BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Kittel and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2017-024 (26 May 2017)

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Paula Rose
Dated
Complainant
  • Vivien Kittel
Number
2017-024
Programme
Friends
Channel/Station
TVNZ 2

Summary

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

An episode of Friends featured Rachel discussing a dream in which she and Chandler had sex, and later telling the group she had a dream about her, Chandler and Joey. Monica was dating Ethan, who claimed to be a senior in college and revealed that he was a virgin. The couple were shown kissing on the couch and then lying in bed together, when it was revealed that Ethan was in fact a senior at high school. The Authority did not uphold a complaint that this episode breached the good taste and decency standard by containing sexual material unsuitable for children at the broadcast time of 4.30pm. Any visual sexual content was implied and verbal references to sex amounted to innuendo which was unlikely to be understood or imitated by younger viewers. While the Authority acknowledged that this was the first instance of this particular episode being broadcast at 4.30pm, it considered the low-level sexual content of the episode did not go beyond well-established audience expectations of the programme and did not threaten current norms of good taste and decency.

Not Upheld: Good Taste and Decency


Introduction

[1]  An episode of Friends featured Rachel discussing a dream in which she and Chandler had sex, and later telling the group she had a dream about her, Chandler and Joey. Monica was dating a senior in college, Ethan, who revealed that he was a virgin. The couple were shown kissing on the couch and lying in bed together, when it was revealed that Ethan was in fact a senior at high school. The episode was classified G (General) and was broadcast on TVNZ 2 at 4.30pm (during the timeband for G classified content), on 23 February 2017.

[2]  Vivien Kittel complained that the episode contained intimate and suggestive scenes not suitable for children at the broadcast time of 4.30pm. She said that this episode was of a particularly sexual nature, and parents may not be available to supervise at this time.

[3]  The issue raised in Ms Kittel’s complaint is whether the broadcast breached the good taste and decency standard as set out in the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[4]  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 purpose of the good taste and decency standard (Standard 1) is to protect audience members from viewing broadcasts that are likely to cause widespread undue offence or distress, or undermine widely shared community standards. Broadcasters should take effective steps to inform audiences of the nature of the programme, and enable viewers to regulate their own and their children’s viewing behaviour.1

The parties’ submissions

[6]  Ms Kittel submitted that:

  • Children were curious and enjoyed experimenting and copying glamorous older people, and this episode contained many sexual references, innuendos and intimate or suggestive scenes not intended for children.
  • The G classification was not appropriate in this case and the episode should not have screened at 4.30pm when parents were unlikely to be home from work to censor, supervise or explain. A PGR classification was therefore more appropriate (noting G material can be played at any time).

[7]  TVNZ submitted:

  • Friends was appropriately classified with a G rating. The material was not unsuitable for child viewers and the episode did not contain any material likely to alarm or distress children. The episode did not contain explicit sexual material – only verbal references to sex, which were used for comedic effect.
  • Viewers are familiar with the Friends characters and their relationships with one another. While there was low-level innuendo in the characters’ conversations about Rachel’s dreams, this was not explicit and was intended to be humorous, not titillating.
  • The scenes between Ethan and Monica showed the characters had strong feelings for one another. They loved each other but found the age difference insurmountable. This was the focus of the storyline, rather than the sexual aspect.
  • In a previous decision by the Authority regarding an episode of Friends,2 a brief depiction of a stripper was found not to be in breach of the good taste and decency standard. The Authority did not consider this episode was likely to disturb or alarm children, and there was little explicit behaviour featured which could offend. Children were unlikely to understand the innuendo contained in the dialogue.
  • This particular episode had been broadcast 15 times between 1995 and 2017, and on every occasion was classified G.

Our analysis

[8]  When we consider a complaint about good taste and decency, we take into account relevant contextual factors, which here include:

  • Friends was classified G and broadcast at 4.30pm during children’s normally accepted viewing times
  • the nature of the programme as a long-running, well-established sitcom series (first aired in September 1994)
  • the episode had been broadcast 15 times since 1995 with a G classification and usually aired between 5.30pm and 8pm (this was the first time the episode had been broadcast at 4.30pm)
  • audience expectations of Friends.

[9]  The complainant has argued that the episode’s content warranted a higher classification than G, and ought to have been given a PGR classification. The G and PGR classifications are defined as follows:3

G – General
Programmes which exclude material likely to be unsuitable for children. Programmes may not necessarily be designed for child viewers but should not contain material likely to alarm or distress them.

PGR – Parental Guidance Recommended
Programmes containing material more suited for mature audiences but not necessarily unsuitable for child viewers when subject to the guidance of a parent or an adult.

[10]  The Code also provides that G programmes may be screened at any time. PGR programmes may be screened between 9am and 4pm, and after 7pm until 6am.4

[11]  Taking into account all relevant contextual factors, we do not consider the level of sexual content shown in this episode warranted a higher classification of PGR, or threatened current norms of good taste and decency. The Authority’s expectation is that, during children’s normally accepted viewing times, sexual content or references should be subtle and inexplicit, or in the nature of sexual innuendo that would be likely to go over the heads of child viewers.5

[12]  With reference to the ‘G’ classification of this episode, we are satisfied that, while this material may not have been designed for child viewers, it was unlikely to alarm or distress them. The visual sexual content in the episode (for example, the characters kissing and in bed together), was brief and not graphic. While Monica and Ethan were shown in bed together, they were covered by sheets and blankets and any sexual activity beyond kissing was implied only. Ethan, who revealed he was a virgin, briefly described his excitement by saying, ‘Wow! You know, you read about it, you see it in the movies, even when you practise it at home, man, oh man, it is nothing like that!’ However, the focus of the episode and of this scene was not on the sexual activity (although this was referred to), but on Monica and Ethan’s relationship, and the realisation of the age difference between them.

[13]  There were a number of verbal references to sex during this episode, but, in our view, this largely amounted to innuendo which was unlikely to be understood by younger viewers.6 Rachel’s descriptions of her dreams were not graphic or explicit, and while we recognise the complainant’s submissions that children are curious and like to copy what they see on television, in our view there was little explicit behaviour shown or described here which could be imitated or that would alarm or distress children. The discussions around Rachel’s dream were fitting for the storyline, given Ross’ unrequited love for Rachel and his resulting jealousy of the other male characters.

[14]  Friends is a long-running series, with well-known characters and scenarios, and this episode in particular has been broadcast 15 times since 1995. We acknowledge that this is the first instance of the episode being played at 4.30pm. However, Friends is now well-established as a G-classified sitcom – as TVNZ notes, this episode has been classified G on all 15 occasions of it screening – and we consider it is reasonable to expect a high level of audience awareness and familiarity with the type of material featured in the programme. In our view, the low-level sexual content contained in this episode did not go beyond audience expectations of the programme, even taking into account the earlier broadcast time.

[15]  Accordingly, we do not uphold the complaint under Standard 1.

For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.

 

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

 

Peter Radich
Chair
26 May 2017

 

Appendix

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

1      Vivien Kittel’s formal complaint – 23 February 2017
2      TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 23 March 2017
3      Ms Kittel’s referral to the Authority – 23 March 2017
4      TVNZ’s further comments – 28 April 2017 and 2 May 2017

 


1  Guideline 1b to Standard 1 – Good Taste and Decency
2  Hooker and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2002-063, 2002-064
3  Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 9
4  As above
5  Cross and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2008-059
6  See also Hooker and Television New Zealand, above, at [39]