Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Spongebob Squarepants – cartoon programme – characters went on a “panty raid” to steal women’s underwear – allegedly in breach of children’s interests
Standard 9 (children’s interests) – contextual factors – content not unsuitable for children – not upheld
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
 The cartoon Spongebob Squarepants, which follows the activities of characters in an underwater community, was broadcast on weekdays at 4pm on TV2. The episode screened on 31 August 2006 was about an ageing crab who was attempting to recapture his youth with a night on the town. The characters suggested that they go on a “panty raid” to steal women’s underwear. To the crab’s horror, he discovered that the raid was on his mother’s house and the underwear belonged to her.
 Angela Butler made a formal complaint about the programme to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster. She stated that the reference to “panty raiding” was not appropriate in a children’s television programme.
 TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standard 9 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which provides:
Standard 9 Children's Interests
During children’s normally accepted viewing times, broadcasters are required, in the preparation and presentation of programmes, to consider the interests of child viewers.
 TVNZ noted that the programme was “a light-hearted cartoon fable”, and asserted that panty raids were part of the youthful social activities of an earlier generation. It did not consider that Standard 9 (children’s interests) had been breached, stating that the cartoon did not present “any risk to children”. TVNZ maintained that children would not have been inspired to “imitate an elderly figure clumsily trying to reignite the energies of youth”.
 Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, Mrs Butler referred her complaint to the Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. She accepted that some of the humour in Spongebob Squarepants was directed at adults, but she contended that 4pm was unsupervised children’s viewing time. Mrs Butler maintained that even innocent children might be inspired to imitate behaviour that they thought was funny. She considered that Standard 9 (children’s interests) had been contravened.
 In the complainant’s view, “panty raiding” was not a decent or tasteful activity. Rather than being a “youthful social activity of a younger generation”, she said, she remembered such behaviour as being dealt with by the police. Taking into account the time of the broadcast and the target audience, Mrs Butler believed that Standard 1 (good taste and decency) was also breached.
 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.
 In her referral to the Authority, Mrs Butler has referred to Standards 1 and 9 of the Free-to-Air Television Code. The Authority has previously interpreted the Broadcasting Act 1989 as barring complainants from raising new standards when referring a complaint to the Authority. On this occasion, the Authority does not consider that Standard 1 (good taste and decency) was raised either implicitly or explicitly in Mrs Butler’s initial complaint. Accordingly, it confines its deliberations to Standard 9 (children’s interests).
 The question for the Authority is whether, by broadcasting the segment concerning “panty raiding”, TVNZ failed to consider the interests of child viewers. The Authority notes that Spongebob Squarepants was broadcast at 4pm on a weekday during a G time-band, and was clearly targeted at child viewers.
 Spongebob Squarepants is an unrealistic cartoon, and the Authority considers that the “panty raiding” segment would have been humorous to children. The Authority is of the view that innocent children would not understand the possible sexual connotations or the criminal aspects of “panty raiding” that concerned the complainant. Accordingly, the Authority finds that the material complained about was suitable for children, and it concludes that Standard 9 was not breached.
For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
19 December 2006
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1 Angela Butler’s formal complaint – 11 September 2006
2 TVNZ’s decision on the formal complaint – 10 October 2006
3 Mrs Butler’s referral to the Authority – 16 October 2006
4 TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 25 October 2006