BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

McBride and Television New Zealand Ltd - 1996-029

  • J M Potter (Chair)
  • A Martin
  • L M Loates
  • R McLeod
  • Michelle McBride
Shortland Street

In the episode of Shortland Street broadcast on TV2 on 27 November 1995 at 7.00pm,

a character was shown simulating self-mutilation as part of an item in his school talent

quest. In addition, the storyline over a number of episodes in November culminated in

one of the female characters confronting the father of her child because he had raped


Ms McBride complained that the incident featuring the young man was inappropriate for

broadcast at a time when children would be watching because they would not have been

able to understand the nuances. With respect to the female character's treatment of her

daughter's father, Ms McBride considered that the incident was given a sexist

interpretation because the male character's reaction was implausible.

TVNZ reminded Ms McBride that the episodes were broadcast in PGR time and that the

programme was not intended for young children. Referring to the incident at the school

talent quest, TVNZ maintained that in the context of the long-running story line the

incident did not breach the good taste standard. Turning to the suggestion that the rape

issue discriminated against the male character, TVNZ responded that it did not believe

the treatment of the character was unfair or discriminatory and declined to uphold any

aspect of the complaint. Dissatisfied with that decision, Ms McBride 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 declines to uphold the complaint.


The members of the Authority have viewed the episodes complained about and have

read the correspondence (summarised in the Appendix). As is its practice, the Authority

determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

An episode of Shortland Street broadcast on TV2 on 27 November 1995 included a

scene in which a young man simulated self-mutilation during a performance at his

school's talent quest. Another storyline broadcast during November involved the

reuniting of a character with her birth father and the revelation that he had raped her


Ms McBride complained to Television New Zealand Ltd that the talent quest scene

breached the good taste standard and was unsuitable for broadcast at a time when

children would be watching. She also complained that the discussion of the rape issue

breached the standard which obliges broadcasters to avoid discriminating against or

denigrating people.

TVNZ reported that it had assessed the complaint under the nominated standards of the

Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. Those standards require broadcasters:

            G2        To take into consideration currently accepted norms of decency          

                        and taste in language and behaviour, bearing in mind the context       

                        in which any language or behaviour occurs.

            G4        To deal justly and fairly with any person taking part or referred to in

                        any programme.

            G8        To abide by the classification codes and their appropriate time bands as

                        outlined in the agreed criteria for programme classifications.

            G12      To be mindful of the effect any programme may have on children       

                        during their normally accepted viewing times.

            G13      To avoid portraying people in a way which represents as inherently

                         inferior, or is likely to encourage discrimination against, any section of

                         the community on account of sex, race, age, disability, occupation

                        status, sexual orientation or the holding of any religious, cultural or

                        political belief. This requirement is not intended to prevent the

                        broadcast of material which is:

                                    i)          factual, or

                                    ii)         the expression of genuinely-held opinion in a news or

                                                current affairs programme, or

                                    iii)         in the legitimate context of a humorous, satirical or

                                                dramatic work.

The talent quest scene

Responding first to the complaint about the incident in the talent quest, TVNZ noted that

the scene was the culmination of a long-running story line concerning a character whose

father had recently died accidentally and whose mother had started dating one of the

doctors in the clinic. His performance, loosely based on a scene in Hamlet, was

designed to shock and embarrass his mother. TVNZ argued that because it was quickly

obvious that it was part of a theatrical performance, it did not breach broadcasting


The Authority has previously declined to uphold complaints concerning this scene. In

Decision Nos: 1996-023 and 1996-024, where the complainants argued that the scene

breached standards of good taste and decency and aspects of the violence code, the

Authority wrote:

The Authority acknowledges that the series is targeted towards a relatively

sophisticated young adult audience which is familiar with the media and

theatrical techniques, and for whom the scene complained about would not have

been disturbing.

The Authority repeats that the series is not intended for younger viewers and its PGR

classification recognises that the material, while more suited for adult audiences, is not

necessarily unsuitable for child viewers when subject to the guidance of a parent or


The rape issue

TVNZ rejected the complaint that the rape issue was misused and the main character

was unfairly treated. It considered that the allegation of rape and the subsequent

acknowledgement by the character Ryan that Ellen's recollections of the night were

accurate, were both difficult issues which were handled sensitively and in a balanced

manner. It did not believe that Ryan was discriminated against or represented as

inferior, noting that he was portrayed as a caring father to his daughter and was equally

caring in his current romantic relationship with Grace. It also noted that the series is

classified as PGR and was aimed at a young adult audience.

The Authority decides that standard G4 which deals with the fair treatment of people,

does not apply to drama and is therefore inapplicable. It also declines to uphold the

complaint that standard G13 is breached, noting that there is a specific exemption under

subsection (iii) which applies to drama.

With respect to the complaint that the material was unsuitable for children, the Authority

decides that the series is correctly classified as PGR and that parents have to bear the

responsibility for ensuring that unsupervised children are not watching a programme

which is directed at a young adult audience. It declines to uphold the complaints under

standards G8 and G12.

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


Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Judith Potter


21 March 1996


Michelle McBride's Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd 
– 28 November 1996

Ms McBride of Rotorua complained to Television New Zealand Ltd that its broadcast of

an incident in Shortland Street on 27 November 1995 breached broadcasting standards.

In her view, the incident where the character James abused himself and his mother was

unsuitable for child viewers and breached the standard relating to good taste and


Ms McBride was also concerned with the coverage of the rape issue in previous

episodes and what she described as the unfair treatment of the male character. She

considered that standard G13 was breached. She wrote:

            Adults are aware of most "soap opera" absurdities but children can interpret

            them more seriously, missing some elements and taking in others, and I think

            it is obvious Shortland Street producers are indifferent to this possibility and

            don't really care if adverse aspects are perceived.

In Ms McBride's view, the PGR classification did not excuse excessive behaviour and

she suggested that more attention be given to the Shortland Street by TVNZ because

some of the storylines were not suitable for viewing before 8.30pm.

TVNZ's Response to the Formal Complaint – 19 December 1995

TVNZ first noted that Shortland Street was broadcast in PGR time and as such was not

unsuitable for child viewers when subject to the guidance of a parent or adult.

Referring first to the scene in which the character James Thornton performed a graphic

scenario loosely based on Hamlet, TVNZ provided some of the background to the

incident. In an earlier episode, James's father had died following a fall from the roof of

his home. James's anger was directed at his mother who had seemed unmoved by the

death of her husband and in retaliation he planned to shock her by his performance in

the school concert. Apparently, his act achieved the desired effect of embarrassing his


TVNZ did not consider that James's on-stage performance transgressed the bounds of

good taste and decency. It observed that his intention was to shock and embarrass his

mother and this was readily achieved with his theatrical performance. Further, it

considered that the manner in which the issue was approached meant that it complied

with the PGR classification code. As for being mindful of the effect on children, TVNZ

repeated that the classification indicated that the content required parental guidance and

was not intended for young children. However, it did not consider that the scene would

have had any effect on children who were watching.

Referring to the other story line in which Ellen was forced to relive the circumstances

under which her daughter was conceived, TVNZ advised that it failed to see how the

treatment of Minnie's father was unfair or discriminatory. He was not represented as

inferior and was not discriminated against because of his former treatment of Ellen. It


            This is a story about the past bringing past pain into the healing light of day

            and moving on with life. In our opinion it was a difficult issue handled

            sensitively and in a balanced manner. We do not believe "adverse effects were

            perceived" in the treatment of this particular story. A large number of issues

            have been dealt with over the years and in each case the subjects have been

            tackled discreetly, fairly and in a balanced manner resulting in Shortland Street

            earning widespread praise for its handling of social issues.

TVNZ advised that no aspects of the complaint were upheld.

Ms McBride's Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority 
– 7 January 1996

Dissatisfied with TVNZ's response, Ms McBride referred her complaint to the

Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. She

expressed her dissatisfaction with TVNZ's claim that Shortland Street was a legitimate

drama which dealt with personal and social issues seriously.

With respect to the James Thornton character, she repeated that in her view the scenario

was inappropriate for a programme screened before 8.30pm because of the possibility

that children would not have parental guidance. In her view it was inappropriate to

expose children to the subject matter unless its meaning was carefully explained by an

older person.

Regarding what she called the misuse of the rape scene and the unfair treatment of the

male character, Ms McBride asserted that the response of other characters to Ryan

(Minnie's father) was sexist because in reality he would have been justifiably angry

towards such outrageous behaviour against him. She added:

            With such inconsistency among the characters you can hardly say Shortland

            Street is really legitimate drama or life-like in an acceptable way, especially

            in these episodes.

TVNZ's Response to the Authority – 30 January 1996

Responding first to the complaint about the talent quest incident, TVNZ explained that

the use of the scene from Hamlet was appropriate because it portrayed Hamlet

despairing over his mother's behaviour after his father had died. TVNZ pointed out that

Shortland Street viewers would have known the circumstances of James's father's

death and that he was deeply hurt by the behaviour of his mother. It added:

The Hamlet extract provided a literary parallel through which James could

indicate his feelings to his mother, while the wielding of the knife added the

shock factor through which he clearly hoped to reach his mother.

TVNZ drew attention to the extreme brevity of the sequence and the fact that James's

mother appeared not to be taken in by it. It did not believe that it breached programme


Turning to the second aspect of the complaint which concerned the issue of the rape of

one of the characters, TVNZ advised that it had nothing further to add to its earlier

comment and repeated that it did not believe the character Ryan had been unfairly

discriminated against. It observed:

            In our view [this complaint] suggests a matter of viewer preference rather than

            a serious concern about programme standards. We can understand that Ms

            McBride may not like the way a particular theme develops in Shortland Street

            – we all have our likes and dislikes when it comes to television viewing. Not

            liking a storyline is not the same thing as identifying a breach of programme


            Section 5(c) of the Broadcasting Act says that complaints based merely on a

            complainant's preferences are not, in general, capable of being resolved by a

            complaints procedure.

In addition to supplying a tape of 6 episodes, TVNZ provided the Authority with parts

of the working script of Shortland Street to show the development of the storyline.

Ms McBride's Final Comment – 14 February 1996

In her brief final comment, Ms McBride repeated that she was seriously concerned

about programme standards and what was appropriate for family viewing. She

considered that the scriptwriters of Shortland Street had devised a script which was not

suitable for family viewing and was unnecessarily disturbing.

She asked that the Authority view the tapes as well as read the scripts which were

provided by TVNZ.