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Chaney and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2013-029

  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Louise Chaney
Shortland Street

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Shortland Street – showed characters smoking cigarettes and dropping their cigarette butts on the ground – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency, and law and order standards

Standard 1 (good taste and decency) and Standard 2 (law and order) – footage of characters smoking and dropping cigarette butts on the ground would not have offended most viewers and did not encourage viewers to break the law – acceptable in context and relevant to developing storyline – behaviour not portrayed as desirable – well within broadcaster’s right to employ dramatic licence – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1]  An episode of Shortland Street showed two characters smoking cigarettes before dropping their cigarette butts on the ground. The programme was broadcast on TV2 at 7pm on 19 April 2013.

[2]  Louise Chaney made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the characters presented a “bad example” by smoking cigarettes, and that dropping their cigarette butts on the ground amounted to littering which was a fineable offence.

[3]  TVNZ rejected the complaint, arguing that the issues raised by Ms Chaney were not matters of programme standards. Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response, Ms Chaney referred her complaint to this Authority.

[4]  The issue is whether the broadcast breached standards relating to good taste and decency (Standard 1), and law and order (Standard 2), as set out in the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[5]  The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

Did the programme breach broadcasting standards?

[6]  We are satisfied that the depiction in a television drama of characters smoking cigarettes and dropping their cigarette butts on the ground is not a breach of broadcasting standards. This content was acceptable for broadcast during a PGR-rated soap opera broadcast at 7pm, and was well within the broadcaster’s right to employ dramatic licence to tell a story.

[7]  Shortland Street is a fictional programme and New Zealand’s longest running soap opera. Viewers could reasonably be expected to be aware that it might contain content more suited for mature audiences, consistent with its PGR rating. The depiction of these characters smoking was relevant to a developing storyline and to the development of the characters (in an upcoming episode, lipstick on one of the butts identified the “sneaky” smokers). The smoking was not presented as positive or desirable, but rather as something socially unacceptable which had to be done in secret. In a teaser at the end of the programme, as the characters were again shown smoking, one said in a voiceover, “This is so wrong”, as the other said, “The CEO smoking on hospital grounds”.

[8]  Taken in this context, the content would not have offended or distressed most viewers, and did not encourage viewers to break the law by littering, or otherwise portray the characters’ actions positively.

[9]  We therefore decline to uphold the complaint.


For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Peter Radich
25 July 2013


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

1          Louise Chaney’s formal complaint – 29 April 2013

2          TVNZ’s response to Ms Chaney rejecting the complaint – 30 April 2013

3          Ms Chaney’s referral to the Authority – 14 May 2013

4          TVNZ’s response to the Authority –  31 May 2013