Lobb and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2017-013 (26 April 2017)
- Peter Radich (Chair)
- Leigh Pearson
- Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
- Paula Rose
- Ellie Lobb
BroadcasterTelevision New Zealand Ltd
[This summary does not form part of the decision.]
An episode of Shortland Street featured a storyline about the developing relationship of a young same-sex couple, and included several scenes of the two kissing, including shots of them from the waist up in bed together. The Authority did not uphold a complaint that these scenes breached the good taste and decency and children’s interests standards. The Authority acknowledged there is value in programmes such as Shortland Street, which provides entertainment and reflects contemporary society and evolving social issues and attitudes. Shortland Street is a PGR-classified medical drama series that has screened in the 7pm timeband for many years. It is well known for featuring adult themes. In that context the level of sexual content did not threaten current norms of good taste and decency, nor would be likely to adversely affect any child viewers. The depiction of kissing in itself did not go beyond what is expected of the PGR classification, and no further sexual activity was shown. Given the nature of the programme and the PGR classification, any child viewers could reasonably be expected to be under adult supervision, and viewers were given the opportunity to make a different viewing choice for themselves and their children.
Not Upheld: Good Taste and Decency, Children’s Interests, Discrimination and Denigration, Privacy
 An episode of Shortland Street featured a storyline about the developing relationship of a young male same-sex couple, Cam and Jack. The episode contained several scenes of Cam and Jack kissing, including shots of them from the waist up while in bed together.
 Ms Lobb complained that the depiction of a same-sex couple kissing, especially at a peak viewing time, was objectionable.
 The issues raised in Ms Lobb’s complaint are whether the broadcast breached the good taste and decency, children’s interests, discrimination and denigration and privacy standards as set out in the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.
 The episode was broadcast on TVNZ 2 at 7pm on 27 January 2017. 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?
 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
 TVNZ submitted:
- Shortland Street is classified Parental Guidance Recommended (PGR) and is aimed at teen and adult viewers. The content complained about was consistent with expectations of the PGR classification. Although the couple was shown kissing while lying in bed together, no further sexual activity was shown.
- Similar scenes are frequently shown, which involve heterosexual couples. For example, at the end of the episode in question, a male character (Vinnie) was shown kissing a woman and falling into bed with her. This type of material is expected in the context of the programme.
- ‘The scenes between Jack and Cam depicted a young couple in love being intimate with each other and were no different from other scenes between couples... portrayed on Shortland Street. There was no inappropriate or sexual content in the scenes in question whatsoever. The show has a proud history of exploring and celebrating diversity and will continue to do so in a responsible way’.
- The Authority has previously found that upholding complaints about same-sex couples kissing, in the face of previous decisions declining to uphold complaints about heterosexual kisses, would be discriminatory and undermine human rights.2
- In this context, the content would not distress or offend a significant number of viewers.
 When we consider a complaint about good taste and decency, we take into account relevant contextual factors, which here include:
- Shortland Street was classified PGR and screened at 7pm
- while Shortland Street is targeted at adult and teen viewers, the likely audience may have included children
- the nature of the programme as a long-running local medical drama series
- audience expectations of Shortland Street.
 In this context, we do not consider the level of sexual content shown in the episode threatened current norms of good taste and decency. We recognise that the kissing between Cam and Jack was at times passionate, and that it was implied that this led to further sexual activity. However, the kissing shown was relatively brief – only a few seconds in length on each occasion – and was between two characters who were developing a romantic relationship. No explicit sexual content beyond kissing was shown. The episode also did not contain any nudity, beyond the men’s topless chests while lying in bed covered by a blanket. A large part of the scenes featuring Cam and Jack kissing, including the bedroom scene, involved them simply talking about their developing relationship.
 This level of sexual content was appropriate for the PGR classification and time of broadcast. Shortland Street is a well-known, long-running New Zealand drama series that has screened in the 7pm timeband for many years. The series is known for featuring adult themes,3 and there is a reasonably high level of audience awareness and familiarity with the type of material featured. We do not think the level of sexual content contained in this particular episode went beyond audience expectations of the programme.
 Additionally, as noted by the broadcaster, we have previously issued decisions on the depiction of kissing between a same-sex couple during a drama series, finding:4
The scene subject to complaint consisted of a brief, relatively innocuous kiss between two young women, who were sitting on a couch and fully clothed. The Authority has previously declined to uphold complaints about characters kissing during G programmes... the mere fact that the kiss was between two women does not make it less acceptable... Upholding the complaints – especially in the face of previous decisions declining to uphold complaints about heterosexual kisses – would in our view be discriminatory and undermine human rights.
 We consider that reasoning applies in the present case. As a long-running local television drama, Shortland Street is valuable in that it both entertains audiences and because it often features storylines that reflect the contemporary society in which we live, including evolving social issues and attitudes. Today it is generally accepted, and the law recognises, that there are many different types of relationships, which may be portrayed on television, provided broadcasting standards are adhered to (which we are satisfied occurred in this case). We note in this respect that the episode also contained a scene showing a male and female character passionately kissing and falling into bed together.
 We are satisfied that the content of this episode of Shortland Street did not breach standards of good taste and decency and we do not uphold the complaint under Standard 1.
Did the broadcaster adequately consider children’s interests?
 The children’s interests standard (Standard 3) states that broadcasters should ensure children can be protected from broadcasts which might adversely affect them.
The parties’ submissions
 Ms Lobb considered the behaviour depicted in the episode was ‘perverted’, and questioned how to explain this behaviour to children.
 TVNZ submitted:
- Shortland Street is a serial drama aimed at teen/adult viewers.
- The episode was classified PGR, which carries with it an expectation that any child viewers will be subject to adult supervision.
- The scenes subject to complaint, and the episode as a whole, were consistent with expectations of the PGR classification and the level of material typically shown during Shortland Street.
- As discussed under the good taste and decency standard, the Authority has recognised that it would be contrary to human rights legislation to treat material differently due to the sexual orientation of the couple depicted.
 We acknowledge TVNZ’s submission that children do not form part of Shortland Street’s target audience. However, as the episode was broadcast at 7pm during children’s normally accepted viewing times,5 children may have formed part of the likely audience.
 For the reasons we have outlined in our discussion of the good taste and decency standard, we do not consider that the depiction of intimacy between a same-sex couple would have adversely affected child viewers.
 We are satisfied that the level of intimacy shown between Cam and Jack – which did not cross the line into explicit sexual activity – would not have disturbed or alarmed child viewers. It is reasonable to expect that child viewers will be supervised by adults during PGR-classified programmes, and particularly during Shortland Street, which is known to deal frequently with mature themes. In this case, Cam and Jack’s developing relationship was signalled from the beginning of the episode, with the two talking about their relationship, before this developed into anything further. The bedroom scene occurred several minutes into the episode. Given the narrative sign-posting, and the PGR classification, parents and caregivers had an opportunity to exercise discretion if they did not want their child to continue watching.
 Accordingly, we do not uphold the children’s interests complaint.
Did the episode breach any other broadcasting standards?
 Ms Lobb also complained under the discrimination and denigration and privacy standards. In summary, these standards were either not applicable or not breached because:
- Ms Lobb did not specify which section of the community she considered the episode denigrated or discriminated against, or how (Standard 6 – Discrimination and Denigration).
- The privacy standard applies only to identifiable individuals featured or referred to in broadcasts. This standard is unlikely to apply to a fictional drama series, and Ms Lobb did not specify whose privacy she considered was breached (Standard 10 – Privacy).
 We therefore do not uphold these aspects of the complaint.
For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
26 April 2017
The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1 Ellie Lobb’s formal complaint – 28 January 2017
2 TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 28 February 2017
3 Ms Lobb’s referral to the Authority – received 6 March 2017
4 TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 5 April 2017
1 Guideline 1b to Standard 1 – Good Taste and Decency
2 Brownlee and Radkhou and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2011-147
4 As above n 2, at .
5 Definitions, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 9.