Research Ngā Rangahau

Litmus Testing 2017

Download PDF:
Litmus Testing Report 2017 [PDF]1.32 MB

Date published: June 2017

Research company: UMR Research Ltd


As part of its statutory mandate, the Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA) commissions research to inform decision making and the broadcasting standards system. Each year members of the public are invited to ‘litmus test’ at least five BSA decisions on a chosen topic or standard. This year the groups focused on the Programme Information and Children’s Interests standards.

Objectives of the Litmus Testing

  • To determine whether decisions made by the BSA are reasonable reflections of the general public’s current attitudes.
  • Specifically, to understand public attitudes towards the Programme Information standard and to a lesser extent, the Children’s Interests standard.


  • Four face-to-face focus groups with members of the public were conducted in February 2017, two in Auckland and two in Invercargill (with a total of 31 participants). The groups included a mix of gender, ages, ethnicities, participants who did/did not have children in their household, and television viewing habits.
  • An Online Overtime Focus Group (OOT) with 23 people was also conducted in March 2017, resulting in a total number of 54 participants in the research overall. The OOT group also included a mix of age, gender, participants who did/did not have children in their household, and television viewing habits, but with a greater emphasis on ethnic diversity and provincial/rural representation.
  • Five BSA decisions which dealt with issues relating to Programme Information and Children’s Interests, and considered both free-to-air television and pay television programmes, were tested. A clip from the programme which was the subject of each decision was played for the participants and they were asked to answer a variety of questions about the clip, such as what rating/classification they would give the clip, the time they thought it should be broadcast, and the age(s) for which they believed the programme was suitable. Participants were also asked whether they would have upheld the complaint. They were then given a summary of the BSA’s decision and were asked to rate the decision, including the reasoning and the outcome.


  • The majority of participants agreed with the BSA’s decisions for all five clips.
  • An average of 87% of participants agreed the BSA’s decisions were acceptable, good or very good.
  • Some participants felt that the BSA was making the right decisions from a technical perspective (applying the standards), but did not agree with the standards and guidelines themselves (for example, some considered the Programme Information standard is too lenient).
  • In terms of demographic or regional variation, the findings of the research were consistent across all participants. However, older participants tended to be somewhat more disturbed by content such as explicit sexual material or offensive language than younger participants. There were no differences in findings across the different regions.
  • Themes drawn out from the focus group discussions include:
    • While news programmes are unclassified, the depiction of graphic and prolonged violence during these programmes may not be appropriate for broadcast early in the evening.
    • Clips which are fleeting and which allude to, rather than depict, sexual content may be acceptable to broadcast during G-rated timeslots.
    • The wider context of the programme is an important consideration, and there is an expectation of some degree of self-censorship by audiences (for example, participants felt viewers should know to exercise caution when viewing programmes such as Criminal Minds, which is expected to contain challenging content).
    • Most participants who were parents said they took steps to restrict their children’s access to unsuitable content on television. This included restricting viewing times (for example, only allowing children to watch G-classified programmes), channels and content. What constituted unsuitable content for children varied, but violence, offensive language, horror and overtly sexual material were most commonly referred to as unsuitable for children.


The decisions tested were: