BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Lilley and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2006-037

  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
  • Robyn Lilley
Teenage Caveman

Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Teenage Caveman – movie about teenagers in the future who fall in with a group of genetically-altered and indestructible mutants – complainant objected to scenes of group sexual intercourse between teenagers, discussion on female pubic hair, female masturbation, and a young woman “exploding and a very graphic display of her exposed organs” – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency

Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – cumulative effect of challenging content – implied group sex and partial nudity intended to titillate – excessive drug and alcohol use – gratuitous violence and profanity – upheld

No Order

This headnote does not form part of the decision


[1] The movie Teenage Caveman was broadcast on TV2 at 12.35am on 17 April 2006. Set in a post-apocalyptic world of the future, the film centred on a group of teenagers who left their home and fell in with a group of genetically-altered and indestructible mutants. Lured into a world of drugs and sex, the teenagers became infected with a fatal virus which led to some of the characters exploding.


[2] Robyn Lilley complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the programme breached Standard 1 (good taste and decency).


[3] TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standard 1 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which provides:

Standard 1 Good Taste and Decency

In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are responsible for maintaining standards which are consistent with the observance of good taste and decency.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[4] Considering the context in which any potentially offensive material was screened, TVNZ contended that relevant contextual factors included the content of the film, the time it was shown, its classification and whether or not it was preceded by a warning.

[5] TVNZ stated that it was unsure about what material in the programme had caused Mr Lilley offence. It noted that the film contained scenes of drug use, implications of sex, some nudity and violence, and strong language. TVNZ observed that drug use was fairly common in cinema, and that the sex scenes had been confined largely to head and shoulder shots. This was a lot less explicit than the nudity which had been shown in series such as Six Feet Under, TVNZ contended, which had screened much earlier in the evening. Considering the time of the broadcast, it maintained that the language, nudity and violence were not exceptional. TVNZ added:

Further it was noted that, while this may not have been a film of the highest quality (quality, because it is subjective, is not something that can be assessed under programme standards), the moral of the story was clear. The message was, “if you have sex and do drugs, you can get infected, turn into a monster, and die”.

[6] The broadcaster noted that Teenage Caveman did not start until 12.35am – more than four hours after the AO (adults only) watershed. Further, it was classified as AO. TVNZ stated that, because of a technical fault, the AO symbol which was meant to appear at the beginning of the film was not shown. That symbol had, however, been shown after every subsequent commercial break.

[7] In addition, TVNZ said that the same technical fault had been responsible for the omission of a visual and verbal warning which had been prepared for the film. The warning advised viewers about the presence of violence, sex and language. Because the warning was not shown, and because the AO classification was not made clear at the beginning of the film, TVNZ upheld the complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[8] Mr Lilley referred his complaint to the Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. He believed that the content of the movie was in breach of Standard 1, irrespective of whether a warning was broadcast. Mr Lilley stated that there was “no place on public TV” for material of that nature.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[9] TVNZ stated that it had felt hampered by the lack of information provided by Mr Lilley to support his complaint. He had not pointed to any specific content or ways in which Standard 1 had been breached, it said. The broadcaster said that it had upheld the complaint because the classification of the programme and the warning were not broadcast. Had these been present, TVNZ said, its conclusion may have been different, given the time of the broadcast and expectations of an audience watching a science fiction programme at that hour of the night.

Complainant’s Final Comment

[10] In his final comment, Mr Lilley contended that the movie had contained “a very offensive display of warped sexual behaviour”. He referred to scenes showing “explicit group sexual intercourse between teenagers, discussion on female pubic hair, or the lack of it”, female masturbation, and a young woman “exploding and a very graphic display of her exposed organs”.

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.

Procedural matter

[12] The Authority notes that TVNZ upheld Mr Lilley’s complaint because a technical error meant that the warning and classification were not screened prior to the broadcast. Mr Lilley referred his complaint to the Authority because he considered that the content of the movie was inappropriate for broadcast, irrespective of whether the warning and classification information were present.

[13] The Authority considers that, even though his complaint was upheld by the broadcaster, Mr Lilley was still entitled to refer his complaint to the Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act because he was “dissatisfied with the decision”. In the Authority’s view, “the decision” means not only the final outcome, but the broadcaster’s reasons for reaching its decision.

[14] In his original complaint, Mr Lilley did not specify the content about which he was concerned. In response to a question from TVNZ, he indicated that it would be “obvious” what content in the movie concerned him. While it is preferable for a complainant to specify what parts of a programme they consider breached the standards, the Authority considers that the nature of Mr Lilley’s complaint was clear. The movie was laced with sex scenes, nudity, swear words and violence, and TVNZ could reasonably have understood that it was on these matters that Mr Lilley intended to focus.

Standard 1 (good taste and decency)

[15] When the Authority considers a complaint which alleges a breach of good taste and decency, it is required to take into consideration the context of the broadcast. On this occasion, the Authority notes that the movie was broadcast at 12.35am and had an AO classification. It also takes into account the expectations of viewers watching a science fiction movie in the early hours of the morning.

[16] In this context, the Authority now turns to consider the content of the movie. It notes that the film contained:

  • a lengthy scene of group sex among teenagers
  • a scene of two teenagers apparently having sexual intercourse
  • a female character apparently masturbating as she watched another character die
  • a woman exploding and a graphic display of her exposed organs
  • violence – including the male mutant ripping the heart out of one character and ripping the head off another, extended fight scenes, and threatened rape
  • very frequent use of the word “fuck”
  • drug use and excessive alcohol consumption
  • partial nudity – including extensive shots of topless women.

[17] The Authority has previously held that challenging material will be more acceptable where it is an integral part of a legitimate storyline. The Authority finds that there was no such mitigating factor on this occasion. It considers that the sex scenes and nudity were intended to titillate the audience, and the drug use, excessive drinking, violence, and profanity, were largely gratuitous. While some elements of this film may have been acceptable in isolation, the Authority finds that the cumulative effect of this content breached Standard 1.

[18] In particular, the Authority notes its concern about the portrayal of a female character apparently masturbating while watching a young woman writhe around in pain and then explode. In the Authority’s view, irrespective of the contextual factors in paragraph [16], this association of sexual gratification with pain and death was beyond the limits of what is acceptable on free-to-air television.

[19] TVNZ upheld the complaint on the grounds that the warning and classification information were omitted. The Authority agrees with the complainant that, even if the warning and classification information had been present, the content of this film would have breached standards of good taste and decency.

[20] Accordingly, the Authority upholds the complaint.

Bill of Rights

[21] For the avoidance of doubt, the Authority records that it has given full weight to the provisions of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 and has taken into account all the circumstances of the complaint in reaching this determination. For the reasons given above, the Authority considers that its exercise of powers on this occasion is consistent with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.


[22] For the above reasons the Authority upholds the complaint that the broadcast by Television New Zealand Ltd of Teenage Caveman on 17 April 2006 breached Standard 1 (good taste and decency) of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[23] Having upheld the complaint, the Authority may make orders under ss.13 and 16 of the Broadcasting Act 1989. It does not intend to impose an order on this occasion. The Authority considers that the public release of the decision upholding the complaint is sufficient in all the circumstances.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Joanne Morris
28 June 2006


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

  1. Robyn Lilley’s formal complaint – 17 April 2006
  2. TVNZ’s decision on the formal complaint – 1 May 2006
  3. Mr Lilley’s referral to the Authority – 1 May 2006
  4. TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 8 May 2006
  5. Mr Lilley’s final comment – 18 May 2006