BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Clarkson and TV3 Network Services Ltd - 1995-085

  • J M Potter (Chair)
  • L M Loates
  • R McLeod
  • Lewis Clarkson
Law and Order


An episode of Law and Order, broadcast by TV3 at 9.30pm on 10 April 1995, dealt

with some of the difficulties faced by a homosexual police officer who died on duty

when his fellow officers failed to support him. Further, the fellow officers were found

not guilty when charged with second degree murder.

Mr Clarkson complained to TV3 Network Services Ltd that the episode dealt with

homosexuality in a way which was unbalanced and contrary to the law. Moreover,

homosexual men were treated as inherently inferior.

Agreeing with the limited plot outlined by the complainant, TV3 said the programme

showed, in a disapproving way, that the behaviour of the fellow police officers and

the jury was based on prejudice. It declined to uphold the complaint. Dissatisfied

with TV3's decision, Mr Clarkson referred the 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 of the Authority have viewed the item complained about and have read

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

has determined the complaint without a formal hearing.

The problems which could be encountered by a homosexual police officer were

canvassed in an episode of Law and Order broadcast at 9.30pm on 10 April. A

homosexual officer died on duty when his fellow officers failed to support him and,

when charged, they were found not guilty.

Mr Clarkson complained that the programme was unbalanced and suggested that

homosexuals were inherently inferior and outside the law.

TV3 assessed the complaint under standards G5, G6 and G13 of the Television Code

of Broadcasting Practice which require broadcasters:

G5 To respect the principles of law which sustain our society.

G6 To show balance, impartiality and fairness in dealing with political

matters, current affairs and all questions of a controversial nature.

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, occupational 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.

It argued that the episode on 10 April did not promote the scenarios proposed by Mr

Clarkson but had illustrated the prejudice that gay officers could face. Moreover, it

argued that the defence tactics and jury verdict were questioned by some characters in

the series in a way which challenged viewers to examine their own attitudes. It

maintained that the programme pointed out:

... that anyone can be discriminated against for some reason or another and the

police force should not make judgement on who they will help on the basis of

ethnic group, religion, gender or in this case sexual orientation.

Having viewed the programme, the Authority decided that it had not taken the

approach advanced by Mr Clarkson. Rather it had dealt sensitively with the complex

issue of moral guilt as opposed to legal guilt in a way which was neither unbalanced

nor failed to show respect for the law. Furthermore, the Authority concluded that it

had neither encouraged discrimination against homosexuals nor treated them as



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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Judith Potter
17 August 1995


Mr Clarkson's Complaint to TV3 Network Services Ltd - 9 May 1995

Lewis Clarkson of Christchurch complained to TV3 Network Services Ltd about the

programme Law and Order broadcast at 9.30pm on 10 April.

The plot, Mr Clarkson wrote, involved the death of a police officer while on duty

when his fellow officers declined to support him because of his homosexual

orientation. The officers were put on trial but were acquitted on the defence that

people were expected to be hostile towards homosexuals. Moreover, one character

had cited the Bible in support of his attitude and, Mr Clarkson maintained, the script

had not acknowledged that this interpretation was not accepted by many religions.

Pointing out that the programme was neither current affairs nor comedy, Mr Clarkson

argued it breached the requirement in the standards not to portray any community

group as inherently inferior or to encourage discrimination against them. Moreover,

the programme was unbalanced in suggesting that homosexuals were outside the law.

In addition, he alleged that the programme was in bad taste in view of current court

proceedings in New Zealand where a man charged with murder had advanced the

argument that the victim was a homosexual. As a result, the broadcast had not, as

required by the standards, upheld the principles of law which apply to all citizens

and, Mr Clarkson concluded:

The title of the programme "Law and Order" is particularly offensive in this

programme as in my view it represents neither.

TV3's Response to the Formal Complaint - 7 June 1995

TV3 assessed the complaint under standards G5, G6 and G13 of the Television Code

of Broadcasting Practice. It provided a brief summary of the programme's plot which,

in addition to the points raised by Mr Clarkson, involved the points that:

The programme sensitively illustrates the nature of the prejudice gay cops faced

within this particular precinct and potentially within the court system when the

bigoted policemen are found not guilty of manslaughter. Mike and Lennie and

the District Attorney's office are horrified by the situation and the "not guilty"

verdict. They sum up their feelings by saying: "How can a man put a sheet on

his head and lynch someone, ... usually they can't, by themselves ... (but) four

cops let him (Rick Newhouse) die and twelve citizens did it again by their


Dealing first with standard G13, TV3 repeated the points about the programme made

in the above quotation and added:

Indeed the programme goes to great lengths to illustrate the views held by the

prejudiced police and the jury members who returned the "not guilty" verdict

are not only wrong but also dangerous and the heroes of the programme find this

behaviour offensive.

The biblical references, TV3 maintained, illustrated one character's prejudice, not a

religious view of homosexuality. Explaining that the programme showed how

ideology could be twisted, TV3 said that it illustrated that police officers should not

make judgments based on stereotypes. Accordingly, standard G13 had not been


As the programme had dealt with the issue of prejudice against a police officer in a

balanced way, TV3 considered that standard G6 had not been transgressed.

With regard to standard G5, TV3 argued that a range of public and police attitudes

were shown and the "not guilty" verdict challenged viewers to examine their attitudes.

In no way, TV3 wrote, had the programme suggested that homosexual men were

undeserving of justice and thus the standard had not been contravened.

TV3 observed that the programme's title referred to two points contained in each

programme. The police represented "Law" and the legal establishment represented

"Order". TV3 also said it found no relevant parallels between the programme and the

current murder trial referred to.

Mr Clarkson's Complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority - 5 July


Dissatisfied with TV3's response, Mr Clarkson referred his complaint to the

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

First, he stated, TV3 had not responded to the aspect of the complaint alleging bad

taste. Secondly, he continued, TV3 had presented the programme as it would like for

it to have been seen. However, it was outdated and contrary to the law and

broadcasting standards in New Zealand. The way it portrayed homosexual men, he

wrote, equated with showing women as "frightened, subservient dish mop cases". He


I feel TV3 has not absorbed the issues.

TV3's Response to the Authority - 17 July 1995

TV3 advised the Authority that it had nothing to add in response to the referral.