The promo for a 60 Minutes programme was broadcast on TV One between 5.30–6.00pm prior to 24 October 1999 and featured the author of a book on female erotica. Referring to a passage in her book, she asked "who wants to have a silent orgasm?"
Mr Petterson complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that this remark "transcends acceptable behaviour in a family home". He objected to its broadcast at an early hour when young children would be watching television and suggested that it could be embarrassing for parents if their children asked what the question meant.
In its response, TVNZ emphasised that as the word "orgasm" was not in itself offensive, it did not see how it could cause harm to children. It noted that to younger children the word would mean little, and for older children there was no harm in explaining the word’s meaning. TVNZ also observed that the promo had been screened during or before news programmes, and that as broadcaster it had demonstrated it was mindful of its effect on children by placing it at times when it would be seen mainly by news watchers. It declined to uphold the complaint.
Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, Mr Petterson referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.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 item complained about and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. On this occasion, the Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.
Promos for a 60 Minutes item about the author of a book on female erotica were screened in the days prior to the broadcast on 24 October 1999, between 5.30–6.00pm. The author was seen in a book store promoting her book, and referring to a passage there, she asked "who wants to have a silent orgasm?"
Mr Petterson complained to TVNZ Ltd that the placement of the promo in the early evening when children would be watching television was inappropriate. In his view, the promo’s content "transcends acceptable behaviour in a family home". He explained that he would not have taken offence had it been screened at a later hour, but protested on behalf of parents with young children, arguing that a good percentage of viewers at that time would have been children aged 5 to 10. Mr Petterson said he could imagine children asking their parents what the word orgasm meant, and suggested that while some viewers would have welcomed the opportunity to discuss sex education, "many mothers would have been put in an embarrassing situation". As a final point, Mr Petterson recommended that a system be devised whereby controversial items could be vetted before screening.
TVNZ advised that it had assessed the complaint under standard G12 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which requires broadcasters:
G12 To be mindful of the effect any programme may have on children during their normally accepted viewing hours.
TVNZ’s view was that the word "orgasm" was not in itself offensive, but had a specific meaning in a sexual context. For that reason, it did not consider the use of the word could cause harm to children. It suggested that to younger children the word would mean little and would be unlikely to elicit questions, while for older children who asked about its meaning, any explanation could only be beneficial.
Next, TVNZ observed that the promos were screened only in association with news programmes – either just before them, just after them or in commercial breaks within bulletins. TVNZ considered that parents who watched news with their children would be aware that its content had the potential to cause distress or pose difficult questions. It further observed that there was no standard which required broadcasters to desist from broadcasting material which has the potential to "embarrass" older viewers with children.
Standard G12, TVNZ noted, required broadcasters to be "mindful of the effect" any programme has on children during their normally accepted viewing times. Its view was that it had been mindful by placing the promo in positions where it would be seen mostly by news watchers. It declined to uphold the complaint.
In response to Mr Petterson’s suggestion, TVNZ advised that it already had in place pre-screening systems designed to keep a constant check on its compliance with broadcasting standards.
When he referred the matter to the Authority, Mr Petterson acknowledged that the promos tended to be screened in association with news programmes but, he argued, that was also peak viewing time, and a time when many young children were a potential audience.
In response to TVNZ’s point that there was no standard designed to prevent it from broadcasting material which had the potential to embarrass older viewers with children, Mr Petterson responded that that was a matter of common decency. He contended that TVNZ had pre-empted parents’ rights to instruct their children about such matters at a time and in a manner of their choosing.
In conclusion, Mr Petterson argued that the broadcast was "just another small step in the erosion of decency". He repeated that he did not find the item offensive himself, and would have been at ease with it had it been broadcast after 9.00pm. He urged the Authority to censure TVNZ and endeavour to keep standards as high as possible.
TVNZ advised it had no further comment to make.
The complaint focuses on the broadcast of promos which contained the author’s question "Who wants to have a silent orgasm?" which the complainant contends was objectionable when broadcast at a time when young children would be watching television. The first task for the Authority is to determine whether the content was itself offensive. While the word "orgasm" has a specific meaning in a sexual context, the Authority concludes that it is not offensive in itself. It notes that standard G12 requires broadcasters to demonstrate that they are mindful of children. The Authority finds the words used in the promo would not have had any detrimental effect on any children in the audience. It therefore concludes that TVNZ had complied with standard G12 and declines to uphold the complaint.
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 by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1. Murray Petterson’s Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 8 November 1999
2. TVNZ’s Informal Response – 12 November 1999
3. Mr Petterson’s Response – 14 December 1999
4. TVNZ’s Further Response – 16 December 1999
5. TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 23 December 1999
6. Mr Petterson’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 11 January 2000
7. TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 27 January 2000