BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

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Campbell and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2015-091 (1 March 2016)

  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Paula Rose QSO
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Don Campbell
Radio New Zealand Ltd
Radio New Zealand National


[This summary does not form part of the decision.]

Storytime featured a series of readings from the Margaret Mahy novel The Catalogue of the Universe. The Authority upheld a complaint that the young adult novel featured content unsuitable for younger listeners and should not have been broadcast during Storytime. The story featured teenage drinking and sexual activity which were not appropriate for child listeners and would not have been within audience expectations of this timeslot, which has long been understood to feature stories aimed at younger children.

Upheld: Responsible Programming

No Order


[1]  Storytime featured a reading of Margaret Mahy’s The Catalogue of the Universe, a young adult novel about the evolving relationship between two teenagers.

[2]  Don Campbell complained about the scheduling of a young adult novel in the Storytime segment, as he argued the novel featured sexual and other content that was unsuitable for younger listeners.

[3]  The issue is whether the broadcast breached the responsible programming standard as set out in the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice. Mr Campbell’s complaint appeared to relate to the entire series of readings of The Catalogue of the Universe, broadcast in 10 parts from 22 August 2015 to 20 September 2015. However, as he identified specific content only from parts 7, 8 and 10 in his complaint (all broadcast on 20 September 2015), we have focused our determination accordingly.

[4]  The programme was broadcast on Radio New Zealand National at 6.15am on Sunday 20 September 2015. The members of the Authority have listened to a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

Did the broadcast breach the responsible programming standard?

[5]  The responsible programming standard (Standard 8) requires broadcasters to ensure that programme information and content is socially responsible. Guideline 8a to the responsible programming standard states that broadcasters should be mindful of the effect any programme content may have on children during their normally accepted listening times, such as before and after school and on weekends.

[6]  Mr Campbell argued The Catalogue of the Universe was a young adult novel and should not have been included in Storytime, as the programme’s main audience was children aged 12 years and under. He considered the story’s references to sexual intimacy between young people and abortion were unsuitable for child listeners, who would understand such references. He noted in support of his argument that the other Storytime stories listed on the RNZ website are recommended for children aged between four and 12, therefore The Catalogue of the Universe was inconsistent with the age level of other stories featured on the programme.

[7]  RNZ argued that the content identified in The Catalogue of the Universe would not be understood by younger listeners, and if it was, it would not have caused unwarranted alarm or distress as envisaged by the standard. It noted the programme’s timeslot is not exclusively targeted to a particular age group, for example 12 years and under, and there are stories from time to time which are aimed at an older age group. However, as a result of the complaint RNZ reviewed the appropriateness of the story for younger listeners with reference to its editorial policies and indicated the story may be rescheduled for a later timeslot if it was broadcast again.

[8]  Storytime is described as featuring ‘New Zealand stories for children’ and is broadcast on a Sunday morning during children’s listening times.1 The programme has a long lineage with RNZ and with the New Zealand listening public. It is something of an institution in the social history of radio in New Zealand and now has a decades-long audience understanding of what it is and its target audience – usually the under-12 age group.2 The programme has been seen as one where parents could safely leave young children to listen early on Sunday mornings. Then along came this discordant part of the programme.

[9]  As the complainant has noted, The Catalogue of the Universe featured content such as teenage drinking, sexual activity, losing one’s virginity and a reference to abortion. We acknowledge that the descriptions of sexual activity in the story were not particularly graphic or heavily detailed. Nevertheless, we think the level of sexual material went further than ‘inexplicit sexual innuendo’ which has previously been found to be acceptable in children’s listening times.3 Part 7, which was nearly 15 minutes long, was dominated by the evolving sexual relationship between the two main teenage characters; this storyline also continued into the beginning of part 8. While this type of content may be acceptable for a young adult or teenage audience, we do not think it was suitable for children who are the usual target audience of this segment.4 We therefore find that the broadcaster was not adequately mindful of the effect this programme content may have had on child listeners.

[10]  Additionally, the level of adult content in The Catalogue of the Universe, which is a young adult romance novel, would not have been within reasonable audience expectations of the programme, meaning that parents and caregivers were not given an opportunity to make an informed decision about what their children were listening to or to exercise discretion.

[11]  We are satisfied that upholding this complaint would not unreasonably restrict the right to freedom of expression. We are not saying that the broadcaster should not have featured the story at all; only that it was inappropriate for broadcast during a children’s programme such as Storytime.

[12]  Accordingly we find that the responsible programming standard was breached.

For the above reasons the Authority upholds the complaint that the broadcast by Radio New Zealand Ltd of Storytime on 20 September 2015 breached Standard 8 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[13]  Having upheld the complaint, the Authority may make orders under sections 13 and 16 of the Broadcasting Act 1989. We do not intend to do so on this occasion.

[14]  Although it did not uphold the complaint, RNZ has indicated it has reviewed the scheduling of The Catalogue of the Universe against its internal editorial policies, and may reschedule it for a later timeslot in the event of a repeat broadcast. In our view that would be an appropriate and adequate remedy.

[15]  We therefore think that publication of our decision is sufficient to mark the breach and to give guidance to broadcasters around the need to take care when scheduling programme content in timeslots aimed at children.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Peter Radich
1 March 2016



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

1      Don Campbell’s formal complaint – 14 October 2015
2      RNZ’s response to the complaint – 16 November 2015
3      Mr Campbell’s referral to the Authority – 19 November 2015
4      RNZ’s response to the Authority – 21 December 2015
5      Mr Campbell’s final comment – 19 January 2016

For example, see Hastie and The Radio Network Ltd, Decision No. 2013-060.

A child is defined as a person under 14, for the purposes of the Codes of Broadcasting Practice.