Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Line of Beauty – episode of programme about a young gay Oxford graduate included homosexual sex scenes – allegedly breached standards of good taste and decency
Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – contextual factors – not upheld
(This headnote does not form part of the decision.)
 An episode of the drama Line of Beauty was broadcast at 11.50pm on TV One on Sunday 28 October 2007. Line of Beauty followed a young, gay, middle class Oxford graduate Nick who was invited to live with a wealthy and politically powerful family in the 1980s.
 This episode contained several sex scenes. In one scene, Nick watched as his boyfriend and another man appeared to engage in oral sex. Nick’s boyfriend was shown sitting astride the other man, with his pants lowered so that his buttocks were exposed. His waist appeared close to the other man’s face, implying he was receiving oral sex. No full-frontal nudity was shown. The scene was approximately 50 seconds in length.
 Later in the programme, Nick and his boyfriend were shown entering a pool house while they were on holiday. Shown only from the shoulders up, the two men kissed, then Nick stood behind his boyfriend, opened a condom packet and lowered his hands, suggesting that he was putting on the condom. The characters’ movement implied they were having intercourse. This scene was approximately one minute in length.
 The programme was preceded by the following verbal and visual warning:
This programme is rated Adults Only. It contains drug use and sexual material that may offend some people.
 Gerry Campbell made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the programme “passed any limit of common decency”.
 Mr Campbell argued that two scenes (described above) in the programme were not acceptable for broadcast on free-to-air television regardless of what time they were shown. He accepted, though he had not seen it, that a warning would have been broadcast regarding the programme’s content.
 Standard 1 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice is relevant to the determination of this complaint. It provides:
Standard 1 Good Taste and Decency
In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are responsible for maintaining standards which are consistent with the observance of good taste and decency.
 TVNZ contended that to constitute a breach of Standard 1, the broadcast material must be unacceptable to a significant number of viewers in the context in which it was shown, including the time of broadcast, the programme’s target audience, its classification, and the use of warnings.
 TVNZ noted that Line of Beauty screened at 11.50pm, more than three hours after the AO watershed. It said that the programme was rated AO 9.30pm because it contained a greater degree of sexual activity, potentially offensive language, and drug use than could be expected from an AO programme screened at 8.30pm.
 Line of Beauty was preceded by a written and verbal warning stating “This programme is rated Adults Only. It contains drug use and sexual material that may offend some people”, which gave viewers sufficient opportunity to decide whether they wished to see the sex scenes, TVNZ said.
 The broadcaster maintained that the footage of the sex scenes involving Nick and other men was relatively discreet and screened late at night. It said that no genitals were shown and the scenes were fairly brief. TVNZ contended that the scenes served to illustrate the relationship between Nick and his boyfriend, as well as the gay scene of the 1980s when AIDs was becoming a prominent issue. It said that the sex scenes and the complex themes in the storyline were appropriate in an AO programme that screened at 11.50pm.
 Finally, TVNZ noted that, in Decision No. 2002-107, the Authority held that a scene involving a main character and a male prostitute having consensual sex was acceptable in an AO 9.30pm programme.
 Accordingly, the broadcaster concluded that the sex scenes between two male characters were acceptable in the context of the programme and would not have offended a significant number of viewers. It declined to uphold the complaint.
 Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response, Mr Campbell referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
 Mr Campbell said he was aware that TVNZ had preceded the programme with a standard warning, but argued that it was screened before almost every programme and it did not constitute a licence to broadcast this type of material.
 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.
 When the Authority considers a complaint that alleges a breach of good taste and decency, it is required to take into account the context of the broadcast. On this occasion the relevant contextual factors include:
 The Authority notes that no genitals or nudity were shown in the sex scenes (apart from one man’s buttocks), neither scene was more than one minute in length, and both were implied rather than explicit. Furthermore, the scenes were relevant to the programme’s storyline, the lead character of which was homosexual, and which carried the theme of the gay scene of the 1980s when AIDs was becoming a prominent issue.
 Taking into account the above contextual factors, in particular the Adults Only classification of the programme and the very late time of broadcast, the Authority considers that the sex scenes did not breach Standard 1.
For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
4 June 2008
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1. Gerry Campbell’s formal complaint – 29 October 2007
2. Letter from TVNZ to Mr Campbell – 1 November 2007
3. TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 28 November 2007
4. Mr Campbell’s referral to the Authority – 4 December 2007
5. TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 17 April 2008