BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Aitchison and Television New Zealand Ltd - 1995-014

  • I W Gallaway (Chair)
  • J R Morris
  • L M Loates
  • W J Fraser
  • Mary N Aitchison
Shortland Street


Shortland Street is a long-running serial broadcast from Monday to Friday each week

at 7.00pm on Channel 2. Set in a medical centre, some of its storylines deal with

current issues in New Zealand.

Mrs Aitchison complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that as

the series gave the wrong messages, it breached the standard requiring good taste and

decency. She referred specifically to an episode where two of the characters indulged

in casual sex.

Maintaining that the issues raised were relevant to the 15–25 year-old age group and

explaining that the series was rated PGR, TVNZ said that the incident of casual sex

was shown in subsequent episodes to be deeply hurtful to both of the parties. It

declined to uphold the complaint. Dissatisfied with TVNZ's decision, Mrs Aitchison

referred her complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the

Broadcasting Act 1989.

For the reasons below, the Authority declined to uphold the complaint.


The members have watched not only the episode complained about but also some of

the preceding and subsequent ones. They have also read the correspondence

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

complaint without a formal hearing.

In her complaint to TVNZ, Mrs Aitchison expressed concern about the messages

contained and the values portrayed in the Shortland Street series. As an example of

the unsatisfactory messages and values, she referred to one episode when two

characters, who were not involved in a relationship, engaged in casual sex at the female

character's suggestion as she wanted to gain experience and acceptance. The female

character had provided the condom.

Mrs Aitchison was concerned that not only was the idea of casual "safe" sex

advanced, but also that an abortion was implied as an acceptable means of

contraception should the condom fail. She stated that such a broadcast was

particularly offensive in the Year of the Family.

TVNZ assessed the complaint under standards G2 and G12 of the Television Code of

Broadcasting Practice. They 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.

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

their normally accepted viewing times.

Shortland Street, TVNZ said, reflected the people and issues in New Zealand today as

seen through the "eyes of the young". It claimed that the series, aimed at the 15–25

year-old age group, had become part of the New Zealand culture, adding:

A large number of social issues have been dealt with over the years, and in each

case, the subjects have been tackled discreetly and by implication, rather than

through overt displays.

Pointing out that the series was rated PGR to indicate that it was not a children's

series and that younger children required parental guidance, TVNZ argued that the

series had earned widespread praise for its handling of social issues. Dealing with the

specific incident complained about, TVNZ explained that the storyline involved a

female character ("Waverley", aged 17) seeking sexual experience with someone

("Nick") whom she believed did not matter. It continued:

However, the story is developed in such a way as to show that such a casual

sexual encounter is deeply hurtful for both parties. "Nick" is shattered at having

his affection for Waverley devalued, while "Waverley" learns the salutary lesson

that sex should not be something casual, but part of a loving relationship.

TVNZ stated that standard G2 had not been contravened as the series reflected the

experiences and pressures on young people. Further, standard G12 had not been

breached because TVNZ believed, as the PGR rating indicated, that the series was

suitable viewing for young people when accompanied by adult viewers.

When she referred her complaint to the Authority, Mrs Aitchison disputed TVNZ's

claims that the series was either part of the New Zealand culture or that it reflected

society. Rather, she said, it attempted to change society at the expense of its better

values. It should not, she added, be broadcast before 9.30pm.

In its comments to the Authority, TVNZ said that Shortland Street had tackled such

issues as abortion, contraception and youth suicide albeit through drama but in a way

that ensured that a balanced view was presented. It urged the Authority to consider

the ongoing relationship between "Nick" and "Waverley" over a number of episodes,

not just the specific incident complained about.

In her final comment, Mrs Aitchison noted the influence of television and argued for

the need for responsible rather than manipulative programmes.

The Authority began by assessing the attitude taken towards the sexual encounter and

decided that "Waverley", who initiated the event, was portrayed as both thoughtless

and naive. Her friends and associates had strongly discouraged her plan. The

Authority would also say that although the conversation between "Nick" and

"Waverley" made clear what was about to occur, and afterwards what had occurred,

the couple were not shown participating in any sexual activity. Mrs Aitchison also

objected to the programme's attitude to abortion. However, as this matter was not

discussed in the episodes viewed, the Authority did not accept that any attitude

towards abortion could be inferred from the broadcast.

The Authority believed that the attitudes and behaviour portrayed would have been

unacceptable if they had occurred in a programme classified as "G". However, it

decided that it was acceptable in a "PGR" rated item. With such a rating, the

Authority was of the view that parents or other care-givers must accept some

responsibility for their children's viewing and for being available to discuss the issues


In view of its conclusion about the programme's approach towards the behaviour

discussed and its classification, the Authority concluded that it did not breach the

requirements of standards G2 or G12.


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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Iain Gallaway
16 March 1995


Mrs Aitchison's Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd - 5 December 1994

Mrs Mary Aitchison of Timaru complained to Television New Zealand Ltd that the

Shortland Street series was outside the bounds of good taste and decency as it gave the

wrong messages to teenagers and portrayed the wrong values.

Mrs Aitchison referred to a specific incident where two of the characters who were

not involved in a relationship took part in casual sex as the female character said she

wanted to gain experience and acceptance. That incident, Mrs Aitchison said, would

show young people that nobody got hurt if safe sex was practised and, moreover, that

abortion was available should the condom fail.

Maintaining that many women were unable to conceive following a "botched"

abortion, Mrs Aitchison said that the script should encourage responsibility. She


Teenagers get the blame for their reckless behaviour but it is the adults who

make these suggestive films, which influence the mind of the young.

TVNZ's Response to the Formal Complaint - 12 December 1994

TVNZ assessed the complaint under standards G2 and G12 of the Television Code of

Broadcasting Practice. It began:

TVNZ observes that "Shortland Street" is a long-running serial and that its

situations and characters have been developed to reflect, in dramatic terms, the

people and issues that make up modern New Zealand seen through the eyes of

the young. It is not television's role to change society - but to reflect it as it is.

It could be argued, we believe, that "Shortland Street" has become a part of New

Zealand culture.

Noting that the serial was aimed at the 15-25 year-old age group, TVNZ said the

storylines involved issues which this group might encounter as they become adults.

Moreover, the issues over the years had been tackled discreetly rather than through

overt displays. It continued:

It is accepted that some parents watching "Shortland Street" with younger

children may find some of the issues confronting. However, the classification

(PGR) indicates that the content requires parental guidance and that the serial

should not be regarded as a children's programme. TVNZ believes "Shortland

Street" offers parents the opportunity to discuss thoughtfully with their

children the various social issues raised in the serial.

TVNZ then dealt with the particular incident to which the complaint referred and said

that it did not imply that nobody got hurt in casual sex provided safe sex practices

were adopted. Rather, the story of the casual sex encounter was developed to show

that it was deeply hurtful for both parties. After the agony felt by each, the couple

got together in a happy loving relationship.

With reference to the standards, TVNZ said that the good behaviour and decency

standard was not contravened in context and that, as the PGR rating showed, it

believed that the series was appropriate for young viewers when accompanied by


Mrs Aitchison's Complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority - 31

December 1994

Dissatisfied with TVNZ's decision, Mrs Aitchison referred her complaint to the

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

As the series was aimed at the impressionable young, she argued that after 9.30pm

would be a suitable slot for its broadcast. She believed that it was attempting to

change society's values and ignored the "better values for our youth".

Disputing TVNZ's claim that Shortland Street was part of New Zealand's culture she

said that it was not suitable for use in schools and to do so showed the

irresponsibility of some teachers. She concluded:

With youth suicide rates climbing how about encouraging and introducing more

wholesome and humorous programmes for the young to help them relax after the

stress and pressure of study and job hunting.

TVNZ's Response to the Authority - 19 January 1995

TVNZ said the episode about which Mrs Aitchison complained - episode 654

broadcast on 24 November - involved a relationship which was dealt with during a

considerable number of episodes and should not be considered in isolation.

Contrary to the allegation in the complaint that nobody was hurt, TVNZ said that the

characters were deeply hurt but had learnt a great deal and eventually got back

together in loving and caring circumstances. TVNZ also noted that, despite the claim

in the complaint, at no point was the couple shown actually engaged in sexual activity.

TVNZ also maintained that the other issues raised by Mrs Aitchison - abortion,

contraception and youth suicide rates - had been tackled by the drama series in a

meticulous and balanced way.

TVNZ concluded:

We found ourselves in something of a quandary in deciding which VHS material

we should forward to the Authority in connection with this complaint.

Obviously you need Episode 654. However we think it important that the

complaint be considered in the context of the ongoing storyline and for that

reason we are sending you all of the episodes from 651 to 660. Even at Episode

660, aspects of the Nick and Waverley relationship have not been fully revealed,

but we suggest there is sufficient for the Authority to judge whether or not it

has been handled in a fair and balanced manner. If you require further episodes

we can provide them.

Mrs Aitchison's Final Comment - 27 January 1995

In her final comment, Mrs Aitchison noted that her complaint was against Shortland

Street overall, rather than just one episode, and the time that it was broadcast.

She argued that the programme gave inadequate consideration to the age of the

audience at 7.00pm and should be broadcast after 9.30pm She wrote:

You would have to agree that many violent acts shown on TV do get reflected

and copied in our society, but I would suggest that this permissive sexual

attitude portrayed in a ? glamorous setting is more subtle and value damaging on

the young impressionable minds. These minds can be manipulated to believe

that this life-style is normal and not the fantasy of a writers mind.

Pointing out that she had not complained that the episode showed the couple engaged

in sexual activity, she maintained that TV influenced the impressionable young and

adults had to act responsibly.