BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Godinet and SKY Network Television Ltd - 2015-021

  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
  • Sue Godinet
Sky Television

[This summary does not form part of the decision.]

The E! channel featured an 'Entertainment Special' entitled The Real 50 Shades of Grey about couples who engage in BDSM (Bondage/ Discipline/ Dominance/ Submission/ Sadism/ Masochism). The Authority did not uphold a complaint that the programme encouraged sexual violence and normalised BDSM practice. The content was discussed only in fairly innocuous terms and no explicitly sexual or violent material was shown. However, the Authority upheld the complaint that the programme should have included warning labels for sexual and other potentially offensive content, as the subject matter had the potential to offend viewers.

Upheld: Content Classification, Warning and Filtering

Not Upheld: Good Taste and Decency, Violence

No Order


[1]  The E! channel featured an 'Entertainment Special' on The Real 50 Shades of Grey. Couples who engaged in BDSM (Bondage/ Discipline/ Dominance/ Submission/ Sadism/ Masochism) and experts on the subject were interviewed. The programme also showed the couples 'acting out' some of the BDSM behaviour, in full clothing.

[2]  Sue Godinet complained that the programme encouraged sexual violence and 'normalised' BDSM. She also complained that the programme was incorrectly classified M when it should have been given an 18 classification and included a V and an S label.

[3]  Having not received a response from the broadcaster within the statutory timeframe, Ms Godinet referred her complaint to this Authority. In its response to the Authority, SKY upheld the complaint on the basis the programme carried insufficient warning labels. However because this occurred only after the complaint referral, our task is to assess whether standards were breached, as opposed to whether the action taken by SKY in upholding the complaint was sufficient.1

[4]  The issue therefore is whether the broadcast breached the good taste and decency, violence, and content classification, warning and filtering standards of the Pay Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[5]  The programme was broadcast at 7.30pm on 15 February 2015. 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 broadcast threaten current norms of good taste and decency?

[6]  The good taste and decency standard (Standard P2) states that current norms of good taste and decency should be maintained consistent with the context of each programme and its channel.

[7]  Ms Godinet argued that the practice of BDSM, which involves infliction of pain and humiliation for sexual pleasure, was 'normalised' by the programme. She considered that the programme suggested that 'people who are not into BDSM are "conservative and uptight"' and that 'viewers were urged to "try it at home"'. She said that audience expectations of the E! channel were that it would show celebrity gossip and entertainment, not explicit violent and sexual material. She also said that in the context of New Zealand's problem with family violence, the material was completely unacceptable.

[8]  SKY argued that 'there were no explicit or violent sexual scenes' and that, given the title of the programme, 'there would be a reasonable audience expectation of the content they would be viewing'.

[9]  When we consider a complaint about good taste and decency, we take into account the context of the broadcast, which here includes:

  • the programme was broadcast on the E! channel
  • it was classified M (meaning suitable for mature audiences 16 years and over)
  • the programme did not carry any warning labels
  • audience expectations of the channel
  • the programme's title, The Real 50 Shades of Grey
  • audience expectations of the programme, given the considerable publicity around the film 50 Shades of Grey and the novel it was based on.

[10]  The Code recognises that 'Pay television overall enjoys a less restrictive environment than free-to-air television because of the special choice subscribers make in paying to receive broadcasts.' This particular programme was presented as a factual, documentary-style look at BDSM relationships and the BDSM lifestyle. Sexual activity was implied and referenced but was not explicitly described or shown. A lot of the content consisted of real people talking about their experiences and lifestyle choices, with brief, relatively innocuous visual depictions accompanying their accounts.

[11]  Additionally, we think the title of the programme would have alerted viewers to its likely content, given the considerable amount of publicity and hype which attached to the film 50 Shades of Grey and the novel it was based on. Although some viewers may have found the subject matter challenging or distasteful, overall we do not think that the programme threatened standards of good taste and decency, given the actual presentation was relatively tame and inexplicit.

[12]  Accordingly we decline to uphold the complaint under Standard P2.

Did the broadcaster exercise adequate care and discretion when dealing with the issue of violence?

[13]  The violence standard (Standard P4) states that violent content should be appropriate to the context of the programme and classified carefully in accordance with Standard P1 (content classification, warning and filtering).

[14]  Ms Godinet argued that the programme glorified and normalised sexual violence. She referenced parts of the programme that showed individuals 'being hit with paddles, whips and sticks, tied up with ropes and chains combined with and as part of sex'. She said that 'violence and intimidation were glorified' and the 'key message seemed to be that aggression is sexy and desirable', which had the 'power to influence attitudes about intimate violence'.

[15]  SKY argued that there were no explicit violent scenes and that the programme was 'filmed in a documentary style', so it did not glorify violence.

[16]  The programme did not include any graphic violence; it did show brief footage of light spanking or whipping, and images of minor bruising and marks. One segment of the programme focused on the importance of consent and 'safe words' when engaging in BDSM, and warned of the dangers of taking things too far. Both experts and the couples interviewed cautioned that people should only engage in BDSM with people they knew well and trusted. We do not think this promoted sexual violence but rather cautioned about how to keep BDSM from turning into sexual violence.

[17]  Overall we are satisfied that the level of 'violent' material was appropriate to the context and theme of the programme, and we therefore decline to uphold the complaint under Standard P4.

Was the programme correctly classified?

[18]  The content classification, warning and filtering standard (Standard P1) states that viewers should be informed by regular and consistent advice about programme content (including classifications and warnings).

[19]  Guideline (b) to the standard says that classifications should screen at the beginning of programmes, be included in all electronic programme guides and accompany printed guides where possible. The relevant classifications are as follows:

  • M Suitable for Mature audiences 16 years and over
  • 16 People under 16 years should not view
  • 18 People under 18 years should not view

[20]  Guideline (d) to the standard says that visual warning labels should be broadcast immediately prior to content which is likely to distress or offend a substantial number of viewers, particularly where it is likely that viewers would not anticipate this effect due to the context or nature of the content. The relevant visual warning labels are:

  • V Contains violence
  • S Sexual content may offend
  • C Content may offend

[21]  Ms Godinet argued that the programme should have screened after 8pm, and was incorrectly classified M when it should have been classified 18. She also considered that such an 'explicit adult sex and violence programme' should have had a V or an S label.

[22]  SKY noted that Ms Godinet's arguments about the time-bands and scheduling were not relevant to pay television. It conceded that the programme should have contained warning labels of S and C, and that 'human error' accounted for the omission of warning labels. It assured the Authority that the programme was not scheduled to be broadcast again, but that if it was replayed, it would include S and C warning labels.

[23]  Pay television does not have time-bands in the same way as free-to-air television. This is because filtering technology allows parents to control their children's access to certain programmes. Essentially, this means that pay television channels such as SKY can broadcast programmes at any time of the day (so long as they still comply with the standards).

[24]  For the reasons we have outlined in relation to good taste and decency and violence, we do not consider that the programme featured explicit sexual or violent content, and we agree with SKY that an M classification was sufficient for the level of material shown.

[25]  However, we recognise that the subject matter was of a sexual nature and may have been offensive to some. SKY has accepted that the warning labels for the programme were less than adequate. The consequence of this was that viewers were not fully informed of the programme's likely content, meaning they were more likely to be surprised and offended by what followed. While the programme title would have given viewers some indication of the programme's subject matter, the warning labels S and C in addition to the title would have given SKY's audience a reasonable opportunity to make a different viewing choice.

[26]  Accordingly, we uphold the complaint under Standard P1 on the basis that SKY has conceded the programme should have included warning labels of S and C.

Final Comment

[27]  We note that this complaint was referred to us on the basis that SKY did not respond to the complainant as required within 20 working days. We remind the broadcaster of its statutory obligation to respond to formal complaints with a written decision within this period (if an extension has not been requested).

For the above reasons the Authority upholds the complaint that the broadcast by SKY Network Television Ltd of The Real 50 Shades of Grey on 15 February 2015 breached Standard P1 of the Pay Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[28]  Having upheld the complaint, the Authority may make orders under sections 13 and 16 of the Broadcasting Act 1989. We do not intend to do so on this occasion. This was a relatively minor breach and SKY has acknowledged its error. Accordingly publication of our decision is sufficient.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority



Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
Authority Member
15 July 2015



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

1      Sue Godinet's formal complaint – 16 February 2015
2      Ms Godinet's referral to the Authority – 17 March 2015
3      SKY's response to the Authority – 30 April 2015
4      Ms Godinet's final comment – 15 May 2015



1 See sections 7 and 8 of the Broadcasting Act 1989