BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Grenfell and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2003-009

  • P Cartwright (Chair)
  • J H McGregor
  • R Bryant
  • Jacqueline Grenfell
Plato’s Cave
Radio New Zealand Ltd
National Radio

Plato’s Cave promo at 4.00pm – reference to sexual activity – offensive – unsuitable for children

Principle 1 Guideline 1a – context – no uphold

Principle 7 Guideline 7b – audience research indicates minimal child audience – withdrawn

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1] A promo for the forthcoming Sunday drama, Plato’s Cave, was broadcast on National Radio at 4.05pm on Thursday 20 September 2002. The promo included a request for a man to undress and to prepare for sex.

[2] Jacqueline Grenfell complained to Radio New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the broadcast of the promo at that time was offensive and unsuitable for children.

[3] In response, RNZ acknowledged that the promo was challenging but argued that, on balance, it did not breach the standards.

[4] Dissatisfied with RNZ’s decision Mrs Grenfell referred her complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. Later, she withdrew the complaint that the broadcast was unsuitable for children.

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


[5] The members of the Authority have listened to a tape of the programme complained about and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

The Programme

[6] Plato’s Cave was the title of a radio play to be broadcast on National Radio at about 4.00pm on Sunday 29 September 2002. A promo for the play was broadcast at 4.05pm on Thursday 26 September. A transcript of the promo records:

Him:    Er look maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. Maybe I ought come back another time

Her:    Do you want sex

Him:    er

Her:    Is that the little three letter word that’s bothering you

Him:    er Yes er…sorry its my first time…I mean coming to a place like this

Her:    Ah that’s all right, just you try and relax, pop you clothes off and hop onto the bed. 
          You know a first name might help

Voice over: Plato’s Cave, the Sunday drama after the 4 o’clock news on National Radio

The Complaint

[7] Jacqueline Grenfell complained to RNZ that the broadcast of the promo breached the standards relating to good taste and decency and the protection of children. She described the promo as "a most offensive intrusion to an otherwise pleasant afternoon’s listening".

The Standards

[8] Although RNZ did not record the specific standards under which the complaint was assessed, the following appear to have been invoked by the complainant. Principles 1 and 7 (and the relevant Guidelines) of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice provide:

Principle 1

In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to maintain standards which are consistent with the observance of good taste and decency.


1a  Broadcasters will take into consideration current norms of decency and good taste in language and behaviour bearing in mind the context in which any language or behaviour occurs and the wider context of the broadcast eg time of day, target audience.

Principle 7

In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to be socially responsible.


7b  Broadcasters shall be mindful of the effect any programme may have on children during their normally accepted listening times.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[9] Acknowledging that the content of the promo could be challenging, RNZ argued that the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 incorporated a right to the freedom of expression. "This extends", it added, "to what is broadcast in the form of a number of different types of dramatic programmes on National Radio".

[10] RNZ advised that the audience profile for National Radio "tends to be an older adult group", and that 4.00pm on Sunday was not a recognised time for programmes for child listeners.

[11] Advising that the complaint was not upheld, RNZ wrote:

On balance, given the context in which the language was used, the intended audience, the fact that the use was not gratuitous and the words used were expressed conversationally in neutral tones, Radio New Zealand found that Principle One was not breached in this instance.

The Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority

[12] When she referred her complaint to the Authority, Mrs Grenfell argued that National Radio should be encouraged to maintain high standards. It also had an obligation, she added, to have regard to the protection of children.

[13] Mrs Grenfell enclosed a copy of a letter to RNZ in which she pointed out that she was not questioning the right to freedom of expression. Rather, she said, she was complaining that a promo for a drama, broadcast at 4.05pm, contained "a particularly sleazy excerpt".

[14] She also noted that her complaint related to a broadcast of a promo on a Thursday, not to the broadcast of the drama on Sunday, and that children would be returning from school at that time.

[15] Mrs Grenfell stated that she found RNZ’s description of the promo as "challenging" to be patronising. She had not been challenged, she noted, and a more appropriate word was "revolted". She also noted that the excerpt was broadcast without context.

[16] In conclusion, Mrs Grenfell wrote:

You say that the Bill of Rights Act 1990 gives writers and broadcasters a right to freedom of expression. Does not the audience have a right not to be assaulted by tasteless material in the middle of the afternoon, when it’s completely unexpected? Had I chosen to listen to Plato’s Cave, perhaps I could have anticipated the conversation featured in the trailer. But to use this conversation as a stand-alone item to promote the programme was, in my opinion, wrong. It was disrespectful of your audience, showed poor judgement, and in my view breached standards of good taste and decency.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[17] Disagreeing that its use of the word "challenging" was patronising, RNZ maintained that much of the material which it broadcast could be considered offensive by some listeners. It acknowledged that Mrs Grenfell had found the promo for Plato’s Cave offensive, but reiterated that, on balance, the broadcast of the trailer had not breached the standards. RNZ also said that its audience research indicated that Thursday afternoon was not a recognised time for children to listen to National Radio.

The Complainant’s Final Comment

[18] Expressing disappointment at RNZ’s response, Mrs Grenfell pointed out that, despite RNZ’s comment, she had perceived herself to be patronised. She reiterated that the reference to sex in the promo, taken out of context, was in "very poor taste". RNZ’s description as "challenging", "new" or "demanding" could just as well be "shocking", "revolting" or "offensive".

[19] Mrs Grenfell described herself as a regular listener who wanted RNZ to maintain high standards. She said that RNZ should provide the Authority with the audience figures for those under 15 years who would have been listening at the time the promo was broadcast.

The Authority’s Determination

[20] When it determines a complaint that a broadcast contravenes Principle 1 of the Radio Code, the Authority is required to determine whether the language complained about breaches currently accepted standards of good taste and decency, taking into account the context of the broadcast. The context is relevant, but does not determine whether the programme breached the standard. Accordingly, the Authority has considered the context in which the promo complained about was broadcast.

[21] Relevant contextual matters on this occasion include the time of broadcast (4.05pm), the audience profile and the nature of the promo. The promo, which by its nature was broadcast without warning, suggested a first-time visit by a rather diffident or unsure man to a sex worker. In view of the context, the Authority had some questions about RNZ’s statement that the National Radio audience tended to be older adults, and that 4.00pm on Thursdays was not a recognised time for programmes for younger listeners.

[22] The Authority asked RNZ for the audience research figures to substantiate the comment. It also asked RNZ to confirm that the complaint had been assessed under Guideline 7b of Principle 7.

[23] RNZ confirmed that the complaint had been assessed under Guideline 7b, and the decision had been made not to uphold it. RNZ provided an affidavit from its Research Analyst who reported on the quantitative survey data gathered annually for RNZ. The analyst advised that the survey gathered data about the number of 10 to 14 year olds listening to radio. The data indicated that, in the 4.00pm to 4.15pm weekday timeslot, the cumulative audience of 10 to 14 year-olds to all radio stations was approximately 100,000. The data also showed, the report added, that no 10 to 14 year-olds were listening to National Radio at that time.

[24] The information was sent to the complainant and, in view of the minimal numbers of listeners in the 10 to14 year-old group, Mrs Grenfell accepted that the broadcast did not breach the requirement in Guideline 7b. Accordingly, the Authority considers that the aspect of the complaint relating to younger listeners was withdrawn.

[25] As noted above, promos by their very nature are an unexpected intrusion. The complainant commented that this promo was "a most offensive intrusion to an otherwise pleasant afternoon’s listening". However, for a broadcast to be a breach of Principle 1, it must not only be an unpleasant intrusion, it must also be inconsistent with standards of good taste and decency.

[26] The promo, while referring to sex, was suggestive, but not unduly explicit, and it did not suggest that the play would be of a ribald nature. Principally, in view of the matter of delivery of the promo, the Authority concludes that Principle 1 was not contravened.

[27] The Authority observes that to find a breach of broadcasting standards on this occasion would be to apply the Broadcasting Act 1989 in such a way as to limit freedom of expression in a manner which is not reasonable or demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society (s.5 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990). As required by s.6 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, the Authority adopts an interpretation of the relevant standards which it considers is consistent with and gives full weight to the provisions of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.


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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Peter Cartwright
13 February 2003


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

  1. Jacqueline Grenfell’s Complaint to Radio New Zealand Ltd – 8 October 2002
  2. RNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint– 22 October 2002
  3. Mrs Grenfell’s Response to RNZ – 30 October 2002
  4. Mrs Grenfell’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 30 October 2002
  5. RNZ’s Response to the Authority – 22 November 2002
  6. Mrs Grenfell’s Final Comment – 29 November 2002
  7. RNZ’s Response to the Authority on request for audience figures – 20 December 2002