Big Brother – offensive behaviour – nudity – immorality – inappropriate for broadcast at 6.30pm – unsuitable for children
Standard G2 – adult themes – unsuitable for G timeslot – uphold
Standard G8 – G classification incorrect – uphold
Standard G12 – broadcaster not mindful of effect of broadcast on children – uphold
No Order (but recommendation for a written apology)
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
Big Brother is a television series which features a group of people who are confined in a house in Australia and continuously monitored by cameras. It is broadcast on TV2 at 6.30pm Tuesdays to Saturdays. On Monday's Big Brother is broadcast at 6.00pm. For the first two weeks the series was screened, the programme was broadcast on Mondays at 6.30pm.
Beverly Browne complained to the broadcaster, Television New Zealand Ltd, that the programme should not have been screened at 6.30pm, because it featured nudity and "immoral" behaviour. In her opinion, the programme was unsuitable for children.
TVNZ did not uphold the complaint, explaining that the programme did not show any nudity, and that sexual matters were only alluded to in ways adult viewers would recognise.
Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, Ms Browne 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.
The members of the Authority have viewed a tape of two episodes of the programme complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The episodes viewed by the Authority were those provided to it by TVNZ. TVNZ advised that it had chosen the two episodes at random, as the complaint did not refer to any specific episode and the programme is running six nights a week.
The Authority determines this complaint without a formal hearing.
Big Brother is a television series which features a group of people who are confined in a house in Australia and continuously monitored by cameras. The participants aim to win $250,000 for being the last to remain in the house after the others are evicted. The programme is broadcast six nights a week on TV2 at 6.30pm, from Tuesdays to Saturdays. On Mondays Big Brother is broadcast at 6.00pm. For the first two weeks the series was screened, the programme was broadcast on Mondays at 6.30pm.
Beverly Browne complained to the broadcaster, Television New Zealand Ltd, that the programme should not have been screened at 6.30pm, because it featured nudity and "immoral" behaviour. In her opinion, the programme was unsuitable for children. Mrs Browne contended that the programme should have been screened at "at least 8pm or later". She wrote:
By showing this programme at prime time, I feel you are encouraging young minds to think sleeping around or strutting around showing off boobs, butts etc is ok and "cool".
TVNZ considered the complaint under standards G2 and G12 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. These standards requires broadcasters, in the preparation and presentation of programmes:
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.
TVNZ explained that the series was based on an international model of similar groups of people who were isolated and monitored by television cameras. It also noted that an AO version of Big Brother screens once a week on Mondays at 9.30pm which includes material and language "of a more risque nature" than the early evening version. According to TVNZ, the 6.30pm version which Mrs Browne complained about was intended for family audiences and "excludes material which might be considered unsuitable for younger viewers".
TVNZ accepted that the 6.30pm broadcast of Big Brother was not aimed at the very young. It advised:
The expected audience would be the teenagers and older family members, and this is in line with TVNZ’s normal scheduling practice. Any assessment of a daily schedule on TV2 will show a progression from programmes directed at the very young, through others designed to appeal to late primary and early secondary school children, on into programming where teenagers are the main focus. We believe it is neither possible nor desirable to fill the day with programmes that will appeal primarily to the very youngest members of the audience and feel it fair that as the time moves towards 7pm, the interests of older children and teenagers should be catered for – albeit within the G (General) guidelines.
In TVNZ’s assessment, standard G2 was not breached. It maintained that while some participants were shown "not fully dressed, or with body parts concealed by electronic masking", there was no nudity shown in the 6.30pm show.
TVNZ also declined to uphold the complaint as a breach of standard G12. It maintained that references to things such as sexual matters were only alluded to in ways which adult viewers would recognise. In TVNZ’s opinion:
Looking at the programme overall, [TVNZ] felt that its content was not unsuitable for young children, while at the same time it seemed of considerable interest to those older children and teenagers among whom relationships (not necessarily sexual) between individuals become increasingly important.
When she referred her complaint to the Authority, Mrs Browne made the following comments. First, she disagreed that there was no nudity in the 6.30pm broadcast of Big Brother. In her opinion, electronic masking did not mean the people whose body parts were masked were not naked. Secondly, she reiterated her complaint that the programme was inappropriately screened at 6.30pm, which she regarded as "young children’s time". Thirdly, Mrs Browne disagreed that young children would not understand the programme’s sexual allusions. She also considered that the programme had a negative effect on young children, who might then think it was acceptable
…to show their naked body to people they don’t know, especially if they think they may get money for it!
Finally, Mrs Browne pointed out that TVNZ had originally informed her that it would consider her complaint under standard G8 as well as standards G2 and G12. Standard G8 requires broadcasters:
G8 To abide by the classification codes and their appropriate time bands as outlined in the agreed criteria for programme classifications.
Mrs Browne noted that TVNZ’s response had not referred to standard G8, and she asked the Authority whether that standard had been breached by TVNZ.
In TVNZ’s response to the Authority, it emphasised that
children’s viewing time when considered by TVNZ in the context of G programming has to cover all ages from toddlers to 13 year olds. Big Brother, screened at a time when most families are likely to be together, is aimed at a family audience.
TVNZ disputed what it believed was Mrs Browne’s implication that Big Brother promoted an immoral lifestyle. It suggested that entertainment does not promote anything.
TVNZ also commented that its reference to children not understanding Big Brother’s sexual innuendo "was to those very young ones who know nothing of sexual matters". It continued:
Big Brother has a certain reputation because of the publicity which accompanied it when it started, and because of the content of the adults only edition on Monday nights, and we would be surprised if school aged children had not heard the gossip. Gossip tends to be a lot more gaudy than the real thing.
In her final comment, Mrs Browne reiterated the points she raised in her complaint. She also disagreed with TVNZ’s assertions that the sexual innuendo contained in the programme would not be understood by very young children, and that "entertainment does not promote anything".
Standard G2 requires the Authority to determine whether currently accepted standards of good taste and decency are breached by the broadcast of Big Brother at 6.30pm. As required by the standard, the Authority looks first to the relevant contextual factors. The Authority notes, in particular, that Big Brother is broadcast during the G timeslot. The Television Code defines G programmes as:
Programmes which exclude material likely to be unsuitable for children under 14 years of age, although they may not necessarily be designed for child viewers.
The Authority considers that the two episodes of Big Brother which it viewed contained material with adult themes. The Authority acknowledges TVNZ’s submission that some of the sexual innuendo in the programme would not have been understood by child viewers. However, the Authority considers that the programme did not exclude material likely to be unsuitable for children under 14 years of age. For example, in one of the scenes viewed by the Authority, one of the participants tells a story about a pet lamb which apparently has been killed with an axe. The Authority considers that this imagery might have disturbed younger viewers.
In the Authority’s view, the screening of Big Brother in the G timeslot was inappropriate. This was compounded by its placement after The Simpsons which is a G rated programme which the Authority considers would attract child viewers. The Authority therefore upholds the standard G2 aspect of the complaint.
For the reasons given in the discussion under standard G2, the Authority concludes that the programme was incorrectly classified as a G programme. Accordingly, the Authority concludes that Big Brother was wrongly classified as G and it upholds the complaint as a breach of standard G8.
Similarly, the Authority reasons that standard G12, the requirement for broadcasters to be mindful of the effect of a broadcast on children, was breached.
For the above reasons, the Authority upholds the complaint that the broadcast of Big Brother at 6.30 pm on TV2 between 30 April 2001 and 7 May 2001 breached standards G2, G8 and G12 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.
Having upheld the complaint, the Authority may make orders under ss.13 and 16 of the Broadcasting Act 1989. On this occasion, the Authority considers that the breach is not sufficiently serious to warrant a penalty. However, the Authority observes that Mrs Browne sought a written apology from TVNZ for "the unnecessary stress that [had] been generated due to these proceedings". It recommends that TVNZ makes such an apology to the complainant.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
2 August 2001
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint: