Documentary New Zealand: "The Complainers" – offensive behaviour – nudity; unsuitable for children
Standard G2 – not offensive in context – no uphold
Standard G12 – AO – warning – 8.30pm – no uphold
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
A Documentary New Zealand programme entitled "The Complainers" was broadcast on TV One on 3 July 2000 at 8.30pm. Among those featured was a complainant who has complained regularly about broadcasters’ practice of electronically masking the genitals of people appearing naked in programmes. He and a woman were shown naked in a brief sequence, part of which showed his body un-pixellated.
Kristian Harang complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the sequence, which showed the woman’s breasts and the man’s genitals, was offensive when broadcast in family viewing time. He said that despite the warning, children and young teenagers would not have been stopped from viewing material which he considered belonged only in adult programmes.
TVNZ noted that the programme had been classified AO, and had been broadcast at 8.30pm during adult viewing time. In its view, the brief shot of the naked man was fully relevant to the issue being described. In that context, it did not consider the shot exceeded norms of decency and good taste. With respect to the complaint that children would have been watching, TVNZ noted that by preceding the programme with a warning and classifying it as AO, it had shown it was mindful of children. It declined to uphold the complaint.
Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, Mr Harang 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.
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.
The motivation of complainers was the theme of a programme in the Documentary New Zealand series entitled "The Complainers". It was broadcast on TV One on 3 July 2000 beginning at 8.30pm. Among those featured was a man who has complained regularly to television broadcasters about their practice of electronically masking the genitals of naked people in programmes. To make his point, he appeared naked with a woman, and explained why he did not agree with the practice. His genitals were visible during part of the sequence.
Kristian Harang complained that the broadcast breached broadcasting standards. In his view, it was offensive to show, during family viewing time, a naked woman whose breasts were clearly visible, and a naked man’s private parts. He said it was contrary to good taste and offensive to children. Despite the warning beforehand, he argued that children and young teenagers would not have been prevented from watching material that belonged in adults only programmes.
TVNZ assessed the complaint under standards G2 and G12 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which were nominated by Mr Harang. Those standards require 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.
G12 To be mindful of the effect any programme may have on children during their normally accepted viewing hours.
TVNZ noted that the sequence occurred when the subject was being interviewed and was fully relevant to the issue being described. It wrote:
Here was a man who feels most comfortable without clothes and has genuine concerns about the societal consequences of bringing up children to believe some parts of their bodies should not be seen.
TVNZ acknowledged that the man’s view might be seen as eccentric, but said it considered that it was one which he was entitled to hold. In its view, the scene was not salacious, and simply showed a man so comfortable in his own nakedness that he was prepared to appear on national television that way.
TVNZ argued that given the context, the scene did not exceed "currently accepted norms of decency and taste". The shot of the man being interviewed unclothed encapsulated the viewpoint which he espoused.
With reference to standard G12, TVNZ argued that the warning, the AO rating, and the fact that the sequence was some way into the programme demonstrated that it had been mindful of the effect the programme might have had on children.
TVNZ gave Mr Harang an assurance that it was not adopting a policy of showing full frontal nudity on a whim, and that any nudity in its broadcasts had to pass the test of relevancy.
When he referred the matter to the Authority, Mr Harang emphasised that although there was a warning before the programme, children and young people could not be stopped from watching it. He also complained that programme had not been identified as AO.
The twenty second sequence which concerned him had been broadcast at approximately 8.55pm, which he said he considered to be in prime family viewing time. In Mr Harang’s opinion, it was not in the community’s interest to show nudity in a documentary programme at that hour.
In a brief response, TVNZ advised that it had no further comment. However, it did note that contrary to Mr Harang’s assertion, the AO symbol had been displayed on-screen and in newspaper and magazine billings.
Mr Harang replied that it was an "outright lie" for TVNZ to assert that there was an AO symbol before the programme. He stated categorically that there was a warning before the programme about scenes containing nudity, but no AO warning notice. He said that it was a "straight out lie" to state that there was an AO certificate in newspaper listings and that there was definitely no AO warning in the New Zealand Herald newspaper for that day.
In a further comment, TVNZ advised that the programme’s AO classification had been included with the listings for the programme when they were dispatched to various magazines and newspapers which regularly print them. It attached a copy of a page from the Listener where the AO classification was listed for the programme. TVNZ also advised that the AO symbols had been placed at the beginning of the programme and after each commercial break and although it no longer had the transmission tapes to check that this occurred, it was a routine procedure and there was no record of its having not been done.
TVNZ advised that if Mr Harang had been referring to a visual and verbal warning that the programme was rated Adults Only, then that had not been included. Such a warning, it said, was reserved for programmes which had an overall adult theme rather than a particular aspect of a programme which was otherwise not "adult" in nature.
Context is the essential consideration when the Authority determines complaints which allege a breach of the good taste standard. Here, the relevant contextual factors include the hour of the broadcast (8.30pm), the AO classification of the programme, the brevity of the footage and its relevance to the content, and that the programme was preceded by a warning advising that it contained some nudity. Taking those factors into account, the Authority concludes that the brief sequence did not exceed community norms of decency and good taste. It declines to uphold this aspect of the complaint.
Turning to the complaint under standard G12, the Authority considers that TVNZ adequately demonstrated that it was mindful of children by classifying the programme as AO and preceding it with an appropriate warning. It declines to uphold this aspect.
For the reasons given, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
7 September 2000
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1. Kristian Harang’s Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 4 July 2000
2. TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 18 July 2000
3. Mr Harang’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 19 July 2000
4. TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 1 August 2000
5. Mr Harang’s Final Comment – 5 August 2000
6. TVNZ’s Further Comment – 10 August 2000