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Providing medical treatment to a prostitutes' collective, questioning Polynesian family
values and the formation of a gay relationship were among the matters dealt with in the
episode of Shortland Street broadcast on Friday 19 November. Shortland Street, a fictional
series which tries to reflect dramatically the reality of life in a medical centre, is broadcast
by Channel Two between 7.00–7.30pm every Monday to Friday.
The President of Children's Media Watch (Ms Betty Gilderdale) complained to Television
New Zealand Ltd about some of the attitudes and values portrayed in the series. Observing
that the series was aimed at young people, she said the material gave a distorted view of
life and should not be broadcast before 8.30pm.
Explaining that the programme was rated as "PGR" and had been broadcast in "PGR" time,
TVNZ maintained that the issues had been dealt with in a balanced, responsible and
sensitive manner. Dissatisfied with TVNZ's response, Ms Gilderdale, on behalf of Children's
Media Watch, referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under
s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
For the reasons given below, the Authority declined to uphold the complaint.
The members of the Authority have viewed the item complained about and have read the
correspondence (summarised in the Appendix). As is its practice, the Authority has
determined the complaint without a formal hearing.
Explaining that its research showed that children as young as standard 2 were watching
the series, the President of Children's Media Watch (Ms Betty Gilderdale) complained to
TVNZ about the attitudes and values disclosed in the episode of Shortland Street broadcast
at 7.00pm on Friday 19 November. That episode, Ms Gilderdale stated, discussed whether
a prostitutes' collective should receive medical treatment from the centre and revealed that
one of the staff had been a prostitute. In addition, a couple who had decided not to marry
were urged to ignore strong Polynesian family values and two other characters were seen
to consider forming a gay relationship. That material showed an "extraordinarily
distorted" view of New Zealand and should not, Ms Gilderdale urged, be shown before
TVNZ stated that the programme had a "PGR" classification (Parental Guidance
Recommended) and was broadcast in "PGR" time. The episode complained about, as did the
entire series, reflected talking points in society. While the issues were dealt with in a
drama series, nevertheless, TVNZ continued, they were covered in a "sensitive", "balanced"
and "unbiased" manner. The episode complained about had not, it added, breached
standard G12 of the Television Codes of Broadcasting Practice which requires broadcasters:
G12 To be mindful of the effect any programme may have on children during
their normally accepted viewing times.
TVNZ argued that the specific issues discussed in episode 390 of Shortland Street broadcast
on 19 November reflected the sort of reality encountered by people daily.
When she referred the group's complaint to the Authority, Ms Gilderdale disputed TVNZ's
claim that the series reflected life in a balanced way. Instead, she wrote, it was obsessed
with the sex lives of the staff at the medical clinic. She added that as the series was set in a
medical clinic, it could and should deal with medical issues such as courage, dedication and
service to the community.
In its response to the Authority, TVNZ said that the target audience was 15–25 year-olds
and it denied that the series was obsessed with the sex lives of the clinic's staff. Listing some
of the issues tackled, TVNZ said that Shortland Street covered both the professional and
personal lives of a closely-knit group of workers in a way which had received praise from a
range of critics and educationalists.
The complaint specifically referred to the episode of Shortland Street broadcast on 19
November and, as required by the Broadcasting Act when considering the complaint, the
Authority has focussed primarily on that particular broadcast. Nevertheless, as both the
complainant and broadcaster have referred to the series of which episode 390 was a part,
the Authority, to the point it is relevant, has also examined the issues raised in the context
of the series.
When considering the issues dealt with in both episode 390 and the series more broadly,
the Authority was not prepared to agree that this episode disclosed an obsession with the
characters' sex lives. Rather, it considered that the series explored the characters' personal
and family relationships and dealt with contemporary social issues. On the whole, the
Authority agreed with TVNZ that the matters discussed reflected contemporary society.
Moreover with respect to episode 390, it accepted that those matters were dealt with
responsibly and sensibly. For example, as in the series generally, the Authority believed
that the way racial matters were treated indicated that positive values were advanced.
As for the complaint that the material should have been broadcast after 8.30pm – in effect
classified as "AO" (Adults Only) rather than "PGR" – the Authority took into account that
the programme generally advanced positive values (which has included a number of
discussions about family values) and at the same time has dealt with possibly controversial
issues in a reasonably subtle way.
Overall, the Authority accepted TVNZ's argument that the episode complained about dealt
with different aspects of the lives of the characters portrayed, albeit dramatically, but in a
manner which paid due regard for and complied with the programme's "PGR"
classification. Accordingly, the Authority decided, episode 390 had been correctly classified
For the reasons set forth above, the Authority declines to uphold the
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
17 February 1994
Children's Media Watch's Complaint to Television New Zealand Limited
In a letter dated 29 November 1993, the President of Children's Media Watch (Ms Betty
Gilderdale) complained to Television New Zealand Ltd about the episode of Shortland Street
broadcast on Channel Two at 7.00pm on Friday 19 November.
Commenting that Media Watch research disclosed that the programme was watched by
children in standard 2 and that in general the audience was under 16 years of age, Ms
Gilderdale said that her group had been concerned for some time about the attitudes and
values portrayed in the series. The programme on 19 November had included a discussion
about whether a prostitutes' collective should receive medical treatment from the centre
and one of the staff had revealed that she had been a prostitute. In addition, a young
couple were urged to ignore strong Polynesian family values. Moreover, two characters
began a gay relationship.
Ms Gilderdale wrote:
We submit that this sort of material which shows an extraordinarily distorted view
of New Zealand life, should not be shown at this hour, and that "Shortland Street"
should either be moved to after 8.30pm or the script writers should be urged to
offer more wholesome material in view of the young viewing audience.
TVNZ's Response to the Formal Complaint
TVNZ advised Children's Media Watch of its Complaints Committee's decision in a letter
dated 13 December 1993. It reported that the complaint had been considered under
standard G12 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice which requires broadcasters
to be mindful of the effect of programmes on children during their normal viewing times.
Noting that the programme had a "PGR" rating and had been broadcast during "PGR"
time, TVNZ said that the issues developed in episode 390 of Shortland Street reflected
talking points in contemporary society. It continued:
While the issues are discussed in the context of a television drama series, they are
nonetheless dealt with in a sensitive and balanced fashion and the producers go to
great lengths to ensure that both sides of each debate are traversed in an unbiased
fashion - and with due regard for the time at which the programme is shown.
Many issues are dealt with discreetly and often by implication rather than by overt
TVNZ described the issue about medical treatment for the prostitutes' collective as an
important health issue which, it said, had been handled in a non-condemnatory and
unbiased manner. The second story line involved a classic relationship question set in
contemporary New Zealand and the character's emerging awareness of his homosexuality
had been, as had all the story lines, slowly developed and explored over a number of
The [Complaints] Committee noted that "Shortland Street" has been widely praised
by a diverse audience as well as by critics and educationalists. It handles a very
difficult brief - that of reflecting today's society in a balanced, responsible and
sensitive manner. Far from presenting a distorted view of New Zealand it in fact
reflects the sort of reality encountered in the news media every day. To ignore the
existence of sex workers, and to fail to recognise the impetuousness of young love
both heterosexual and homosexual is surely to perpetuate the very bigotry and
discrimination that a programme like "Shortland Street" can so sensitively diffuse?
It expressed the opinion in conclusion that the content was not unsuitable for PGR viewing
Children's Media Watch's Complaint to the Broadcasting Standards
Dissatisfied with TVNZ's reply, in a letter dated 4 January 1994, Ms Gilderdale on the
Group's behalf referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under
s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
Repeating the group's concern about the values portrayed to the large number of children
who watched the programme, Ms Gilderdale maintained that it was an unsuitable
programme for screening in family viewing time. In response to TVNZ's claim that the
series reflected life in a balanced way, Ms Gilderdale stated that the series was obsessed with
the sex lives of the staff at the Shortland Street medical centre. She continued:
In a medical centre there would be ample opportunity to see courage, dedication
and service to the community, but very little of these aspects of medical work are
seen in the series. Far from reflecting the sterling work and high principles of
medical staff in almost all medical centres in New Zealand, the script of "Shortland
Street" ensures that most people would run a mile rather than sign up for medical
Describing the series as unbalanced, she argued that it should be broadcast at a later hour.
TVNZ's Response to the Authority
As is its practice, the Authority sought the broadcaster's response to the complaint. Its
letter is dated 10 January 1994 and TVNZ's reply, 21 January.
Beginning by repeating that the programme was broadcast in PGR time and had a PGR
certificate, TVNZ disputed the series was obsessed with the sex lives of the characters
portrayed. While dealing with the professional live of the centre's staff, it also dealt with
the gossip among a closely-knit group of workers. The target audience, it added, was
primarily 15 - 25 year olds.
TVNZ expressed disagreement with the complainant's comment that the series did not
portray service to the community and listed a number of recent examples of such
behaviour. Indeed, TVNZ wrote:
It should be remembered that "Shortland Street" is a private clinic where patients
pay for their treatment and service. This reflects the reality of medical treatment in
urban New Zealand at the moment. The issue of selfless dedication to community
service versus cost and profitability is at the heart of the medical debate across the
country. "Shortland Street" has frequently portrayed stories and characters caught
in the middle of this argument.
Children's Media Watch's Final Comment to the Authority
When asked to comment on TVNZ's response, in a letter received on 7 February 1994, Ms
Gilderdale maintained that the broadcaster had not dealt with the group's central
complaint. That was, she continued, that prostitution and homosexuality were
inappropriate matters for a drama screened in family viewing time. She added:
Script writers of continuing "soaps" need to be particularly aware of their
responsibilities, as parents may have watched some episodes which are relatively
innocuous and then allow their child to watch the series, unaware that much more
questionable material may be shown in different episodes. This organisation would
be very much happier if "Shortland Street" could confine itself to material which
could warrant a "G" classification.