The Broadcasting Standards Authority today released a decision on a complaint that an episode of Shortland Street was in breach of the good taste and decency and children’s interests standards in the Free to Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. The complaint was upheld.
The episode included a scene in which two male characters, Gerald and Lindsay, were involved in a sexual encounter which began with them undressing and kissing; Gerald was in his underwear and Lindsay was shirtless, but still wearing his trousers.
The two characters were then shown lying in bed talking, covered up to their bare chests by blankets. Lindsay went under the blankets and Gerald nervously asked him “where are you going?”. Lindsay popped his head back up and replied “it’s a surprise” before descending back under but came back up when a ticklish Gerald began giggling. After Lindsay went back under the blankets, Gerald moved suddenly and accidentally hit Lindsay in the face with his knee, giving him a bloody nose.
The episode was rated PGR and preceded by the following written and verbal warning:
“The following programme contains sexual material that may not be suitable for a younger audience. We recommend the guidance of a parent or other adult.”
In the Authority’s view, the scene in question was not suitable for child viewers, even when subject to guidance from a parent or adult.
The Authority considered that any sexual content or references during children’s normally accepted viewing times should be subtle and inexplicit, or in the nature of sexual innuendo that would be likely to go over the heads of child viewers. In the Authority’s view, the scene was not sufficiently discreet in its depiction of the sexual content, and was therefore unsuitable for child viewers.
The Authority made it clear that its findings had nothing to do with the fact that the scene involved two men; the scene would have been equally inappropriate if it had involved a heterosexual couple. Irrespective of the characters’ sexual orientation, the broadcaster did not adequately consider the interests of child viewers by including such an unambiguous sex scene in a programme broadcast at 7pm.
The Authority did not impose an order. It said that the decision clarified its expectations surrounding the broadcast of sexual content of this nature during the PGR time-band at 7pm. It noted that TVNZ had reviewed the appraisal process for Shortland Street, and was satisfied that procedures had been put in place to ensure that similar breaches did not occur in the future. In addition, it acknowledged that the decision was likely to receive extensive publicity due to the nature of the complaint and the programme involved.
This is the first time that a complaint against Shortland Street has been upheld by the BSA.