Howard and TVWorks Ltd - 2009-105
- Joanne Morris (Chair)
- Mary Anne Shanahan
- Tapu Misa
- Paul France
- Will Howard
Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Skins – programme about a group of teenagers in Britain – showed teenagers drinking excessive amounts of alcohol and taking drugs – contained sexual material, nudity, violence and coarse language – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency, law and order, responsible programming, children’s interests, violence and liquor promotion standards
Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – contextual factors – not upheld
Standard 2 (law and order) – programme did not encourage viewers to break the law or otherwise promote, condone or glamorise criminal activity – not upheld
Standard 8 (responsible programming) – programme correctly classified AO9.30pm – not upheld
Standard 9 (children’s interests) – programme broadcast 1 hour after AO timeband began – broadcaster adequately considered the interests of child viewers – not upheld
Standard 10 (violence) – violence not inappropriate in light of contextual factors – not upheld
Standard 11 (liquor promotion) – programme did not promote liquor consumption – showed perils of excessive alcohol consumption – not upheld
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
 An episode of Skins was broadcast on C4 at 9.30pm on Monday 13 July 2009. The fictional programme followed a group of English teenagers aged between 16 and 19 years old.
 The episode began with a rowdy character called “Cook”, who went to a local pub with friends to celebrate his seventeenth birthday. On the way to the pub, Cook was shown drinking vodka from a bottle and singing and swearing.
 When Cook and his friends reached the pub, Cook began to drink heavily, consuming pints of beer and shots of tequila. Cook’s friends were shown drinking alcohol, but they were not drinking as much as Cook. However, one girl was shown vomiting on a table in the pub after consuming a tequila shot.
 The teenagers left the pub and turned up uninvited to an engagement party. Cook promised to supply the hostess and her friends with drugs and he and his friends were allowed into the party. During the party, Cook and other teenagers were shown taking drugs, specifically snorting and eating a white powder, and drinking alcohol.
 The father of the girl getting engaged, Johnny White, was a local gangster and Cook began antagonising him in an effort to impress the gangster’s daughter. A fight broke out and Cook was punched in the face giving him a bloody nose. As the fight continued, Cook and his friends fled the party.
 After fleeing the party, Cook was shown having an argument with his friend, Freddie, who was tired of continually rescuing Cook from situations he instigated through his irresponsible behaviour. Freddie left the group to go home.
 While the rest of the group returned home, Cook and another friend went to a brothel, where topless women were shown pole dancing. Cook and his friend organised to take a woman each into separate rooms and pay for sexual favours. Cook then stumbled upon the gangster Johnny White, who was tied up as part of a bondage routine. Cook took a photo of Johnny on his cell phone and, after an argument, Cook punched Johnny several times in the face causing Johnny’s nose to bleed. Johnny also had an electrical device attached to his nipples and, during the argument, Cook electrocuted Johnny by turning the device onto full power.
 Cook and his friend left the brothel and Cook went alone to his friend Freddie’s house. It was six o’clock in the morning by this time, and Cook woke his friend up and told him what had happened. Freddie talked to Cook, expressing his concerns about Cook’s self-destructive behaviour. The episode ended with Cook walking home.
 The programme contained a large amount of coarse language including the words, or variations of, “fuck”, “wanker”, “dick”, “shit” and “bastard”.
 Skins was preceded by the following verbal and visual warning:
This programme is rated adults only and is recommended for a mature audience. It contains violence that may disturb and language and sexual material that may offend some people.
 Will Howard made a formal complaint to TVWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the programme breached standards relating to good taste and decency, law and order, responsible programming, children’s interests, violence and liquor promotion.
 The complainant argued that, while the programme had been preceded by a warning, its “excessive anti-social” content and use of coarse language breached standards of good taste and decency.
 With respect to Standard 2 (law and order), Mr Howard considered that the programme had glamorised the abuse of alcohol and drugs among teenagers.
 With respect to Standard 8 (responsible programming), the complainant contended that “most 12, 13, and 14-year-olds” were still watching television at 9.30pm. He argued that it was “totally irresponsible” to broadcast Skins at that time of the evening.
 Similarly, Mr Howard considered that the broadcaster had breached Standard 9 (children’s interests) by broadcasting the programme at 9.30pm.
 Turning to Standard 10 (violence), the complainant noted that the broadcast contained acts of violence and believed that there was an “underlying sensation that some unpleasant violence was going to happen”.
 Mr Howard argued that Standard 11 (liquor promotion) was breached, because the programme depicted excessive and socially irresponsible consumption by young people.
 TVWorks assessed the complaint under Standards 1, 2, 8, 9, 10 and 11 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. These provide:
Standard 1 Good Taste and Decency
Broadcasters should observe standards of good taste and decency.
Standard 2 Law and Order
Broadcasters should observe standards consistent with the maintenance of law and order.
Standard 8 Responsible Programming
Broadcasters should ensure programmes:
- are appropriately classified;
- display programme classification information;
- adhere to timebands in accordance with Appendix 1;
- are not presented in such a way as to cause panic, or unwarranted alarm or undue disstress; and
- do not deceive or disadvantage the viewer.
Standard 9 Children’s Interests
During children’s normally accepted viewing times (see Appendix 1), broadcasters should consider the interests of child viewers.
Standard 10 Violence
Broadcasters should exercise care and discretion when dealing with the issue of violence.
Standard 11 Liquor
Broadcasters should observe restrictions on the promotion of liquor appropriate to the programme genre being broadcast. Liquor Promotion should be socially responsible and must not encourage consumption by people who are under the legal age to purchase liquor.
Liquor Promotion comprises:
promotion of a liquor product, brand or outlet (‘promotion’)
liquor sponsorship of a programme (‘sponsorship’)
advocacy of liquor consumption (‘advocacy’)
Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant
 With respect to Standard 1, TVWorks noted that Skins was broadcast on C4 at 9.30pm and had an AO9.30pm classification. The broadcaster considered that, while the programme contained frequent use of strong language, it was in line with other C4 programmes carrying the same classification.
 The broadcaster contended that, while the episode had contained some violence, it was not prolonged or graphic. It also considered that the sexual material was limited to innuendo or implied sex acts and was inexplicit.
 TVWorks stated that it understood that some of the behaviour and language depicted in Skins might be challenging for some viewers, but argued that the programme was “gritty”, “highly stylised” and a “hyperbolic dramatisation” of teenagers having fun and testing their boundaries. The broadcaster contended that the programme aimed to entertain, rather than encourage viewers to mimic the behaviour. Further, it said the show engaged with typical teenage issues, such as drugs, relationships and sex, and shifted them to an adult level which gave Skins “its unique appeal”.
 The broadcaster pointed out that many of the teenage characters shown in the programme did not behave with the reckless abandon of Cook, and that Freddie in particular was at the opposite end of the morality spectrum. TVWorks argued that Skins was firmly aimed at adult viewers and that it had been rated and scheduled accordingly. It pointed out that the programme was in its third season and was one of the most popular shows on C4, and contended that regular viewers would expect the type of material contained in the episode complained about.
 TVWorks noted that the Authority had previously held that the purpose of the good taste and decency standard was not to prohibit challenging material, or material that some people find offensive. Its purpose was to ensure sufficient care was taken so that challenging material was played in the appropriate context and that the challenges were not so offensive that they were unacceptable regardless of context.
 Taking into account the programme’s classification and the fact that it was preceded by a warning, TVWorks declined to uphold the complaint that the programme breached Standard 1.
 Turning to Standard 2 (law and order), TVWorks noted that the Authority had previously stated that the intent behind the law and order standard was to prevent broadcasts that encouraged viewers to break the law or which otherwise promoted, condoned or glamorised criminal activity. It argued that none of the programme’s material encouraged viewers to break the law and that the show’s adult target audience would have understood that the programme was a drama. It declined to uphold the Standard 2 complaint.
 Dealing with programme classification, the broadcaster argued that Skins had been appropriately classified and it declined to uphold the Standard 8 complaint.
 With respect to Standard 9 (children’s interests), TVWorks noted that the programme was broadcast at 9.30pm, had been preceded by a verbal and written warning and was classified AO930pm. It considered that the broadcast had complied with the requirements of the children’s interests standard and it declined to uphold the complaint that Standard 9 was breached.
 Considering the issue of violence, the broadcaster contended that, while the episode had contained some violent scenes, particularly the encounter between Cook and Johnny White in the brothel, the violence was not prolonged or graphic. It agreed with the complainant that there was a sensation throughout the episode that some violence was going to happen, but considered that this was due to Cook’s volatile and antagonistic behaviour.
 TVWorks argued that violence had not dominated the episode and that the brothel incident between Cook and Johnny White set up a new storyline for the show. It declined to uphold the Standard 10 complaint.
 Dealing with Standard 11 (liquor promotion), the broadcaster agreed with the complainant that the programme showed a considerable amount of liquor being consumed, but it argued that this was not unusual in the context of a drama focusing on rebellious teenagers. It stated that Skins was a “gritty” dramatisation of teenage life and understandably included experimentation with alcohol.
 TVWorks considered that it was important that the drinking took place in the context of Cook’s seventeenth birthday celebrations and that it was Cook who consumed most of the alcohol. It also pointed out that Cook’s excessive drinking and irresponsible behaviour was not without consequence or “moral counterpoint”. Cook’s drinking led to him having an argument with his friend Freddie, who complained about having to continually bail him out of risky situations.
 The broadcaster argued that, while the programme depicted excessive liquor consumption, the dramatic context and adult target audience meant that Standard 11 had not been breached. It declined to uphold the complaint.
Referral to the Authority
 Dissatisfied with TVWorks’ response, Mr Howard referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
 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.
Standard 1 (good taste and decency)
 When the Authority considers an alleged breach of good taste and decency, it takes into account the context of the broadcast. On this occasion, the relevant contextual factors include:
the programme was broadcast at 9.30pm on C4
Skins was preceded by a verbal and written warning
the programme was classified AO930pm
Skins had an adult target audience
the expectations of regular viewers.
 In the Authority’s view, while the portrayal of excessive drinking and drug taking scenes was unpleasant, those challenging scenes were integral to the episode’s storyline. The character Cook was portrayed as an unhinged, self-destructive and out of control teenager who did not care about the consequences of his actions. Cook’s behaviour was extreme even within his group of friends, many of whom, especially Freddie, saw his recklessness as abnormal and dangerous.
 The Authority considers that there was a moral to the programme’s storyline and it was clear that Cook’s outrageous behaviour was going to catch up with him, which in turn set up the plotline for subsequent episodes. While the programme contained realistic depictions of objectionable behaviour, the contextual factors listed above ensured that this material was shown within an appropriate context and did not exceed the bounds of good taste and decency.
 Accordingly, the Authority declines to uphold the Standard 1 complaint.
Standard 2 (law and order)
 The Authority has stated on a number of occasions that the intent behind the law and order standard is to prevent broadcasts that encourage viewers to break the law, or otherwise promote, condone or glamorise criminal activity (e.g. Gregory and TVNZ1).
 The Authority considers that, while the programme contained drug abuse and other anti-social behaviour, Skins was a drama targeted at adults and older teenagers who would have realised the perils involved with the type of behaviour displayed by Cook and the other characters. As mentioned above in paragraph , Cook’s actions were viewed with disdain by many of his friends who clearly thought he was exceeding the bounds of acceptable behaviour and was going to end up in a dangerous situation.
 The Authority finds that the programme did not encourage viewers to break the law or otherwise promote, condone or glamorise criminal activity. Accordingly, it declines to uphold the complaint that Skins breached Standard 2.
Standard 8 (responsible programming)
 Standard 8 requires that programmes are correctly classified, display programme classification information and adhere to the time-bands set out in the Free-to-Air Television Code.
 The Authority notes that Skins was broadcast at 9.30pm, was classified AO9.30pm by the broadcaster and was preceded by a verbal and written warning advising viewers of the material it contained. It points out that AO9.30pm is the highest classification that a programme can receive for free-to-air television. Given the content of the programme, the Authority considers that the programme was correctly classified and it declines to uphold the Standard 8 complaint.
Standard 9 (children’s interests)
 Standard 9 states that broadcasters should consider the interests of child viewers during their normally accepted viewing times – usually up to 8.30pm. On this occasion, the programme subject to complaint was classified AO9.30pm, was preceded by a verbal and written warning and was broadcast at 9.30pm, an hour after the AO watershed.
 The complainant argued that younger teenagers could have been watching the episode subject to complaint. However, while broadcasters are required to consider the interests of child viewers during their normally accepted viewing times, it is the responsibility of parents and other caregivers to take responsibility for their children’s viewing after the 8.30pm watershed on weeknights.
 In these circumstances, the Authority considers that TVWorks adequately considered the interests of child viewers when broadcasting Skins at 9.30pm on a Monday evening. It declines to uphold the complaint that the programme breached Standard 9.
Standard 10 (violence)
 Standard 10 requires broadcasters to exercise care and discretion when dealing with the issue of violence. The Authority notes that Skins contained scenes showing people fighting and one in which the character Johnny was electrocuted by Cook. However, as outlined by the Authority in paragraphs  and  above, the fictional programme was broadcast at 9.30pm, was preceded by a verbal and written warning and received the highest classification of AO9.30pm.
 In the Authority’s view, the violent material contained in the episode was consistent with the time of broadcast and the other contextual factors outlined in its consideration of Standard 1. On this occasion, the Authority considers that TVWorks exercised sufficient care and discretion when dealing with the issue of violence, and it declines to uphold the Standard 10 complaint.
Standard 11 (liquor promotion)
 While noting that the programme contained a large amount of excessive alcohol consumption by teenagers, the Authority finds that the episode did not promote liquor consumption or advocate drinking to excess. As discussed above, the programme clearly showed the perils of excessive drinking including Cook creating dangerous situations for himself through his reckless behaviour and his friends warning him that his actions would result in trouble.
 Accordingly, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint that the programme breached Standard 11.
For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
20 October 2009
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1. John Roy’s formal complaint – 15 July 2009
2. TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 11 August 2009
3. Mr Roy’s referral to the Authority – 17 August 2009
4. TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 4 September 2009
1Decision No. 2005-133