Ball and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2016-074 (15 December 2016)
- Peter Radich (Chair)
- Leigh Pearson
- Paula Rose
- Colin Ball
BroadcasterTelevision New Zealand Ltd
[This summary does not form part of the decision.]
An episode of Cold Feet, a British comedy-drama series which followed the intertwining lives of three couples at different stages in their relationships, contained sex scenes. The Authority did not uphold a complaint that the sex scenes breached the children’s interests and good taste and decency standards. Cold Feet was not targeted at child viewers, it was classified Adults Only and broadcast during an appropriate timeband, and was preceded by a specific warning for sex scenes. The level of sexual content was not overly explicit and was justified by the episode’s narrative context. Overall the broadcaster adequately ensured child viewers could be protected from adult content, and the episode would not have offended or surprised the general viewing audience.
Not Upheld: Children’s Interests, Good Taste and Decency
 An episode of Cold Feet, a British comedy-drama series which followed the intertwining lives of three couples at different stages in their relationships, contained sex scenes. The episode in question was originally broadcast in 1998.
 Colin Ball complained that the episode featured visual and audio depictions of ‘noisy’ sexual activity at a time of day when pre-school children could be watching.
 The issue is whether the broadcast breached the children’s interests and good taste and decency standards as set out in the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.
 The episode was broadcast on TV ONE at 2pm on 18 August 2016. The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.
Did the broadcast breach broadcasting standards?
 Mr Ball’s complaint raises similar issues under the children’s interests and good taste and decency standards. As the same contextual factors and other considerations are relevant to our assessment of both standards, we have addressed them together.
 The children’s interests standard (Standard 3) states that broadcasters should ensure children can be protected from broadcasts which might adversely affect them.
 The good taste and decency standard (Standard 1) similarly aims to protect audience members from viewing broadcasts that are likely to cause widespread undue offence or distress. Broadcasters should take effective steps to inform audiences of the nature of the programme, and enable viewers to regulate their own and children’s viewing behaviour.
The parties’ submissions
 Mr Ball submitted that:
- Programme warnings and adult supervision are insufficient safeguards for protecting child viewers from adult content, and constant vigilance by parents and caregivers is impossible.
- The concern should not be whether or not the broadcast offended a significant number of viewers, but rather whether children’s exposure to adult sexual content is harmful.
 TVNZ submitted that:
- Cold Feet was classified Adults Only (AO) and screened in an AO timeslot during the weekday, on a channel aimed at an older demographic.
- The sexual content featured in the episode was not explicit, there was no nudity, and the sex scenes were relatively brief and did not dominate the episode.
- The sexual material in the episode was not gratuitous as it served to further the storyline in regard to the couples’ relationships.
- Sufficient information was given about the episode, including the AO classification and a specific warning for sexual material, enabling parents and caregivers to decide whether they wished their child to view such material.
 When we consider a complaint about children’s interests or good taste and decency, we take into account the context of the broadcast, which here includes:
- Cold Feet was classified AO and broadcast at 2pm on a weekday, during the school term
- the episode was preceded by a warning, which stated, ‘This programme is rated Adults Only. It contains sex scenes’
- the adult target audience
- the nature of the programme as a fictional comedy-drama series about three adult couples
- the lack of nudity and/or other graphic sexual content
- the timing of the sex scenes, some way into the episode
- audience expectations.
 We are satisfied that, taking into account these factors, Cold Feet was consistent with audience expectations of both the programme and the AO classification, and the broadcaster ensured child viewers could be adequately protected from any adult content. The AO classification is defined as follows:
AO – Adults Only
Programmes containing adult themes and directed primarily at mature audiences.
AO programmes may be screened between midday and 3pm on weekdays (except during school and public holidays, as designated by the Ministry of Education) and after 8.30pm until 5am.
 Broadcasters are permitted to schedule AO programmes between midday and 3pm on weekdays. The approach of this Authority and the free-to-air television regime is to require broadcasters to provide sufficient programme information to audiences so they can regulate their own, and their children’s, viewing behaviour. Classifications, timebands and warnings form part of this information and give an indication to viewers of a programme’s likely content.
 Cold Feet was classified AO and preceded by a specific warning for sex scenes. It is not targeted at, nor intended for, a child audience. The series dealt with adult subject matter, namely the ups and downs of relationships between three different couples, and it could therefore be expected that sexual activity may form a part of the storyline. The level of sexual content in this episode was not overly explicit, gratuitous or pervasive. It was justified by the episode’s narrative context, as it showed how each couple overcame certain obstacles in their relationship and contributed to the programme’s comedic tone, and would not in our view have unduly surprised or offended the target audience. Most sexual activity during the episode was implied, for example showing the couples lying in bed. The scenes in which sexual activity was depicted occurred approximately three quarters of the way through the episode, by which time the likely content of the episode had been well signposted to viewers, who were able to make a different viewing choice or exercise discretion.
 We acknowledge that the complainant’s concerns particularly relate to younger pre-school children who may be home and watching television during the AO daytime timeband. In our view, a level of maturity would be required to comprehend the adult content featured in Cold Feet. We think it likely that the scenes subject to complaint would have gone over the heads of any pre-school children who may have been watching.
 Accordingly, we do not uphold the complaint under Standards 1 and 3.
For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
15 December 2016
The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1 Colin Ball’s formal complaint – 18 August 2016
2 TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 14 September 2016
3 Mr Ball’s referral to the Authority – 25 September 2016
4 TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 23 November 2016
1 Guideline 1b to Standard 1
2 Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 9