BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Osborne and CanWest TVWorks Ltd - 2007-027

  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
  • S A Osborne
CanWest TVWorks Ltd
TV3 # 2

Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
The Simpsons – Halloween episode called "Treehouse of Horror XV" – broadcast at 7pm – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency, children's interests, and programme classification standards

Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – subsumed under Standard 9

Standard 7 (programme classification) – appropriately classified PGR – not upheld

Standard 9 (children's interests) – broadcaster adequately considered interests of child viewers – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1]   A Halloween episode of The Simpsons called "Treehouse of Horror XV" was broadcast on TV3 at 7pm on Tuesday 16 January 2007. The episode contained three stories. The first, "The Ned Zone", involved the character Ned Flanders being hit by a bowling ball and thereafter being able to see how people would die. Ned had to shoot Homer Simpson before he wiped out the town of Springfield by pressing the wrong button at the nuclear plant.

[2]   The second story, "Four Beheadings and a Funeral", was a re-telling of the Jack the Ripper murders in 19 th century England. Lisa Simpson and her brother had to track down the person who had stabbed several prostitutes. The third story, "In the Belly of the Boss", involved Homer Simpson shrinking and getting stuck inside his boss, Mr Burns, while trying to rescue his daughter.

[3]   The programme was preceded by the following verbal and visual warning:

This programme is rated PGR and contains low-level violence. We recommend guidance from a parent or other adult.


[4]   S A Osborne made a formal complaint about the programme to CanWest TVWorks Ltd, the broadcaster. The complainant said the episode should not have been broadcast at 7pm, as this was the "early evening family viewing slot". Further, it was unsuitable for an audience consisting mainly of children because it portrayed "gratuitous violence, sexual overtones and criminal behaviour".

[5]   The complainant said that the episode had also breached standards of good taste and decency and law and order, by showing people being stabbed and shot and a character falling out a window - "all without causing one normal emotion or consequence".


[6]   CanWest assessed the complaint under Standards 1, 7 and 9 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which 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 7 Programme Classification

Broadcasters are responsible for ensuring that programmes are appropriately classified; adequately display programme classification information; and adhere to time-bands in accordance with Appendix 1.

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

[7]   Looking first at Standard 1 (good taste and decency), CanWest noted that the programme had screened during the PGR timeband at 7pm. This was not the children's cartoon slot, it said, which screened on TV3 after school from 3 to 4.30pm.

[8]   The broadcaster also observed that the episode was rated PGR. The PGR rating did not mean that The Simpsons was intended primarily for a child audience. Such programmes, it said, were usually rated "G" and screened in the children's cartoon slots. It wrote:

The "Halloween" theme - with its tradition of scary and gruesome stories that turn out "ok" in the end is a familiar one, but the Halloween cartoon contains ideas and themes that require a higher level of sophistication than a cartoon which is aimed at a child audience.

In the context of a PGR-rated Halloween cartoon, the viewer would understand that the deaths that are shown are not real or ideal, nor should they be emulated...The death of Homer in "The Ned Zone" and the prostitutes in "Four Beheadings and a Funeral" are an extreme form of dramatisation and would be appreciated as such by the programme's viewers.

[9]   CanWest maintained that none of the scenes - which, it said, were farcical and exaggerated - was inappropriate for a PGR-rated programme. In addition, it contended that the warning had clearly described the likely material to be found in the episode, and gave parents the opportunity to make a decision about whether or not they wished their children to view the episode. CanWest declined to uphold the Standard 1 complaint.

[10]   Turning to consider Standard 7 (programme classification), the broadcaster argued that the main aim of the programme was to generate humour and, as such, the images were neither realistic nor overly horrific. The material, it wrote, did not stray into the realm of adults only programming. It found that Standard 7 was not breached.

[11]   Looking at Standard 9 (children's interests), CanWest maintained that The Simpsons was appropriately rated PGR because it contained material which was more challenging than could be expected from a G-rated cartoon.   It also noted the warning which preceded the episode, and the fact that the cartoon had "an extensive history and audience expectation and knowledge of the likely content". Taking these factors into account, CanWest concluded that it had considered the interests of child viewers by screening the programme in a PGR timeslot.

Referral to the Authority

[12]   Dissatisfied with CanWest's response, S A Osborne referred the complaint to the Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989, reiterating that Standards 1, 7 and 9 had been breached. While accepting that the cartoon had been given a PGR rating, the complainant contended that CanWest "had no way of knowing if that would be enforced", as many children would be watching television without their parents at that hour.

[13]   The complainant argued that the "adult content" was inappropriate because small children could not discern fact from fiction, and would absorb the visual impact more than the storylines. Further, the "gratuitous violence and murder depicted" could not be described as "low-level violence".

[14]   The complainant maintained that the programme had breached broadcasting standards due to the time of the broadcast, and because children would identify with the "child-like characters" and try to normalise their violent behaviour. CanWest could not, the complainant said, guarantee that the behaviour shown in the programme would not be emulated by children.

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 7 (programme classification)

[16]   Standard 7 states that broadcasters are responsible for ensuring that programmes are appropriately classified. Appendix 1 of the Free-to-Air TV Code gives the following definitions for PGR and AO programmes:

PGR   Programmes containing material more suited for mature audiences but not necessarily unsuitable for child viewers when subject to the guidance of a parent or adult.

AO      Programmes containing adult themes and directed primarily at mature audiences.

[17]   In the Authority's view, this episode of The Simpsons was appropriately classified as PGR. It considers that the violence in the cartoon was highly unrealistic and farcical, and therefore it was unlikely to disturb children. The programme did not contain "adult themes" as envisaged by the definition of AO programmes; rather, it parodied matters that younger viewers would not have understood.

[18]   The Authority finds that the material in the programme was not unsuitable for children when subject to the guidance of a parent or other adult. Therefore it does not uphold the Standard 7 complaint.

Standard 9 (children's interests)

[19]   Under Standard 9 (children's interests), broadcasters are required to consider the interests of child viewers during their normally accepted viewing times. In determining whether Standard 9 was breached on this occasion, the Authority takes into account the following contextual factors:

  • the episode was broadcast in a PGR timeslot
  • The Simpsons is a well-known show that is aimed at a more mature audience than other cartoons
  • the Halloween theme of the programme would have alerted viewers to the fact that it was likely to contain scary themes and more challenging content
  • the violence in the animated programme was highly unrealistic
  • the programme was preceded by a warning which explicitly referred to "low-level violence"

[20]   Taking into account the contextual factors above, the Authority considers that TVNZ adequately considered the interests of child viewers on this occasion. Accordingly, it finds that Standard 9 was not breached.

Standard 1 (good taste and decency)

[21]   In the Authority's view, the complainant's concerns about the violence in the programme have already been adequately addressed in its consideration of Standard 9 above. Accordingly, it subsumes this part of the complaint into its consideration of the children's interests standard.


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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Joanne Morris
3 May 2007


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

1            S A Osborne's formal complaint – 16 January 2007
2           CanWest's decision on the formal complaint – 27 February 2007
3           S A Osborne's referral to the Authority – 7 March 2007
4           CanWest's response to the Authority – 19 March 2007