An episode of British Sex was broadcast on TV3 at 9.30pm on 28 October 1999. This series was publicised as a programme with a straight talking approach to all things sexual, which featuring "ordinary" people.
Daphne Painting complained to TV3 Network Services Ltd, the broadcaster, that the programme was "a polluting intrusion and desecration of [her] home". She complained particularly about footage of a "body caster", who modelled body parts, including genitalia, which she described as "reprehensible in the extreme". She also stated her opinion that the programme’s effect on children would be to "corrupt" them.
TV3 responded that British Sex was AO rated, screened an hour after the AO watershed, and was preceded by a written and verbal warning. It did not consider that the "body caster" segment was unacceptable in that context, commenting that the castings were non-sexual, and were neither lewd nor degrading. As to the aspect of Mrs Painting’s complaint concerning the programme’s effect on children, TV3 considered that it had taken into account the effect the programme might have on children and had acted appropriately.
Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response, Mrs Painting 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 upholds the complaint that the programme breached standard G2.
The members of the Authority have viewed a tape of the programme 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.
TV3 broadcast an episode of British Sex at 9.30pm on 28 October 1999. This series was publicised as a programme with a straight talking approach to all things sexual, which featured "ordinary" people of all ages, shapes and sizes.
Daphne Painting complained to TV3 that the programme was "a polluting intrusion and desecration of [her] home". She said that she had watched the programme "in disgust at the indecencies" so that she could formulate a complaint about it.
She described it as "reprehensible in the extreme" that such offensive matter was broadcast. She complained particularly about footage of a "body caster" who modelled body parts, including genitalia. She went on to state her opinion that the programme’s effect on children was to "corrupt" them.
TV3 assessed 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 began its response to Mrs Painting by stating that British Sex was AO rated, screened an hour after the AO watershed, and was preceded by a written and verbal warning that:
British Sex is recommended for adults only viewing. It contains nudity, coarse language and sexual themes which may offend some viewers.
TV3 also said that each episode in the British Sex series had been modified by its appraiser for screening on New Zealand television.
TV3 considered that the "body caster" segment was not unacceptable in this context, and commented that the castings were:
neither lewd nor degrading and were intended to be viewed in the same way as any other artistic depiction of the naked human form, some of which are shown in art galleries or museums all over the world.
TV3 disagreed that any of the images shown in the segment were indecent. It commented further that the images were non-sexual and the people who took part appeared pleased with the results.
Next, TV3 dealt with the aspect of Mrs Painting’s complaint concerning the programme’s effect on children. It noted first that the Authority had previously ruled that after 8.30pm at night was not deemed to be normally accepted viewing time for children (Decision No. 1999-082). It then repeated that all programmes in the British Sex series screened after 9.30pm and were preceded by precise warnings. TV3 considered that:
it is the duty of the parent/caregiver to monitor what their child is viewing, especially as it was made very clear by the warning and the time at which the programme screened that the content was not appropriate for children to view.
TV3 concluded, on the basis of the above, that it had taken into account the effect the programme might have on children and had acted appropriately.
TV3 declined to uphold the complaint that standard G2 or G12 had been breached.
In her referral to the Authority, Mrs Painting said that she had missed the warning as she had started viewing the programme after it had been screened. She commented that others might have been in the same position. She maintained that the warning would not have been sufficient to exonerate TV3 for having screened what was, in her opinion, offensive material.
Mrs Painting then asserted that it was the responsibility of television stations to ensure that they presented "wholesome" programmes to youth. She said parents had an "impossible" task in monitoring their childrens viewing.
In its response to the Authority, TV3 advised that it had no further comment.
When the Authority considers a complaint about standard G2, it takes into account the context in which the broadcast complained about occurs. The context is relevant, but not decisive, to the Authority’s determination of whether the programme breached community standards of good taste and decency.
The contextual factors which the Authority considers relevant to its determination on this occasion include the time of broadcast, the programme’s AO classification, and the fact that a warning, which the Authority considers to be clear and explicit, preceded the programme. In addition, it considers that the programme's title pointed unambiguously to its content. The Authority also considers it relevant that the programme was broadcast on free-to-air television, given its pervasiveness as a service available to the community at large.
The Authority acknowledges that programmes which are classified AO and broadcast during AO time are intended for adult audiences. However, broadcasters are still required to observe standards of good taste and decency. The Authority considers that, despite the contextual matters described above, the programme exceeded the limit of acceptability on free-to-air television at 9.30pm. The Authority considers that the programme’s sustained focus on sexual practices transgressed current community standards of acceptability on free-to-air television at 9.30pm. In particular, it believes the footage of a procedure to enlarge genitalia and the footage of the filming of an erotic video, put the item across the threshold of the standard. Accordingly, it concludes that the programme breached standard G2.
Next the Authority considers whether standard G12 was breached. This standard requires broadcasters to be mindful of the effect of programmes on children during their normally accepted viewing times. The Authority observes that 9.30pm is not deemed to be "normally accepted" viewing time for children. The Television Code of Practice provides that programmes shown after 8.30pm may contain adult themes or themes which would be unsuitable for children under 18 years old. Accordingly, the Authority finds that standard G12 is not relevant on this occasion, and it declines to uphold the complaint on this basis.
For the reasons set forth above, the Authority upholds the complaint that British Sex, broadcast by TV3 Network Services Ltd on 28 October 1999, beginning at 9.30pm breached standard G2 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. It declines to uphold any other aspect of the complaint.
Having upheld a complaint, the Authority may impose penalties pursuant to s.13(1) and s.16(4) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. In view of the fact that the decision raised a difficult question about where to draw the boundary of acceptability under the good taste standard, the Authority considers that publication of this decision is sufficient to remind broadcasters of their responsibilities in this area. It finds that no penalty is warranted in the circumstances.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
9 March 2000
The following correspondence has been received and considered by the Authority in the determination of this complaint.
1. Daphne Painting’s Formal Complaint to TV3 Network Services Ltd – 1 November 1999
2. TV3’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 1 December 1999
3. Mrs Painting’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 15 December 1999
4. TV3’s Response to the Authority – 21 January 2000