BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Cooper and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2010-018

  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Tapu Misa
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
  • Adrian Cooper
The Mother
TV One

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
The Mother – movie contained coarse language and sex scenes – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency

Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – contextual factors – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1]   A movie called The Mother was broadcast during TV One’s Sunday Theatre timeslot at 8.30pm on Sunday 29 November 2009. The movie contained coarse language including the words “fuck”, “shit” and “cock”, as well as three sex scenes.

[2]   The first sex scene involved a man and a woman lying next to each other in bed. The man was performing a sex act on the woman, but they were covered up to their shoulders in blankets and no nudity was visible.

[3]   The second sex scene was brief and showed the man standing behind the woman having sex with her as she knelt forward on a bed. While the characters were naked, the scene was shot in such a way that no genitalia or breasts were visible. After the sex scene had concluded, the woman was shown sitting on the bed bare-breasted.

[4]   The third sex scene showed a man and woman having sex in a bed. They were covered by blankets.

[5]   The movie was preceded by the following verbal and written warning:

This programme is rated Adults Only. It contains frequent use of language and sex scenes that may offend some people.


[6]   Adrian Cooper made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the movie had breached broadcasting standards.

[7]   The complainant argued that “the theme of the film, the sexual scenes and the gross language was unacceptable”. He contended that, while “the usual warning was given”, children and young people had access to the material and it was “highly irresponsible to show it”.


[8]   TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standard 1 and guidelines 1a and 1b of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. These provide:

Standard 1 Good Taste and Decency

Broadcasters should observe standards of good taste and decency.


1a   Broadcasters will take into account current norms of good taste and decency bearing in mind the context in which any content occurs and the wider context of the broadcast e.g. programme classification, target audience, type of programme and use of warnings etc.

1b   The use of visual and verbal warnings should be considered when content is likely to disturb or offend a significant number of viewers except in the case of news and current affairs, where verbal warnings only will be considered. Warnings should be specific in nature, while avoiding detail which may itself distress or offend viewers.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[9]   TVNZ stated that The Mother was in the Sunday Theatre slot, which showcased the best of movies for adults on TV One. It said, “These movies are considered TV One’s premier product and TV One like to present them in as original format as possible for the enjoyment of loyal Sunday Theatre viewers”. To achieve this, the content of the movie was monitored to ensure that the transition between PGR and AO time was not dramatic, it said.

[10]   The broadcaster contended that the programme’s AO classification and warning “gave a precise indication of the type of material the programme would contain (including frequent offensive language and sex scenes intended for adult viewers)”. It argued that, “by removing the language until near 9pm and ensuring that the sex scenes also played later in the show, TVNZ took into account the transition between PGR and AO time”.

[11]   TVNZ stated that the sex scenes screened after 9.30pm, were not shown in detail, and that the most explicit material was some erotic line sketches drawn by the lead female character. It argued that the content of the broadcast was acceptable in an AO-classified programme. TVNZ considered that the Sunday Theatre slot was well-known for quality adult dramas and that the movie’s content would have been consistent with the expectations of the audience.

[12]   The broadcaster declined to uphold the complaint that the programme breached Standard 1.

Referral to the Authority

[13]   Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response, Mr Cooper referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. He reiterated his argument that the movie had breached Standard 1 and contended that it should have been broadcast at a “much later time”.

Authority's Determination

[14]   The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

[15]   When we consider an alleged breach of good taste and decency, we take into account the context of the broadcast. On this occasion, the relevant contextual factors include:

  • The Mother was broadcast at 8.30pm
  • the programme was classified AO
  • it was preceded by a verbal and written warning
  • the first coarse language occurred at 8.48pm
  • the first sex scene occurred at 9.43pm
  • the programme had an adult target audience
  • audience expectations of the Sunday Theatre timeslot.

[16]   In our view, the programme was preceded by a clear and comprehensive warning which informed viewers about the type of material contained in the broadcast. Viewers could then make an informed decision about whether to watch the programme.

[17]   We also note that the most of the coarse language and all of the sex scenes occurred late in the programme. We consider that the language was not excessive or gratuitous, and the sex scenes were acceptable in a programme targeted at adults and broadcast during the AO timeband.

[18]   Taking the above contextual factors into account, we decline to uphold the complaint that the programme breached Standard 1.


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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Peter Radich
27 April 2010


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

1.            Adrian Cooper’s formal complaint – 5 December 2009
2.           TVNZ’s response to the formal complaint – 25 January 2010
3.           Mr Cooper’s referral to the Authority – 4 February 2010
4.           TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 11 March 2010