BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Burton and SKY Network Television Ltd - 2016-046 (22 August 2016)

  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Paula Rose
  • Susanna Burton
Shocking Lives
Prime TV


[This summary does not form part of the decision.]

An episode of a documentary series Shocking Lives, titled The Grandmother Lovers, explored relationships between younger men and older women. It contained sexual content and nudity. The Authority did not uphold a complaint that the documentary breached the good taste and decency standard. The documentary did not contain overly explicit or graphic material. Sexual activity was largely implied, and the programme featured only limited nudity. The broadcaster took sufficient steps to inform viewers about the content of the programme, which was classified AO, broadcast at 9.30pm and preceded by a warning for sexual content and nudity. The documentary focused on relationships between consenting adults and in the context of the broadcast this did not undermine general community standards of good taste and decency.

Not Upheld: Good Taste and Decency


[1]  An episode of the documentary series Shocking Lives, titled The Grandmother Lovers, was broadcast on Prime at 9.30pm on 18 April 2016. It explored relationships between younger men and older women, and contained sexual content and nudity.

[2]  Susanna Burton complained that images of one woman’s tattooed nipple and ‘full blown sex scenes with grossly old women and young men’ breached standards of good taste and decency.

[3]  The issue is whether the broadcast breached the good taste and decency standard, as set out in the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.1

[4]  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 threaten current norms of good taste and decency?

[5]  The purpose of the good taste and decency standard (Standard 1) is to protect audience members from viewing broadcasts that are likely to cause widespread undue offence or distress, or undermine widely shared community standards. In a television context, this standard is usually considered in relation to offensive language, sexual material, nudity and violence, but may also apply to other material presented in a way that is likely to cause offence or distress.

[6]  SKY described the documentary as offering a ‘quirky insight into the unconventional relationships between younger men and older women’ and as being entertaining in nature. It did not consider The Grandmother Lovers breached the good taste and decency standard, taking into account the context of the broadcast. However, SKY apologised to the complainant if she found the documentary upsetting, and accepted that it ‘may not be of everyone’s interest’. The broadcaster said that it strived to offer a wide range of content to appeal to its diverse customer base, and individual viewers will prefer different content and can choose what they watch, and what they do not watch, accordingly.

[7]  The complainant’s concerns appear to us to relate, at least in part, to the type of couples featured in the documentary (for example, a 31 year old man and a 92 year old woman). While it may be viewed by some as unusual or unconventional, we do not think the premise of a relationship between two consenting adults, who happen to have a significant age gap, in itself threatens current norms of taste and decency.

[8]  The question for us, then, is whether the documentary’s sexual content and nudity, in the context of these relationships, breached the good taste and decency standard. Some of the stronger content included:

  • conduct that implied a couple was engaging in oral sex in public
  • a couple kissing and rolling around in bed, who were apparently topless but largely covered by blankets
  • a close-up shot of a woman’s tattooed nipple, which read ‘Gang Bang Queen’
  • statements relating to the participants’ genitalia and sexual activity, such as, ‘How’s her vagina? Is it all stretched out and dried out?’

[9]  We have assessed this content in light of the context of the broadcast, as required by the good taste and decency standard. While certain extreme material may be unacceptable regardless of context, the approach developed by this Authority is to require broadcasters to give viewers sufficient information to regulate their own, and their children’s, viewing behaviour.This places a degree of responsibility on viewers to inform themselves about the viewing choices they make. Relevant contextual factors here include:

  • the title of the programme, The Grandmother Lovers
  • The Grandmother Lovers was the second episode in a documentary series called Shocking Lives
  • the detailed nature of the programme’s introduction
  • the nature of the programme as an entertainment-focused documentary
  • the programme’s Adults Only (AO) classification
  • the time of broadcast at 9.30pm
  • the pre-broadcast visual and verbal warning for ‘sexual content and nudity which may offend some people’
  • the adult target audience
  • audience expectations, taking into account the title of the episode and the title of the documentary series.

[10]  Having regard to these factors, in our view the nature of the documentary was sufficiently signposted, enabling viewers to make an informed viewing choice. The Grandmother Lovers was classified AO, broadcast at 9.30pm and preceded by a warning for sexual content and nudity. The long introductory segment provided a significant level of detail about the programme’s upcoming content. Furthermore, the title of the documentary itself and its inclusion in a series called Shocking Lives indicated to viewers the subject matter and likely content.

[11]  In terms of the programme’s sexual content, while it is understandable that some viewers may have found the implied sexual activity to be confronting or challenging, in our view it was not overly graphic. Couples were shown engaging physically, but sexual activity was largely implied rather than explicit. The individuals featured in the documentary did discuss sex, but they generally did not describe sex acts or practices in an explicit or instructional manner.

[12]  The close-up shot of a woman’s tattooed nipple was not depicted in a sexualised or titillating manner. It was shown during an otherwise innocuous interview between the woman and the documentary maker. The remainder of the documentary did not contain any images of genitalia or other nudity.

[13]  We understand that a documentary focused on the relationships between younger men and older women, which challenged social norms and discussed the sexual aspects of those relationships, might not have appealed to all viewers and would have been uncomfortable for some to watch. However, the right to freedom of expression includes the right of broadcasters to screen, and audiences to receive, a diverse range of programming, so long as broadcasting standards are maintained. Relationships between younger women and much older men are frequently depicted, and the novel angle taken in this documentary does not mean that it undermined community standards of taste and decency at a level which requires us to intervene and restrict that right.

[14]  We therefore do not uphold the complaint.

For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority



Peter Radich


22 August 2016




The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:

1      Susanna Burton’s formal complaint – 19 April 2016

2      SKY’s response to the complaint – 19 May 2016

3      Ms Burton’s referral to the Authority – 13 June 2016

4      SKY’s response to the Authority – 11 July 2016

1 This complaint was determined under the new Free-to-Air Television Code, which took effect on 1 April 2016 and applies to any programmes broadcast on or after that date:

2 Commentary: Good Taste and Decency, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook (2016, at page 12)