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Children's Media Watch and Television New Zealand Ltd - 1994-006

Members

  • I W Gallaway (Chair)
  • J R Morris
  • R A Barraclough
  • L M Dawson

Complainant

  • Children's Media Watch of Auckland

Dated

17th February 1994

Number

1994-006

Programme

Shortland Street

Channel/Station

TV2

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Summary

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 7.007.30pm 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.


Decision

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

8.30pm.

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 1525 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

as "PGR".

 

For the reasons set forth above, the Authority declines to uphold the

complaint.


Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Iain Gallaway
Chairperson
17 February 1994

Appendix


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

displays.

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

episodes.

TVNZ wrote:

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

at 7.00pm.

Children's Media Watch's Complaint to the Broadcasting Standards

Authority

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

treatment there.

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.