Society’s letter of complaint to CanWest Media Works over “South Park’s” episode “Bloody Mary”
Thursday, 30 March 2006
Society president Mike Petrus says: “It is a sad indictment of the Standards Committee of the TV Channel C4, that it has failed to concede that any aspect of the contents of the “South Park” episode “Bloody Mary” transgress the Broadcasting Standards free-to-air TV Code of good taste and decency that the community expects broadcasters to adhere to.
Mr Rick Friesen, Chief Operating Officer of C4, should be personally held to account for his decision to screen “Bloody Mary” on 22 February 2006. If its content is not ruled indecent by the Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA), then Channel C4 will have no reason to discontinue its promotion of moral filth and obscenity, targeted, as Friesen has admitted, at teens and teenage boys. If the BSA upholds the C4 Standards Committee’s decision that no breaches of the Codes 1 and 6 have occurred, then a new low benchmark will have been reached in the definition of what constitutes “good taste and decency” in television content.”
Letter of complaint (21/03/06) to CEO of CanWest Media Works re “Bloody Mary” episode.
The Society for the Promotion of Community Standards Inc.
P.O. Box 13-683 Johnsonville
21 March 2006
Mr Brent Impey
The Chief Executive
CanWest Media Works
TV3 and C4
Private Bag 92624
Re: Breaches by the Broadcaster of the Free-to-Air Broadcasting Standards Code Codes covered by the Broadcasting Act 1989.
Programme: “Bloody Mary” episode of South Park on Channel C4. Screened at 9.30 p.m. on Wednesday 22 February 2006.
The Society recognises:
? Fundamental to broadcasters is the statutory right to freedom of expression which is provided for in Section 14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 [BOR].
S. 14 – “Freedom of Expression” – comes under Part 2 of the BOR – “Democratic and Civil Rights”:
“Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and opinions of any kind in any form.”
? This “right to freedom of expression” is NOT absolute. It “may be” lawfully overridden by matters contained within Part 1 of the General Provisions of the BOR, in particular ss. 5 & 6:
5. Justified limitations
“Subject to section 4 of this Bill of Rights, the rights and freedoms contained in this Bill of Rights may be subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.”
In those case where the interpretation of a particular enactment becomes critical to resolving a conflict between “freedom of expression” considerations and those requiring the application of the law to limit such expression, the principle found in s. 6 is applied by the Courts:
6. Interpretation consistent with Bill of Rights to be preferred
Wherever an enactment can be given a meaning that is consistent with the rights and freedoms contained in this Bill of Rights, that meaning shall be preferred to any other meaning.
The Society’s objectives contained in its Constitution (see website: www.spcs.org.nz) include:
? To encourage self-respect and the dignity of the human person, made in the image of God.
? To support responsible freedom of expression which does not injure the public good by degrading, dehumanising or demeaning individuals or classes of people.
Analysis of Programme
1. The South Park episode “Bloody Mary” began with a static trailer stating:
“All characters and events in this show – even those based on real people – are entirely fictional. All celebrity voices are impersonated … poorly. The following programme contains coarse language and due to its content should not be viewed by anyone.” [Emphasis added]
In our view, the comment highlighted illustrates the cavalier attitude of the broadcaster. However, we overlook this as a symptom of immaturity and a lack of comprehension of what truly does constitute material that is indecent, offensive and in poor taste, among other things. There is no warning of the gratuitous obscenity and profanity.
2. The next screen shot showed the programme rating as: “AO – Adults Only”
South Park is recognised as “aimed at the 15-29 demographic” and yet its material is rated as AO.The C4 CEO has stated that it is aimed primarily at teens and “teenage boys” in particular.
The Broadcasting Standards website shows that this rating means:
“Programmes containing adult themes and directed primarily at mature audiences.”
“AO programmes may be screened between midday and 3pm on weekdays (except during school and public holidays as designated by the Ministry of Education) and after 8.30pm until 5am.”
3. The tone of the “coarse language” is typified by language such as: “Get off my arse dick hole” – a comment made to a law enforcement officer.
4. Contrary to the claims of C4’s chief operating officer, Rick Friesen, the programme did not constitute satire in its treatment of religion. He said it was “not gratuitous but rather legitimate satire that is quite funny”. We strongly disagree. It was neither funny nor did it constitute legitimate satire. It was calculated insult and malice directed at those who hold the Virgin Mary to be the Holy and Blessed Mother of the Lord Jesus Christ – whose blood was shed on the Cross for the forgiveness of sins. In particular it denigrated Roman Catholic reverential respect for the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God. Those in the Muslim community who hold Mary to be the “perfect woman” and mother of the Prophet Jesus, were also deeply offended by the programme. She is revered as the pre-eminent exemplar of goodness in the teachings of Islam.
5. In the Western tradition, there is a legitimate place for satire and that includes religious satire. Satire is not addressed at true and profound goodness, but rather the all-too-human foibles of mankind, institutional corruption etc. Religious satire lampoons “sacred cows” with good humour and has a moral purpose, for example the exposing the foolishness or evil of some religious belief or practice. Satire does not attack that which is a symbol of moral purity.
6. The broadcaster may try and argue, like Rick Frieson, that the “Bloody Mary” episode does in fact constitute “legitimate [religious] satire” and therefore the genre (satire) allows for a higher threshold for denigration of a class of persons (Christians/Catholics) in view of the BOR. This line of reasoning is spurious. Mere assertion cannot establish the genre of a programme. The broadcaster must demonstrate why the episode constitutes “legitimate [religious] satire”. The Society has demonstrated why it is not. The Society challenges the broadcaster to provide support from any leading scholar with expertise in the genre of satire, supporting the claim that the episode constituted “legitimate religious satire”.
7. The BOR does not provide the broadcaster with a basis for redefining “satire” to include gratuitous religious insult directed at that which embodies profound goodness and has the detrimental effect of denigrating a class of persons.
8. The Prime Minister, the Rt. Hon. Helen Clark, has recently acknowledged that “there are such things as decency and standards”. Her comments on this highly controversial episode make it clear that it was deeply offensive to her, “as a woman”, and clearly crossed the acceptable boundaries of decency. The Society’s concerns are shared by hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders.
9. The nihilism that undergirds the programme is evident in its sneering and nasty treatment of the Alcoholic Anonymous (AA) recovery 12-step programme. This programme has helped tens of thousands of individuals worldwide to be overcome the evil of alcoholism. However, leaving that aspect aside, the “denigration” of a class of persons – the hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders who revere the Mother of the Lord Jesus Christ – is central to our concern.
10. The Broadcasting Standards Authority has consistently defined “denigration” as meaning “blackening of the reputation of a class of people”. South Park’s denigration of the Roman Catholic Church and its adherents begins with the calculated insult: “the statue of the Virgin Mary that has started to bleed out its arse”. This is reinforced by reference to Father Harold Barnes who “saw blood coming from the Virgin’s arse” and a question put to a Catholic: “why do you believe the Virgin Mary is dripping blood from her arse?” The gratuitous insult is effected by continued repetition and the expelling of blood being accompanied by the sound of rectal gas emissions with each spurt.
11. Sadly, people like Rick Frieson find such material “quite funny” and appear to be blind to the extremely offensive nature of such depictions of a cherished Saint – the Mother of Christ. Not only does such content demean, degrade and dehumanise women in general, as indicated by the Prime Minister in reference to this episode, it has the same effect on those cherish the person and work of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It denigrates the sincere Christian faith of believers and is extremely hurtful. It has no redeeming element whatsoever.
12. The fourth gratuitous depiction and reference to “blood out her arse” is made by the reporter, prior to the scene of the Cardinal having his face splattered with blood accompanied by fart noises. The fifth reference to the Virgin “bleeding out her arse” is made by Stan’s dad, Randy, as he is about to drive away in a car…. “There’s the church” he says, as he approaches the scene of the ‘miracle’.
13. The “arse bleeding” depictions are replete with blasphemous insults: “Praise Jesus”… “Praise Mary the Blessed Virgin Mary” “Praise Christ” …rants Stan’s dad. “She’s beautiful” he says as blood squirts and two more fart noises are emitted.
14. Pope Benedict the 16th is directed to examine the statue to determine whether a miracle has taken place. He is doused in ‘menstrual’ blood and extended fart noises accompany the issue of blood. The Pope then declares that the event is “not a miracle” and declares that “the Virgin is not bleeding from her arse but from her vagina”. Then we have a focus on the statement issued by the Pope:
“A chick bleeding out her vagina is no miracle. Chicks bleed out their vaginas all the time”.
This is absolutely sick! The Pope is effectively accused of misogyny. As Bill English MP, who is a practising Catholic, has stated, “the combination of bad taste and religious insult makes it deeply offensive”.
[The episode is credited to executive producers: Trey Parker and Matt Stone].
Grounds for a Formal Complaint
Standard 1 Good Taste and Decency
The content of this programme is not consistent with standards of good taste and decency. The content falls outside current norms of decency and taste in language and behaviour bearing in mind the context in which any language or behaviour occurs. Even if it is conceded that this episode constitutes “satire” (which we don’t for a moment!) its content still falls outside acceptable standards.
No warnings were provided that the programme contained gratuitous insult and might deeply offend certain classes of persons or upset a significant number of adult viewers with religious convictions and beliefs. Warnings are required by the guidelines to be “specific in nature, while avoiding detail, which may itself distress or offend viewers”.
The blood spurts from the “arse” of the Virgin Mary statue and with the accompanying noises (farts) serve no other purpose than intended insult directed at Roman Catholics. The use of the ‘menstrual’ blood to make the sign of the cross on the forehead of those seeking a miracle healing is deeply offensive to Catholics and all true Christians and is in very poor taste. The insulting denigrations of Pope Benedict 16th, the Cardinal and parish priest, using depictions of anal discharges etc., is indecent and calculated to be deeply offensive.
Standard 6 Fairness
In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are required to deal justly and fairly with any person or organisation [including the Roman Catholic Church] taking part or referred to.
The episode specifically targets the Roman Catholic Church members and Pope Benedict the 16th.
6f Broadcasters should recognise the rights of individuals, and particularly children and young people, not to be exploited, humiliated or unnecessarily identified.
6g Broadcasters should avoid portraying persons in programmes in a manner that encourages denigration of, or discrimination against, sections of the community on account of sex, sexual orientation, race, age, disability, or occupational status, or as a consequence of legitimate expression of religious, cultural or political beliefs. This requirement is not intended to prevent the broadcast of material which is:
i) factual, or
ii) the expression of genuinely held opinion in news, current affairs or other factual programmes, or
iii) in the legitimate context of a dramatic, humorous or satirical work
Concluding Comments Related to Breaches of Standards 1 & 6.
The programme “Bloody Mary” specifically denigrates His Holiness, Pope Benedict the 16th, leader of the world-wide Roman Catholic Church, in a manner that is obscene and subjects all Christians to calculated humiliation, by denigrating the Blessed Virgin Mary etc. We cannot imagine that CanWest would denigrate the New Zealand Prime Minister or our Governor-General, the Rt. Hon. Dame Silvia Cartwright, or any revered public figure in this manner using menstrual blood, anal emissions, fart noises and obscenities. However, Roman Catholics are seen as supposed soft targets for such abuse. If C4 did screen such abuse there would be a public outcry. What then gives Rick Frieson the right to denigrate the Blessed Virgin and the Pope in this degrading manner? (It was his decision to bring the screening forward from early May to 22 February 2006).
Publishing blasphemous libel in New Zealand constitutes a serious offence under s. 123 of the Crimes Act 1961. It is a crime defined in law as one against “religion, morality and public welfare”. Conviction carries a maximum term of imprisonment of one year. The Society is sympathetic to the view expressed by some in the media, that the publication of “Bloody Mary” may well constitute an offence under s. 123. However, it has not sought a legal opinion on this matter. (On July 1976 the publisher of GayNews in Britain, Dennis Lemon, was convicted of publishing “blasphemous libel” and ordered to pay costs. In 1983 GayNews ceased publication).
The “Bloody Mary” episode does not constitute legitimate satire in its treatment of religion. It portrays persons in the programmes in a manner that encourages denigration of sections of the community on the basis of, and as a consequence of, their legitimate expression of their religious beliefs.
South Park’s target audience as the Rick Friesen notes, is teens, in particular teenage boys. The Society contends that this broadcaster should be held to account for disseminating material that breaches the Broadcasting Standards Codes.
Mr Friesen suggests that because C4’s “niche” South Park audience “has a high expectation that programming scheduled to screen on the Channel will be to its taste” (alone) and its need (alone) and its expectation (alone); then this should establish and dictate what defines the upper limits of acceptable taste in free-to-air content – that which its viewers consider within the boundaries of its standards of perceived decency. This attitude is arrogant and the argument is fallacious. The standards of decency are community standards, not those of a teenage audience that feeds on that which is arguably indecent and regularly transgresses boundaries accepted by the majority of the community.
However, if Frieson’s position is accepted that would mean any “niche” audience with their own perverse tastes could be emboldened to dictate what is acceptable based on consumer demand. When will C4 pander to the expectations of teenage paedophiles and gang rapists and child abusers with its ‘sophisticated’ so-called “legitimate satire” that Mr Friesen finds “quite funny”? Why not mock, denigrate and insult the hundreds of ‘pathetic adult do-gooders’ who sacrificially seek to bring comfort and solace to the victims of domestic child abuse, paedophiles and gang rapists? Such ‘satirical’ depictions would no doubt titillate the perpetrators of such crimes and dull their almost dead consciences as to the true nature of their offending. Such nonsense of course is not legitimate satire. However, Mr Friesen seems to think it is.
Mr Friesen argues that the content of South Park viewed in the context of its target audience’s own expectations would not be surprising or even particularly challenging (to them – the audience). The absurdity of this line of reasoning, used to try and justify the offensive and puerile content, is self-evident. Paedophiles, rapists and child abusers would not find the sort of depictions discussed above (those mocking ‘do-gooders’) particularly challenging, either. They wouldn’t care if agencies and the heads of agencies were named. They wouldn’t care if they were vilified, spayed with the menstrual blood of rape victims, farted on by teenage boy hoons who enjoy raping young children.
Those whose consciences have been so dulled to what actually constitutes real evil and real goodness, find little that challenges them. Those addicted to hard core pornography, for example, find almost any explicit depiction of a women being demeaned, degraded or dehumanised, acceptable, if not very titillating. They lustfully hanker for more and more material to feed their minds often resulting in disastrous consequences for personal relationships etc. (The link between porn addiction and criminal activity is well-documented).
It is a sad indictment of the management of C4 that it has failed to concede that any aspect of the contents of “Bloody Mary” transgress the standards of good taste and decency that the community expects broadcasters to adhere to. Mr Friesen should be personally held to account for the disastrous decision to screen “Bloody Mary”. If its content is not recognised as indecent by the C4 Standards Committee, then this broadcaster will have no reason to discontinue its promotion of moral filth and obscenity targeted at teens and teenage boys.