Atkinson, Davies and Dove and TV3 Network Services Ltd - 1996-183, 1996-184, 1996-185
- J M Potter (Chair)
- R McLeod
- L M Loates
- A Martin
- Bob Atkinson, Evan Davies, Maria Dove
BroadcasterTV3 Network Services Ltd
Sexual issues were explored on the series Sex/Life broadcast on Wednesday on TV3 at
8.30pm. Oral sex and sexual positions were the topics for the last items in the
programmes broadcast on 16 September and 2 October 1996 respectively. A promo
for a programme in the series was also broadcast at 8.46pm on 20 August 1996.
Mr Atkinson and Ms Dove respectively complained to TV3 Network Services Ltd
about the Sex/Life programmes on 16 September and 20 October and Mr Davies
complained to TV3 that the series as a whole and the promo in particular were in his
view degrading. Mr Atkinson's concern was that the programme was broadcast too
early in the evening, and that the item about oral sex encouraged its practice. Ms Dove
was of the view that the physical demonstrations and verbal descriptions of sexual
positions in the relevant item were unsuitable for television viewing, and that the
programme promoted sex as an act for sexual pleasure without reference to its place in
a committed loving relationship.
TV3 explained to the complainants that the series Sex/Life was classified as Adults
Only with the specific items complained about being broadcast around 9.30pm. It
considered the 8.30 time slot was appropriate for the series given its aim to inform
through entertainment. It said that explicit warnings were given as to the programme's
content, and referred to viewers' expectations from its title and previous similar
programmes. It declined to uphold the specific complaints.
Dissatisfied with TV3's decision Mr Atkinson, Mr Davies and Ms Dove referred the
complaints to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the
Broadcasting Act 1989.
For the reasons below, the Authority upholds the complaints made by Mr Atkinson and
Ms Dove, but declines to uphold the complaint made by Mr Davies.
The members of the Authority have viewed the programmes and promo complained
about, and have read the correspondence (summarised in the Appendices). As is its
practice, the Authority determines the complaints without a formal hearing.
The series Sex/Life broadcast on TV3 at 8.30pm on Wednesday between August and
December 1996 dealt with a variety of sexual matters. The final item screened on 16
September and 2 October dealt with respectively, sexual positions and oral sex. A
promo for a particular programme in the series was broadcast at 8.46pm on 20 August
Mr Atkinson complained to TV3 Network Services Ltd that 8.30pm was too early in
the evening for the 2 October 1996 programme to be broadcast. He believed that the
programme, and in particular the item about oral sex, encouraged young people to
indulge in deviant behaviour. He considered that the woman who was leading the item
about oral sex encouraged people to indulge in it, which in his view was dangerous
given the diseases able to be contracted during oral sex.
TV3 assessed his complaint under standards G1 and G2 of the Television Code of
Broadcasting Practice which require broadcasters:
G1 To be truthful and accurate on points of fact.
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.
TV3 explained that the programme Sex/Life was AO classified and was preceded by a
strong warning about its contents. It argued that the subject matter of the programme
was precisely defined by its title Sex/Life so the audience should have had a realistic
expectation of its contents. In relation to the item about oral sex, TV3 explained that
the last item on the programme always dealt with the emotional rather than medical
aspects of sex, the medical being dealt with earlier in the programme. However, TV3
pointed out that it was stated in the specific item about oral sex that "some STDs can
be transferred by oral sex". The programme Sex/Life, it said, actively promoted the
use of condoms for safer sex.
In referring his complaint to the Authority, Mr Atkinson reiterated his view that the
presenter encouraged people to experiment with oral sex, which he considered
objectionable on the basis that diseases were able to be passed from one person to
another during oral sex.
Mr Davies complained to TV3 that the series was inappropriate for a midweek mid-
evening audience as well as being offensive to most people. The promo broadcast on
20 August 1996 he considered to be degrading and pornographic.
TV3 considered Mr Davies' complaint under standard G2 of the Television Code of
Broadcasting Practice and, additionally, under standard G8 in which broadcasters are
G8 To abide by the classification codes and their appropriate time bands as
outlined in the agreed criteria for programme classifications
While TV3's response to Mr Davies in regard to his concern about the programme
was similar to that sent to Mr Atkinson, in respect of the complaint about the promo
it commented that the Sex/Life promos were made in both G and PGR/AO classified
versions and were placed according to those classifications in the appropriate time
bands. The promo at issue, TV3 advised, was classified AO and played during an AO
classified programme and at 8.46pm, an AO time band. TV3 declined to uphold Mr
In response to Mr Davies' referral of the complaint to the Authority, TV3 commented
that it did not believe that it was inappropriate to provide information that might
improve or, in the case of warning signs for STDs and cancers, featured in the
programmes in question, perhaps even save peoples' lives. TV3 stressed that the
series Sex/Life was rated AO, and that it screened at 8.30pm, in an Adults Only time
band and that the promo played in an AO programme in AO time.
Ms Dove complained to TV3 that she considered the Sex/Life programme broadcast on
18 September 1996 breached standards of good taste and decency. In particular she
objected to the graphic physical demonstrations of sexual positions and the explicit
clinical and verbal descriptions which she maintained would be offensive to many
people. She also believed that the programme devalued the act of sex, resulting in it
being portrayed as nothing more than a recreational pastime.
TV3 considered her complaint under standard G2 of the Television Code of
Broadcasting Practice. While the response was similar to that sent to Mr Atkinson in
relation to the item on sexual positions, TV3 argued that the item had dealt with the
matter in a highly professional and dignified manner, and lived up to the aim of the
Sex/Life series to inform in a non-judgmental way. It did not consider that a discussion
of morals in the particular forum of the programme was appropriate as everyone had
their own moral stance. TV3 declined to uphold Ms Dove's complaint.
The Authority has given careful consideration to what was advertised and described
by TV3 as a series dealing with important sexual issues, including relationship
problems, in a non-threatening and open manner with a non-judgmental stance, as well
as some items designed for entertainment. While the Authority acknowledges that the
series has a worthy social and educational intent, the overall impression of the
programmes at issue is that the programmes are intended for adult entertainment.
While this may be appropriate for a 9.30pm or later time slot, the Authority does not
consider that the taste and decency requirements are met by these programmes being
broadcast at 8.30pm on a free-to-air channel. The Authority in reaching this view
takes into account not only each item in the programmes, but also the overall
impression given by the programmes. Consequently, it upholds the complaints that it
was inappropriate to broadcast the programmes complained about at 8.30pm.
The role of the Authority in dealing with complaints is set out in the Broadcasting Act
1989. Section 6(1)(a) of that Act refers to a broadcasters' duty to receive and consider
formal complaints about any programme broadcast. Because of the specific reference
to "any programme" the broadcaster is under no duty to consider a complaint about a
series as a whole. The Authority under section 8 of the Act, considers complaints
made under section 6(1)(a), where the complainant is dissatisfied with the action or
decision taken by the broadcaster. In this case Mr Davies complained about a specific
promo for Sex/Life and, generally, about the series as a whole. Although TV3 supplied
the Authority with a copy of a particular programme, the Authority in this instance is
of the opinion that the complaint is one for which it does not have jurisdiction.
Accordingly, it declines to deal with the aspect of Mr Davies' complaint which
referred to the Sex/Life series.
In respect of Mr Davies' complaint about the promo, the Authority considers that the
promo had the capacity to mislead the viewer as to the actual content of the
programme given that the promo indicated a more sexually provocative programme
than that intended or indeed broadcast. However, the promo was classified as AO and
was broadcast in AO time and, in view of its brevity, its possibly misleading nature
was not such that it breached any standard. The Authority declines to uphold this
For the reasons set forth above, the Authority upholds the complaints that the
programmes in the Sex/Life series broadcast by TV3 Network Services Limited
on 16 September and 2 October 1996 at 8.30pm breached standard G2 of the
Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.
It declines to uphold the complaint about the promo broadcast on 20 August
1996, and declines to determine the complaint about the series.
Having upheld a complaint, the Authority may make an order under s.13(1) of the
Broadcasting Act 1989. It does not do so on this occasion in respect of the
complaints from Mr Atkinson and Ms Dove, considering the fact that the programmes
were preceded by a warning as to their content and did have an educational intent
which was in some part met.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
17 December 1996
Bob Atkinson's Complaint to TV3 Network Services Ltd – 11 October 1996
Bob Atkinson of Nelson complained to TV3 Network Services Ltd about the
programme Sex/Life and in particular the episode broadcast on 2 October 1996 at
8.30pm. In the later part of that episode, he said that the woman who was talking was
encouraging people to indulge in oral sex, which in his view was a dangerous practice
in that participants may contact diseases especially V.D. He said that he also objected
to the time the programme was shown (8.30pm). He considered that many people of
a very impressionable age could be watching and encouraged, not knowing any better,
to indulge in deviant behaviour.
TV3's Response to the Formal Complaint – 30 October 1996
Assessing the complaint under standards G1 and G2 of the Television Code of
Broadcasting Practice, TV3 explained that Sex/Life was an AO rated programme and
was proceeded by the strong warning:
"The following programme Sex/Life deals with issues of human sexuality
including explicit content and some nudity and is intended for adults only.
Content may offend some viewers."
TV3 also noted that censorship cuts had been made to the programme before its
screening in New Zealand. It argued that the subject matter of the programme was
precisely defined by its title Sex/Life so the audience should have a realistic
expectation of the show. In relation to the particular complaint about oral sex, TV3
...the topic of oral sex was discussed by Dr Janet Hall, a qualified sex therapist.
This specific segment has always dealt with the emotional aspects of sex rather
than the medical. Medical advice to do with sex is dealt with in detail by Dr
Caroline West earlier in the programme. However, Dr Hall's segment did state
that, "some STDs can be transferred by oral sex." We would also point out that
Sex/Life actively promotes the use of condoms for safer sex.
In regard to Mr Atkinson's view of oral sex as deviant behaviour, TV3 responded that
what was considered normal for one person might not be normal for another and the
programme Sex/Life was aimed to help all sections of society by a frank discussion of
different aspects of sex and sexual health.
Mr Atkinson's Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 4 November
Dissatisfied with TV3's decision Mr Atkinson referred the complaint to the
Broadcasting Standards Authority under s. 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
Mr Atkinson maintained the view that the presenter of the part of the programme
dealing with oral sex encouraged people to experiment with oral sex which he
considered was objectionable on the basis that diseases were able to be passed from
one person to another during oral sex.
TV3's Response to the Authority – 12 November 1996
TV3 had no further comment to make on the complaint.
Mr Davies' Complaint to TV3 Network Services Ltd – August 1996
Evan Davies of Hamilton complained to TV3 Network Services Ltd, through the
Broadcasting Standards Authority, about the series Sex Life broadcast on TV3 on
Wednesdays at 8.30pm. He also complained about the promos for the programme,
referring specifically to one broadcast between 8:00–8:30pm on Tuesday 20 August
Describing the programme as offensive and unnecessary, Mr Davies requested that it
either be removed altogether or broadcast at a later hour.
In a second letter, dated 28 August, Mr Davies said that he wanted his concerns to be
treated as a formal complaint alleging a breach of standards G2 and G8 of the
Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.
TV3's Response to the Formal Complaint – 25 September 1996
Assessing the complaint under the nominated standards, TV3 advised that Sex/Life
was classified as AO and broadcast in the AO time band. It pointed out the
programme was introduced with a strong warning.
Further, TV3 advised, censorship cuts had been made before the material was screened
in New Zealand and, it wrote:
The subject matter of the programme is precisely defined by its title Sex/Life so
the audience should have a realistic expectation of the show. Also, as you may
be aware, 8:30pm is the designated watershed for which networks may place
Adult Only programming.
Explaining the range of sexual issues covered in the series, TV3 said that they were
dealt with in "a non-threatening and open manner with a non-judgmental stance, as
well as including some items designed for entertainment".
As for the promos used, TV3 stated that they were made in both G and PGR/AO
versions and were broadcast according to these ratings in the appropriate time bands.
The promo which played on Tuesday 20 August was rated AO and played at 8:46pm
during NYPD Blue, an AO rated programme. TV3 contended:
The AO rated promos for Sex/Life did contain more mature material. However,
this material accurately conveyed the nature of the programme and did not
breach G2 for what as acceptable in AO time.
In conclusion, TV3 wrote:
Given then that the programme's focus is to inform through entertainment and
that it plays in Adults Only time, with an explicit warning and censor cuts, and
that the audience expectation from its title and knowledge of its sister show
"Sex" (which played on Television new Zealand and was a "tougher" programme
than Sex/Life), is for a show which deals frankly with sexual questions and that
the promos for Sex/Life are given a censorship classification and play within the
time bands for that classification as permitted in G22, the TV3 Standards
Committee declines to uphold that G2 and G8 of the Broadcasting Codes have
Mr Davies' Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 22 October 1996
Dissatisfied with TV3's decision , Mr Davies referred the complaint to the
Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
TV3's Response to the Authority – 15 November 1996
Enclosing a copy of the tape of the promo broadcast on 20 August and a tape of the
programme broadcast on 21 August (as the closest to the date of Mr Davies'
complaint), TV3 commented:
For the past nine weeks Sex/Life has been viewed by a panel of doctors from the
Auckland Sexual Health Service and information relevant for New Zealand has
been added in a billboard at the end of each programme. Much of the content of
the show has relevance and is important for a large section of the community.
Sex/Life serves to convey information about sexual problems, both medical and
Disagreeing with Mr Davies that it was "indecent" to provide people with important
and possibly life-saving advice, TV3 stressed that the programme was rated "AO" and
screened in "AO" time. The specific promo complained about, it added, was also
rated AO and shown only in AO time.
Mr Davies' Final Comment
Mr Davies did not respond to the Authority's invitation to comment on TV3's
Maria Dove's Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – (Undated)
Maria Dove of Auckland complained to TV3 Network Services Limited about an
episode in the series Sex/Life broadcast on TV3 on 18 September 1996, and in
particular the last item dealing with positions to improve a person's sex life.
Ms Dove considered that the programme promoted sex as an act of sexual pleasure
without reference to its place in a committed and loving relationship. She believed that
the programme by doing this devalued the act of sex.
TV3's Response to the Formal Complaint – 30 October 1996
TV3 considered the complaint under standard G2 of the Television Code of
Broadcasting Practice. It explained that Sex/Life was an AO rated programme and
8.30pm was the designated watershed at which networks may place Adults Only
programmes. Sex/Life it said dealt with important sexual issues, in a non-threatening
and open manner. The series also emphasises loving relationships and working out
relationship problems. With particular reference to the item about sexual positions, it
said that it was led by a qualified sex therapist and was dealt with in a highly
professional and dignified manner. It declined to uphold the complaint.
Ms Dove's Referral to the Authority – 17 November 1996
Dissatisfied with TV3's response, Maria Dove referred the complaint to the
Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
Ms Dove believed that the programme pushed all the limits of what it was permissible
to broadcast. She believed that boundaries needed to be put in place to protect the TV
viewers of the future. She disagreed with TV3's view that values and moral
viewpoints could not be part of the programme stating:
...as I think there is a strong moral and value base to what is being shown – that
being that sex is all about sensuality and enjoyment – it is stressing the
physical side of the sexual act – promoting physical pleasure far above any
emotional relationship or commitment. This is portraying the value to young
people that sex is an act purely for physical and sensual enjoyment – it
devalues sex to a mechanical act and even to being a recreational pastime. I find
this most disturbing.
TV3's Response to the Authority – 28 November 1996
TV3 had nothing further it wished to add.