An episode of The Ricki Lake Show was screened on Labour Day - a public holiday. The episode was broadcast on TV2 on 25 October 1999, commencing at 2.00pm. The programme was rated AO because it contained adult content.
Ms Watkins complained to Television New Zealand Limited, the broadcaster, that TVNZ breached broadcasting standards by broadcasting an AO classified programme before 8.30pm on a public holiday.
TVNZ agreed that the episode should not have been shown during PGR time. It said that the mistake occurred because its scheduler had not checked the schedule adequately, given that the date was a public holiday, and its new computer system had not prompted its scheduler that the show had been scheduled outside its time band. TVNZ upheld the complaint, apologised to the complainant, and advised that steps had been taken to ensure that the incident would not recur.
Dissatisfied with the action taken by TVNZ, Ms Watkins referred the 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 that the action taken by TVNZ was insufficient
A member of the Authority has viewed a tape of the item complained about, and all the members of the Authority have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. On this occasion, the Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.
An episode of The Ricki Lake Show commenced broadcast at 2.00pm on TV2. It had an AO programme classification. The episode was broadcast on 25 October which was Labour Day and a public holiday.
Ms Watkins complained that the episode had been broadcast in an inappropriate time band. She referred to the Television Code which prescribes that AO programmes which contain adult subject matter are restricted to screening between midday and 3.00pm on weekdays (except during school and public holidays). She questioned why TVNZ had allowed the programme to screen during the early hours of the afternoon when its effect was to expose children to material that was "clearly unintended for their viewing".
TVNZ agreed that the episode should not have been shown at 2.00pm on Labour Day because it had an AO certificate due to its adult content. It said it had considered the complaint in the context of standards G12 of the Code which had been nominated by Ms Watkins, and also under standard G8. The standards require broadcasters:
G8 To abide by the classification codes and their appropriate time bands as outlined in the agreed criteria for programme classifications.
G12 To be mindful of the effect any programme may have on children during their normally accepted viewing times.
The broadcaster upheld the complaint under those standards. It reported that its investigation had shown that the mistake had occurred through personnel failure. Its scheduler had failed to check the Labour Day schedule properly. There had also been a mechanical failing through the introduction of a new computer system. The new system, it explained, did not provide the facility of its old system to mark a programme "not allowed" when a scheduler attempted to place a programme outside its classified time band.
Schedulers would now, following this mistake, institute special checks to ensure that no material appeared outside appropriate time bands, TVNZ wrote. Moreover, it advised that urgent moves were underway to have TVNZ’s computer system modified to provide "the very useful facility which existed in its predecessor".
TVNZ thanked Ms Watkins for drawing the matter to its attention, and apologised for any problem the scheduling of the programme may have caused her.
In her referral, Ms Watkins said that she was dissatisfied with the action taken by TVNZ. She said that TVNZ had admitted that it had failed to check that the day of broadcast was a public holiday and that the episode of The Ricki Lake Show was incorrectly scheduled. Ms Watkins noted that this was the second complaint of this nature that she had had upheld by TVNZ in a very short time.
Ms Watkins considered that TVNZ’s explanation that "human and mechanical failure" had caused it to fail to adhere to standard G12 was "quite frankly, not good enough". It was all very well for TVNZ to make "meaningless apologies and promises of modified computers", she submitted, but TVNZ had to make it a priority to be mindful of the effect any programme may have on children during their normally accepted viewing times. Until it did, she wrote, "these unnecessary errors will continue".
In its reply to the Authority, TVNZ wrote that protection of children was a priority for it. It suggested that the Authority would be aware of TVNZ’s participation in research in the area, and the initiative it had taken in respect of a possible code for children. The company had admitted a mistake and expressed genuine regrets, it observed, and it "cannot pretend to be infallible". It explained that programmes in the Ricki Lake series were not invariably rated AO. "[N]ormal process would see episodes rated G or PGR scheduled in public or school holidays", TVNZ concluded.
The Authority notes that TVNZ accepted that the broadcast was unsuitable for the time slot in which it appeared, and apologised to the complainant for the problem that the scheduling of The Ricki Lake Show on Labour Day may have caused her. It also noted that TVNZ had advised Ms Watkins of the steps which would be taken to ensure the problem did not recur.
The programme in question updated earlier episodes about cases where the paternity of children was in doubt. In the Authority’s view, while an AO classification for the programme was warranted, and the programme was put to air at an inappropriate time, the action taken by TVNZ was appropriate and sufficient.
In these circumstances, the Authority accepts that no further action was required.
For the reasons set forth above, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
9 March 2000
The following correspondence was received and considered when the Authority determined this complaint:
1. Kellie Watkins’ Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 6 November 1999
2. TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 17 November 1999
3. Ms Watkins’ Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 6 December 1999
4. TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 13 December 1999