Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Game of Two Halves – included woman whipping a man’s partially bare buttocks – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency and violence standards
Standard 1 (good taste and decency) and Standard 10 (violence) – segment was distasteful and gratuitous but upholding complaint would unreasonably restrict broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression – not upheld
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
 Game of Two Halves, a sports quiz show featuring two teams of various sporting personalities, screened on TV One at 9.45pm on 1 August 2008. The teams were captained by sporting personalities Marc Ellis and Matthew Ridge.
 At the end of the episode, the captain of the losing team had to undergo what was called the “Studio Forfeit”, in which the opposing team inflicted light-hearted punishment. The losing captain was restrained in old-fashioned stocks and lowered his pants exposing part of his buttocks. A young woman dressed as a dominatrix entered the studio, accompanied by a caption on screen that said “Sapphire gowild [sic] erotic dance entertainment”, and whipped him across his partially bare buttocks. The losing captain was then released from the stocks, pulled up his pants and the woman forced him onto all fours and whipped him again.
 The following warning preceded the programme:
The following programme is rated Adults Only. It contains material that may offend some people.
 Elaine Hadfield made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the programme breached standards of good taste and decency, violence, and possibly fairness, because “it depicted a woman whipping the bare buttocks of a man and others in the team laughing”.
 TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standards 1, 6 and 10 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which provide:
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.
Standard 6 Fairness
In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are required to deal justly and fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to.
Standard 10 Violence
In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are required to exercise care and discretion when dealing with the issue of violence.
 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.
 The broadcaster noted that Game of Two Halves was classified AO, broadcast at 9.45pm and preceded by a warning which gave viewers precise information about the adult nature of the content. The programme was restricted to screening after 9.30pm, it said. TVNZ maintained that there was considerable audience expectation of the series and the type of humour it would contain. The programme was a long-running local production, it said, so that its audience was familiar with both the style of its humour and the type of material it included.
 The segment complained about was a formulaic part of the programme that occurred at the end of every episode and was intended to be humorous, TVNZ wrote. It concluded that in the context of a sporting entertainment series, the whipping endured by the losing captain as part of the weekly “Studio Forfeit” did not go beyond current norms of good taste and decency. TVNZ considered that regular viewers would be familiar with this part of each episode and were unlikely to be offended by the young woman administering the losing captain’s punishment. Further, the captain was clearly amused by the “light-hearted whipping” and was not hurt in any way, it said.
 TVNZ concluded that the programme would not have offended a significant number of viewers and declined to uphold the Standard 1 complaint.
 With regard to Standard 6, the broadcaster maintained that all parties and individuals taking part in Game of Two Halves were treated fairly. The team captain was familiar with the format of the programme, it said, and willingly entered his punishment of being whipped; he was not humiliated or exploited by taking part. It reiterated that the “Studio Forfeit” segment was part of the programme’s weekly format and was intended to be humorous. Accordingly, TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint that the programme was unfair.
 Looking at violence, the broadcaster noted that the segment was brief and light-hearted. The losing captain was not seriously hurt, it said, and he willingly took part. TVNZ argued that violence did not dominate the programme and the comedic violence that did occur was not gratuitous. The segment was a mock punishment for losing the competition in the episode and was therefore justified by context. TVNZ concluded that Standard 10 was not breached.
 Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response, Miss Hadfield referred the good taste and decency and violence aspects of her complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. She considered that “to see a male’s bare buttocks being whipped by a female while others laughed was disgusting”.
 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 the good taste and decency or violence standards, it is required to take into account the context of the broadcast. On this occasion the relevant contextual factors include:
 In the Authority’s view, the “Studio Forfeit” segment was distasteful and gratuitous. It notes that the whipping administered by the dominatrix was not playful or mild; she dispensed several forceful blows to the losing captain’s backside. If he had displayed enjoyment at being whipped by an “erotic entertainer”, the Authority is of the view that the broadcast would have displayed an element of sexual violence that would not have been acceptable in the context of this programme. However, it was obvious that the losing captain was very uncomfortable and not at all amused by what was occurring.
 The Authority acknowledges that the Studio Forfeit segment was intended to be humorous, and it screened nearly two hours after the Adults Only watershed. Taking into account the above factors, the Authority is of the view that upholding the complaint would unreasonably restrict the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression.
 Accordingly, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint that the broadcast breached Standard 1 (good taste and decency) and Standard 10 (violence).
For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
19 December 2008
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1. Elaine Hadfield’s formal complaint – 13 August 2008
2. TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 9 September 2008
3. Miss Hadfield’s referral to the Authority – 21 September 2008
4. TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 8 October 2008