BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Milnes and TVWorks Ltd - 2010-025

  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Tapu Misa
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
  • Lyn-Louise Milnes
TVWorks Ltd

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Fast Times at Ridgemont High – female movie characters shown practising on carrots how to perform oral sex – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency, children’s interests and fairness

Standard 9 (children’s interests) – no explicit sexual activity was shown – movie was AO and broadcast outside of children’s viewing times – warning for sexual material allowed parents to exercise discretion – not upheld

Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – contextual factors – not upheld

Standard 6 (fairness) – standard only applies to specific individuals – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1]   A movie called Fast Times at Ridgemont High was broadcast on C4 at 8.30pm on Wednesday 9 December 2009. At approximately 8.42pm, two teenage female characters in the movie were shown eating in a high school cafeteria. One of them expressed that, if she was going to have sex for the first time, she was worried that she would not be “good” at giving a “blow job”. The other girl then coached her on how to perform oral sex by demonstrating on a carrot. Both girls were shown practising on carrots and boys from another table applauded them.

[2]   The following visual and verbal warning was broadcast before the movie:

This programme is rated Adults Only and is recommended for a mature audience. It contains sexual material and language that may offend some people.


[3]   Lyn-Louise Milnes made a formal complaint to TVWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the “sexually explicit and unsuitable material” in the film breached standards relating to good taste and decency, children’s interests and fairness.

[4]   Ms Milne’s primary concern was that the scene in which girls mimicked oral sex using carrots was broadcast at approximately 8.40pm, only 10 minutes after the Adults Only watershed. However, she considered that the scene was “too obscene” for general viewing at that time by anyone, not just children.


[5]   TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standards 1, 6 and 9 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which provide:

Standard 1 Good Taste and Decency

Broadcasters should observe standards of good taste and decency.

Standard 6 Fairness

Broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to.

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

[6]   TVWorks contended that to constitute a breach of Standard 1, the broadcast material must be unacceptable in the context in which it was shown, including the time of broadcast, the programme’s classification, the target audience, and the use of warnings if any. On this occasion, the film was classified Adults Only and screened at 8.30pm because it contained sexual material and strong language that was inappropriate for PGR, but did not warrant a later broadcast time reserved for stronger material. TVWorks noted that a programme appraiser had edited a sex scene that occurred later in the movie in order to comply with its classification.

[7]   TVWorks stated that it did not agree that the scene subject to complaint would be considered “obscene” by a majority of viewers. “While imitating a sexual act,” the broadcaster said, “it did not depict any nudity or sexual activity and was framed in humorous and not salacious or titillating terms”. TVWorks considered that the scene was not gratuitous as it was essential to character development, particularly of the girl who was being coached as the scene “clearly establishes her innocence about sexual matters”.

[8]   The broadcaster also noted that the movie was released in 1982 and had developed a level of audience expectation over that time due to its reputation as a cult classic and the reputation of similar high school films that were released at that time. It therefore considered that the moderate sexual content in the context of the high school theme would not have surprised many viewers. TVWorks maintained that “most audience members would not consider the movie a prescription for how to behave, but as entertainment”.

[9]   Finally, TVWorks noted that the film was preceded by a warning for sexual material and language which informed viewers of its likely content and allowed them to make a choice about whether to watch the film according to their own preferences.

[10]   TVWorks concluded that sufficient care had been taken to ensure that the movie material was acceptable in its context, and therefore declined to uphold the Standard 1 complaint.

[11]   Turning to fairness, the broadcaster pointed out that Standard 6 was aimed primarily at factual or nonfiction programmes. TVWorks considered that it was fair to assume that the actors in the film were not exploited and were there of their own free will. It concluded that Standard 6 did not apply in the circumstances.

[12]   TVWorks stated that, for the reasons outlined in relation to Standard 1, sufficient consideration had been given to children’s interests. It reiterated that the movie was preceded by a warning which gave parents enough information and opportunity to make a decision about their children’s viewing. TVWorks maintained that the material in the movie was suitable for its timeslot and classification. It also noted that the Authority had previously stated that outside of children’s viewing times (after 8.30pm) parents should take responsibility for their children’s viewing. TVWorks declined to uphold the Standard 9 (children’s interests) aspect of Ms Milnes’ complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[13]   Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Ms Milnes referred her complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. She maintained that a “very offensive sexual scene” was shown at 8.40pm, and that the characters discussed oral sex “in a way that made it seem socially cool and popular”. Ms Milnes reiterated her argument that this was contrary to guideline 9b to the children’s interests standard. She also considered that the scene breached guideline 6e to the fairness standard because it exploited “the desire of young people to be popular and mature”, and guideline 1a to the good taste and decency standard due to the time of the broadcast.

Authority's Determination

[14]   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 9 (children’s interests)

[15]   Standard 9 requires broadcasters to consider the interests of child viewers during their normally accepted viewing times – usually up to 8.30pm. We note that Fast Times at Ridgemont High was broadcast at 8.30pm during AO time. However, Ms Milnes complained under guideline 9b to the children’s interests standard, which states that broadcasters should ensure that strong adult content is not shown soon after the 8.30pm watershed.

[16]   While the scene complained about occurred only 12 minutes into the movie, we do not consider that it amounted to “strong adult material” that should have been reserved for a later time. Even though the characters made unambiguous references to sex, no actual sexual activity was shown. Further, the movie carried a clear warning for sexual material which gave parents an opportunity to exercise discretion with regard to their children’s viewing. We therefore find that the inclusion of the scene in a typical teenage “coming of age” story, which was broadcast outside children’s viewing times, was acceptable, and we decline to uphold the Standard 9 complaint.

Standard 1 (good taste and decency)

[17]   When we consider an alleged breach of good taste and decency, we take into account the context of the broadcast. On this occasion, the relevant contextual factors include:

  • the movie was broadcast at 8.30pm on a Wednesday

  • it was classified Adults Only

  • it was preceded by a verbal and visual warning for sexual material that may offend

  • the scene subject to complaint was broadcast at approximately 8.42pm

  • the programme’s adult target audience

  • audience expectations of the film

  • C4’s target audience.

[18]   For the same reasons outlined in paragraph [16], and taking into account the contextual factors, we find that the scene subject to complaint did not stray beyond norms of good taste and decency in breach of Standard 1.

Standard 6 (fairness)

[19]   We note that Ms Milnes did not specify in her original complaint who she thought was treated unfairly, though she argued in her referral that the film exploited “the desire of young people to be popular and mature”.

[20]   Standard 6 applies only to specific individuals who take part or are referred to in a programme. The standard therefore does not apply to “young people” in general.

[21]   Accordingly, we decline to uphold the Standard 6 complaint.


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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Peter Radich
27 April 2010


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

1.           Lyn-Louise Milnes’ formal complaint – 13 December 2009
2.          TVWorks’ response to the complaint – 5 February 2010
3.          Ms Milnes’ referral to the Authority – 19 February 2010
4.          TVWorks’ response to the Authority – 25 February 2010