BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Stevenson and SKY Network Television Ltd - 2002-086

Members
  • P Cartwright (Chair)
  • J H McGregor
  • R Bryant
Dated
Complainant
  • J F Stevenson
Number
2002-086
Channel/Station
SKY Movies

Complaint
The Mating Habits of the Earthbound Human film – unsuitable for children – 7.00pm

Findings
Standard S2 – context – similar to Shortland Street broadcast at same time – no uphold

Standards S20 and S23 – film unlikely to attract young children – not normal viewing time for young children alone – no uphold

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

[1] The Mating Habits of the Earthbound Human was screened on the Sky Movie Channel at 7.00pm on 14 January 2002. The film dealt with human sexuality from the perspective of an alien and the mating habits are narrated in the style of a wildlife documentary.

[2] J F Stevenson complained to Sky Network Television Ltd, the broadcaster, that given the contents of the film, it was screened at an inappropriate time.

[3] In response, Sky said that the film was not explicit and, moreover, it endorsed traditional values. It declined to uphold the complaint.

[4] Dissatisfied with Sky’s decision, Mr Stevenson referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

For the reasons below, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Decision

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

The Programme

[6] The film The Mating Habits of the Earthbound Human was broadcast on the Sky Movie Channel at 7.00pm on 14 January 2002. The film approaches the issue of human sexuality from the perspective of an alien and the mating habits are narrated in the style of a wildlife documentary.

The Complaint

[7] Mr Stevenson complained that it was inappropriate to screen a film classified M (Suitable for Mature Audiences) at 7.00pm. He pointed out that young people could view the film, especially as it was broadcast during the school holidays.

The Standards

[8] The broadcaster assessed the complaint against Standard S2 of the Standard Code of Broadcasting Practice for Subscription Television. It requires broadcasters:

S2  To take into consideration currently accepted norms of decency and taste in language and behaviour, bearing in mind the context in which any language or behaviour occurs.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[9] Sky pointed out the film dealt with courtship in the same way that human beings studied the mating rituals of animals in the wild. It described the film as a "mockumentary" in which the commentator incorrectly interpreted events. Sky added:

Human sexuality is clearly the subject of this film, but the content is not explicit or indecent. The more "adult" aspects of courtship and love are referred to obliquely, as the narrator misinterprets events in a dry, scientific manner. Although certain sexual "rituals" are suggested, they are never referred to directly, and are always couched in the humourless language and context of a wildlife documentary. Visually, the movie is not explicit.

The film also seems to endorse traditional values. For example, the couple take their time to get to know each other, practice safe sex, get HIV tests, are faithful to each other, and ultimately marry. By today’s standards, the couple act in a moral, responsible way.

[10] As the content was not explicit and as the characters adhered to old fashioned values, Sky maintained that standard S2 was not contravened. Furthermore, it advised that it did not intend to screen the film again.

The Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority

[11] Mr Stevenson referred the complaint to the Authority as he was not satisfied with Sky’s response.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[12] Sky repeated the reasons given to Mr Stevenson for not upholding the complaint. The rating "M", it noted, accorded with the classification assigned by the Film and Video Labelling Body.

The Complainant’s Final Comment

[13] In his final comment, Mr Stevenson emphasised that his complaint focused on the fact that it was screened at 7.00pm during the school holidays. Sky, he argued, had acted irresponsibly by screening the film at that time.

The Broadcaster’s Further Response to the Authority

[14] When it examined Mr Stevenson’s complaint initially, the Authority considered that Sky had interpreted the complaint too restrictively. Mr Stevenson stated explicitly that 7.00pm was not, in his opinion, a suitable hour for screening the programme as young people could well have been viewers at that time.

[15] Accordingly, the Authority asked Sky to assess the complaint under standards S20 and S23 of the Subscription Code. Pursuant to these provisions, broadcasters acknowledge:

S20  That programmes screened during children’s normally accepted viewing times should be acceptable for them.

S23  That they will bear in mind the effect any programme might have on children during their generally accepted viewing periods.

[16] In response to the Authority’s request, Sky said that the film contained adult themes, but contended that early evening programmes often dealt with adult themes. It maintained that this was acceptable provided that the material was neither graphic nor explicit. It repeated its argument that the film promoted traditional values and healthy attitudes, and said it did not believe that either standard has been breached.

The Complainant’s Further Response

[17] In his response to these remarks, Mr Stevenson reiterated his contention that screening the programme at a time when it might be seen by young people was "a gross error of judgement".

The Authority’s Determination

[18] When it determines a complaint about whether a broadcast contravenes Standard S2, the Authority is required to determine whether the material complained about breaches currently accepted standards of good taste and decency, taking into account the context of the broadcast. The context is relevant to but not determinative of whether the programme breaches Standard S2. Accordingly, the Authority has considered the context of the film.

[19] In view of the focus on the time of the screening, the Authority finds it helpful to compare The Mating Habits of the Earthbound Human with Shortland Street. Shortland Street is shown on TV2, a free-to-air channel, between 7.00–7.30pm each weekday and for an hour on Monday nights and presents similar contextual issues. The Authority has been required on a number of occasions to determine complaints as to whether the material contained in Shortland Street is inappropriate for screening at 7.00pm. In Decision No: 2002-074–075 (13 June 2002), for example, the Authority viewed 11 consecutive days of Shortland Street broadcast in December 2001, and thus it is familiar with the recent material advanced in that series.

[20] When determining complaints about Shortland Street, the Authority takes cognisance of the rating for programmes on free-to-air television which begin at 7.00pm. The rating is PGR – Parental Guidance Recommended – which reads:

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

[21] While the PGR classification does not apply to subscription television, the Authority considers, first, that, given the style and manner of presentation used, the film would not have been likely to attract young viewers on their own. Second, the Authority finds that the adult themes in The Mating Habits of the Earthbound Human, and likewise in Shortland Street, are dealt with in a similar way in that there is more discussion rather than explicit visuals. It is of the opinion that the film does not breach the standard S2 relating to good taste and decency when viewed under the guidance of a parent.

[22] As Sky acknowledged, The Mating Habits of the Earthbound Human included adult themes. The Authority notes that the method of presentation was allegorical and considers that many younger viewers might not understand the purpose of the film. It also considers that many children may well have found the so-called scientific style unappealing to them.

[23] The Authority concludes that the broadcast did not breach the specific provisions in the Code relating to children. It reaches this conclusion on the basis that 7.00pm is not a generally accepted viewing time for young children to watch television alone and, in addition, it does not regard this film as one which would be attractive to children.

[24] The Authority observes that to find a breach of broadcasting standards on this occasion would be to interpret the Broadcasting Act 1989 in such a way as to limit freedom of expression in a manner which is not reasonable or demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society (s.5 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990). As required by s.6 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, the Authority adopts an interpretation of the relevant standards which it considers is consistent with and gives full weight to the provisions of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Cartwright
Chair
20 June 2002

Appendix

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

  1. Jim Stevenson’s Complaint to Sky Network Television Ltd – 15 January 2002
  2. Sky’s Response to Mr Stevenson – 4 February 2002
  3. Mr Stevenson’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 7 February 2002
  4. Sky’s Response to the Authority – 8 March 2002
  5. Mr Stevenson’s Final Comment – 13 March 2002
  6. Sky’s Further Response to the Authority – 17 May 2002
  7. Mr Stevenson’s Further Final Comment – 31 May 2002