Most Wanted – music video – "Hey Boy Hey Girl" by The Chemical Brothers – depiction of two skeletons having sex – breach of good taste and decency – broadcaster not mindful of the effect of broadcast on young children
Standard G2 – video acceptable in context for general audience – no uphold
Standard G12 – unsuitable for children when broadcast at 9.30am on Saturday morning – uphold
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
The music video "Hey Boy Hey Girl" by The Chemical Brothers, broadcast on TV3 during the programme Most Wanted at 9.30am on 10 February 2001, depicted a young man and woman who morphed into skeletons and then back into humans. The skeletons appeared to be having sex.
Mrs Lee Candy complained to the broadcaster, TV3 Network Services Ltd, that the video was unsuitable for broadcast on a Saturday morning, when young children were watching television unsupervised by their parents.
TV3 advised that the programme was rated PGR, and aimed at the young teen viewer. It considered that the song fell well within the PGR rating, noting that the skeletons were shown moving one on top of the other, but that the effect was neither graphic nor overtly sexual.
Dissatisfied with TV3’s response, Mrs Candy referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
For the reasons given below, the Authority upholds the complaint that standard G12 was breached. It declines to uphold any other aspect of the complaint.
The members of the Authority have viewed a tape of the item complained about and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.
The programme Most Wanted, broadcast at 9.30am on TV3 on Saturday, 10 February 2001, included the music video "Hey Boy Hey Girl" by The Chemical Brothers. Part of the video features two young people kissing and moving on top of each other. The couple then morph into skeletons and appear to be having sex. The skeletons then morph back into humans.
Mrs Lee Candy complained to the broadcaster, TV3 Network Services Ltd, about the suitability of the video at the time it was broadcast. She stated:
It angers me that more and more rubbish like this is appearing in music clips "in the name of music" – at 9.30am on a Saturday morning makes me even more annoyed. At this time of the morning there are a lot of children watching television unsupervised by parents, and I think they would be shocked if they took the time to see what their children are watching. It is for this reason that I won’t let my children watch music clips without me or my husband being present.
TV3 considered the complaint under standards G2 and G12 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.
Those standards require broadcasters:
G2 To take into consideration currently accepted norms of decency and taste in language and behaviour, bearing in mind the context in which any language or behaviour occurs.
G12 To be mindful of the effect any programme may have on children during their normally accepted viewing times.
TV3 advised that the intention of the PGR timeband was that parents would be present while their children were watching. It explained that, while the programme Most Wanted carried a mix of G and PGR rated videos, the video complained about fell well within the PGR rating. In describing the contents of the video, TV3 said:
In the scene where the young girl, looking into the mirror at home, morphs into the woman, looking into the mirror at a club, who sees the couple as skeletons in the toilet cubicle, no sexual activity is shown "in the flesh". The skeletons are shown moving one on top of the other but the effect is neither graphic nor overtly sexual and as such is acceptable for a PGR rated programme.
TV3 said it did not consider the video inappropriate for the intended audience of young teens to view alone. In its view, how the video was interpreted would depend on the sophistication of the viewer. As such, an adult might see some sort of sexual liaison occurring, whereas a child viewer would probably just see two skeletons kissing. TV3 declined to uphold the complaint as a breach of standard G2.
In respect of standard G12, TV3 advised that the video had been edited to fit a PGR rating. The mixing of different rated videos was a deliberate device on the part of TV3 and TV4 to soften the impact of the programme. Overall, the impression of the programme was not one of unremitting PGR material, it said. The broadcaster reiterated that it did not consider the programme unsuitable for a child to view, subject to adult guidance.
In referring her complaint to the Authority, Mrs Candy said it was "blatantly obvious" that most parents would not think they had to supervise their children’s television viewing at 9.30am on a Saturday morning. She said she found the broadcaster’s explanation regarding the mix of G and PGR confusing, stating:
Is the reason for this so that parents watch it, see some G rated videos, presume the programme is ok and hence leave their children to watch it by themselves?
Shortly after seeing this video on television I spoke to a 14 year old friend of mine who, like me, was shocked at this particular part of the video (and I do understand that it is just a small part of the total video clip). To say that an adult "may see some sort of sexual liaison occurring" is a strange way to put something so obvious.
In its response to the Authority, TV3 said it catered for younger viewers between 6.30am and 9am on Saturday. It said it considered it reasonable then to cater for the teen viewer from 9am. It submitted that Mrs Candy was wrong in her assumption that most parents would not need to supervise their child’s viewing at 9.30am. Quoting from the Authority’s research Monitoring Community Attitudes in Changing Mediascapes, TV3 said 91.5 per cent of the people surveyed believed that parents/caregivers were responsible for what their children viewed, with 55 per cent indicating that parents should know what their child was watching. It noted that the Authority’s research indicated that the majority of parents were familiar with, and used, the PGR censor rating, which was provided both on screen and in the programme’s publicity material.
In relation to Mrs Candy’s comments on the mix of G and PGR material, TV3 said this was done to ease the transition from G to PGR time. The programme, it said, was rated PGR and the material included was always appropriate for that PGR rating. Parents monitoring their children’s viewing would be able to use the censor rating provided to gain an accurate impression of the likely content of the programme.
Regardless of Mrs Candy’s concern about the video (in particular the two skeletons in the toilet cubicle), the fact remains that what is shown was not two people having sex but a computer generated image of luminous skeletons. Adults may imagine, as Mrs Candy has, that they are having sex but what is actually shown is skeletons. There is no nudity and no sexual contact of human beings. This footage is not inappropriate for the teen viewer.
In her final comment to the Authority, Mrs Candy said she was concerned that
… a parent may sit and watch the beginning of a show such as this, feel that it is OK for their children to view, and hence "leave them to it" – I am not sure that this exactly "protects" the child viewer when the "stronger" material is yet to come.
Mrs Candy said she was unconvinced by TV3’s argument that, because it was skeletons having sex, it was somehow less offensive. In her view, it was offensive for the very reason that it was aimed at young people and teenagers.
There are two aspects to this complaint. The first of the Authority’s tasks is to consider whether the material Mrs Candy complained about breaches community standards of good taste and decency. When the Authority considers a complaint which alleges a breach of standard G2, it considers the context in which the material was broadcast. On this occasion, relevant contextual factors include the video’s PGR classification and its time of broadcast (at 9.30am on Saturday during PGR time). The Authority also considers it relevant that the material complained about occurred in the context of a music video. In its view, music videos are accepted mainstream entertainment and often present material which is challenging.
As to the nature of the material complained about, first the Authority disagrees with the broadcaster’s assessment that it was not overtly sexual. In its view, it was clear that the couple in the sequence was involved in sexual activity, and that when the couple morphed into skeletons they were involved in simulated sex. However, taking into account the context of the broadcast, the brevity of the sequence, and the fact that the sexual activity portrayed did not feature any nudity, the Authority does not consider that standard G2 was transgressed.
Next the Authority considers whether the broadcaster was mindful of the effects of the broadcast on children. In the Authority’s view, the video was not appropriate for broadcast at 9.30am on Saturday, as the content was unsuitable for children of a young age. Saturday morning is a time when many children and young people watch television unsupervised and, therefore, the Authority considers that the broadcaster ought reasonably to have expected that young children would have been watching the broadcast of Most Wanted. Accordingly the Authority finds that standard G12 was breached.
In reaching this decision, the Authority records that it has considered whether the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression, as enshrined in s.14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, is unjustifiably infringed. The Authority is satisfied that its decision to uphold this complaint is one which is explicitly authorised by its empowering legislation. Section 21(1)(e) of the Broadcasting Act authorises the Authority to encourage broadcasters to develop and observe codes of broadcasting practice appropriate to the type of broadcasting undertaken by such broadcasters, in relation to, among other things, the protection of children. Standard G12 specifically addresses the objective to protect children. The Authority has also satisfied itself that the exercise of its powers on this occasion does not unduly restrict TV3’s right to freely express itself. For the reasons already given, it considers it has reached a decision that least restricts the right to freedom of expression, while still giving effect to the intention of the Broadcasting Act.
For the reasons given, the Authority upholds the complaint that a music video broadcast on Most Wanted at 9.30am on 10 February 2001, breached standard G12 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.
The Authority declines to uphold any other aspect of the complaint.
Having upheld the complaint, the Authority may impose penalties under section 13 and 16 of the Broadcasting Act. On this occasion, the Authority considers that the breach is not sufficiently serious to warrant a penalty.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
21 June 2001
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint: