BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

McArthur and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2007-117

Members
  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
Dated
Complainant
  • Stella McArthur
Number
2007-117
Channel/Station
TV One

Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
How to Look Good Naked – episode contained footage of bare breasts and women in their underwear – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency, fairness, programme information and children’s interests standards.

Findings
Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – images of semi-naked women were not sexualised or salacious – contextual factors – not upheld

Standard 6 (fairness) – item conveyed a positive message – item did not denigrate women – not upheld

Standard 8 (programme information) – programme did not use subliminal perception – not upheld

Standard 9 (children’s interests) – programme classified PGR – broadcaster sufficiently considered the interests of child viewers – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]   An episode of How to Look Good Naked, broadcast on TV One at 7.30pm on 7 September 2007, contained video footage of women with bare breasts and women in their underwear.

[2]   The episode was preceded by a visual and verbal warning that stated:

This programme is rated PGR. It contains nudity that may offend some people and may not be suitable for a younger audience. We recommend the guidance of a parent or other adult.

Complaint

[3]   Stella McArthur made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the whole series of How to Look Good Naked breached standards of good taste and decency, fairness, programme information and children’s interests.

[4]   Ms McArthur noted that broadcasters had to take into consideration the current norms of good taste and decency when deciding what to broadcast. She argued that most people would have found the programme’s content indecent for broadcast at 7.30pm and stated “there are still right-minded men and women who do not agree with such behaviour as flaunting the human body before the public in this manner”.

[5]   Quoting from guideline 6(f) of the fairness standard, the complainant noted “broadcasters should recognise the rights of individuals, and particularly children, not to be exploited”. She considered that even though the programme was rated PGR there was no value in it for children who would “certainly be watching” television at 7.30pm.

[6]   Quoting from guideline 6(g) of the fairness standard, Ms McArthur noted that “broadcasters should avoid (portraying) persons in a manner that encourages denigration against sections of the community on account of sex”. She considered that the programme presented viewers with a “bevy of women who were discontented and psychologically dismayed sexually” and that this would not “teach children about the true value of the female body”.

[7]   The complainant pointed out that broadcasters are not allowed to use “subliminal perception – which attempts to convey information to the viewer”. She considered that the way in which the programme was portraying many females as “disgruntled with their body types” was leading viewers to feel “an affinity with them, so becoming absorbed by this theme”.

[8]   Ms McArthur argued that the broadcaster had not sufficiently considered the interests of child viewers by screening the programme at 7.30pm and noted that children’s normally accepted viewing times continued until 8.30pm at night.     

Standards

[9]   TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standards 1, 6, 8 and 9 and guidelines 6(f) and 6(g) of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. These provide:

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.

Standard 6 Fairness

In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are required to deal justly and fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to.

Guidelines

6f    Broadcasters should recognise the rights of individuals, and particularly children and young people, not to be exploited, humiliated or unnecessarily identified.

6g   Broadcasters should avoid portraying persons in programmes in a manner that encourages denigration of, or discrimination against, sections of the community on account of sex, sexual orientation, race, age, disability, or occupational status, or as a consequence of legitimate expression of religious, cultural or political beliefs. This requirement is not intended to prevent the broadcast of material which is:

i)   factual, or

ii)   the expression of genuinely held opinion in news, current affairs or other
     factual programmes, or

iii)  in the legitimate context of a dramatic, humorous or satirical work,
Standard 8 Programme Information

Broadcasters are responsible for ensuring that programme information and structure does not deceive or disadvantage the viewer.

Standard 9 Children’s Interests

During children’s normally accepted viewing times broadcasters are required, in the preparation and presentation of programmes, to consider the interests of child viewers.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

Previous correspondence

[10]   TVNZ stated in correspondence to Ms McArthur that there were no provisions in the Broadcasting Act 1989 or in the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice to allow a formal complaint about the whole of a series of programmes before some episodes had aired. The broadcaster considered Ms McArthur’s complaint with respect to the episode of How to Look Good Naked that was broadcast on 7 September 2007.

Broadcaster’s decision

[11]   TVNZ stated that to constitute a breach of Standard 1, the material shown must be unacceptable to a significant number of viewers in the context in which it was shown. It considered that nudity per se was not an offence against good taste and decency and that there were occasions when nudity, both male and female, was acceptable for broadcast.

[12]   The broadcaster argued that the programme did not seek to titillate viewers. It maintained that the tone of the item and the way in which women’s bodies were shown was appropriate for a PGR-rated programme.

[13]   TVNZ stated that the aim of the programme was to “help ordinary women with low self esteem feel better about themselves, without resorting to plastic surgery or extreme makeovers”. It argued that the point of showing the “quick views of these naked normal sized women” was to counter the prevailing view in the media that the ideal female form is size zero.

[14]   The broadcaster considered that the nudity shown in the item was innocent and was not shown in a sexualised manner. It declined to uphold the complaint that the item breached Standard 1 (good taste and decency).

[15]   With respect to fairness, TVNZ noted that “guideline 6(f) was written to prevent programme makers using footage of individuals (particularly children and young people) or making programmes in a way that exploits, humiliates or unnecessarily identifies them”. It contended that the adult women who took part in the programme were not exploited as they were well aware of what was happening.

[16]   The broadcaster argued that the message of the programme was about liking and accepting who you are and how you look, and that this was a positive message both for children and teenagers.

[17]   In respect of guideline 6(g), TVNZ argued that it was clear that the programme was not denigrating the women involved, but rather “trying to bring some balance back to society’s...perceptions of how women should look”. It maintained this was done by showing ordinary women topless and clothed and being proud of who they were and their bodies.

[18]   The broadcaster considered that the participants in the show had been dealt with justly and fairly. It declined to uphold the fairness complaint.

[19]   In response to the Standard 8 (programme information) complaint, TVNZ pointed out that the standard was written to prevent practices such as subliminal messages, or advertorial material being disguised as impartial programming. It maintained that nothing contained in How to Look Good Naked came under this category. It declined to uphold the programme information complaint. 

[20]   With respect to children’s interests, TVNZ argued that the item did not contain any material that would have disturbed or alarmed child viewers. It stated that the material contained in the programme was consistent with previous Broadcasting Standards Authority rulings on nudity in programmes screening in G and PGR time- bands.   

[21]   The broadcaster maintained that there were occasions when nudity, both male and female, was acceptable on television and that what was important was the way in which it was presented to viewers. It argued that the item’s PGR classification gave a precise indication of the type of material contained in the programme and the warning gave parents “ample opportunity to decide if the content was suitable for child viewers”. TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint that the programme breached Standard 9 (children’s interests).       

Referral to the Authority

[22]   Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response, Ms McArthur referred her complaint to the Authority under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. The complainant reiterated the arguments she had put forward in her original complaint.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[23]   TVNZ stated that it had received more positive letters from viewers about the programme than any other programme in the past year and that it had “struck a chord with male and female viewers alike”. 

Authority's Determination

[24]   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.

Preliminary matter

[25]   The Authority notes that Ms McArthur purported to complain about the entire series of How to Look Good Naked in her original letter to the broadcaster. The broadcaster made it clear to Ms McArthur that complaints under the Broadcasting Act 1989 must relate to specific programmes and not to a whole series that was still being broadcast. TVNZ decided to assess Ms McArthur’s complaint with respect to the episode broadcast on 7 September 2007. The Authority agrees that the broadcaster’s approach was appropriate, and it proceeds to determine the complaint on that basis.

Standard 1 (good taste and decency)

[26]   When the Authority considers a complaint that alleges a breach of good taste and decency, it is required to take into consideration the context of the broadcast. On this occasion, the relevant contextual factors include:

  • the programme was broadcast at 7.30pm during the PGR time-band
  • the programme was preceded by a verbal and written warning
  • the title of the programme, How to Look Good Naked, gave an indication of its likely content
  • the programme was classified PGR.

[27]   The Authority notes that the episode complained about contained shots of women with bare breasts and women in their underwear. However, it is of the view that the shots were fleeting and non-sexual. It also notes that the programme was intended to be uplifting rather than salacious or titillating.

[28]   The Authority considers that the semi-naked shots of women were not gratuitous and were intended to emphasise the fact that people come in a variety of different shapes and sizes, and that some people are more comfortable with their bodies than others. This was evident from the way in which some women chose to be topless and others either covered themselves with their hands or wore underwear. It finds that the tone of the programme was supportive rather than exploitative. Taking the above contextual factors into account, the Authority declines to uphold the Standard 1 (good taste and decency) complaint.

Standard 9 (children’s interests)

[29]   Standard 9 states that during children’s normally accepted viewing times, broadcasters are required, in the preparation and presentation of programmes, to consider the interests of child viewers.

[30]   As mentioned above, the Authority considers that the images of semi-naked women contained in the item were not sexualised or intended to titillate viewers. It also notes that the programme was rated PGR and was preceded by both a verbal and visual warning, and that the title gave a good indication of its likely content. 

[31]   Taking into account the above factors, the Authority concludes that the broadcaster sufficiently considered the interests of child viewers on this occasion. Accordingly, it declines to uphold the complaint that the item breached Standard 9.

Standard 6 (fairness)

[32]   The fairness standard requires broadcasters to deal justly and fairly with any person taking part or referred to in a programme. With reference to guideline 6f, the complainant argued that the programme had no value for children who may have been watching. The Authority agrees with the broadcaster that guideline 6f is written to prevent programme makers using footage of individuals or making programmes in a way that exploits, humiliates or unnecessarily identifies those individuals. Accordingly, the Authority finds that guideline 6f is not relevant on this occasion, and it declines to uphold this aspect of the fairness complaint.

[33]   With reference to guideline 6g, Ms McArthur argued that the programme denigrated women. The term “denigration” has consistently been defined by the Authority as meaning blackening the reputation of a class of people (see for example decision 2006-030). It is also well-established that in light of the requirements of the Bill of Rights Act, a high level of invective is necessary for the Authority to conclude that a broadcast encourages denigration in contravention of the standards (see for example Decision No. 2002-152).

[34]   The Authority considers that this episode of How to Look Good Naked was attempting to convey a positive message about accepting who you are and what you look like. It notes that the women involved in the programme were adults who appeared happy to participate in promoting this message. Accordingly, the Authority finds that the programme did not encourage the denigration of women. It declines to uphold the fairness complaint.

Standard 8 (programme information)

[35]   The Authority considers that the programme did not contain anything that could be considered subliminal messaging for the purposes of the programme information standard. Accordingly, it declines to uphold the complaint that the programme breached Standard 8.  

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
18 March 2008

Appendix

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

1.            Stella McArthur’s formal complaint – 31 August 2007
2.           Letter from TVNZ to Ms McArthur – 11 September 2007
3.           Letter from Ms McArthur to TVNZ – 16 September 2007
4.           Letter from TVNZ to Ms McArthur – 24 September 2007
5.           TVNZ’s response to the formal complaint – 3 October 2007
6.           Letter from Ms McArthur to the Authority – 2 November 2007
7.           Ms McArthur’s referral to the Authority – 15 November 2007
8.           TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 6 December 2007