How’s Life? – one panellist said to have encouraged people aged 13–14 years to have sex and to ignore parents and the law – complaint that comments offensive and unfair to children.
Panellist said questioners were responsible in seeking advice – did not encourage lawbreaking – suggested seeking parental advice – other panellists said that questioners should not have sex
Standard 1 – not upheld
Standard 2 – not upheld
Standard 9 – not upheld
This headnote does not form part of the decision
 How’s Life?, which was broadcast each weekday on TV One at 5.30pm and repeated at 9.00 the following morning, featured a panel of local celebrities who answered questions about human relationships submitted by viewers. The programme broadcast at 9.00am on 29 September 2003 considered a question from two young teenagers who asked whether they should have sex. One panellist, while saying he would not encourage breaking the law, suggested that the couple may well have sex despite being told not to, and considered that they were behaving responsibly by asking for advice.
 David Porter complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the panellist’s advice was irresponsible, offensive and inappropriate.
 In response, TVNZ contended that the overall approach, despite one panellist’s liberal approach, was in support of the law and the seeking of parental advice. It declined to uphold the complaint.
 Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, Mr Porter referred his complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
For the reasons below, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
 The members of the Authority have viewed a tape of the programme complained about and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.
 How’s Life? was broadcast each weekday on TV One at 5.30pm and featured a panel answering questions submitted by viewers about human behaviour and human relationships. The programme, TVNZ advised, was “deliberately light-hearted” and similar to an “agony aunt” column in a newspaper. The programme was repeated at 9.00am the following morning.
 In the segment complained about, two young teenagers, explaining that they might indulge in sexual relations and had found somewhere appropriate to do so, asked whether they should have sex. One panellist acknowledged that some younger teenagers have sex and, while stating that he would not encourage the pair to break the law, praised the youngsters for seeking advice and suggested that they should talk to their parents. The three other panellists and the host said that the questioners should not have sex.
 Mr Porter complained to TVNZ about the attitude of the first panellist who, he said, had mocked parental responsibility and disregarded the law. Pointing to some problems with teenage culture, he described the panellist’s comments as disgusting, inappropriate and irresponsible.
 TVNZ assessed the complaint under the following standards in the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice nominated by the complainant which read:
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 2 Law and Order
In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are responsible for maintaining standards which are consistent with the maintenance of law and order.
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 contended that with panel discussions such as How’s Life?, it was important to view the segment as a whole and to consider the overall message. On this occasion, it wrote, the overall message to the two young teenagers was “don’t do it”, and the other panellists had been united in their stand against the “liberal” approach taken by the panellist whose comments were the subject of the complaint.
 As for Standard 1, TVNZ declined to uphold that aspect of the complaint on the basis that the “liberal” panellist had not endorsed the youngsters’ plan and had suggested that they seek parental advice. His comments, TVNZ argued, were constructive.
 Declining to uphold the complaint under Standard 2 because it found no failure to respect principles of law, TVNZ then assessed the programme under the requirement in Standard 9 for broadcasters to consider the interests of children. Noting that a child was a person aged under 14 years of age, TVNZ concluded that the Standard had not been contravened because:
 Contending that it was irrelevant whether the programme was primarily entertainment, Mr Porter said the questions raised serious matters which were discussed seriously.
 The programme’s overall message, he maintained, was not as clear as TVNZ said it was. One panellist, he wrote, argued forcefully that parents should be consulted because she saw the need to correct the comments from the other panellists.
 Noting that he had viewed the repeat broadcast at 9.00am on 29 September, Mr Porter raised the possibility that, contrary to TVNZ’s contention, unattended children might choose to watch How’s Life?
 TVNZ accepted that How’s Life? dealt with some serious questions, but argued that it was, transparently, an “agony aunt” column and the panellists were not experts in the fields which were discussed.
 Referring again to the “toxic” teenage environment, Mr Porter maintained that the issue raised had to be discussed with extreme care. Only one panellist had pointed out that dialogue with parents “was the only appropriate action”.
 The panellists on How’s Life?, the Authority notes, were not presented as “experts”. From the outset, they were seen to be, and promoted as, local personalities answering viewers’ questions about human behaviour in a way which was intended primarily to be light-hearted entertainment. On this occasion, nevertheless, the Authority is of the view that the panel dealt with the topic in a thoughtful way.
 Mr Porter complained about the panellist who, he said, made “disgraceful” comments which mocked both parental responsibility and the law when he suggested the questioners were behaving responsibly in choosing to have sex.
 In determining the complaint, the Authority records that the panellist whose comments evoked the complaint did not suggest that the questioners were behaving responsibly in choosing to have sex. Rather, as TVNZ explained, he acknowledged that some younger teenagers do have sex and suggested that the questioners were behaving responsibly in seeking advice and said that they should talk to their parents. The same panellist said he would not encourage the questioners to break the law, while the other panellists explicitly argued against the questioners’ suggestion that they should have sex.
 The Authority has explained in some detail the comments made during the programme as it considers that the complainant has misinterpreted what the panellist complained about proposed. It was apparent that he was not as strongly opposed as the other panellists to the suggestion, but he did not advise the questioners to ignore the law or to bypass their parents. Accordingly, the Authority concludes, in agreement with TVNZ, that Standard 1 (good taste and decency) and Standard 2 (respecting the principles of law) were not breached. In view of the above comments, the Authority also concludes that the requirements of Standard 9 (considering the interests of children) were met, both with regard to the weekday broadcast at 5.30pm (the G time slot) and 9.00am (the PGR time slot).
For the above reasons, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
1 April 2004
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1. David Porter’s Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 6 October 2003
2. TVNZ’s Response to the complainant – 10 November 2003
3. Mr Porter’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 28 November 2003
4. TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 15 December 2003
5. Mr Porter’s Final Comment – 12 January 2004