BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Malone and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2013-054

  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
  • Timothy Malone
The Carrie Diaries

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
The Carrie Diaries – teen drama series contained sexual references and innuendo – allegedly in breach of the good taste and decency and children’s interests standards 

Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – episode’s depiction of sexual content was inexplicit and discreet – would not have offended or distressed most viewers, including supervised children – contextual factors – not upheld 

Standard 9 (children’s interests) – broadcaster adequately considered children’s interests in screening the episode during children’s viewing times, given its PGR classification and specific pre-broadcast warning – not upheld 

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1]  An episode of The Carrie Diaries, an American teen drama series loosely based on the book and TV series Sex and the City, contained sexual references and innuendo. The episode was rated PGR (Parental Guidance Recommended) and preceded by the following verbal and visual warning:

The following programme contains sexual material that may not be suitable for a younger audience. We recommend the guidance of a parent or other adult.

[2]  The programme was broadcast at 3pm on Sunday 7 July 2013 on TV2.

[3]  Timothy Malone made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the episode contained sexual content and language that was inappropriate to screen at 3pm on a Sunday during children’s viewing times.

[4]  The issue is whether this particular episode breached the good taste and decency and children’s interests standards, as set out in the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[5]  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 episode breach standards relating to good taste and decency, or children’s interests?

[6]  The good taste and decency standard (Standard 1) is primarily aimed at broadcasts that contain sexual material, nudity, coarse language or violence.1 The Authority will also consider the standard in relation to any broadcast that portrays or discusses material in a way that is likely to cause offence or distress.2

[7]  The children’s interests standard (Standard 9) requires broadcasters to consider the interests of child viewers during their normally accepted viewing times – usually up to 8.30pm. The purpose of the standard is to protect children from broadcasts which might adversely affect them.3

[8]  Mr Malone argued that the episode, and the entire series, contained “graphic” sexual content and language that was inappropriate for children. While Mr Malone’s concerns relate to the entire programme series and its alleged inappropriate timeslot, our jurisdiction is limited to an assessment of this particular episode, though as with every complaint, we have taken into consideration relevant contextual factors including the nature of the series and audience expectations. Mr Malone said this episode contained “explicitly sexual” dialogue, the “realistic portrayal of adult sexual relationships”, and the term “fag”.

[9]  TVNZ described The Carrie Diaries as a “coming-of-age style show” focusing on “issues teenagers go through, including school, love, sex, friendships and ultimately discovering who they are and who they want to be”. It said the programme was aimed at young adults and a more mature audience, and screened within a programme line-up that was unlikely to appeal to young children.

[10]  We are satisfied that the episode did not contain anything that took it beyond its PGR rating or which was unacceptable for broadcast in this timeslot. The Authority has previously held that sexual content or references during children’s normally accepted viewing times should be subtle and inexplicit, or in the nature of sexual innuendo that would be likely to go over the heads of child viewers.4  The episode’s depiction of sexual content was inexplicit and discreet; it largely consisted of characters kissing and brief references to sex. In one scene it was implied the parents of one of the characters were having sex in the upstairs bedroom and this was depicted through the following dialogue and accompanying footage:

Character 1:        Are your parents fighting?

Character 2:       Either that or making up… [looks up and sees shaking ceiling fan
                          accompanied by mild banging and squeaking noises]

Character 1:        Your parents are having sex while you’re in the house? Oh that is
                          horrible! [disgusted look on her face]

[11]  The approach developed by the Authority is to require broadcasters to give sufficient information to enable viewers to regulate their own, and their children’s, viewing behaviour.5  This places a degree of responsibility on viewers to inform themselves about the viewing choices they are making and to exercise discretion with regard to their children’s viewing, especially outside G time. This episode of The Carrie Diaries was classified PGR, preceded by a specific warning for “sexual material that may not be suitable for a younger audience”, and based on the adult series Sex and the City. These factors clearly signposted for parents and other viewers that the programme would contain some degree of sexual material, giving them an opportunity to exercise discretion and decide whether to let their children continue watching, or to make a different viewing choice.

[12]  The term “fag” occurred at the start of the programme in the recap of the previous episode, when one of the characters shouted at another male character who tried to kiss him, “I’m not like you at all because I’m not a fag”. We do not think that the use of “fag” by a fictitious character in a teen drama series rated PGR would have offended or distressed most viewers, especially considering it was used without malice or invective, to convey that the character was battling to come to terms with his own sexuality. We agree with TVNZ that the scene was important to his character development, and that it was not harmful to child viewers under the guidance of an adult. 

[13]  Accordingly, we find that the episode did not contain any content that would have offended or distressed most viewers, and that the broadcaster adequately considered the interests of child viewers by classifying the episode PGR and screening a specific pre-broadcast warning.

[14]  We therefore decline to uphold the complaint.


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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Peter Radich
1 October 2013


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

1              Timothy Malone’s formal complaint  – 7 July 2013

2              TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 24 July 2013

3              Mr Malone’s referral to the Authority – 24 July 2013

4              TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 6 August 2013

1Turner and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2008-112

2Practice Note: Good Taste and Decency (Broadcasting Standards Authority, November 2006)

3E.g. Harrison and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2008-066

4Cross and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2008-059

5Practice Note: Good Taste and Decency (Broadcasting Standards Authority, November 2006)