BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Gregory and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2014-154

  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
  • Mike Gregory
Happy Valley
TV One


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

An episode of the British police drama series Happy Valley depicted the murder of a police officer by one of the main characters. The Authority did not uphold the complaint that the incident and aftermath constituted 'over the top' graphic violence. The visual depiction of the violence was not gratuitous and was mostly implied or occurred off-screen. The level of violence was not unacceptable or unexpected in an AO-rated police drama series, and was justified by the narrative context.

Not Upheld: Good Taste and Decency, Violence 


[1]   An episode of the British police drama series Happy Valley depicted the murder of a police officer by main character Tommy Lee Royce. The police officer was shown being hit once by a vehicle driven by Tommy and it was implied she was then run over by the vehicle a second time. The episode then depicted the immediate aftermath of the incident, when the police officer's colleagues discovered her body.

[2]  Mike Gregory complained that the incident and the aftermath constituted 'over the top' graphic violence which was unsuitable for broadcast, 'irrespective of content warning (people often switch on or change channel after commencement) and time of screening (which wasn't actually that late)'.

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

[4]  The programme was broadcast on TV ONE at 8.30pm on Sunday 16 November 2014. 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 good taste and decency standard (Standard 1) is primarily aimed at broadcasts containing sexual material, nudity, coarse language or violence.1

[6]  The complainant argued that the episode, and in particular the scene involving the police officer's murder and aftermath, contained 'over the top' graphic violence which could 'seriously [damage] many viewers' psyches'.

[7]  TVNZ argued that to constitute a breach of Standard 1, the material must be unacceptable to a significant number of viewers in the context it is shown. It noted the violence was largely implied rather than explicitly shown, and so did not consider it threatened good taste and decency in the context of an Adults Only police drama.

[8]  TVNZ described the premise of the Happy Valley series as follows:

Happy Valley is a British drama series centred on Catherine Cawood, a strong-willed police sergeant in the Yorkshire valleys who is still coming to terms with her daughter's suicide. Just as she seems to be getting back on top of her life, she spots Tommy Lee Royce; the man she believes is responsible for the brutal rape that drove her daughter to suicide, standing on a street in her town. She soon becomes obsessed with finding Royce, unaware that he is involved in [a] kidnapping... Things quickly take a dark turn as the abductors scramble to keep the kidnapping secret, although Catherine is on to them.

[9]  This particular episode opened with Tommy and another abductor, Lewis, in the process of transporting the girl they had abducted to a different location. A police officer pulled Lewis over as he drove the van carrying the kidnapping victim. Tommy, who was watching from another car nearby, suddenly reversed his car at speed and ran into the officer. The officer could be heard screaming and was shown falling to the ground, but no blood or injuries were visible. The car was then shown reversing a second time, and it was implied it ran over the officer again on the ground (only the car was shown, not the officer). When the officer was discovered by her colleagues, her body was mainly shown from a distance. One brief close-up shot, as Sergeant Cawood checked the officer's pulse, focused on her battered face and body and her blood on the ground.

[10]  Having carefully considered all relevant factors, we have reached the conclusion that the violence depicted in this particular episode was not unacceptably graphic in the context of a police drama classified AO and was not of a level which threatened standards of good taste and decency.

[11]  When we consider a complaint about good taste and decency, we must take into account the context of the broadcast. This includes both 'external' context and 'narrative' context.2 External contextual factors reflect the 'wider context of the broadcast', which in this case include:

  •  the programme was classified AO
  •  it was broadcast at 8.30pm, during the AO time-band
  •  the episode was not preceded by a warning
  •  the programme's adult target audience
  •  audience expectations of police dramas and of AO programmes
  • audience expectations of the series (this was the third episode).

[12]  In the particular scene identified by the complainant, most of the violence was not actually visually depicted, but was implied and occurred off-screen. While the murder was understandably disturbing, viewers were not confronted with grisly or graphic visual details of the murder and we do not think it was portrayed in a gratuitous or heavy-handed manner. In our view, the audience could reasonably expect a level of challenging material – including violent material – in an AO police drama targeted at an adult audience. For this reason we accept the broadcaster's decision not to screen a warning prior to the episode, in addition to the AO classification.

[13]  The programme's narrative context also justified the level of content in this instance. Narrative context refers to the 'context in which any content occurs', such as what leads up to and follows the scene/s in question, as well as the storylines and themes of the episode and the series.3 The premise and plot of the programme as outlined at paragraphs [8] to [9] above supports the view that this incident was critical to the character development of Tommy Lee Royce as well as being a key plot point in the series; the murder demonstrated Tommy's ruthless and sadistic nature and the lengths to which he was willing to go to avoid detection by the police.

[14]  For these reasons, we decline to uphold the complaint under Standard 1.

Did the broadcaster exercise adequate care and discretion when dealing with the issue of violence?

[15]  The violence standard (Standard 10) states that broadcasters should exercise care and discretion when dealing with the issue of violence.

[16]  The complainant argued that because of its graphic violence, the programme was unacceptable for viewing in this timeslot, even if it carried a warning.

[17]  TVNZ argued that the treatment of the violent content in the episode (being mostly implied, rather than explicit) was appropriate for the AO classification and time-band. It said a pre-broadcast warning was not deemed necessary for this episode because the content was not considered to be outside viewer expectations of the programme – the tone and themes of which had been established in earlier episodes – and because the scene was not particularly graphic in the context of the series. TVNZ considered warnings were only required when the material was likely to be outside viewer expectations or likely to offend or disturb a significant number of the intended audience.

[18]  As we have said in relation to good taste and decency, we understand the broadcaster's decision not to include a warning, given that most viewers appreciate that AO programmes – defined as containing adult themes and being directed primarily at mature audiences – are likely to include a level of challenging content, which may include violence. Although no warning was screened prior to the episode, the programme's classification and timeslot, as well as pre-publicity for the series gave sufficient indication of its likely content, especially given the programme genre, and the content itself was not particularly graphic or disturbing.

[19]  Accordingly we are satisfied that in the circumstances the broadcaster exercised adequate care and discretion in relation to the violent material, and we decline to uphold the complaint under Standard 10.

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority



Peter Radich
16 June 2015



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

1      Mike Gregory's formal complaint – 17 November 2014
2      TVNZ's response to the complaint – 12 December 2014
3      Mr Gregory's referral to the Authority – 12 December 2014
4      TVNZ's response to the Authority – 20 February 2015
5      Authority's request to TVNZ for clarification about warning – 16 April 2015
6      TVNZ's response to request – 16 April 2015
7      TVNZ's further comment regarding warning – 7 May 2015
8      Mr Gregory's final comments – 9 May 2015




1 Turner and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2008-112
2 See Television New Zealand Ltd v Beth West, CIV 2010-485-2007 at [37]
3 See Television New Zealand Ltd v Beth West, CIV 2010-485-2007 at [37]