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Gunn and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2000-118

Members

  • P Cartwright (Chair)
  • L M Loates
  • R McLeod
  • J Withers

Complainant

  • Maree and Andrew Gunn of Auckland

Dated

31st August 2000

Number

2000-118

Programme

Dawson’s Creek

Channel/Station

TV2

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint
Dawson’s Creek – teen drama – references to sex and condoms – incorrect PGR classification – unsuitable for children

Findings
(1) Standard G8 – fictional drama – teenage target audience – content not gratuitous – no uphold

(2) Standard G12 – properly classified PGR and screened in PGR time – no uphold

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

An episode in the Dawson’s Creek series was broadcast on TV2 at 7.30pm on 6 June 2000.

Maree and Andrew Gunn complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the programme contained many explicit references to sex and a "graphic, trivial discussion on the selection of condoms". They considered that this material was unsuitable for younger viewers, and that the programme ought to have been rated AO rather than PGR.

TVNZ explained that the programme was a teen drama dealing with relationships between adolescents, and was targeted at a teenage audience. In TVNZ’s view, most teenagers knew about sex and the need for protection. In this context, it considered that the programme was correctly classified. It also believed that "the sexual references would mean little to a prepubescent child", and that by attaching a PGR certificate to the programme it had demonstrated that it had been mindful of its effect on children. It declined to uphold the complaint.

Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, the complainants referred the complaint 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 complaint.

Decision

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 complaint without a formal hearing.

An episode in the Dawson’s Creek series was broadcast on TV2 at 7.30pm on 6 June 2000.

Maree and Andrew Gunn complained to TVNZ that the programme contained many explicit references to sex and a "graphic, trivial discussion on the selection of condoms". The complainants believed that "over 70 percent of this particular programme was related to discussions on sex". They considered that the programme was unsuitable for younger viewers, and ought to have been rated AO.

TVNZ assessed the complaint under standards G8 and G12 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. Those standards require broadcasters:

G8  To abide by the classification codes and their appropriate time bands as outlined in the agreed criteria for programme classifications.

G12  To be mindful of the effect any programme may have on children during their normally accepted viewing times.

TVNZ did not agree that 70 percent of the programme comprised material of a sexual nature, although it accepted:

that there were a number of conversations in which sex was the topic, and that there was a scene highlighting the embarrassment felt by a young man purchasing condoms.

TVNZ explained that the programme was a teen drama falling into the "soap" category, which dealt with relationships between adolescents in a fictional and dramatic context. It went on to comment that "although [the complainants] might wish it were not so", most teenagers knew about sex and the need for protection, and that was reflected in Dawson’s Creek.

Dealing with standard G8, TVNZ observed that PGR material is defined in the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice as:

Programmes containing material more suited to adult audiences but not necessarily unsuitable for child viewers when subject to the guidance of a parent or child.

It believed that references to sexual relationships in the programme would have "made little sense to an innocent child". However, it did not consider that:

fictional discussions about sex were necessarily unsuitable for teenage viewers when subject to the guidance of a parent or adult.

TVNZ then observed that the PGR certificate did not prevent a parent who wanted no discussion of sex from switching off the television.

TVNZ considered that it would have been unreasonable for the programme to have been rated AO, as this would have denied the programme to its teenage target audience.

As to standard G12, TVNZ did not believe the broadcast had breached this standard. It commented:

As far as G12 is concerned, [in TVNZ’s view] the sexual references would mean little to a prepubescent child. In any case, the PGR rating recommends parental guidance and by attaching that certificate TVNZ was mindful of the effect the programme may have had on children.

TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint, but said that it was sorry that the complainants, "on behalf of child viewers", had been offended by the programme.

In their referral of the complaint to the Authority, the complainants said that:

They considered that child viewers, as mentioned in the definition of PGR, did not imply teenagers. They thought the reference was to those who were younger than teenage.

They did not accept the validity of TVNZ’s argument that prepubescent viewers would not understand sexual references.

They considered the tone of TVNZ’s response to be patronising and that some of the broadcaster’s comments were unwarranted personalised assumptions.

They commented that TVNZ’s apology to them for causing them offence suggested that it had not read their complaint, as they had stated that they were not offended by the programme.

In its response to the referral, TVNZ said that it was sorry that the complainants thought its response was patronising, as that had not been intentional.

The Authority’s Findings

The Authority’s task is to consider whether the programme complained about was appropriate for screening during PGR time. In reaching its decision, the Authority takes into account that Dawson’s Creek is a drama series which falls into the category of soap opera, and is targeted to a teenage audience.

The complainants complained about the sexual references contained in the programme, which they believed constituted 70 percent of its content. The Authority disagrees with the complainants’ assessment of that ratio. While it accepts that there were references to sex contained in the programme, those elements were not gratuitous, and were an integral part of the relationship issues that were portrayed. The Authority also considers that it is common for programmes of the "teenage soap" genre to present views about sex which are likely to appeal to their youth audience. It also considers that very young children were unlikely to have understood many of the sexual references contained in the programme.

In the context of a fictional drama intended for a target audience of teenage viewers, the Authority concludes that the content complained about was not unacceptable for inclusion in a PGR rated programme. Accordingly, the Authority finds that the programme was properly classified as PGR material and did not breach standard G8.

As it was appropriately classified and screened during PGR time, the Authority concludes that TVNZ demonstrated that it was mindful of the effect of the programme on children. It concludes that no breach of standard G12 occurred.

 

For the reasons set forth above, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

P J Cartwright
Chairperson
31 August 2000

Appendix

The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:

1.    Maree and Andrew Gunn’s Formal Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd –
      7 June 2000

2.    TVNZ’s Response to Formal Complaint – 22 June 2000

3.    Maree and Andrew Gunn’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority –
      6 July 2000

4.    TVNZ’s Response to the Referral – 17 July 2000