Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
A viewer complained that two sex scenes in Nip/Tuck were too explicit for free-to-air television and breached standards of good taste and decency. One of the scenes included a threesome involving one of the lead characters. The viewer also complained about the use of offensive language during another scene in which a "phone sex artist" discussed throat surgery with her doctor.
The Broadcaster’s Response
TVNZ argued that the scenes were acceptable in the context of an AO-rated programme screening at 9.30pm with a warning for adult sexual material. The broadcaster said the sex scenes were important to the development of the storyline, did not contain any explicit nudity, and were not pornographic.
The Authority’s Decision
As well as the contextual factors noted above (the programme's AO classification, the warning about sexual content, the 9.30pm time of broadcast, the absence of explicit nudity), the Authority took the view that the sex scenes were relevant and important to the programme's continuing storyline.
Neither scene was graphic or explicit, and no female nudity was shown. Both scenes focused on the male characters and the growing disconnection between themselves and the women they were involved with. The Authority noted that the portrayal of the threesome was emotionally detached, rather than titillating.
The Authority agreed with the broadcaster that the scene with the "phone sex artist" was acceptable in the context in which it was shown.
Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – not upheld
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
 In an episode of Nip/Tuck, broadcast on TV2 at 9.30pm on 15 August 2007, the two main characters, plastic surgeons Sean and Christian, were shown celebrating their 5000th cosmetic surgery operation at a bar. While there, the men were approached by two women, a mother and her adult daughter. Sean decided to leave the bar, saying that he was going home to have sex with his wife, while Christian decided to drink with the two women, eventually going home with them. The next scenes were of Sean awkwardly trying to have sex with his pregnant wife, inter-cut with scenes of Christian engaged in sexual activity with the two women from the bar. The buttocks of one man were shown, but breasts and genitalia were not shown in either scene.
 The episode also included a scene in which the character Sean was interviewing a prospective patient, who asked him to operate on her voice box. The woman explained that she was a "phone sex artist" who had experienced changes in her voice because of heavy drinking and smoking, and that her regular customers had stopped calling. During the conversation she stated "Cindy Plum can make you come in English, Spanish, Mandarin and Japanese. You may be alone, but you are not on your own".
 The programme was preceded by the following warning:
This programme is rated adults only. It contains sex scenes that may offend some people.
 Jovita Parker made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the programme had breached standards of good taste and decency. She stated that she was "deeply offended that a free-to-air channel was showing explicit sexual scenes", and in particular, a scene in which two people were having sex and a third person was watching.
 The complainant argued that the scene which involved the "phone sex artist" had breached Standard 1, because the language contained in it was offensive. Ms Parker maintained that even though the programme was classified AO and had screened at 9.30pm with a warning, it should not have been broadcast.
 Having received no response from TVNZ, Ms Parker referred her complaint to the Authority under section 8(1)(b) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
 Standard 1 and guidelines 1a and 1b of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice are relevant to this 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.
1a. Broadcasters must take into consideration current norms of decency and taste in language and behaviour bearing in mind the context in which any language or behaviour occurs. Examples of context are the time of the broadcast, the type of programme, the target audience, the use of warnings and the programme’s classification. These examples are not exhaustive.
1b. Broadcasters should consider – and if appropriate require – the use of on-air visual and verbal warnings when programmes contain violent material, material of a sexual nature, coarse language or other content likely to disturb children or offend a significant number of adult viewers. Warnings should be specific in nature, while avoiding detail which may itself distress or offend viewers.
 TVNZ apologised to the complainant for not responding to her complaint, and explained that her letter had not been received by the Programme Standards Manager.
 The broadcaster argued that to constitute a breach of Standard 1, the material broadcast must have been unacceptable to a significant number of viewers in the context in which it was shown. It pointed out that Nip/Tuck was preceded by a warning, was classified AO, and that it was broadcast at 9.30pm due to the programme’s "sexual activity, potentially offensive language and realistic violence".
 The broadcaster noted that the show was in its fourth season, that each episode had contained similar sex scenes and that the programme’s regular audience would have expected to see the type of scenes complained of. It also argued that the scenes did not contain any explicit nudity and were not pornographic.
 The broadcaster believed that the sex scenes shown between Christian and the two women, and Sean and his wife, were important to the development of the programme’s storyline.
 TVNZ believed the scene involving the "sex phone artist" was "acceptable in the context of an AO-rated programme screening at 9.30 pm, with a warning for adult sexual material". The broadcaster declined to uphold the good taste and decency complaint.
 Ms Parker maintained that the sex scenes were too graphic and explicit for broadcast on free-to-air television. She believed that audience expectations could still be satisfied with less explicit sex scenes.
 The complainant reiterated her argument that the conversation involving the "phone sex artist" was in breach of good taste and decency because of the use of the word "come".
 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 consideration the context of the broadcast. The relevant contextual factors on this occasion include:
 In the Authority’s view, the sex scenes complained of were highly relevant and important to the programme’s continuing storyline. The scene involving Sean awkwardly trying to have sex with his pregnant wife symbolised the beginning of a breakdown in the couple’s relationship. The scene involving Christian engaging in a threesome was intended to be emotionally detached, rather than titillating and highlighted the character’s inability to maintain anything but empty relationships with women.
 While the scenes may have been challenging for free-to-air television, it is the Authority’s view that they were neither graphic nor explicit. The scenes focused on the male characters and the growing disconnection between themselves and the women they were involved with. Taking into account the above contextual factors, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint that the sex scenes breached Standard 1.
 In respect of the scene involving the "phone sex artist", the Authority agrees with TVNZ that the language contained in the scene was acceptable in the context of an AO-rated programme broadcast at 9.30pm with a warning for adult sexual material. Taking into account the above contextual factors, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint that the item breached standards of good taste and decency.
For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
4 December 2007
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1. Jovita Parker’s formal complaint to TVNZ – 23 August 2007
2. Ms Parker’s referral to the Authority – 3 October 2007
3. TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 11 October 2007
4. Ms Parker’s further comment – 24 October 2007
5. TVNZ’s response to Ms Parker’s further comments – 26 October 2007
6. Ms Parker’s final comment – 7 November 2007