BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Owen and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2006-055

  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Paul France
  • Tapu Misa
  • Howard Owen

Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Frontseat – contained brief scene from A Clockwork Orange where a man is beaten – programme was classified G and broadcast on a Saturday morning at 7.55am – allegedly in breach of programme classification and children’s interests standards

Standard 7 (programme classification) – scene complained about contained material which was unsuitable for children – broadcaster should have classified as a PGR programme – upheld (majority)

Standard 9 (children’s interests) – broadcaster did not exclude material likely to be unsuitable for children – inappropriately classified and broadcast during a G time-band – broadcaster failed to consider the interests of child viewers – upheld (majority)

No Order

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1] An episode of Frontseat, a New Zealand-made arts programme, was broadcast at 7.55am on TV One on Saturday 18 March 2006. One item looked at a proposal to use classical music to tame anti-social behaviour, and included a brief scene from the film A Clockwork Orange which involved a man being beaten by a group of men in a tunnel.


[2] Howard Owen complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the scene from A Clockwork Orange was in breach of broadcasting standards. He complained that the scene showed “graphic violence, i.e. a person repeatedly being beaten.” Mr Owen was concerned that Frontseat had been given a G rating, and had been broadcast on free-to-air television during “unsupervised children’s viewing time”.

[3] Mr Owen said that he had since learnt that the same programme had been shown the previous Sunday, late at night with an AO rating. This demonstrated that the rating system could not be trusted, he said, as the rating seemed to relate to the broadcast time and not the programme’s content.


[4] Standards 7 and 9 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice are relevant to the determination of this complaint. They provide:

Standard 7 Programme Classification

Broadcasters are responsible for ensuring that programmes are appropriately classified; adequately display programme classification information; and adhere to time-bands in accordance with Appendix 1.

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.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[5] Before examining the specific scene complained about, TVNZ made some general points about the matters raised in Mr Owen’s letter. First, it observed that while a film or drama programme may have an AO rating, that did not mean that every scene in that programme was similarly restricted. TVNZ contended that it was possible to show a scene from A Clockwork Orange in a G-rated programme by carefully selecting the sequence and by considering the changed context in which the scene was being shown.

[6] Second, the broadcaster noted that a G classification did not necessarily mean that a programme was directed primarily at children. A G-rated programme, it said, could be aimed at a mature audience provided that it did not include scenes which were likely to disturb children.

[7] Noting Mr Owen’s remark that the programme was broadcast during “unsupervised children’s viewing time”, TVNZ said:

…neither TVNZ nor any other body (such as the Broadcasting Standards Authority) has declared any period to be for unsupervised children – especially very young children.

Frontseat, as an arts programme, was clearly not aimed at a child audience, parents would know that it was not likely to attract the interest of their offspring, and any unsupervised children who may have been watching would quickly choose a different viewing option.

[8] TVNZ acknowledged the apparent conflict between the programme carrying an AO classification when it was first screened on the Sunday night, yet displaying a G classification when repeated on the Saturday morning. It said that this was an “unsatisfactory situation”, and that it was “taking steps to rectify it”.

[9] The broadcaster explained that the producers of Frontseat, keen to compile a programme which was topical, had been unable to deliver it to the TVNZ censors early enough for the programme to go through the censorship process. As a precaution, a decision was made to attach an AO rating to the programme which would allow the Sunday night screening to contain, if relevant, arts material which might involve aspects such as bad language, sexual references or nudity. It was subsequently rated G by the TVNZ censor, the broadcaster said.

[10] Turning to consider the specific sequence complained about, TVNZ observed that the item contained a single scene from A Clockwork Orange. It said that the scene:

…showed a distant view of a group of youths beating a prone object, apparently a person, near the mouth of a tunnel. The sequence was removed from the sustained brutal context of the original film, and had a distinctly surreal look to it. It was contextually appropriate because the item was discussing the playing of classical music as a way of curbing anti-social behaviour, and it reminded art lovers – with a touch of irony – that the vile hero of the film had a preoccupation with Beethoven (whose music was used in the film’s soundtrack).

[11] In this context, TVNZ did not believe that Frontseat required a classification more restrictive than G. The programme was directed at a mature audience, TVNZ said, not children. The broadcaster noted that during the week at 8am, viewers would see similar content on Breakfast, which sometimes included graphic news reports and extracts from current movies. It found that Standard 7 (programme classification) was not breached.

[12] Considering Standard 9 (children’s interests), TVNZ contended that Frontseat was “hardly likely to attract the interest of all but the most mature of young children”. The broadcaster said it had considered the interests of children by showing Frontseat on TV One, while Disney programmes and cartoons were playing on TV2. It concluded that Standard 9 was not breached.

Referral to the Authority

[13] Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Mr Owen referred his complaint to the Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. He said that it was clear what was happening in the violent scene, and he still questioned the G rating especially because it was shown on a Saturday morning.

[14] Noting that TVNZ did not recognise “unsupervised children’s viewing time”, Mr Owen noted guideline 9d which acknowledged that children “tend to watch television through to midday on Saturday and Sunday mornings…Accordingly, special attention should be given to providing appropriate warnings during these periods”. He said:

I believe parents and other adults looking after younger viewers should be able to sit down and watch together at that time a G-rated programme without having to worry about content – in this case, violent content.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[15] In its response to the referral, TVNZ stressed that the presence of a G classification did not necessarily imply that a programme is directed at children, or intended for child audiences. It asked the Authority to consider the sequence of programmes in which the 8am screening of Frontseat occurred – a mixture of G programmes and unclassified news programmes. TVNZ submitted that the content of programmes appearing in sequences such as this should, by common sense, reflect the fact that adults were the intended audience.

[16] By contrast TVNZ noted that TV2 was presenting G programmes that were directed at children, for example, Saturday Disney and Squirt.

Complainant’s Final Comment

[17] In his final comment, Mr Owen said that he was aware G-rated programmes were not for children’s viewing only. However, he reiterated that they should be suitable for all ages without having to worry about explicit content. The complainant said:

TVNZ state their Saturday morning programming was a mix of G and unclassified material. However, a G programme is still just that – and I do not expect to see that level of violence in a G-rated programme. Frontseat is clearly for mature/adult audiences and its late night Sunday time ensures it is free to show a wide range of material. However, in this case, I feel a G rating in a Saturday morning timeslot is not appropriate having regard to the violent sequence shown.

[18] Mr Owen submitted that a PGR or even AO rating would have been more in line with the content shown, and the fact that it was directed at a more adult audience. He also argued that TVNZ had “overlooked” guideline 9d to Standard 9.

Authority's Determination

[19] 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 7 (programme classification)

[20] The Authority notes that Appendix 1 to the Free-to-Air Television Code defines G programmes as:

Programmes which exclude material likely to be unsuitable for children. Programmes may not necessarily be designed for child viewers but must not contain material likely to alarm or distress them.

[21] A majority of the Authority finds that this episode of Frontseat was inappropriately classified with a G rating. The majority disagrees with TVNZ’s characterisation of the scene from A Clockwork Orange as showing “a distant view of a group of youths beating a prone object, apparently a person…”. The majority is of the view that the excerpt clearly showed a man being beaten by a group of youths for 4 to 5 seconds.

[22] While the majority finds that the segment from A Clockwork Orange would not necessarily have alarmed or distressed children, it considers that this material was “likely to be unsuitable for children”. For this reason, the majority finds that the programme should have been rated PGR, and it upholds the Standard 7 complaint.

[23] A minority of the Authority (Paul France) considers that the programme was appropriately classified with a G rating, and accepts TVNZ's argument that the schedule of adult-targeted programmes surrounding Frontseat was an important factor in classifying the programme.The minority notes that the scene was brief, and it agrees with TVNZ that it “had a distinctly surreal look to it”. In the context of an item about the use of classical music to curb anti-social behaviour, the minority is of the view that the scene complained about was not likely to be unsuitable for child viewers.

Standard 9 (children’s interests)

[24] A majority of the Authority also finds that Standard 9 was breached on this occasion. As discussed above, the majority considers that the broadcaster failed to exclude material from a G-rated programme which was likely to be unsuitable for children. Having concluded that the programme should have been rated PGR, and noting that it was broadcast in a G time-band during children’s normally accepted viewing hours, the majority finds that TVNZ failed to consider the interests of child viewers.

[25] A minority of the Authority (Paul France) disagrees. For the reasons outlined in paragraph [23], the minority finds that the programme was appropriately classified with a G rating. The minority notes that the surrounding programmes were overtly targeted at adult viewers, and believes that it was reasonable of TVNZ to assume that the audience would not comprise impressionable children viewing on their own. Accordingly, the minority declines to uphold the complaint.

Bill of Rights

[26] For the avoidance of doubt, the Authority records that it has given full weight to the provisions of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 and taken into account all the circumstances of the complaint in reaching this determination. For the reasons given above, the Authority considers that its exercise of powers on this occasion is consistent with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.

[27] For the above reasons a majority of the Authority upholds the complaint that the broadcast of Frontseat by Television New Zealand Ltd on TV One on 18 March 2006 breached Standard 7 and Standard 9 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[28] Having upheld a complaint, the Authority may make orders under ss.13 and 16 of the Broadcasting Act 1989. Although a majority of the Authority has found that the programme was classified incorrectly as a G programme because it contained material likely to be unsuitable for children, it agrees with TVNZ that children are unlikely to have been watching Frontseat – an arts programme directed at adults – on TV One a Saturday morning. Accordingly, the majority finds that the consequences of this breach would have been minor. In these circumstances, it concludes that an order is not appropriate.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Joanne Morris
14 August 2006


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

  1. Howard Owen’s formal complaint – 7 April 2006
  2. TVNZ’s decision on the formal complaint – 3 May 2006
  3. Mr Owen’s referral to the Authority – 25 May 2006
  4. TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 8 June 2006
  5. Mr Owen’s final comment – 19 June 2006