COW AM – offensive behaviour – offensive language – questions about sex life
G2 – AO – 10.00pm – student audience – risqué but no breach – no uphold
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
COW AM is a programme broadcast on Channel 9 Dunedin. On 16 May, two young women and a man were asked whether they had had sex on the weekend and how it rated out of 10. They were also asked what position they liked for sex. The programme was broadcast at 10.00pm.
Mr J G Donaldson complained to Channel 9 Dunedin, the broadcaster, that the programme was "disgusting and immoral". He said he had seen the same sequence broadcast the following week on 22 May at 10.00pm, and asked whether it was a regular occurrence.
Channel 9 responded that its programme COW had been designed for part of the university audience and was often "audacious" and "on the edge". It advised that a warning was placed at the beginning of the programme and after each commercial break to warn viewers of its content. In its view the programme was suitable for its target audience of students. It declined to uphold the complaints.
Dissatisfied with Channel 9’s decision, Mr Donaldson referred the complaints to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
For the reasons given below, the Authority declines to uphold the complaints.
The members of the Authority have viewed a tape of the item complained about and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. On this occasion, the Authority determines the complaints without a formal hearing.
At the beginning of COW AM broadcast on Channel 9 Dunedin on both 16 and 22 May 2000, beginning at 10.00pm, there was a sequence in which the interviewer asked two young women and a young man about their sex life in the weekend. They were asked what their favourite positions for sex were, and how they would rate their Saturday night sex on a scale of 10. Another question sought a comparison between the size of a partner’s penis and the microphone the interviewer was holding.
Mr J G Donaldson complained to Channel 9 that the programme’s content was "disgusting and immoral". He noted that the same sequence had been repeated on 22 May.
In its response, Channel 9 advised that the programme was designed for part of the university audience and as a result was often "audacious" and "on the edge". It reported that the programme was preceded by a warning, which was repeated after the commercial breaks. In that way, it argued, viewers were able to exercise discretion as to whether to watch the programme.
In its view, the programme was suitable for the target audience, and this was reflected in the ratings for that age group. The broadcaster acknowledged that it was not a programme which would appeal to other sections of the community, but advised that it endeavoured to provide a range of programming for different niche markets.
When he referred the complaint to the Authority, Mr Donaldson expressed his displeasure at the response to his complaint. He also objected to seeing the same "offensive introduction" to COW AM the following week.
Mr Donaldson took issue with Channel 9’s argument that the programme was acceptable because it was targeted to a student audience. He said he was personally aware of some students who found the programme offensive. In particular, he objected to its being screened immediately following the local news, which he said would attract many viewers of all ages. He questioned the broadcaster’s belief that the content was suitable for young people who, he said, were still to reach mature standards of judgment.
Mr Donaldson complained that the programme breached standard G2 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. That standard requires broadcasters:
G2 To take into consideration currently accepted norms of decency and taste in language and behaviour, bearing in mind the context in which any language or behaviour occurs.
He argued that although the programme had an AO rating, and was screened after 8.30pm, not all students were over the age of 18, and many were first year students who were away from home for the first time.
Mr Donaldson noted that the programme was first screened at 9.00am, and was able to be seen by many sectors of the community other than students.
In Channel 9’s response to the Authority it clarified that the complaints related to the opening titles of the programme broadcast on 16 May and the segment called "The Walk of Shame" in the 22 May episode. It reported that "The Walk of Shame" was a regular item played each Monday and repeated on Fridays. This involved the presenter interviewing students apparently walking home on Sunday mornings in the University area of town and asking what they got up to the night before. The broadcaster said it understood this was the most popular item on the programme.
The broadcaster maintained that although the programme was "irreverent, at the edge, quirky, pushing boundaries and sometimes crass", it was within the norms of decency for young tertiary students at whom the show was targeted. It noted that much of the context alluded to sex by suggestion, humour and light-hearted innuendo, which was the kind of material a student audience enjoyed. It acknowledged that many older people would not care for the programme.
When it deals with complaints alleging a breach of good taste and decency, the Authority takes into account the context in which the language or behaviour occurred. Channel 9, it notes, is a locally operated broadcaster which caters to a local audience. The programmes which are the subject of these complaints are about and for university students who, according to the broadcaster, are the intended audience.
The complaints concern two programmes which were broadcast at 10.00pm, following a local news bulletin. Both were repeat broadcasts, the Authority notes, having been originally screened at 9.00am. The complaints relate to the 10.00pm broadcasts, although the complainant, in his referral to the Authority, noted that the programme was also broadcast at 9.00am.
The broadcaster did not deny that the "The Walk of Shame", which is apparently the most popular feature of COW AM, contained sexual references and sexual innuendo. These aspects, it said, appealed to its student audience. It also acknowledged that many older people would not care for it.
The Authority acknowledges these points. It also notes that those who agreed to be interviewed appeared willing to respond to questions about their sexual exploits, or at least to play along with the interviewer. In addition, the broadcast was preceded by an explicit warning relating to its content, and was screened during AO time. In that context the Authority concludes that the risqué content does not breach the good taste standard. Accordingly, it declines to uphold the complaint.
On the basis that the original complaints concerned the 10.00pm broadcasts, the Authority considers only the late evening screening. However, it advises that had the original complaints specifically referred to the 9.00am broadcasts, it could well have reached a different conclusion about the application of the good taste standard, given that the morning broadcasts went to air during PGR time. The Authority records that it has been advised that the programme is no longer broadcast at 9.00am and is now only broadcast at 10.00pm. It considers this to be an appropriate decision on the part of the broadcaster.
For the reasons set forth above, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
3 August 2000
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1. J G Donaldson’s Complaint to Channel 9 Dunedin – 25 May 2000
2. Channel 9’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 26 May 2000
3. Mr Donaldson’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 30 May 2000
4. Mr Donaldson’s Further letter to the Authority – 31 May 2000
5. Mr Donaldson’s Further letter to the Authority – 10 June 2000
6. Channel 9’s Response to the Authority – 12 June 2000