BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Harang and Curtis and Television New Zealand Ltd - 1999-232, 1999-233

Members
  • S R Maling (Chair)
  • J Withers
  • R McLeod
  • L M Loates
Dated
Complainants
  • Joy and Graeme Curtis
  • Kristian Harang
Number
1999-232–233
Programme
Hollywood Sex
Channel/Station
TV2


Summary

An episode of Hollywood Sex was broadcast on TV2 at 9.30pm on 26 August 1999. This two-part programme looks at some of the more unusual activities which take place in Hollywood’s sex industry.

Mr Harang complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the programme contravened standards of decency, and that young people could watch and be influenced by "the very bad aspects of the programme". Mr and Ms Curtis complained that the programme was "the most disgustingly blatant sexual perversion [they had] ever had the misfortune to see", and that the programme was unsuitable for screening at that hour because of the likelihood of children watching.

In its responses to the complaints, TVNZ said that it did not consider that it had breached any broadcasting standard. It noted that the programme was broadcast at 9.30pm, carried an AO certificate, and was preceded by a warning. It pointed out that there were no scenes showing sexual intercourse or full frontal nudity. Also, in its view, the programme’s title would have alerted viewers "unambiguously" to its content. As to the aspect of the complaints relating to potential viewing by young people, TVNZ said that, in addition to the AO certificate and warning, the programme was not shown during a normally accepted children’s viewing time, and was broadcast an hour after the 8.30pm AO watershed.

Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decisions, each of the complainants referred their complaints to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

For the reasons given below, the Authority upholds the aspect of the complaints that the programme breached the good taste and decency standard, but does not uphold any other aspect of the complaints.

Decision

The members of the Authority have viewed a tape of the item complained about and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendices. On this occasion, the Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

An episode of the programme Hollywood Sex was broadcast on TV2 at 9.30pm on 26 August. Hollywood Sex is a two-part programme which depicts aspects of Hollywood’s sex industry. During the programme, participants talked candidly about unusual sexual practices, and various Hollywood localities, including a strip club, were visited.

The Complaints

Mr Harang complained to TVNZ that the programme contravened "standards of decency". He said that the programme included:

… many scenes or at least some of sensational strip club scenes and one very disgusting scene of an orgy of many couples nude together.

Furthermore, he said that although a warning was shown before the programme, that "cannot stop young people watching the programme and being influenced by the very bad aspects of the programme".

Mr and Ms Curtis complained that the programme was the "most disgustingly blatant sexual perversion" they had ever seen. They said it showed a "revolting side to sex", and that most of what they saw was "totally sick".

In addition, Mr and Ms Curtis were "appalled" that the programme was screened at 9.30pm, at a time when they said their 11 and a half year old was still up, after watching Water Rats.

TVNZ’s Responses

TVNZ considered both complaints in the context of standard G2 and G12 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. These standards require broadcasters:

G2  To take into consideration currently accepted norms of decency and taste in language and behaviour, bearing in mind the context in which any language or behaviour occurs.

G12  To be mindful of the effect any programme may have on children during their normally accepted viewing times.

In its responses to both Mr Harang and Mr and Ms Curtis, TVNZ pointed out that there were no scenes of actual sexual intercourse, nor was there any full frontal nudity. Also, it said that in its opinion, viewer interest in the programme would have been:

… in the preposterous, even laughable behaviour and reactions of the participants, rather than it being an exercise in sexual voyeurism.

Dealing first with the alleged breach of standards of decency, TVNZ recorded the contextual factors which it considered relevant. It noted that the programme was broadcast at 9.30pm, carried an AO certificate which was shown at the beginning of the programme and after each commercial break, and was preceded by a warning. The warning referred to nudity, sex and language and reminded viewers that it was recommended only for those over 18 years.

Furthermore, TVNZ said that the programme’s title would have alerted viewers "unambiguously" to its content. Finally, it noted that the unexpectedly large audience for the programme that night may have indicated that the programme did not stray beyond current public expectations about good taste and decency.

As to the aspect of the complaints relating to the programme’s potential effect on children, TVNZ said that it was mindful of the effect the programme might have on children. It noted that, in addition to the AO certificate and warning, the programme was not shown during a normally accepted viewing time for children. To this end, it noted that the programme started an hour after the 8.30pm AO watershed and was preceded by a programme – Water Rats – which also had an AO certificate.

TVNZ declined to uphold either complaint.

The Referrals to the Authority

In the referral of his complaint to the Authority, Mr Harang argued that audience numbers were not relevant to deciding whether there was a breach of broadcasting standards. He also said that a strip club and an "orgy" scene in the programme were "sensational rather than pure straight entertainment". In relation to the strip club scene, he added that only those over 18 years can go to this kind of club in New Zealand, whereas anyone can watch television. Moreover, he alleged that "maybe only 5-10% of New Zealanders visit a strip club". Accordingly, he said, "I refuse to accept that such television programmes constitute normal standards of behaviour".

Mr and Ms Curtis were also dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response. They made several points in response to TVNZ’s decision in their referral to the Authority. First, in relation to TVNZ’s observation that there were "no actual scenes of sexual intercourse, nor full frontal nudity", they said:

You did not have to be very intelligent to realise the implications behind the activities concerned in this programme.

Secondly, Mr and Ms Curtis did not accept TVNZ’s opinion that the programme’s appeal would not represent sexual voyeurism for some viewers. Thirdly, they wrote that they considered that the AO certificate and warning were used by TVNZ to attract, rather than warn, viewers. Fourthly, in common with Mr Harang, they objected to what they considered was TVNZ’s "judging" current norms of good taste and decency by audience numbers. They wrote:

Because ratings are up does not make it right and mean it was enjoyable.

Finally, in relation to the aspect of the complaint about the possible effect of the programme on children, they reiterated their belief that 9.30pm was too early for this broadcast. They suggested that programmes like Hollywood Sex should be shown after 10.30pm. They added that they did not believe that their 11 year old was the only child of his age who was likely to be up at 9.30pm.

In its report to the Authority about Mr Harang’s complaint, TVNZ advised that it had nothing further to add.

In its report about Mr and Ms Curtis’ complaint, TVNZ noted its disappointment with what it called the cynicism of the Curtis’ attitude to TVNZ’s attachment of AO certificates and warnings. It stated that it took its responsibilities in this area very seriously.

That Mr and Ms Curtis did not find the programme to their liking did not, of itself, establish a breach of programming standards, TVNZ wrote. Lastly, it observed that programme standards provide "explicitly" that AO classified programmes may be shown after 8.30pm and that children’s viewing time is defined in standard V16 as "usually up to 8.30pm".

Although invited to do so, Mr and Ms Curtis did not comment on TVNZ’s report to the Authority.

The Authority’s Findings

The Authority first considers whether the programme breached standard G2. In doing so, it is obliged to take into account the context in which broadcast complained about occurs. The context is relevant to, but not decisive of, the Authority’s determination about whether the programme breached community standards of good taste and decency.

The contextual factors which the Authority considers relevant on this occasion include the time of broadcast, the programme’s AO classification, and the fact that a warning, which the Authority considers to be clear and explicit, preceded the programme. The Authority also considers as relevant the fact the programme was broadcast on free-to-air television.

Having regard to the context of the broadcast, the Authority now considers whether currently accepted norms of good taste and decency were offended by the Hollywood Sex programme complained about. The programme’s content was clearly aimed at adult viewers, and the sexual activity depicted in the programme appeared to take place between consenting adults. Nevertheless, the Authority considers that the sex was the sole and uninterrupted focus of the programme. This subject material was, in repeated instances during the broadcast, presented in graphic detail.

The Authority notes too that the programme material was presented without any explanation or commentary of substance. In the Authority’s view, the absence of such explanation or commentary contributed to an impression that the material was gratuitous and voyeuristic, and that the primary purpose of the programme was titillation.

While programmes which are scheduled during AO time and which are classified AO are intended for adult audiences, broadcasters do not have licence to schedule programmes at this time which would be likely to offend the reasonable adult viewer. The Authority considers that this programme was at the outer limit of what was acceptable on free-to-air television at any time, and it finds the programme’s content was too explicit to be screened at 9.30pm. In these circumstances, the Authority finds that the programme breached standard G2, and that the breach is not redeemed by the context of the broadcast.

Next the Authority considers the complaints under standard G12. That standard requires broadcasters to be mindful of the effect of a programme on children during their normally accepted viewing times. The Authority observes that the programme commenced broadcast at 9.30pm. That time-slot allows the broadcast of programmes containing adult themes, or those which would be unsuitable for children under 18 years of age. In view of the fact that 9.30pm is not usually considered to be normally accepted viewing time for children, the Authority does not consider the standard to be relevant. It declines to uphold the complaints as a breach of standard G12.

 

For the reasons set forth above, the Authority upholds the aspect of the complaints that standard G2 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice was breached. It declines to uphold any other aspect of the complaints.

Having upheld a complaint, the Authority may impose penalties pursuant to s.13(1) and s.16(4) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. It invited submissions from the parties as to penalty.

The Authority has considered the submissions. It considers that the decision to broadcast this programme contained an element of judgment which TVNZ exercised incorrectly on this occasion. As recorded in the decision, this matter raised a difficult question about where the boundary of acceptability is drawn. In all the circumstances, the Authority considers that the publication of this decision is sufficient to remind broadcasters of their responsibilities in this area. It finds that no penalty is warranted in the circumstances.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Sam Maling
Chairperson
9 December 1999

Appendix I

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

1.    Kristian Harang’s Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 27 August 1999

2.    TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 8 September 1999

3.    Mr Harang’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority
       – received on 30 September 1999

4.    TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 7 October 1999

5.    Mr Harang’s Submission on Penalty – 19 November 1999

6.    TVNZ’s Submission on Penalty – 24 November 1999

Appendix II

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

1.    Graeme and Joy Curtis’ Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 27 August 1999

2.    TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 8 September 1999

3.    Mr and Ms Curtis’ Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority
       – 15 September 1999

4.    TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 24 September 1999

5.    TVNZ’s Submission on Penalty – 24 November 1999