BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Riwai-Couch and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2006-092

  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Melanie Riwai-Couch
Big Love

Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Big Love – fictional series about polygamist family in America – scene showed one of the wives nearly walking in on her husband and another wife having sex in her bedroom – 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) – broadcast not during children’s normally accepted viewing times – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1] Big Love was a fictional series about a polygamist businessman living with three wives in modern day Utah, America. The first two episodes of the series were broadcast consecutively on Saturday 29 July 2006 commencing at 8.30pm on TV2. The programme was preceded by the following warning, which was delivered both visually and verbally:

This programme on Two is rated Adults Only. It contains nudity and sex that may offend some people.

[2] Towards the beginning of the second episode, after 9.30pm, the third wife saw her husband and his second wife having sex in her bedroom. The husband’s shirt was removed but otherwise no nudity was shown.


[3] Melanie Riwai-Couch made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the broadcast had breached standards of good taste and decency. She was concerned about what she described as the “blatant, full picture coverage of people having sex”, and contended that it was inappropriate for broadcast on public television.

[4] Noting that the programme was screened “at a reasonable hour”, the complainant also submitted that many children and young people would have been watching. Ms Riwai-Couch contended that the broadcast also breached the standard intended to protect children’s interests.


[5] TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standards 1 and 9 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which 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.

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

[6] TVNZ noted that the programme Big Love was a work of fiction, and contended that it would be difficult to discuss polygamy in fiction without referring to how such marital arrangements coped with the practice of sex. The broadcaster also pointed out that Big Love was classified as an AO programme, and it had been preceded by “an unambiguous and explicit warning about content”.

[7] TVNZ contended that the various examples of sex and nudity in the programme were much less explicit than described by the complainant. Although it was unable to identify the specific scene referred to by the complainant, TVNZ submitted that “very little sex” was actually shown. Taking into account the above contextual factors, TVNZ concluded that Standard 1 (good taste and decency) had not been breached.

[8] Further, the broadcaster maintained that it had considered the interests of child viewers by broadcasting Big Love after the Adults Only watershed at 8.30pm, classifying the programme AO and attaching a specific warning about content. It found that no breach of Standard 9 (children’s interests) had occurred.

Referral to the Authority

[9] Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Ms Riwai-Couch referred her complaint to the Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. She stated that the particular scene she was concerned about contained “a woman straddling a man in intercourse, while another woman watched from the doorway”.

[10] With respect to the warning, Ms Riwai-Couch contended that it was “arrogant to assume that all viewers watch a programme from the beginning”. The complainant maintained that Big Love was screened at a time when most children were likely to be “roaming in and out of bed”.

Authority's Determination

[11] 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)

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

  • the AO classification of the programme
  • the adult target audience
  • the visual and verbal warning given prior to the programme
  • the scene complained about was broadcast after 9.30pm
  • the storyline of Big Love is easily recognisable as being more appropriate for adult viewers.

[13] Taking into account the above contextual factors, the Authority considers that the scene did not breach the requirement for good taste and decency.

Standard 9 (children’s interests)

[14] Standard 9 of the Television Code requires broadcasters to consider the interests of child viewers during their normally accepted viewing times. On this occasion, the scene complained about was broadcast after 9.30pm on a Saturday night. While it acknowledges that children tend to stay up later on Friday and Saturday nights, the Authority finds that the material complained about was broadcast well after children’s normally accepted viewing times. Therefore, the Authority does not uphold the Standard 9 complaint.


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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Joanne Morris
27 November 2006


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

1     Melanie Riwai-Couch’s formal complaint – 29 July 2006

2    TVNZ’s decision on the formal complaint – 17 August 2006

3    Ms Riwai-Couch’s referral to the Authority – 31 August 2006

4    TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 12 September 2006