Inside New Zealand – "The Naked Breast" – promo – masking of breasts – untruthful – discriminatory – deceptive – corrupts children
Standard G1 – no uphold
Standard G5 – not applicable
Standard G7 – not applicable
Standard G12 – no evidence of corruption – no uphold
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
A promo for the Inside New Zealand documentary "The Naked Breast" was screened on TV3 during the evening of 10 September 2000. Breasts were masked by means of a design graphic as the voiceover described some of the programme’s content.
John Lowe complained to TV3 Network Services Ltd, the broadcaster, that masking the breasts in the promo sent a message that they were a prohibited part of the body. He said that the masking obscured the truth, was discriminatory and therefore illegal, was deceptive and corrupted children.
In its response, TV3 explained that the graphics had been used to give the promo added impact, and so that it could play at any time in its schedule without offending viewers. It found no breach of broadcasting standards.
Dissatisfied with TV3’s response, Mr Lowe 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. The Authority determines this complaint without a formal hearing.
A promo for "The Naked Breast", part of the Inside New Zealand documentary series, was broadcast on TV3 during the evening of 10 September 2000. A graphic design was used to mask the breasts shown on the promo.
John Lowe complained to TV3 that the masking of women’s breasts sent a message to the community that breasts were a prohibited part of the body, and that this had negative ramifications, especially for children. He suggested that TV3 was turning something legal and healthy into something prurient and illegal. He complained that the promo breached standard G1 because it obscured the truth and factuality of the body; standard G5 because it was discriminatory and therefore illegal, as men’s chests would not have been masked; standard G7 because the graphic could have deceived viewers; and standard G12 because it corrupted children by telling them that some parts of the body were "bad".
TV3 assessed the complaint under the nominated standards. They require broadcasters:
G1 To be truthful and accurate on points of fact.
G5 To respect the principles of law which sustain our society.
G7 To avoid the use of any deceptive programme practice in the presentation of programmes which takes advantage of the confidence viewers have in the integrity of broadcasting.
G12 To be mindful of the effect any programme may have on children during their normally accepted viewing hours.
TV3 explained that the promo for "The Naked Breast" had been rated "hard G" and noted that the masking had occurred for two reasons: first as a creative use of graphics to give additional impact to the promo, and secondly so that it could play throughout the schedule without offending viewers.
The broadcaster observed that the masking was required in the promo because it screened in many different programmes and time-zones. While naked breasts would not be unexpected during the programme "The Naked Breast", TV3 suggested that viewers would not expect to see nudity while watching a G rated programme.
In TV3’s view, the use of the graphic did not lead to any breach of the standard requiring truth and accuracy. With respect to the complainant’s comments under standard G5, it said it could not speculate on what might have happened in the hypothetical case of men’s chests being shown. However it did not consider the standard had been breached. Standard G7 was not breached, it argued, because the promo had not distorted the intention of the programme, or the way that viewers saw the female body. TV3 did not agree that the masking breached standard G12.
Referring the complaint to the Authority, Mr Lowe emphasised that his complaint was that the masking corrupted children, which he said amounted to erroneously informing the innocent.
He took issue with TV3’s argument that the masking had given "additional promotional impact" to the promo. He regarded that as "an outright lie" arguing that people naturally wanted to see whatever was concealed. Mr Lowe did not agree with TV3 that the masking would ensure that the promo would not offend. He contended that there was no potential for offence if there was no "contrivance" apparent.
Turning to TV3’s response under standard G1, Mr Lowe argued that masking obscured the truth of the body. Under standard G5, he wrote that if TV3 assumed that people would have been offended by the breast shots, then it should not have included them at all. The point, he said, was that sexual discrimination was illegal. He added that it was "patently obvious" that men’s nipples would not have been masked.
With respect to the complaint under standard G7, Mr Lowe clarified that his concern was that the masking device used looked like "a piece of pretty cloth". In his view, that was a deceptive practice, as many people would not have known that the obscuring of breasts in this way was imposed post-production. Mr Lowe also took issue with TV3’s rejection of the complaint under standard G12. He maintained that there was evidence that children were corrupted by masking.
The promo, the Authority notes, was devised so that it could be broadcast in all time zones, and not just in the time zone in which the programme itself was aired. In the Authority’s view, the broadcaster took a cautious approach when it elected to use the masking device to obscure the women’s breasts in the promo. The Authority considers that it was the broadcaster’s prerogative to make this editorial decision.
In assessing the validity of the complaint against the standards cited, the Authority takes the view that no standards were breached. The Authority does not agree with the complainant’s contention that the promo was inaccurate because it masked the women’s breasts. In the Authority’s view, the promo accurately conveyed the necessary information it was designed to convey – that a subsequent programme would examine the subject of breasts. As for the complaint that it discriminated against women and was therefore illegal, the Authority observes that the breast masking was consistent with dress conventions. The Authority does not accept that the masking introduced a deceptive practice so as to breach standard G7, and notes that in previous decisions it has confined the application of the standard to technical trickery which is intended to deceive viewers. It finds no evidence of deception in this instance. Finally, the Authority turns to the complaint that standard G12 was breached because children were corrupted by the implication that some parts of the body were "bad". The Authority finds no evidence to substantiate that assumption and declines to uphold this aspect.
For the reasons given, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
30 November 2000
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint: