BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Williams and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2003-067

Members
  • P Cartwright (Chair)
  • J H McGregor
  • Tapu Misa
  • R Bryant
Dated
Complainant
  • G E Williams
Number
2003-067
Programme
Teachers promo
Channel/Station
TV One

Complaint
Teachers  promo reference to periods, sanitary towels and tampons – offensive

Findings
Standard 1 and Guideline 1a – context – time of broadcast – no uphold

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

[1] A promo for the series Teachers was broadcast during the screening on TV One of the Led Zeppelin concert The Song Remains the Same, which started at 10.30pm on Saturday 5 April 2003.

[2] G E Williams complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the references to periods, sanitary towels and tampons in the promo, broadcast without warning, were offensive.

[3] Initially TVNZ treated the complaint, in error, as an informal one. When it responded to the formal complaint, TVNZ contended that the references were not inherently offensive and, furthermore, had been broadcast more than two hours after the 8.30pm watershed. It declined to uphold the complaint.

[4] Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response, G E Williams 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 video of the programme 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] A promo for the series Teachers was broadcast during the screening on TV One of the Led Zeppelin concert The Song Remains the Same, which started at 10.30pm on Saturday 5 April 2003.

The Complaint

[7] G E Williams complained to TVNZ that the promo, screened during the second commercial break, showed a young schoolgirl telling her teacher that she had just started her periods and did not know whether to use sanitary towels or tampons. G E Williams stated that the promo, broadcast without warning, was "grossly offensive" and considered that TVNZ had failed to maintain community standards of good taste and decency.

The Standard

[8] TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standard 1 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. The Standard and relevant Guideline 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.

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 (see Appendix 1). The examples are not exhaustive.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[9] Although the letter from G E Williams was headed "Formal Complaint", TVNZ’s reply from its "Viewer Correspondence" section did not address the specific matter complained about.

The Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority

[10] G E Williams expressed dissatisfaction that TVNZ’s "stereotype letter" had not considered the specific matter raised in the complaint. A concern about a lack of warning before the broadcast of the promo was emphasised.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[11] TVNZ apologised to the complainant that the complaint had not been addressed through the formal complaints process. The complaint, it said, had now been considered by its Complaints Committee.

[12] TVNZ contended that the references to periods and tampons were not inherently offensive. It argued that the references had been used in the promo complained about to show an episode in Teachers in which pupils intended to embarrass a teacher after he had told some of them that they could ask him anything.

[13] On the basis that the promo was screened at least two hours after the 8.30pm watershed, and that the dialogue complied with current standards of decency and taste, TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint.

The Complainant’s Final Comment

[14] G E Williams noted that a number of programmes broadcast after the 8.30pm watershed included a warning to viewers about such matters as violence and language, which gave viewers a choice as to whether they would view the programme. While it was unrealistic to expect a promo to be preceded with a warning, G E Williams argued that the use of warnings acknowledged that a programme broadcast after the 8.30pm watershed could be offensive. In this instance, G E Williams complained that the promo fell into that category.

The Authority’s Determination

[15] When it determines a complaint that a broadcast contravenes Standard 1 of the Television Code, 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, but does not determine whether the programme breached the standard. Accordingly, the Authority has considered the context in which the promo complained about was broadcast.

[16] Relevant contextual matters on this occasion include the time of broadcast and the ironic way in which the comment was made by the student to the teacher after some pupils had been told they could ask him anything. The Authority does not agree with the complainant that a broadcast which refers, without warning, to sanitary towels and tampons can be regarded as "grossly offensive". In view of these contextual matters, the Authority does not consider that the broadcast breached the Standard 1 requirement for good taste and decency in context.

[17] The complainant expressed concern that his initial letter of complaint, clearly headed "Formal Complaint", was not dealt with by TVNZ as a formal complaint.

[18] TVNZ was unable to explain why the initial complaint had been treated informally. The Authority notes that it had dealt with the complaint appropriately after the matter was drawn to its attention.

[19] The Authority observes that to find a breach of broadcasting standards on this occasion would be to apply 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 above reasons, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Cartwright
Chair
24 July 2003

Appendix

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

  1. G E Williams’ Formal Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 10 April 2003
  2. TVNZ’s Informal Response to the Formal Complaint – 24 April 2003
  3. G E Williams’ Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 4 May 2003
  4. TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint to the Authority – 16 May 2003
  5. G E Williams’s Final Comment – 25 May 2003