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Simpson and TVWorks Ltd - 2009-120

Members

  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
  • Paul France
  • Tapu Misa

Complainant

  • David Simpson of Queenstown

Dated

25th November 2009

Number

2009-120

Programme

Home and Away

Channel/Station

TV3

Broadcaster

TVWorks Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Home and Away – showed couple in bed – camera with recording light on was positioned at the end of the bed – footage briefly shown of the couple kissing – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency, responsible programming and children’s interests standards

Findings
Standard 8 (responsible programming) – programme’s themes more suited to PGR but visual depiction of them inexplicit and acceptable in G programme – majority – not upheld

Standard 1 (good taste and decency) and Standard 9 (children’s interests) – subsumed into consideration of Standard 8

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]   An episode of Home and Away, an Australian soap opera with a G rating, was broadcast on TV3 at 5.30pm on Friday 31 July 2009. The beginning of the programme recapped the previous day’s episode, which showed a couple, both teenagers still in high school, kissing on a bed. The couple was then shown lying in bed under the covers, and the male character looked to the end of the bed where a digital video camera with the recording light on was sitting on a desk directed at the couple. The couple was shown on the screen of the camera.

[2]   At the end of the episode, another character was in possession of the camera and discovered the footage of the couple, which was briefly shown on his computer screen. The footage was dark, and showed the couple kneeling on the bed kissing, before the girl removed her boyfriend’s t-shirt.

Complaint

[3]   David Simpson made a formal complaint to TVWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the programme breached standards relating to good taste and decency, responsible programming and children’s interests.

[4]   Mr Simpson argued that the “sex tapes, sex scenes, lying etc.” in the programme warranted a PGR classification at the least, rather than G, and were unsuitable for child viewers.

Standards

[5]   Mr Simpson nominated Standards 1, 8 and 9 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice in his complaint. They provide:

Standard 1 Good Taste and Decency

Broadcasters should observe standards of good taste and decency.

Standard 8 Responsible Programming

Broadcasters should ensure programmes:

  • are appropriately classified;
  • display programme classification information;
  • adhere to timebands in accordance with Appendix 1;
  • are not presented in such a way as to cause panic, or unwarranted alarm or undue distress;
  • do not deceive or disadvantage the viewer.
Standard 9 Children’s Interests

During children’s normally accepted viewing times (see Appendix 1), broadcasters should consider the interests of child viewers.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[6]   TVWorks noted that Home and Away screened on weeknights at 5.30pm during the G timeband immediately before 3 News. It said the timeslot was not considered to be predominantly children’s viewing time, which was 3pm to 4.30pm on weekdays. However, the programme did not contain any material that would have disturbed child viewers.

[7]   The broadcaster argued that the theme of teenage sex, or sex in general, was not an issue that in itself warranted a PGR rating. It considered that if references to sex were inexplicit and visual portrayals were limited to kissing or undressing – such as the removal of the male’s t-shirt as in this episode – child viewers would not be alarmed or distressed as there was no explanation or illustration of sex. Further, TVWorks contended that representing sex in the context of a moral dilemma was not uncommon in G-rated programmes, and the overall tone of the scene did not go beyond audience expectations. TVWorks maintained that there was no nudity or salacious content that warranted a PGR or AO classification.

[8]   The broadcaster noted that this episode and the male character’s betrayal of his girlfriend by recording their intimacy was essential to his character development as it was an early indicator of his mental instability. It therefore considered that the scenes were not gratuitous.

[9]   TVWorks pointed out that other G-rated shows such as Neighbours, Friends, The Simpsons and Reba contained occasional references to sex.

[10]   The broadcaster stated that Home and Away had a broad target audience including adults and teens, and that it was a well-known series that had been screened in New Zealand for many years. It said that, “as with any other soap opera it entertains its audience through a distilled and exaggerated sense of social drama; health scares, toxic waste dumps, car crashes, kidnappings, stalkers, sinister cults and income tax fraud are a small selection of the myriad dramas to befall the Summer Bay residents. But, as with any other soap, the dramatic stock-in-trade is romantic relationships”.

[11]   TVWorks concluded that, given the programme’s target audience and audience expectations, the scenes subject to complaint did not stray beyond norms of good taste and decency in breach of Standard 1.

[12]   With regard to Standard 8 (responsible programming), TVWorks considered that, for the same reasons discussed in relation to Standard 1, the episode was correctly rated G and scheduled in a 5.30pm timeslot. It noted that classification symbols were displayed in accordance with the standard. TVWorks therefore declined to uphold the Standard 8 complaint.

[13]   Looking at children’s interests, the broadcaster noted that Home and Away was broadcast between The Simpsons and 3 News. It argued that all three programmes were “aimed at an older ‘G’ audience as they contain more sophisticated themes and ideas than a programme aimed solely at children”. TVWorks considered that, in this line up, the scenes complained about were not out of place and the treatment of the scenes was not inappropriate for the timeslot.

[14]   TVWorks concluded that the interests of child viewers were sufficiently considered when scheduling the programme in a line up aimed at older ‘G’ viewers. It maintained that children would not have been disturbed or alarmed by the scenes in Home and Away, and declined to uphold the complaint under Standard 9 (children’s interests).

Referral to the Authority

[15]   Dissatisfied with TVWorks’ response, Mr Simpson referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. He reiterated that, in the interests of child viewers, the episode of Home and Away should have been classified at least PGR.

Authority's Determination

[16]   The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

Standard 8 (responsible programming)

[17]   Standard 8 requires that broadcasters correctly classify programmes and screen them in appropriate time-bands. The episode of Home and Away subject to complaint was classified G and broadcast at 5.30pm. The G classification is defined as follows in Appendix 1 of the Free-to-Air Code:

G – General

Programmes which exclude material likely to be unsuitable for children. Programmes may not necessarily be designed for child viewers but should not contain material likely to alarm or distress them.

G programmes may be screened at any time.

[18]   A majority of the Authority (Paul France and Joanne Morris, exercising her casting vote as Chair) accepts that the storyline portrayed in the episode subject to complaint – in which two teenagers in high school had sex while being recorded on camera – could be viewed as more suited to the PGR classification, which is defined as follows:

PGR – Parental Guidance Recommended

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

[19]   However, the majority considers that the actual visual depiction of this storyline and its themes was acceptable within a G-rated programme. It notes that the G classification expressly notes that such programmes may not necessarily target child viewers, but must not contain material that might alarm or distress them.

[20]   The majority of the view that the brief scenes of the couple which were shown at the beginning and end of the programme, and were largely identical, were inexplicit and unlikely to be understood by younger viewers.

[21]   In these circumstances, the majority finds that the programme’s content was not unsuitable for children and would not likely have alarmed or distressed them. The majority therefore concludes that, on balance, the content complained about was acceptable within a G-rated programme screened at 5.30pm. The majority of the Authority does not uphold the complaint that Home and Away was incorrectly classified.

[22]   A minority of the Authority (Tapu Misa and Mary Anne Shanahan) considers that the programme should have been rated PGR. While agreeing with the majority that the visual depiction did not go beyond undressing on the bed and kissing, the minority considers the implication would have been clear to older children. In the minority’s opinion, in deciding whether material is suitable for children under the age of 14, it is important to consider whether the themes in any programme require an adult level of maturity – in other words, parental guidance.

[23]   The minority considers that this was the case with this episode, which showed teenagers who were clearly still at school (and young enough to still be wearing school uniforms) apparently engaged in sexual activity, while being video-taped. In the minority's view, the programme’s casual acceptance of school children engaging in such behaviour made the episode unsuitable for children without parental guidance. The minority notes that, aside from the moral dilemma posed by the secret video-taping, there was no suggestion of any consequences that might arise as a result of the sexual relationship – for example, unplanned pregnancy, or sexually transmitted diseases, both of which are realistic risks for many teenagers.

[24]   For those reasons, the minority believes the programme should have been rated PGR rather than G, and would uphold the Standard 8 complaint.

Standard 1 (good taste and decency) and Standard 9 (children’s interests)

[25]   The Authority considers that the complainant’s concerns have been adequately dealt with in its consideration of Standard 8, and therefore subsumes its consideration of Standards 1 and 9 into its consideration of that standard.

 

For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
25 November 2009

Appendix

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

1.         David Simpson’s formal complaint – 17 August 2009

2.         TVWorks’ response to the complaint – 14 September 2009

3.         Mr Simpson’s referral to the Authority – 18 September 2009

4.         TVWorks’ response to the Authority – 9 October 2009