BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Taylor and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2006-067

Members
  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
Dated
Complainant
  • Dr Alistair Taylor
Number
2006-067
Programme
Bodies
Channel/Station
TV One

Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Medical drama series Bodies – scene involving woman giving birth and then having difficulty delivering placenta – woman’s genitals explicitly shown – allegedly 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] Bodies is a medical drama series set in the obstetric and gynaecological ward of a fictional English hospital. The episode screened on TV One on 9 May 2006 at 9.30pm commenced with the story of a woman giving birth. Following the birth scenes, the woman was shown lying on her back with her legs elevated in stirrups, awaiting the delivery of the placenta. When the placenta was eventually delivered, the woman suffered a uterine inversion, whereby the uterus is literally turned inside-out and appears outside the vagina.

[2] On a number of occasions throughout these scenes, that lasted in total around six and a half minutes, the woman’s genitalia were clearly visible.

Complaint

[3] Dr Alistair Taylor complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the pictures of the woman’s genitalia while in the birthing position went “well beyond the bounds” of good taste and decency. Dr Taylor stated that he was an experienced physician, but thought these pictures were “wholly unsuitable” for public viewing.

Standards

[4] TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standard 1 (good taste and decency) of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. That standard provides:

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.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[5] TVNZ did not uphold the complaint. It noted that although in his letter of complaint Dr Taylor had referred to the 30 May episode, the scenes complained about actually occurred in the series opening broadcast on 9 May. It assessed the complaint on the basis that it was in fact the 9 May episode to which Dr Taylor intended to refer.

[6] TVNZ stated that Bodies was written by a former medical doctor who had wanted to reflect the “gritty realities that [he] encountered in [his] working life as a doctor”. The intent of the series, TVNZ argued, was to get behind the scenes and to dispel the idea that working in hospital wards such as this one was glamorous, exciting or romantic. If the story had been told without the explicit detail complained of, TVNZ concluded, it would have blurred the reality, which was just what the writer was trying not to do.

[7] TVNZ also noted that the woman’s genitalia were not portrayed in a voyeuristic or sexual context; the scene was a strictly medical one, “devoid of prurience”. TVNZ also noted that the programme was a work of fiction, and the scene was shot using actors and plastic look-alike models of the placenta and uterus.

[8] TVNZ noted that the broadcast commenced at 9.30pm, an hour after the adults only watershed, it was classified AO 9.30, and it was preceded by a strong verbal and visual warning. The warning stated:

This episode of Bodies on One is rated Adults Only and is recommended for a mature audience. It contains medical and surgical scenes that may disturb, and sexual material and language that may offend some people.

[9] TVNZ also noted that this was the second season of Bodies screened in New Zealand, and considered that many viewers would have been aware of the nature of the series through having seen the earlier programmes. In light of all these factors, TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[10] Dr Taylor was dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response, and referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. Dr Taylor made no further substantive submissions in his referral.

Authority's Determination

[11] 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.

[12] As a preliminary point, the Authority notes that Dr Taylor has referred, in both his formal complaint and his referral to the Authority, to the episode screened on 30 May. It is apparent from TVNZ’s response – and from the recordings supplied by TVNZ – that the scenes about which Dr Taylor is concerned were broadcast on 9 May. For this reason, the Authority determines the complaint based on the episode of 9 May.

[13] When the Authority determines a complaint alleging a breach of good taste and decency, it is required to take into account the context in which the programme was broadcast. In the present case, there are a number of contextual factors in favour of not upholding the complaint, in that the programme was:

  • broadcast at 9:30pm, an hour after the adults only watershed
  • classified AO
  • preceded by a very strong verbal and visual warning, including a reference to “medical and surgical scenes that may disturb”.

[14] Further, the woman’s genitalia were shown in a medical context devoid of sexual or prurient interest. Although the shots had a strong visual impact, they were part of a hard-hitting and traumatic scene involving birth complications, and were integral to the storyline rather than gratuitous or designed to titillate.

[15] While it accepts that the images would have been disturbing to some viewers, the Authority considers that in the context in which they were shown, the images did not breach the requirement for good taste and decency.

 

For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
19 September 2006

Appendix

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

  1. Dr Alistair Taylor’s formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 4 June 2006
  2. TVNZ’s response to the formal complaint – 29 June 2006
  3. Dr Taylor’s referral to the Authority – 6 July 2006
  4. TVNZ’s response to the referral – 17 July 2006