Spin City – offensive behaviour – homosexual activity – unsuitable for children
Standard G2 – not offensive – no uphold
Standard G12 – jokes involving homosexuality not intrinsically unsuitable for children – no uphold
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
In an episode of Spin City, the main character discovered that a friend of his was gay. The programme featured the attraction between the friend and another gay man. It was broadcast on TV2 at 6.30pm on 20 April 2001.
Janice Urry complained to the broadcaster, Television New Zealand Ltd, that the broadcast included "situations of a distinctly homosexual nature" and "homosexual intercourse". She described the material as "disgusting", "degrading" and unsuitable for broadcast to children.
TVNZ maintained that homosexuality was not a subject which should be forbidden when children were watching television. It disagreed that "homosexual intercourse" had been portrayed, and explained that the homosexual innuendo contained in the programme was sufficiently disguised that young, innocent, viewers would not recognise any sexual connotation.
Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, Ms Urry 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 declines to uphold the complaint.
The members of the Authority have viewed a tape of the programme complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines this complaint without a formal hearing.
An episode of Spin City, a comedy set in the office of the assistant mayor of New York, was broadcast on TV2 at 6.30pm on 20 April 2001. In this episode, the assistant mayor discovered that a friend of his was gay, and was attracted to another gay man in the office.
Janice Urry complained to the broadcaster, Television New Zealand Ltd, that the broadcast included several "situations of a distinctly homosexual nature" and the depiction of "a homosexual intercourse position". She described the material as "disgusting" and "degrading". She considered that the programme was unsuitable for broadcast to children.
TVNZ considered the complaint under standards G2 and G12 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. These standards require 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 programme was an episode of a light-hearted, "long-running and popular series". It acknowledged that the programme contained allusions to homosexuality, but noted that
one of the principal characters in the series, Carter, has been openly portrayed as being gay all along, and that humour built around his sexual preferences is a mainstay of the programme.
In TVNZ’s view, homosexuality was not a subject which should be forbidden when children were watching television.
TVNZ disagreed with Ms Urry’s assertion that the programme had included the depiction of "a homosexual intercourse position". It explained that what was depicted was an American football manoeuvre. TVNZ accepted that the image could be regarded as containing homosexual innuendo, but submitted that it was sufficiently disguised so that young, innocent, viewers would not recognise any sexual connotation. It continued:
It is not unusual, nor we suggest unacceptable, for comedy to be played out simultaneously on more than one level so mature audiences might take from a scene something different from the more obvious humour which innocent children might recognise and enjoy.
In TVNZ’s assessment, standard G2 was not breached, as it considered that the programme did not contain material which strayed beyond "currently accepted norms of decency and taste". TVNZ noted that it had not received any other complaints about homosexual themes in the series from its early evening viewers.
TVNZ also declined to uphold the complaint as a breach of standard G12. First, it said that it considered that jokes involving homosexuality were not intrinsically unsuitable for children. Secondly, in the specific scene Ms Urry complained about, TVNZ’s view was that the innuendo was sufficiently concealed from young viewers.
When she referred her complaint to the Authority, Ms Urry reiterated her belief that the programme was unsuitable for viewing by children. She also doubted that child viewers would have understood that the scene she objected to depicted an American football position, as they would not have been familiar with the game.
The Authority’s task in assessing this complaint under standard G2 is to determine whether the behaviour complained about breached currently accepted norms, in the context in which it occurred.
The Authority considers that the relevant contextual factors include the programme’s broadcast during G time and its target family audience. It also considers that the following points made by TVNZ are relevant to the Authority’s assessment of the broadcast’s context:
- Spin City is a long running comedy series
- one of the show’s principal characters is gay and "humour built around his sexual preference is a mainstay of the programme"
- the episode complained about arguably provided a positive message about tolerance
- jokes involving homosexuality are not intrinsically unsuitable for children.
As to the material Mrs Urry complained about, the Authority agrees with TVNZ that she was mistaken about what she thought was a depiction of a "homosexual intercourse position". It agrees with TVNZ that what was depicted was an American football manoeuvre. In the Authority’s view, the material did contain homosexual innuendo, but what was actually shown was not so explicit as to be offensive. Accordingly, the Authority does not uphold the complaint as a breach of standard G2.
Standard G12 requires the Authority to consider whether the broadcaster was mindful of the effects of the broadcast on children. The Authority reiterates the point made above that comedy involving homosexuality is not intrinsically unsuitable for children. Furthermore, the Authority considers that the programme’s homosexual
innuendo would not have been apparent to young children. It therefore concludes that standard G12 is not breached.
For the above reasons, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
16 August 2001
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint: