BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Harrap and TelstraClear Ltd - 2009-077

  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
  • Neil Harrap
Sex and the City
TelstraClear Ltd
Comedy Central

Complaint under section 8(1C) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Sex and the City – broadcast at 7.30pm on Comedy Central channel – contained sex scenes – allegedly in breach of standard relating to child viewers

Standard P3 (Children) – programme rated "16" and had warning labels for language and sexual content – parental lock set to M would have blocked viewing without a pin number – broadcaster sufficiently protected child viewers from unsuitable content – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1]  An episode of Sex and the City, a fictional series following the lives and loves of four single women living in New York City, was broadcast on Comedy Central at 7.30pm on Wednesday 13 May 2009. At the beginning of the episode, the women attended a party launching a firemen’s calendar. Later, at approximately 7.55pm, one of the women, Samantha, was briefly shown having sex with a fireman standing up against the back of a fire truck. Both characters appeared to be naked, and the man's buttocks and one of Samantha’s breasts were visible.


[2]  Neil Harrap made a formal complaint to TelstraClear Limited, the broadcaster, alleging that the programme was unsuitable for screening at 7.30pm when children could be watching. He noted that it contained "a naked fireman having sex with a naked woman up against a fire truck [which] was as graphic as anything I’ve seen on television".


[3]  Standard P3 of the Pay Television Code of Broadcasting Practice is relevant to the determination of this complaint. It provides:

Standard P3 Children

Broadcasters should ensure that child viewers are protected from unsuitable content.

Referral to the Authority

[4]  Having received no response from the broadcaster within the statutory timeframe, Mr Harrap referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1C) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[5]  TelstraClear stated that the channel on which the programme was screened, Comedy Central, was aimed at an adult demographic with the intent of amusing its audience. It said that regular viewers of the channel anticipated watching programming that was entertaining, humorous and irreverent. However, while the channel aimed to deliver on this front, it said, it also had stringent classification, censorship and selection procedures in place to ensure that the programming complied with the Pay TV Code. In this respect, viewers were informed by regular consistent advice about programme content, including classifications and warnings, which enabled them to make an informed judgement about whether or not to watch a particular programme and whether to allow their children to watch.

[6]  TelstraClear noted that Sex and the City was classified "16", indicating that it was not suitable for viewers under 16 years of age, and carried the symbols "LS", warning that it contained language and sexual content that may offend. This classification was included in the electronic programme guide and the TelstraClear magazine listings, it said, and was clearly displayed at the start of programme. As the channel was not targeted at children, the channel relied on parental judgement to assess suitability and to monitor in this regard, the broadcaster said. It also emphasised that parents were able, through a sophisticated blocking mechanism, to block programmes they considered to be unacceptable for younger viewers.

[7]  For those reasons, TelstraClear did not uphold the complaint that Standard P3 had been breached.

Authority’s Request for Further Information from the Broadcaster

[8]  The Authority asked TelstraClear to provide a programme schedule for 13 May on Comedy Central. Having received this, it noted that both the schedule provided by TelstraClear and the May SKYWATCH magazine stated that Sex and the City was rated "MS" on 13 May, rather than "16LS" as asserted in the broadcaster’s response to the complaint.

[9]  The Authority asked TelstraClear to confirm the classification of the programme, when the classification was displayed, and what level of parental control a subscriber would need to have selected to ensure that the episode could not be viewed without entering a pin code.

[10]  TelstraClear stated that the episode had been reclassified as 16LS after the May SKYWATCH was printed, and this classification was displayed at the beginning of the programme. It said that the parental control would have to be set at "M" to block a programme rated "16", adding that this was clearly explained on the parental control menu.

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]  Standard P3 requires broadcasters to ensure that child viewers are protected from unsuitable content. In the complainant’s view, Sex and the City was unsuitable for screening at 7.30pm when children could be watching. The Authority notes that on free-to-air television, PGR and AO programmes can only be broadcast in the evening after 7pm and 8.30pm respectively. However, there are no "time-bands" on pay television. Where filtering technology is automatically available, as with TelstraClear, pay television broadcasters are able to broadcast programmes of any classification at any time of day, provided they are correctly classified.

[13]  Standard P3 states that a "child" is a person under 14 years of age. On the basis of the information provided by the broadcaster, the Authority accepts that this episode of Sex and the City was classified "16", indicating that it was unsuitable for persons under 16 years of age, and that a parental control set at "M" would have ensured that the episode could not be viewed without entering a pin code. Accordingly, the Authority is satisfied that the broadcaster fulfilled its obligation under the standard to protect child viewers from unsuitable content. It declines to uphold the complaint.


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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Joanne Morris
19 August 2009


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

1.         Neil Harrap's formal complaint – 14 May 2009
2.        Mr Harrap's referral to the Authority – 30 June 2009
3.        TelstraClear's response to the complaint – 3 July 2009
4.        Further information from TelstraClear – 24 July and 27 July 2009