BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Denley and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2007-065

  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Paul France
  • Tapu Misa
  • Michelle Denley
Shortland Street

Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Shortland Street – contained a scene in which a character dreamed about a sexual encounter – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency and children’s interests

Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – contextual factors – not upheld

Standard 9 (children’s interests) – programme was classified PGR – no nudity – broadcaster was mindful of child viewers – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1]  During an episode of Shortland Street, broadcast at 7pm on 31 May 2007, a scene showed two of the main characters, Maia and Mark, involved in a sexual encounter. The scene contained head-and-shoulder shots of both characters apparently having sex. The scene ended eight seconds later with the character Maia waking up and realising that the sexual encounter with Mark was just a dream.


[2]   Michelle Denley complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the sexual content in the programme was inappropriate for the 7pm timeslot. She argued that the scene depicted a semi-naked female character on top of another person making “loud sexual noises” and that this was objectionable as children could have been watching.

[3]   The complainant maintained that because the programme had included adult themes and sexual content, it was unsuitable for children and should have been broadcast later in the evening.


[4]   TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standards 1 and 9, and guidelines 1a and 9a of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. These provide:

Standard 1 Good Taste and Decency

In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are responsible for maintaining standards which are consistent with the observance of good taste and decency.

Guideline 1a

Broadcasters must take into consideration current norms of decency and taste in language and behaviour bearing in mind the context in which any language or behaviour occurs. Examples of context are the time of the broadcast, the type of programme, the target audience, the use of warnings and the programme’s classification. The examples are not exhaustive.

Standard 9 Children’s Interests

During children’s normally accepted viewing times, broadcasters are required in the preparation and presentation of programmes, to consider the interests of child viewers.

Guideline 9a

Broadcasters should be mindful of the effect any programme or promo may have on children during their normally accepted viewing times – usually up to 8.30pm – and avoid screening material which would disturb or alarm them.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[5]   In response to Ms Denley’s complaint, TVNZ explained that the scene depicted a sexual encounter between two characters, Mark and Maia, and that it had quickly become apparent that the encounter was in fact a nightmare Maia was having. It pointed out that the entire sequence contained only head-and-shoulder shots of both characters and that they were not semi-naked, as Maia was wearing a nightdress and Mark was wearing a singlet.

[6]   TVNZ maintained that the programme was built around human relationships, including sexual relationships, and that it had been rated PGR. It argued that no explicit sex had been shown during the scene, and it declined to uphold the good taste and decency complaint.

[7]  The broadcaster contended that it had demonstrated consideration for children’s interests by classifying the programme PGR and by showing the PGR symbol at the beginning of the programme, and after each commercial break. It maintained it had provided the required information for parents to make a decision on whether to allow their children to watch the episode. TVNZ found that Standard 9 was not breached.     

Referral to the Authority

[8]   Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, Ms Denley referred her complaint to the Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. The complainant reiterated her argument that Shortland Street was not a suitable programme to be broadcast at 7pm when children could be watching because of its adult themes and content.    

Authority's Determination

[9]   The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

Standard 1 (good taste and decency)

[10]   When the Authority considers a complaint that alleges a breach of good taste and decency it is required to take into consideration the context of the broadcast. On this occasion the relevant contextual factors include:

  • the programme was broadcast at 7pm
  • the programme was classified PGR
  • the broadcaster displayed the PGR rating at the end of each commercial break
  • the scene was 8 seconds in duration.

[11]   The Authority considers that while the scene was not at all explicit and did not contain any nudity, the noises being made by the actors made it obvious that the characters were having sex. In the Authority’s view, the scene was a relevant part of the storyline and central to that particular episode. Taking the above contextual factors into account, the Authority finds that the good taste and decency standard was not breached on this occasion.

Standard 9 (children’s interests)

[12]   Standard 9 requires that broadcasters consider the interests of child viewers during their normally accepted viewing times. Shortland Street had a PGR classification, which meant that the programme contained material more suited for mature audiences, but not necessarily unsuitable for child viewers when subject to the guidance of a parent or an adult.

[13]   A majority of the Authority (Joanne Morris, Paul France and Diane Musgrave) considers that the broadcaster adequately considered the interests of child viewers on this occasion. Although it finds that the sequence was fairly challenging for a programme broadcast between 7pm and 7.30pm, the majority observes that the programme had a PGR classification and the scene did not contain any nudity. Accordingly, a majority of the Authority finds that Standard 9 was not breached. 

[14]   A minority of the Authority (Tapu Misa) does not agree that the broadcaster considered the interests of child viewers. The minority is of the view that the relatively early hour at which Shortland St screens (at 7pm, the start of the PGR time-band) places an obligation on the broadcaster to be more circumspect in its depiction of adult themes. In the minority's opinion, the scene was unsuitable for child viewers because of the unambiguously sexual nature of the scene, and in particular the sexual noises which accompanied it. 


For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the good taste and decency complaint, and a majority of the Authority declines to uphold the children’s interests complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Joanne Morris
29 October 2007


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

1.            Michelle Denley’s formal complaint – 1 June 2007
2.           TVNZ’s response to the formal complaint – 20 June 2007
3.           Ms Denley’s referral to the Authority – 3 July 2007
4.           TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 16 August 2007