Smith and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2020-145 (31 March 2021)
- Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
- Leigh Pearson
- Paula Rose QSO
- Susie Staley MNZM
- Kendyl Smith
BroadcasterTelevision New Zealand Ltd
[This summary does not form part of the decision.]
The Authority has not upheld a complaint about an episode of Shortland Street that included scenes of a man injecting another against his will, removing one of his organs, then drinking alcohol from a glass with a bloodied glove. In the context, including the programme’s nature, classification and intended audience, the Authority found the episode was unlikely to have caused widespread undue offence or distress, or undue harm to child viewers.
Not Upheld: Good Taste and Decency, Children’s Interests
 An episode of the fictional drama Shortland Street was broadcast on TVNZ 2 at 7pm, 28 September 2020. It included a storyline about a surgeon, Simon, whose unrequited love for his colleague motivated him to seek violent revenge against her love interest, Curtis.
 At the end of the episode, Simon is seen injecting Curtis against his will before placing a bodily organ (apparently removed from Curtis) into a tray with forceps, while Curtis watches. He is then seen drinking from a glass with a bloodied glove. The episode ends with a teaser for the next episode in which Curtis asks Simon, ‘What did you do to me?’, and tells him, ‘You’re insane’.
 Kendyl Smith complained the broadcast breached the good taste and decency and children’s interests standards:
- ‘[W]e changed the channel from Seven Sharp to Master Chef at 7.30. As per usual Shortland Street was running late. However my 7 and 10 year olds were horrified as I was by the scenes of someone holding a body organ, which I swapped the channel as soon as I saw.’
- ‘Then thinking it must be over [I] changed channels to see some guy drinking blood.’
- ‘This was entirely inappropriate for this time slot and right before something like Master Chef.’
- ‘Both my children are scared to go to bed and really disturbed by those scenes.’
The broadcaster’s response
 TVNZ did not find any breach of the standards for the following reasons:
- The Shortland Street episode was certified PGC – Parental Guidance. The PGC certificate means it 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. PG programmes may be screened at any time.
- The C advisory means the programme contains content which may offend.
- There is an expectation under the standards that parents monitor their children’s viewing of PG certificate programmes.
- This episode was preceded by a written warning which stated: PG: This programme is rated PG. It contains material that may not be suitable for a younger audience. We recommend the guidance of a parent or other adult.
- The PGC rating screened at the start of each programme part so viewers were fully informed of the likely material in the programme.
- The warning and the PGC rating enabled parents to make an informed decision about whether they wished their children to view violent scenes that may not be suitable for a younger audience.
- Shortland Street is aimed at teens and older viewers. In a previous decision,1 the Authority found it is targeted towards a relatively sophisticated young adult audience which is familiar with the media and theatrical techniques.
- Simon is shown handling what appears to be an organ with forceps, but is not shown operating on Curtis. Curtis is shown to be OK in the next episode teaser. Simon is drinking alcohol not blood; he has an addiction to alcohol and this is referenced in the programmes. The storyline about Simon as the ‘creep’ is longstanding, and he has killed before.
- Shortland Street is a drama and it is expected by viewers that storylines will portray extreme situations and behaviours.
 The good taste and decency standard2 states current norms of good taste and decency should be maintained, consistent with the context of the programme and the wider context of the broadcast. It protects audience members from broadcasts likely to cause widespread undue offence or distress, or to undermine widely shared community standards.3
 The children’s interests standard4 states broadcasters should ensure children can be protected from broadcasts which might adversely affect them. It enables adult viewers to protect children in their care from material that unduly disturbs them, is harmful, or is likely to impair their physical, mental or social development.5
 We have watched the broadcast and read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.
 We have also considered the important right to freedom of expression, which is our starting point. This includes the broadcaster’s right to offer a range of content and the audience’s right to receive it. We may only intervene and uphold a complaint where the broadcast has caused actual or potential harm at a level that justifies placing a limit on the right to freedom of expression. For the reasons below, we have not found such harm in this case.
Good taste and decency
 Context is crucial to assessing whether a programme has breached the good taste and decency standard, including the context in which the material complained about occurred, and the wider context of the broadcast.6 In this case, the key contextual factors relevant to our determination were:
- The programme was broadcast at 7pm and classified ‘PGC’.
- The programme was intended for a teenage and older audience.
- The programme was preceded by a written warning which stated: PG: This programme is rated PG. It contains material that may not be suitable for a younger audience. We recommend the guidance of a parent or other adult.
- The PGC rating screened at the start of each programme part (after ad breaks).
- The teaser for the next episode showing the victim was okay mitigated the threat of violence.
- No scenes were shown of the organ actually being removed.
- Simon was drinking alcohol rather than blood, although for a viewer seeing the scene out of context, there may have been a perception he was drinking blood.
- The programme ran 1 minute and 48 seconds overtime.
 In light of these contextual factors, we do not consider the broadcast was likely to have been outside audience expectations or to have caused widespread undue offence or distress.
 We acknowledge the scenes may have appeared worse out of context. We also acknowledge it would not have been possible to view them in context when the viewer was tuning in for the 7.30pm broadcast and the programme was running overtime. However:
- Programmes occasionally do not run to schedule and, provided programmes are correctly classified and not screened in inappropriate timebands, this is not a matter of broadcasting standards.
- The brief programme overrun did not mean it extended into a G timeband. At 7.30pm parental guidance is recommended. In this case, the complainant was providing such guidance. She was in a position to turn off the television (or change the channel as she did) and mitigate any harm by discussing the content with her children.
- In these circumstances, any potential harm caused did not meet the high threshold required to find a breach of this standard.
 Accordingly, we do not uphold the complaint under the good taste and decency standard.
 Context is also important in a consideration of this standard, which is related to the good taste and decency standard and which takes into account the same contextual factors.
 However, the focus of this standard is on harm that may be unique to children, and on content that could be considered harmful to children though it may not be harmful to the general audience.7
 The objective of this standard is to allow broadcasting to a wide audience, while ensuring reasonable steps are taken to enable adults to protect child viewers in their care.8 It is not possible or practicable for broadcasters to shield children from all potentially unsuitable content. For example, even where all appropriate audience advisories are included, a viewer can happen upon inappropriate content when switching channels.
 The timebands restrictions protect against this risk. Knowing the timebands, and what type of content is able to be screened in each, enables parents and guardians to exercise supervision at appropriate times (which occurred in this case).9 Despite the programme running overtime, the relevant content was not inappropriate for the timeband.
 For similar reasons to those outlined in connection with the good taste and decency standard, we consider the broadcast was unlikely to cause undue harm to children.
 Accordingly, we do not uphold the complaint under the children’s interests standard.
For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
Judge Bill Hastings
31 March 2021
The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1 Kendyl Smith’s original complaint – 28 September 2020
2 TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 23 October 2020
3 Ms Smith’s referral to the Authority – 23 October 2020
4 TVNZ’s final comments on the referral – 9 December 2020
5 TVNZ’s correspondence regarding scheduling – 24 February 2021
1 McBride and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 1996-029
2 Standard 1 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice
3 Commentary: Good Taste and Decency, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 12
4 Standard 3 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice
5 Commentary: Children’s Interests, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 13
6 Guideline 1a
7 Commentary: Children’s Interests, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 14
8 As above
9 Safeviewing "Timebands" <www.safeviewing.co.nz>