BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Burton and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2012-041

  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
  • Susanna Burton
Two and a Half Men

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Two and a Half Men– episode screened at 7.30pm contained sexual innuendo including references to being “spanked”, “wearing my panties”, and transmitting sexual diseases – showed naked man with his genitals pixellated – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency and children’s interests standards

Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – sexual innuendo was inexplicit and sophisticated so that it would have gone over the heads of younger viewers – nudity pixellated – content consistent with programme’s PGR rating – contextual factors – not upheld

Standard 9 (children’s interests) – episode correctly rated PGR – broadcaster adequately considered children’s interests – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1]  An episode of Two and a Half Men, an American sitcom, was broadcast on TV2 at 7.30pm on Wednesday 8 February 2012. The episode opened with the funeral of the previous main character and serial womaniser, Charlie, attended by a number of his ex-lovers. The women made the following comments:

  • “He also loved being spanked” and “...while wearing my panties”
  • “He used my panties to make tea”
  • “He gave me herpes”, and, “...Chlamydia”.

[2]  Following the funeral, Charlie’s housekeeper commented, “Charlie was the best boss I ever had... all he ever asked in return was clean sheets and hosing the vomit off the occasional drug-addled hooker.” Later in the programme, the new main character, Walden, met two women at a bar before taking them home. Walden emerged from the bedroom the following morning, naked but with his genitals pixellated, and stated, “Guess what, I had sex with two girls last night.” The episode was rated PGR and was not preceded by a warning.

[3]  Susanna Burton made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the episode was dominated by sexual innuendo and would “disturb the natural innocence of a child”.

[4]  In her original complaint, Ms Burton clearly identified the 8 February episode. However, in her referral, she also mentioned an episode screened on 15 February, and maintained that she had complained about both episodes. The Authority’s task is to review the broadcaster’s decision, which was limited to the episode screened on 8 February. Due to the fact that the complainant did not refer to the 15 February episode in her original complaint to TVNZ, either explicitly or implicitly, we do not have jurisdiction to now consider the complaint in relation to that episode.

[5]  In any event, we have viewed the 8 February episode, and we are confident that all of the content specifically identified by Ms Burton in her complaint appeared in the episode that screened on 8 February.

[6]  The issue therefore is whether the episode screened on 8 February breached Standards 1 (good taste and decency) and 9 (children’s interests) of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[7]  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 episode threaten current norms of good taste and decency?

[8]  Standard 1 states that broadcasters should observe standards of good taste and decency. The standard is primarily concerned with the broadcast of sexual material, nudity, coarse language or violence.1 The Authority will also consider the standard in relation to any broadcast that portrays or discusses material in a way that is likely to cause offence or distress.2

[9]  When we consider an alleged breach of good taste and decency, we take into account the context of the broadcast, which here includes:

  • Two and  a Half Men was rated PGR
  • it was broadcast at 7.30pm during children’s normally accepted viewing times
  • the comments were intended to be humorous
  • the nudity was pixellated
  • the series is in its ninth season
  • the programme’s target audience
  • audience expectations.

[10]  Ms Burton argued that the episode contained “adult themes” that should have been restricted to screening after 9pm.

[11]  TVNZ maintained that the episode’s content was consistent with its external context, including its PGR classification, 7.30pm time of broadcast, and audience expectations of the series. While it acknowledged that the programme contained sexual innuendo and references, it asserted that the innuendo did not dominate the episode and that the episode did not contain any “adult” sex scenes.

[12]  Two and Half Men is a well-known series that centres around the main character and his bachelor lifestyle; the programme is largely premised on the use of sexual innuendo for the purposes of humour and entertainment.

[13]  The Authority has previously stated that any sexual content or references broadcast during children’s normally accepted viewing times should be subtle and inexplicit, or in the nature of sexual innuendo that would be likely to go over the heads of child viewers.3

[14]  Having viewed the episode, we are satisfied that the content subject to complaint was relatively innocuous and inexplicit, and therefore consistent with the episode’s PGR rating, which is defined as follows in Appendix 1 to the Code:

PGR – Parental Guidance Recommended

Programmes containing material more suited for mature audiences but not necessarily unsuitable for child viewers when subject to the guidance of a parent or adult.

[15]  The comments made at the funeral (see paragraph [1]), while sexual in nature, contained only sophisticated sexual undertones, which in our view would have gone over the heads of younger child viewers. The nudity shown at the end of the episode was pixellated. We accept that the comment accompanying the nudity made reference to “sex”. However, the nudity, and this reference, were presented in a humorous context to introduce the new lead character, and were used to convey the idea that he possessed similar traits to the character he replaced. The Authority has previously declined to uphold complaints about innocuous references to “sex” during PGR-rated programmes.4

[16]  In the context of the entire episode, and taking into account audience expectations, we do not consider that these scenes took the programme beyond its PGR rating or what was acceptable for broadcast in this timeslot. It is incumbent upon parents to monitor their children’s viewing in PGR time. This programme is in its ninth season, and this particular episode was well within audience expectations of the series.

[17]  Taking into account the relevant contextual factors, and giving full weight to the right to freedom of expression which is guaranteed by section 14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, we decline to uphold the complaint that the episode breached Standard 1.

Did the broadcaster adequately consider children’s interests?

[18]  Standard 9 requires broadcasters to consider the interests of child viewers during their normally accepted viewing times – usually up to 8.30pm. Guideline 9a states that broadcasters should be mindful of the effect any programme or promo may have on children during these times, and avoid screening material that would disturb or alarm them.

[19]  The episode subject to complaint was rated PGR and screened at 7.30pm during children’s viewing times. For the reasons expressed above in relation to Standard 1, we are satisfied that the sexual innuendo and pixellated nudity was consistent with the level of sexual material that can be expected in PGR programming. The content would not have disturbed or alarmed children under the supervision of an adult.

[20]  Accordingly, we find that TVNZ adequately considered children’s interests in broadcasting Two and Half Men in this timeslot. We therefore decline to uphold the Standard 9 complaint.


For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Peter Radich
17 July 2012


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

1                 Susanna Burton’s formal complaint – 20 February 2012

2                 TVNZ’s response to the formal complaint – 19 March 2012

3                 Ms Burton’s referral to the Authority – 5 April 2012

4                 TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 28 May 2012

1Turner and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2008-112

2Practice Note: Good Taste and Decency (Broadcasting Standards Authority, November 2006)

3Cross and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2008-059

4For example, Harrison and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2009-047