Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(ii) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Hotel Babylon – sex scene broadcast one minute after the Adults Only watershed – broadcaster upheld complaint under three standards – action taken allegedly insufficient
Standards 1 (good taste and decency), 7 (programme classification) and 9 (children’s interests) – broadcaster upheld complaint under three standards and counselled appraiser – action taken sufficient
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
 An episode of Hotel Babylon, a BBC drama following the lives of workers at a five-star hotel, was broadcast on TV One at 8.30pm on Wednesday 1 October 2008. The programme’s introductory sequence at 8.31pm included a five-second scene showing a couple having sex. No breasts or genitals were shown, and, although the woman’s naked back could be seen as she straddled a man in bed, her buttocks were covered with a sheet.
 Elizabeth Samuel made a formal complaint about the programme to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster. She noted that the sex scene had occurred early in the programme and without a warning. The complainant observed that the programme had screened during the school holidays, and that the Free-to-Air Television Code required broadcasters to give special attention to providing warnings during these periods.
 Standards 1, 7 and 9 are relevant to Ms Samuel’s complaint. These 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 7 Programme Classification
Broadcasters are responsible for ensuring that programmes are appropriately classified; adequately display programme classification information; and adhere to time-bands in accordance with Appendix 1.
Standard 9 Children’s Interests
During children’s normally accepted viewing times (see Appendix 1), broadcasters are required, in the preparation and presentation of programmes, to consider the interests of child viewers.
 TVNZ agreed with the complainant that the sexual material shown was too explicit for broadcast right on the 8.30pm watershed. Although the scene was only five seconds long, the broadcaster accepted that it should not have been broadcast at 8.30pm, particularly considering that it was during the school holidays. For these reasons, TVNZ upheld the Standard 1 and Standard 9 complaints.
 Although it considered that the programme was appropriately classified AO and broadcast at 8.30pm, it said that more care should have been taken with sexual material screening so close to the watershed. It upheld the Standard 7 complaint.
 Having upheld Ms Samuel’s complaint, TVNZ apologised to the complainant and her family for any offence caused. It said that the appraiser who had viewed the episode had been counselled on the seriousness of the error and the need to take more care with material being broadcast on the 8.30pm watershed, especially during the school holidays.
 Dissatisfied with the action taken by TVNZ in upholding her complaint, Ms Samuel referred her complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(ii) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. Noting TVNZ’s response in upholding her complaint, Ms Samuel commented that it seemed “a rather pathetic outcome” and asked the Authority to consider the matter.
 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.
 The task for the Authority on this occasion is to determine whether the action taken by TVNZ, having upheld Ms Samuel’s complaint, was sufficient. It notes that TVNZ upheld Ms Samuel’s complaint under all three standards in her complaint – Standards 1 (good taste and decency), 7 (programme classification) and 9 (children’s interests). The broadcaster acknowledged the seriousness of the error, apologised to the complainant, and counselled the appraiser to ensure that more care would be taken in the future with this sort of material.
 In the Authority’s view, the action taken by the broadcaster was appropriate in all the circumstances. Imposing a further penalty on the broadcaster would not be reasonable or proportionate given that TVNZ has taken steps to ensure that similar breaches will not occur in the future. Accordingly, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
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. Elizabeth Samuel’s formal complaint – 1 October 2008
2. TVNZ’s decision on the formal complaint – 31 October 2008
3. Ms Samuel’s referral to the Authority – 31 October 2008
4. TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 13 November 2008