News item about magazine for divorced people – offensive behaviour – picture of nude couple having sex
Standard G2 – not inappropriate subject matter – momentary image – no uphold
Standard G12 – not unsuitable for children – no uphold
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
Divorced people were providing a new market for entrepreneurs in the magazine industry, according to a news report on One News broadcast on 28 September 2000 at about 6.20pm. Pages which were shown from a magazine included a picture of an apparently nude couple.
Glenyss Barker, secretary of Viewers for Television Excellence (VOTE), complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, about the picture, which she said showed a nude couple having sex. She said it was inappropriate for broadcast at a time when children would be watching television.
TVNZ responded that there was no photograph of "a couple in the nude having sex" as contended. There was one shot of a couple kneeling together and cuddling with "what might be a sheet between them", but nothing to indicate they were having sex, and no genitals or breasts had been visible. It said it found nothing in the report which contravened the standards cited, and declined to uphold the complaint.
Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, Mrs Barker 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.
Divorced people had created a new market for magazine editors, according to a news item broadcast on One News on 28 September beginning at 6.00pm. The report referred to some of the topics covered in one of the magazines and showed some pictures from a recent edition. Among these was a picture of an apparently naked couple facing each other. The man was sitting, and the woman was kneeling. They were separated by a sheet.
Glenyss Barker, secretary of Viewers for Television Excellence, complained to TVNZ that the photos, which she said included "a photo of a couple in the nude having sex", were "totally inappropriate" for broadcast at any time and particularly when young children were watching. The broadcast, she said, breached standards G2, G12 and G16 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.
TVNZ assessed the complaint under the nominated standards. Standards G2 and G12 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.
The other standard reads:
G16 News should not be presented in such a way as to cause unnecessary panic, alarm or distress.
TVNZ noted first that the item was:
…a straightforward news story about a publication in London which deals with a significant social issue – the myriad problems associated with divorce.
TVNZ reported that even with the benefit of a "freeze frame" facility it was unable to identify from the photographs broadcast any which could fairly be described as "a couple in the nude having sex". It noted that there was one shot of a couple kneeling together and cuddling, with what might have been a sheet between them. There was, it said, nothing to indicate they were having sex, and no genitals or breasts had been visible. In TVNZ’s view, the pictures were typical of many glossy magazines, and did not appear to be "smutty or salacious".
TVNZ said it found no breach of standard G2 because it could not detect any visuals which strayed beyond currently accepted norms of decency and good taste. It said it found nothing in the item which might have had an adverse effect on children and so found that standard G12 was not breached either. It wrote:
Remembering that these images appeared during a news programme which regularly and necessarily includes real-life violence, cruelty or corruption, [TVNZ] found it impossible to conclude that what seemed to it to be an innocuous report could cause harm to children.
With reference to standard G16, TVNZ said that it found nothing in the item which might lead to panic, alarm or distress. It declined to uphold any aspect of the complaint.
When she referred the complaint to the Authority, Mrs Barker confined it to standards G2 and G12. She argued that the photograph had no relevance to the item, and had been "clearly put in for sensationalism". In her view, the picture had no relevance to the article in a magazine for divorced people and should not have been shown, particularly at that time of night, when children were in the audience.
In response to TVNZ’s observation that the couple depicted had "what might be a sheet between them", Mrs Barker wrote:
…it MIGHT have been anything or nothing, who is [TVNZ] trying to kid?
She said it was totally unacceptable to argue that this kind of photograph was acceptable during children’s viewing time. In her view, it was "totally ridiculous" to argue – as she believed TVNZ had – that unless a sex photo was totally explicit, it would not exceed currently accepted norms of decency.
Responding to the Authority on the referral, TVNZ denied that the picture was included for "sensationalism", and repeated that there was no photograph of a nude couple, and none in which there was any indication that sex was taking place.
In her final comment, Mrs Barker reiterated that in her view the photograph had no relevance to the subject of the news item. She also contended that the picture was totally unacceptable for broadcast during children’s viewing time.
In response to TVNZ’s assertion that there was no indication that sex was taking place, Mrs Barker questioned whether the tape had been tampered with. She wrote:
There certainly was a couple in the nude cuddling shown in that particular News item and without doubt the inference was that either sex had just taken place or was about to.
When it deals with a complaint relating to the good taste standard, the Authority takes into account the context in which the language or behaviour occurs. It is relevant that the brief photographic image arose in the context of a discussion about the launch of a new magazine for divorced people. It was used to illustrate a story in the new magazine and was seen as the pages were turned. The complainant has contended that the photograph had no relevance to the item and that the image of "a couple in the nude having sex" was inappropriate for broadcast at a time when children were likely to be in the viewing audience. The Authority does not accept this proposition. The photograph, it notes, was shown briefly. The couple was definitely not having sex and, although they appeared to be naked, their bodies were discreetly concealed with what looked like a sheet held between them. There was no reference to the story which accompanied the photograph. In the context of an item about an adult subject – divorce – the Authority does not consider the image breached the good taste standard. It declines to uphold this aspect of the complaint.
As for the complaint that the item was unsuitable for children, the Authority’s view is that the brief image was not inappropriate for broadcast during the news hour. It also declines to uphold this aspect of the complaint.
For the reasons given, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
20 December 2000
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint: