claire’s freedom tipped one viewer over the edge.

“This was worse than any pornography that I have seen, and was sado-masochistic with emotional and physical abuse. It violated SBS code of content, even for that time of night.  It dragged on for too long and it was already presumed that a homosexual buggery encounter had occurred previously, before the recollection scene. It didn’t need to be spelled out. It was not right to show such awful scenes. It was traumatic for me to watch and the memory kept coming back to me days afterwards making me feel sick in the stomach,” they protested.

But ACMA found while two scenes had a strong impact, it didn’t pass as frequent sexual violence in the context of a two-hour program.

“The ACMA also considers that the depictions of sexual violence contained in scenes 3 and 4 are not prolonged in the context of the story’s need to demonstrate the means by which Randall is prepared to possess Jamie and break the bond that exists between Jamie and Claire,” it ruled.

“The ACMA does not consider that the sexual violence is presented in a gratuitous or exploitative manner. Rather, it is in keeping with the narrative previously established in the program about Randall’s obsession with Jamie.”

SBS also submitted “…currently sexual violence is not a classifiable element in Australian television, and is therefore not offered as consumer advice at this time. SBS provided advice for both sex and violence in this instance. The consumer advice provided complied with the requirements of the SBS Codes of Practice.” No breach.

Hannibal movie 7flix 2 December 2016.

The 2001 movie copped an R18+ from the Australian Classification Review Board but aired as MA15+ on 7flix.

A complainant said, “I believe the Seven Network did not edit (or as I have since discovered in their reply) sufficiently edit the film, to accommodate it in a lower classification suitable for free-to-air television, due to the “high impact violence” (some of which was gratuitous or over-the-top and prolonged in a realistic manner) the film contained, therefore breaching the code.

“I had a teenage boy in the house at the time, who actually alerted me that he had been watching the movie in another room (of which I was unaware). He came to me and said ‘look at this, a man is getting his head cut open’.'”

Seven said it was broadcast very late at night and into the early morning with warnings and MA15+ classification.

“The feedback from the complainant was the only complaint Seven received in respect of the broadcast, and the film has been previously broadcast with an MA15+ classification without complaint,” Seven noted.

ACMA agreed the film was appropriately classified MA15+ under the Code and was, therefore, suitable for broadcast. But it is worth noting a Dept. of Communications review has recommended ACMA take over film classification in order to unify differences that exist between film & TV. No breach.

The Mix, ABC News 24, 13 November 2016

James Valentine’s magazine show featured the 1866 painting The Origin of the World by French artist, Gustave Courbet. The painting depicts the body of a nude female lying on her back with one breast exposed (the other is concealed by a sheet) and her legs splayed to expose her genital area.

One viewer objected to “…the blatant airing of painting of a woman’s private parts which was originally covered by ‘a hat silhouette’ or ‘The Mix‘ logo in the program until the host found a way around exposing the full female anatomy.”

But ACMA ruled The Mix is a news program and is exempt from classification requirements under the Code. No breach.


The Fall promo FOX Sports 2 9 October 2016

“Whilst watching this cricket match with my children (6 and 9) on numerous occasions a trailer for The Fall was run during the ad breaks,” said this complainant.  “I do not believe that this content was suitable for young children – I refer specifically to the opening line, ‘You’ll never know the almost God-like power that I feel when that last bit of breath leaves a body’ with images of gloved hands twisting fabric as if strangling someone, as well as the hooded figure opening the window.”

Foxtel said the promo had very discreet visual and verbal references to violence, and the impact was no greater than mild.

ACMA found that while the Cricket may have appealed to a family audience time zone restrictions do not apply to subscription broadcasters, which also come with greater controls for viewers.

“Subscription television services may therefore broadcast program promotions at any time, subject to meeting the Codes provision to have regard to the need to protect children from unsuitable content,” it ruled.

“In this case, the ACMA is satisfied that the licensee exercised caution in relation to the broadcast of The Fall program promotion by ensuring its impact was mild and by considering the likely audience for the program in which it was broadcast.”

No breach.

You can read more on these non-breaches in full at ACMA’s 2017 Television Investigations.

11 Comments:

  1. Some recent examples off the top of my head, where (uncut) a TV network has classified it differently to it’s DVD release.

    Catching Milat-
    Seven: M & Classification Board: MA15+

    “Taxi Driver” (1976)-
    SBS: MA15+ & Classification Board: R18+ (as recent as 2011 for Blu-Ray).

    So bizarre!

  2. Some people just have really thin skin. Don’t like it, don’t watch it. It’s a TV, it can’t hurt you unless you allow it to.

  3. I agree that most of these are covered by network warnings, and people can choose to stop watching. But the last one is a real bugbear of mine. These complainants were watching subscription tv, but it is a constant problem on FTA. Inappropriate content from M or MA programs is promoted during the early evening, or during sport, where children are often watching. A parent has no warning of this, and has to be pretty quick on the trigger to change channels before the poor content has already happened. I would like to see this problem addressed as soon as possible.

  4. ACMA, setup to respond to people incapable of changing a TV channel, honestly people, I clicked the link, I do agree with violations of gambling adds during any broadcast, however, for complaints of personal offence or breach of ones personal standards, just change the bloody channel, personally thought the Outlander was a brilliant scene…

    • I agree totally, yes the gambling ads are a violation but the rest, like you said change the channel and in the case of the news item regarding the car crash, don’t shield your kids use it to teach them a lesson. I believe people are too damn entitled.

  5. Armchair Analyst

    I had no problems with these. ACMA did the right thing and allowing for context. If people dont like it they dont have to watch. Its well known that certain films of certain genre will be show more violance or sexual activities/references than others.

    • I actually disagree. We do need an independent umpire. Networks are using public spectrum. Needs to be a process for disputes, rules for networks to work within, as other countries offer. Remember all of these went to ACMA because complainants were not happy with the response from networks.

  6. I notice 7flix are airing Hannibal again this Saturday at 10:45pm.

    With that film, as discussed in the report, the complainant was specifically referring to two scenes:

    1) The dinner scene near the end, where Ray Liotta’s skull is cut open, a piece of brain is removed, cooked and then fed to him by Lectur, as Julianna Moore watches in disbelief whilst drugged.

    2) A scene earlier in the film, where Lectur ties a Police officer to some device strung by a rope, slices open his stomach, pushes him off a balcony and his bowels fall out.

    Now, Seven said the complainant was correct, these two scenes were completely left uncut.

    Both Seven and the ACMA meticulously worded the reasons why these could be accomodated at the upper-end of MA15+.

    But I agree with the complainant and the Classification Board (until they changed it to MA15+ in a 2009 Blu-Ray release), I think these…

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