Good Taste and Decency as a broadcasting standard PDF106.63 KB (November 2006)
Please note: this practice note was written under the previous codes of broadcasting practice, which apply to programmes broadcast before 1 April 2016. While this practice note is still relevant to informing complainants and broadcasters about the approach the Authority is likely to take under the new codes, in the case of any inconsistency, the new codes will prevail. You can view the new codes here.
The Broadcasting Act 1989 requires broadcasters to maintain standards consistent with the observance of good taste and decency (section 4(1)(a)). This requirement is included in the three main broadcasting codes as follows:
In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are responsible for maintaining standards which are consistent with the observance of good taste and decency.
In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to maintain standards which are consistent with the observance of good taste and decency.
Current norms of good taste and decency should be maintained consistent with the context of each programme and its channel.
The guidelines to all the codes refer to the BSA taking into consideration 'current norms' of good taste and decency. In light of the diversity of New Zealanders' views and attitudes there is no single set of norms that the Authority can mechanically apply to good taste and decency complaints. Instead, informed by its research, the BSA must assess what it considers the relevant current norms in the particular circumstances of each complaint.
For the purposes of broadcasting standards, 'good taste' and 'decency' are not separate concepts; over time, the phrase as a whole has come to have its own meaning. Complaints about good taste and decency generally focus on four main concerns – bad language, sexual material, nudity, and violence.2 The standard is wider than that, however, and the Authority will consider it in relation to any broadcast that portrays or discusses material in a way that is likely to cause offence or distress.
The purpose of this practice note is to provide guidance to complainants and broadcasters about the usual way this standard is interpreted by the BSA.
The free-to-air television programme classifications and their corresponding time zones can be found in Appendix 1 to the Free-to-Air Television Code of Practice.
In G time (6am–9am and 4pm–7pm) programmes should be appropriate for children and free from swearing, sexualised imagery, nudity or realistic violence. During these times, the Authority will apply a strict standard (2001-089).
There is more flexibility in PGR-time (which in the evening runs from 7.00-8.30pm), when programmes might contain infrequent low level swearing, and material more suited to adults – but not necessarily unsuitable for children when subject to the guidance of a parent or other adult. Nevertheless, the Authority expects that broadcasters will exercise care in PGR time (1999-090).
Broadcasters must also exercise care in showing music videos, which are often classified PGR, but which may contain provocative sexual material (2000-192).
While bad language, sexual themes and violence at a low level might be acceptable in PGR time, any overtly sexual material, very coarse or sustained bad language, or explicit violence will likely breach the standard.
News bulletins, although often broadcast during children's normal viewing times, are unclassified. Broadcasters must still comply with the good taste and decency standard, but there is no expectation that bulletins will be suitable for unsupervised children. The effect of this is that the Authority expects parents to supervise children watching the news.
While most people accept that children should be protected from bad language, sexual material and violence, there is no common understanding about the limits of acceptability for adults' viewing. People's expectations differ widely; what causes great offence to some will be barely noticed by others.
The BSA has determined that certain extreme material is unacceptable and in breach of the good taste and decency standard (see below). For all other material, the approach developed by the Authority is to require broadcasters to give viewers sufficient information to regulate their own viewing behaviour. This places a degree of responsibility on viewers to inform themselves about the viewing choices they are making. If viewers have available sufficient information to make an informed choice whether or not to watch the programme then, subject to what is said below about the lines that cannot be crossed, the Authority may be less likely to uphold a complaint that the content breached the standard.
The package of information that guides viewers as to the likely nature of upcoming programmes is part of what the Authority refers to as 'contextual factors'. These factors include:
As well as information provided by the broadcaster about the likely content of the programme, other contextual factors the Authority may consider include:
In each case the Authority must assess the content complained of in light of these contextual factors.
Some material, regardless of the context in which it is offered, may go too far. In some cases the Authority has upheld complaints even when the broadcaster has taken care to advise viewers that the material is likely to cause offence.
The sort of material that may test the limits of the free-to-air television standards includes:
Pay television does not have time bands, and the considerations in determining complaints are accordingly different. Pay television viewers elect to receive a range of mainly niche channels. Special interest programmes – such as children's content – are likely to be carried on specific channels rather than at certain times on general-audience channels as in the free-to-air model. For this reason, the factors the Authority will take into account in assessing whether a pay-television programme breaches standards of good taste and decency include:
As with free-to-air television, there are still lines that cannot be crossed even if all the relevant contextual factors operate in the programme's favour (2004-007 in which a movie on Sky 1, broadcast at 12:30am with an '18' classification was found to have breached the standard because of the combination of sex and violence in one scene).
However, because of the small number of complaints received about pay television, the Authority has not yet had adequate opportunity to determine the similarities or differences in the good taste and decency boundaries in the free-to-air and pay environments.
Radio does not have a classification or time band system, and thus different criteria must be used to assess complaints. The Authority uses two key principles to determine radio complaints alleging a breach of good taste and decency – children's interests, and target audience expectations.
All radio stations should moderate their content at times when children are most likely to be listening – in the morning before school, and immediately after school (2004-217, 2001-071-084). The time of the broadcast will accordingly be an influential contextual factor for the Authority.
Every radio station has a target audience, and the programming on the station is intended to be attractive to that audience. The Authority will accordingly assess the material complained of in light of the station's target audience; a station whose target audience includes children might encounter trouble with overtly sexualised material (2004-217) while a station with an adult target audience may be able to discuss sexual matters more openly (1999-028, and 2005-015).
However, even a station with an adult target audience should exercise care when children are likely to be listening.
The Authority has also previously noted that the liberal expectations of a station's target audience will not excuse material that falls below a certain standard; this is discussed further below.
As with television, there are lines that cannot be crossed. Things that will threaten these bottom lines include:
Recommended further reading:
Freedoms and Fetters: Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand, Broadcasting Standards Authority, Dunmore Publishing Ltd, 2006. Available from the Broadcasting Standards Authority for $19.95.
Disclaimer: Nothing in this Practice Note binds the BSA in determining the outcome of any future complaint. Each complaint is determined on the particular facts surrounding a broadcast
1 Premium channels are those for which a separate and additional fee is payable by subscribers.
2 There is a specific standard relating to violence in the free-to-air code (standard 10) and the pay code (standard p4), as well as a guideline in the radio code (guideline 7c). There may therefore be crossover between the good taste and decency and violence standards.