BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

McCarthy and TVWorks Ltd - 2010-093

  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Tapu Misa
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
  • Steve McCarthy
3 News
TVWorks Ltd
TV3 # 3

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
3 News
– item on Russian supermodels – reported on dangers of sexual exploitation in the modelling industry – comment about thirteen-year-old girl being paid to have sex – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency and children’s interests standards


Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – statement matter-of-fact and relevant to the subject matter – not salacious – contextual factors – not upheld

Standard 9 (children’s interests) – broadcaster adequately considered the interests of child viewers – contextual factors – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1]   An item on 3 News, broadcast on TV3 at approximately 6.22pm on 5 July 2010, reported on the worldwide success of Russian supermodels and the dangers of sexual exploitation in the modelling industry. The news reader introduced the item with the following statement:

Russian supermodels are strutting the catwalks and gracing magazine covers in increasing numbers. Their success has prompted many young women there to try and forge a career on the catwalk, but as SKY’s Amanda Walker reports, it isn’t always an easy or safe path to follow.

[2]   The reporter described how, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, there had been a major surge in the Russian modelling industry, with Russian supermodels dominating the fashion world and many young girls aspiring to join them. The reporter stated:

In the provincial town of Ulyanovsk, these young girls, aged from eight to 18, dream of glamorous lives as international models. Brutally judged by their leg length and bone structure, few will actually achieve their goal, and if they do they’ll doubtless have to avoid some dangers along the way.

[3]   The reporter interviewed an ex-model who at the age of 15 had been pushed into working as an escort. The reporter translated the following statement made by the former model:

One of the girls I lived with was thirteen. On the eve of her 14th birthday she earned a lot of money by having sex with an oligarch. She bought loads of new expensive things. In this agency, girls of this age were of a higher value.

[4]   The item ended with a warning about the dangers faced by young girls in the Russian modelling industry, the news reader stating that although a career in modelling may seem attractive, the price may not be worth paying.


[5]   Steve McCarthy made a formal complaint to TVWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the item breached standards relating to good taste and decency and children’s interests.

[6]   The complainant said that his eight-year-old daughter had turned on the television during the news and had started to watch the item. He said that because it was about modelling he did not see any reason to prevent his daughter from watching it, “until a young girl said that she had seen a 13-year-old colleague have sex with an oligarch”.

[7]   Mr McCarthy argued that the item was not suitable “for early evening viewing when children could easily be expected to be watching” and that it was “incumbent upon broadcasters to ensure children...not be subjected to [such] adult material.”


[8]   Mr McCarthy nominated Standard 1 and Standard 9 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice in his complaint. These provide:

Standard 1 Good Taste and Decency

Broadcasters should observe standards of good taste and decency.

Standard 9 Children’s Interests

During children’s normally accepted viewing times (see Appendix 1), broadcasters should consider the interests of child viewers.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[9]   TVWorks noted that the item was part of an unclassified news programme with an adult target audience, and that the Authority had previously accepted that such programmes were unlikely to be watched by unsupervised young children.

[10]   The broadcaster considered that the item was about Russian supermodels and their worldwide success and that it described the dangers faced by young models. It argued that the inclusion of the comment about a young model selling sex to an oligarch was “matter-of-fact and relevant and was not titillating or salacious.” It said that the comment was in general terms and did not go into any detail about sex and maintained that the comment would not have disturbed or alarmed child viewers.

[11]   TVWorks concluded that the comment did not breach Standard 1 taking into account its context.

Referral to the Authority

[12]   Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Mr McCarthy referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

[13]   The complainant reiterated his view that the comment about a 13-year-old model “being forced” to have sex with an oligarch was unsuitable for broadcast in the 6.00pm news. He argued that the comment described conduct amounting to “sexual slavery and legally rape”, which would have disturbed and alarmed child viewers.

[14]   Mr McCarthy raised concerns about “the leeway” given to unclassified news and current affairs programmes, and argued that it did not give broadcasters “free reign”. He considered that, if the comment was hearsay and not “verifiable news”, then the context was “salacious and indefensible”.

Authority's Determination

[15]   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.

Standard 1 (good taste and decency)

[16]   When we consider a complaint that alleges a breach of good taste and decency, we take into account the context of the broadcast. On this occasion the relevant contextual factors include:

  • the item was broadcast at approximately 6.22pm during children’s normally accepted viewing times
  • 3 News was an unclassified news programme
  • the programme’s adult target audience.

[17]   The Authority has previously stated (e.g. Yeoman and TVNZ1) that standards relating to good taste and decency are primarily aimed at broadcasts that contain sexual material, nudity, violence or coarse language. However, the Authority has also said that it “will 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

[18]   In our view, the comment subject to complaint was matter-of-fact rather than titillating or salacious, and was relevant to the news item’s focus on the dangers faced by young girls working in the modelling industry. For these reasons we do not consider that the comment was likely to have caused offence or distress, or that it required a warning.

[19]   Taking the above contextual factors in account, we consider that the item did not breach standards of good taste and decency and we therefore decline to uphold the Standard 1 complaint.

Standard 9 (children’s interests)

[20]   Standard 9 requires broadcasters to consider the interests of child viewers during their normally accepted viewing times – usually up to 8.30pm. The item complained about was part of an unclassified news programme broadcast at 6.00pm.

[21]   We have previously stated (e.g. Harang and TVNZ3) that children are unlikely to watch news programmes unsupervised, because news programmes must sometimes contain material which is disturbing or upsetting to children. For this reason, when determining a complaint about children’s interests during the news, we consider whether the item was suitable for a child when accompanied by a parent or guardian.

[22]   In our view, this was a legitimate news story and the reference to sex was matter-of-fact, brief and relevant to the item. We consider that its meaning would likely have gone over the heads of younger viewers, and was not unsuitable for child viewers with the guidance of an adult. We are satisfied that the broadcaster gave adequate consideration to the interests of child viewers in broadcasting the item during 3 News, and we decline to uphold the Standard 9 complaint.

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Peter Radich
26 October 2010


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

1.           Steve McCarthy’s formal complaint – 5 July 2010

2.          TVWorks’ response to the formal complaint – 7 July 2010

3.          Mr McCarthy’s referral to the Authority – 22 July 2010

4.          TVWorks’ response to the Authority – 10 August 2010

1Decision No. 2008-087

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

3Decision No. 2006-098