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Bennett and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2003-069

Members

  • P Cartwright (Chair)
  • R Bryant
  • J H McGregor
  • Tapu Misa

Complainant

  • Carole Bennett of Nelson

Dated

24th July 2003

Number

2003-069

Programme

Mercury Lane promo

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint
Mercury Lane – promo reference to pubic hair – broadcast during Son of God on Good Friday at 10.30am – offensive – unsuitable for children

Findings
Standard 1 – spoken not visual reference  context – no uphold

Standard 9  children not unfamiliar with nudity – no uphold

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

[1] A question to an artist about the public reaction to the portrayal of pubic hair was included in a promo for Mercury Lane, a programme about the arts. The promo was broadcast at about 10.30am on Good Friday during the screening of the documentary Son of God, which reported the results of a scientific examination into issues raised about Jesus Christ.

[2] Carole Bennett complained that the broadcast of the promo, during family viewing time, was disgusting.

[3] In response, TVNZ argued that the reference to pubic hair during a scientific documentary was not inappropriate, and that children were familiar with art works showing nudes. It declined to uphold the complaint.

[4] Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, Carole Bennett referred her 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.

Decision

[5] The members of the Authority have viewed a video 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.

The Programme

[6] A promo for Mercury Lane was broadcast at 10.30am on Good Friday during the screening of the documentary Son of God. The Son of God reported the results of a scientific examination into issues raised about Jesus Christ. The promo for Mercury Lane included a question to an artist about the public reaction to the inclusion of pubic hair in her paintings.

The Complaint

[7] Carole Bennett complained to TVNZ that she was "disgusted" with the reference to pubic hair during an "excellent" family programme. The promo, she added, was unexpected and without warning. She wrote:

I am very strict about what we as a family watch but it is impossible for one to fully screen them from things I regard as unsuitable when they are shown in the middle of appropriate family viewing.

The Standards

[8] In view of the issues raised, TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standards 1 and 9 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. The Standards and relevant Guideline 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.

Guideline

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 (see Appendix 1). The examples are not exhaustive.

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.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[9] TVNZ explained that the promo for Mercury Lane, a series which considered art in New Zealand, concerned an item about painter Jan Nigro who specialised in nudes. The promo included a question about whether she expected the public reaction to the inclusion of pubic hair in her paintings.

[10] Observing that Son of God was a scientific programme, not a religious one, TVNZ contended that it would attract viewers who were likely to watch an arts programme as well. It also considered that "pubic" was not in any sense a "dirty" word, but a proper description of hair which grew in the genital area.

[11] With regard to Standard 1, TVNZ contended that a reference to pubic hair was not inconsistent with standards of good taste and decency. As it was neither tawdry nor vulgar, TVNZ declined to uphold the Standard 1 aspect.

[12] Turning to Standard 9, TVNZ argued that children were familiar with paintings and sculpture which sometimes showed genitalia and pubic hair. It said:

To suggest that Standard 9 is breached by this reference to pubic hair in this context seemed to the [complaints] committee to imply that children should not be taken to public art galleries (a truly horrifying thought!) or should be asked to turn away from the prints and reproductions of certain art works which frequently adorn various public places such as waiting rooms. The committee concluded that Standard 9 was not breached.

The Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority

[13] As she was not satisfied with TVNZ’s decision, Ms Bennett asked the Authority to review it.

The Complainant’s Final Comment

[14] Ms Bennett expressed disappointment that TVNZ had not acknowledged that it was inappropriate to use promos to "shock" people, especially as viewers did not have an opportunity to switch off. Broadcasters, she wrote, could show promos for adult programme provided that they did not offend.

The Authority’s Determination

[15] When it determines a complaint that a broadcast contravenes Standard 1 of the Television Code, the Authority is required to determine whether the material complained about breaches currently accepted standards of good taste and decency, taking into account the context of the broadcast. The context is relevant, but does not determine whether the programme breached the standard. Accordingly, the Authority has considered the context in which the promo complained about was broadcast.

[16] Ms Bennett expressed particular concern that the promo, which included a verbal reference to pubic hair, was broadcast on the morning of Good Friday, during a programme entitled Son of God. TVNZ explained that Son of God was a documentary, not a religious programme in the devotional sense, which involved a scientific examination of issues raised by Jesus Christ.

[17] The Authority acknowledges a public expectation that programmes broadcast on Good Friday will display an increased awareness on the broadcaster’s part about matters which may be regarded as sensitive.

[18] Nevertheless, the Authority does not consider that the promo for Mercury Lane displayed insensitivity. The reference to pubic hair did not involve visual images, and was taken from an interview with an artist who was well-known as a painter of nudes. In view of these contextual matters, the Authority does not consider that Standard 1 was contravened.

[19] As for the aspect of the complaint that the broadcast of the promo showed inadequate concern for child viewers, the Authority considers that the contextual matters addressed above are again relevant. Furthermore, it does not believe that the phrase "pubic hair" is vulgar and, as TVNZ argued, the Authority accepts that children are familiar with paintings and sculpture, including nude works. The Authority does not accept that the broadcast of the promo displayed insufficient consideration of children’s interests.

[20] The Authority observes that to find a breach of broadcasting standards on this occasion would be to apply the Broadcasting Act 1989 in such a way as to limit freedom of expression in a manner which is not reasonable or demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society (s.5 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990). As required by s.6 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, the Authority adopts an interpretation of the relevant standards which it considers is consistent with and gives full weight to the provisions of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.

 

For the above reasons, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Cartwright
Chair
24 July 2003

Appendix

The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:

  1. Carole Bennett’s Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 18 April 2003
  2. TVNZ’s Response to the Complainant – 5 May 2003
  3. Ms Bennett’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 7 May 2003
  4. TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 21 May 2003
  5. Ms Bennett’s Final Comment – 29 May 2003