BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

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Findlay and TVWorks Ltd - 2008-063

  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
  • Rhonda Findlay
TVWorks Ltd
TV3 # 3

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Underbelly – programme about mafia-type gangs in Melbourne – included coarse language, nudity, drugs and violence – 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]   An episode of Underbelly was broadcast on TV3 at 9.30pm on Sunday 13 April 2008. The programme was a drama based on the true story of Melbourne’s infamous gangland killings and events which occurred between 1995 and 2004.

[2]   The programme contained frequent use of coarse language including the words “fuck”, “cocksucker”, “prick”, “arsehole” and “pussy-whipped”. It also included a scene in which a man killed two other men by shooting them with a pistol. During the opening credit sequence, a woman was shown walking away from the camera wearing underwear, which revealed most of her buttocks. Further into the episode, a woman was shown lying in bed with her bare breasts exposed.

[3]   The programme was preceded by the following verbal and written warning:

This programme is rated adults only and is recommended for a mature audience. It contains violence that may disturb and language and sexual material which may offend some people.


[4]   Rhonda Findlay made a formal complaint to TVWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the programme had breached broadcasting standards. She argued that the “rear view of a woman’s backside with underwear on” was degrading to women. She also considered that the programme contained excessive use of coarse language and objected to the use of the words “cocksucker, pussy and prick”.

[5]   The complainant contended that “the Australian crime context cannot justify such an outpouring, nor warnings excuse the content” of the programme.


[6]   TVWorks assessed the complaint under Standard 1 of the Free-to-Air Code of Broadcasting Practice. It provides:

Standard 1 Good Taste and Decency

In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are responsible for maintaining standards which are consistent with the observance of good taste and decency.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[7]   TVWorks argued that for a breach of Standard 1 to occur, the broadcast material must be unacceptable to a significant numbers of viewers in the context in which it was shown. It stated that Underbelly had been classified AO 9.30pm because it contained frequent use of strong language such as the words “fuck” and “cocksucker”.

[8]   The broadcaster considered that the language contained in the programme was acceptable in the context of a programme broadcast at 9.30pm and which was “consistent with the subject matter and was a credible aspect of the characters portrayed”. It said that the programme’s characters existed in a criminal underworld where there was an expectation that such language was “normal” and that “there is a general audience expectation that this level of adult material is not unusual for the 9.30pm timeslot”.   

[9]   TVWorks pointed out that the programme was preceded by a verbal and written warning advising viewers of the nature of the content it contained. There was sufficient information and time for most viewers to make a choice as to whether to watch the programme, it said. The broadcaster declined to uphold the complaint that the broadcast breached Standard 1 (good taste and decency).   

Referral to the Authority

[10]   Dissatisfied with TVWorks’ response, Ms Findlay referred her complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

Authority's Determination

[11]   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.

[12]   When the Authority considers a complaint that alleges a breach of good taste and decency, it is required to take into account the context of the broadcast. On this occasion, the relevant contextual factors include:

  • the programme was broadcast at 9.30pm
  • the programme was classified AO 9.30pm
  • the programme was preceded by a verbal and written warning
  • Underbelly was targeted at an adult audience
  • the programme was well publicised in advance.

[13]   The Authority notes that the AO 9.30pm classification is used for programmes that contain stronger material or special elements which fall outside the AO classification. These programmes may contain a greater degree of sexual activity, potentially offensive language, realistic violence, sexual violence or horrific encounters.

[14]   While the programme did contain coarse language, the Authority does not consider that its use was excessive in the context of an adult drama about gangs and gangland killings. The Authority also considers that the footage of one woman’s buttocks and another woman’s bare breasts did not breach standards of good taste and decency in a programme that was preceded by a warning, classified AO 9.30pm and broadcast at 9.30pm.

[15]   Taking the above contextual factors into account, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint that the programme breached Standard 1 (good taste and decency).  


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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Joanne Morris
18 September 2008


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

1.            Rhonda Findlay’s formal complaint – 28 April 2008
2.           TVWorks’ response to the formal complaint – 30 May 2008
3.           Ms Findlay’s referral to the Authority – 29 June 2008
4.           TVWorks’ response to the Authority – 14 July 2008