BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Salas and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2005-074

Members
  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
Dated
Complainant
  • Dame Laurie Salas
Number
2005-074
Channel/Station
TV One

Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Seven Periods with Mr Gormsby – comedy series about a politically incorrect relief teacher – teacher threatened to sodomise a pupil – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency

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

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1] In an episode of Seven Periods with Mr Gormsby, a comedy series about a politically incorrect teacher in a New Zealand school, the main character threatened to sodomise a pupil if he refused to name which of his classmates had drawn a crude cartoon on the blackboard. The episode screened on TV One at 9.35pm on 6 May 2005.

Complaint

[2] Dame Laurie Salas complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the scene was not something a viewer would expect in “supposedly responsible” television. Dame Laurie noted that the boy had limped back to his seat, and was obviously terrorised by the teacher and distressed by his actions.

[3] The complainant contended that this portrayal of threatened sexual connection was unacceptable, especially in the current climate of concern about the sexual abuse of children.

Standards

[4] TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standards 1 and 9 and Guideline 1a of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. They 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.

Guideline 1a

Broadcasters must take into consideration current norms of decency and taste in language and behaviour bearing in mind the context in which any language or behaviour occurs. Examples of context are the time of the broadcast, the type of programme, the target audience, the use of warnings and the programme’s classification. The examples are not exhaustive.

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

[5] In its response to the complainant, TVNZ noted that the style of humour employed in the programme was not to everyone’s liking. It contended that Seven Periods with Mr Gormsby was a satirical programme which poked fun at the modern tendency towards political correctness.

[6] TVNZ contended that the scene complained about was a joke at the expense of the popular perception about disciplinarian school teachers of Mr Gormsby’s ilk. Referring to Guideline 1a of Standard 1 (good taste and decency), TVNZ noted that the programme was broadcast at 9.35pm and was rated AO. Further, it had been preceded by the following warning, delivered both visually and verbally:

This programme is rated adults only. It contains sex scenes, material and language that may offend some people.

[7] In TVNZ’s view, the programme’s satirical nature was also a contextual factor. It argued that satire was an important part of literature and television, and it was broadcast in accordance with the principle of freedom of expression. TVNZ concluded that Standard 1 was not breached.

[8] Referring to Standard 9 (children’s interests), TVNZ maintained that this standard was not relevant because the programme was broadcast outside of “children’s normally accepted viewing times”. It had been accompanied by many indications, such as its AO classification and a warning, that the content was not suitable for children.

Referral to the Authority

[9] Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Dame Laurie referred her complaint to the Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. She maintained that the item was in breach of good taste and decency, but did not refer a complaint about Standard 9 to the Authority.

[10] Dame Laurie contended that many teenagers would have watched the programme because it was shown on a Friday night and was about a school. Irrespective of whether it had been watched by young people, Dame Laurie considered that standards of decency were breached by portraying a realistic threat of sodomy. She observed that Mr Gormsby’s actions could have been construed as indecent assault in real life.

[11] Noting that TVNZ’s response had explained at length the nature of satire, Dame Laurie maintained that a graphic portrayal of sexual bullying within the classroom was not within the scope of satire.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[12] In its response to the Authority, TVNZ noted the complainant’s comment that the scene was not within the scope of satire. It questioned whether there should be such a limitation on the use of satire, and did not consider that the scene was “graphic”.

Complainant’s Final Comment

[13] In her final submission, Dame Laurie maintained that the scene was graphic. She contended that satire should evoke “amused approval”, and argued that this scene did not do so. The complainant wrote that the segment was “gross, and entirely inappropriate in today’s climate of abhorrence of all forms of sexual abuse”.

Authority's Determination

[14] The members of the Authority have viewed a tape of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.  The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

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

  • the time of the broadcast, at 9.35pm
  • the adult target audience
  • the AO classification of the programme
  • the visual and verbal warning given prior to the programme
  • the satirical nature of Seven Periods with Mr Gormsby.

[16] The Authority considers that the programme contained challenging material, and agrees with TVNZ that the style of humour employed in the episode may not have been to everyone’s liking. However, taking the above contextual factors into account, the Authority considers that standards of good taste and decency were not breached on this occasion.

[17] The Authority acknowledges the complainant’s concern that, in the current climate of anxiety about the sexual abuse of children, satirising the threatened sodomy of a student by a teacher was inappropriate. However, it is not the role of the Authority to limit those topics to which satire may be applied, as this would run the risk of unjustifiably infringing the right to freedom of expression.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
18 August 2005

Appendix

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

  1. Dame Laurie Salas’ formal complaint – 2 June 2005
  2. TVNZ’s decision on the formal complaint – 21 June 2005
  3. Dame Laurie Salas’ referral to the Authority – 24 June 2005
  4. TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 29 June 2005
  5. Dame Laurie Salas’ final comment – 6 July 2005