BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Graham and TV3 Network Services Ltd - 2004-030, 2004-031, 2004-032

Members
  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
Dated
Complainant
  • Fiona Graham
Number
2004-030–032
Channel/Station
TV3

Complaints
(1) That Seventies Show – used word “slut” – offensive – unsuitable for children
(2) 60 Minutes – used word “hell” – offensive – unsuitable for children
(3) 60 Minutes – item about teacher and ex-pupil – referred to sexual feelings and penis

Findings (1)
Standard 1 – context – not upheld

Standard 9 – PGR classification appropriate action by broadcaster – not upheld

Findings (2)
Standard 1 – context – not upheld

Standard 9 – consideration of target audience appropriate action – not upheld

Findings(3)
Standard 1 – context – not upheld

Standard 9 – consideration of target audience appropriate action – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision


Summary

[1] The three complaints concerned:

* The word “slut” used in That Seventies Show broadcast on TV3 at 7.30pm on 2 October 2003.

* A story about local celebrity Charlotte Dawson included in 60 Minutes, a weekly news and current affairs programme broadcast by TV3 at 7.30pm on 6 October 2003. The presenter introduced the item by asking “So who the hell is Charlotte Dawson?”

* A later item about the relationship between a teacher and a pupil included the details of some emails which included references to sexual feelings and the teacher’s penis.

[2] Fiona Graham complained to TV3 Network Services Ltd, the broadcaster, about the language used in each of the items. She considered the language was offensive and its use before 8.30pm breached the interests of children.

[3] In response, TV3 argued that the language used had not breached the standards given the context in which it had been broadcast, the time, the target audience and the PGR rating of That Seventies Show.

[4] Dissatisfied with TV3’s decision, Fiona Graham referred her complaints to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

For the reasons below, the Authority declines to uphold the complaints.

Decision

[5] The members of the Authority have viewed tapes of the programmes complained about and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaints without a formal hearing.

Programmes

[6] That Seventies Show is an American comedy which follows the lives and loves of a group of friends and deals in a light-hearted way with issues for teenagers such as school, relationships and family. It is broadcast at 7.30pm and is rated PGR. In the episode broadcast on 2 October 2003 the word “slut” was used.

[7] 60 Minutes is a weekly news and current affairs show, screened at 7.30pm on Mondays, which presents two or three local and overseas items. One item broadcast on 6 October 2003 dealt with local celebrity Charlotte Dawson. The presenter introduced the story by asking “So who the hell is Charlotte Dawson?”. Another item concerned the relationship between an Australian teacher and an ex-student and referred to emails between them which referred to sexual feelings and the teacher’s penis.

Complaints

[8] Fiona Graham complained about the language used in both programmes. She contended that “slut” should have been “beeped out” and, while accepting that “hell” was in common usage, she argued that it was not used by children. Because of the explicit details in the later item, Ms Graham stated that it should have been preceded by a warning.

Standards

[9] TV3 assessed the complaints under the standards nominated by the complainant. Standards 1 and 9 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice and relevant Guidelines provide:

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.

Guidelines

1a  Broadcasters must take into consideration current norms of decency and taste in language and behaviour bearing in mind the context in which any language or behaviour occurs. Examples of context are the time of the broadcast, the type of programme, the target audience, the use of warnings and the programme’s classification (see Appendix 1). The examples are not exhaustive.

1b  Broadcasters should consider – and if appropriate require – the use of on-air visual and verbal warnings when programmes contain violent material, material of a sexual nature, coarse language or other content likely to disturb children or offend a significant number of adult viewers. Warnings should be specific in nature, while avoiding detail which may itself distress or offend viewers.

Standard 9 Children’s Interests

During children’s normally accepted viewing times (see Appendix 1), broadcasters are required, in the preparation and presentation of programmes, to consider the interests of child viewers.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[10] In assessing the complaint about the use of the word “slut”, TV3 referred to the following contextual matters it considered were relevant:

  • acceptable to a large number of viewers
  • time of broadcast – 7.30pm
  • likely or target audience – older children or teenagers
  • programme’s classification – PGR
  • programme genre – teenage comedy
  • audience familiarity with themes dealt with in programme – some adult themes
  • use of mild swearing – e.g. arse, bitch.

[11] TV3 also maintained that the word had not been used vehemently but as a description of a teacher dating a person ten years younger than him, a “cradle snatching slut”.

[12] Taking all these matters into account, TV3 did not consider that Standard 1 had been contravened by the broadcast of That Seventies Show.

[13] TV3 did not accept that Standard 9 had been breached as, by classifying the programme PGR, it had taken into account the interests of child viewers.

[14] As for the complaint about 60 Minutes, TV3 also listed what it regarded as relevant contextual matters. In addition to the matters noted above, it stated that the Broadcasting Standards Authority accepted that news and current affairs programmes screened before the AO watershed at 8.30pm,were unlikely to be viewed by unsupervised young children. It did not consider the use of the word “hell” offensive in context. Further, it did not regard the screening of email details, which included reference to sexual feelings and the teacher’s penis, to be gratuitous or inappropriate. The details were relevant, TV3 wrote, to the relationship between the student and the teacher, and had not required a warning. It declined to uphold the complaint that the 60 Minutes items breached Standard 1.

[15] As for the Standard 9 aspect of the complaint, TV3 stated that young children were unlikely to be watching unsupervised and older children would find the language and references “unremarkable”. It wrote:

The broadcaster has considered and been mindful of the interests of child viewers by preparing and presenting a news and current affairs programme that conforms to the standards of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

Referrals to the Authority

[16] Describing TV3’s responses as “condescending”, Ms Graham considered that TV3 showed no ethical responsibility towards young children.

[17] Because young children were about between 7.00 and 7.30pm, Ms Graham maintained that a warning about language should have been broadcast before That Seventies Show was screened.

[18] Questioning TV3’s reasoning that a significant number of people would not be offended by the use of the word “hell” during 60 Minutes, Ms Graham said its use in that context trivialised its meaning to Christians.

[19] Contending that the contents of the emails were explicit, Ms Graham considered that the use of discretion in a current affairs programme, or a warning, was not inappropriate. By way of conclusion to TV3, she wrote:

I hope your committee included a child psychologist because I believe that we as a society have for too long looked at the world we subject our children to with our own eyes. It is too easy to forget that our children by rights of their youth and immature psychological development are not as rational and analytical as they need to be to deal with adult concepts and themes. No amount of careful explanation from me is going to be better for my kids than leaving certain experiences until they are mature enough to understand what I am saying.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[20] In its response to the complaint about That Seventies Show, TV3 reiterated its contention that the programme was appropriately classified. The classification, it added, was made by experienced staff who assessed the average viewer’s response.

[21] TV3 also contended that the items on 60 Minutes did not breach the standards. It added that the programme’s experienced producer did not believe that a warning was necessary taking into account the “average or likely” viewer.

Authority’s Determination

[22] The first complaint focused on the use of the word “slut” in That Seventies Show. The Authority must consider the context of a broadcast when it determines whether it breaches Standard 1 (good taste and decency). Accordingly, the Authority notes the following relevant matters about the broadcast:

  • it was broadcast in PGR time
  • the programme was classified PGR
  • the programme’s genre was teenage comedy
  • the degree of offensiveness was relatively mild.

[23] Taking into account these contextual matters, the Authority finds that Standard 1 was not breached. It notes that the purpose of a PGR classification is to allow parents and adults to ensure that the programmes watched by their children are considered appropriate by the parent. The Authority considers that TV3, by classifying the programme as PGR, had considered the interests of children as required by Standard 9. Accordingly, the Authority finds that TV3 did not breach the standard.

[24] The second complaint concerned the use of the word “hell” in the broadcast on 60 Minutes beginning at 7.30pm. The third complaint concerned an item broadcast in a later segment of 60 Minutes about the relations between a teacher and his ex-pupil. The item referred to emails between them which dealt with sexual feelings and the teacher’s penis. The Authority observes that 60 Minutes is not classified but is broadcast during the PGR time band. In its determination of the Standard 1 complaints, the Authority considers the following matters are relevant.

  • time of broadcast
  • underlying PGR time band
  • the word “hell” is only mildly offensive
  • the reference to sexual feelings and the teacher’s penis was not inappropriate in the context of the story
  • adult target audience.

[25] Taking into account these contextual matters, the Authority finds that Standard 1 was not breached. For the same reasons it also finds that the material was not inappropriate for children watching in the company of adults. Accordingly, the Authority concludes that TV3, in making the arrangements for the broadcast of 60 Minutes in the PGR time slot , had considered the interests of children as required by Standard 9 and had not breached the standard.

 

For the reasons above, the Authority declines to uphold the complaints.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
1 April 2004

Appendix

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

1.  Fiona Graham’s Complaints to TV3 Network Services Ltd – 7 October 2003

2. TV3’s Response to the Complainant – 20 November 2003

3. Ms Graham’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – Received
    1 December 2003

4. TV3’s Response to the Authority – 22 December 2003