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Is the BSA becoming more conservative?

By Steven | May 3, 2011

Broadcasters claim that our new crop of BSA members are more conservative than the last lot. They point to the decisions upholding good taste and decency complaints against Hung, Home and Away and the documentary about Aramoana.

Are they right?

In short: I don’t really think so. I had a quick squizz through the last 100 BSA decisions, dating back to about the time of the Hung and Home and Away decisions late last year. What’s extraordinary is that no fewer than 43 of them raised good taste and decency issues. Maybe complainants are getting more conservative, or more bolshy. Maybe broadcasters are pushing the boundaries more. But this is a very high rate of complaining about taste and decency. Usually taste and decency complaints comprise less than 30% of complaints, not 43%.

The BSA upheld 9 of these complaints (including Hung, Home and Away and the Aramoana decisions). That’s an uphold rate of 21%. That’s high, but not unheard of. Around 2000 to 2003 the BSA was upholding around a quarter of good taste and decency complaints. In more recent years, though, that rate has dropped markedly, often dipping well below 10%. Still, in 2008 and 2010 it was 16%. Obviously, a lot depends on the sort of material referred to them by complainants.

Their upholds have covered things like a rape scene in a movie, a Close Up interview with a porn star showing clips from her movies, a pretty explicit sex scene in a movie broadcast at 8:30pm, and raunchy clips from Outrageous Fortune broadcast on TV3 news. I doubt these really show any change of direction by the BSA.

A couple of other upholds seem more marginal to me. I’ve already discussed the Aramoana decision. The High Court overturned the decision in Hung. I’m not really sure the BSA needed to uphold the complaint against Ski FM’s morning host for wondering:

Which would be worse, sucking diarrhoea through a straw from someone else’s butt, or sucking diarrhoea through a straw from your own butt?

On the other hand, it’s not a breach to ask:

Which is worse, drinking pigs’ urine, or your own urine?

Just so we’re clear about that.

But overall, there’s much more fodder here for those who think the BSA is too permissive: a scene from Babel where a Japanese girl exposed her genitals; a talent show spoof on What Now where a judge said to Cinderella: “Next time I’m holding one of my balls, you’re invited”; grainy photos of Shane Warne with naked women (breasts blurred) on TV3 news; characters in a movie having sex in front of a dead body; the main guy in Extreme Male Beauty exposing genetalia and talking about something that made his “winkle bleed”; oral sex on Sex and the City; a couple simulating sex in public…. none of these good taste and decency complaints were upheld. The BSA members are not a bunch of wowsers.

Some complainants are, though. For example, someone complained that a Masterchef segment on how to humanely boil lobsters breached good taste and decency.

And someone had the poor taste to complain about this fine story, where 3 News speculated about the titles of porn videos rented on the public dime by MP Shane Jones:

At the conclusion of the coverage, the presenter mentioned that people had been making humorous suggestions on the social website Twitter as to the possible titles of the pornographic films Mr Jones had watched. She said:

Among the suggestions: “Shane and the Party Whip”, “If It Pleases the Speaker”, “Bipartisan Bitches” and, dare we say it, “Withdraw and Apologise”.

Not upheld.

All in all, it’s pretty hard to conclude that the new BSA is much more conservative than the old crowd.

But much more striking than their high uphold rate in good taste and decency complaints is their extraordinarily low uphold rate for all other types of complaints. By my count, of those other 57 complaints that weren’t about good taste and decency, the BSA has upheld just six. They upheld just one accuracy complaint (though another was subsumed) and only one balance complaint (in a case I argued).

I haven’t looked at the content of those decisions, so I’m not saying they got them wrong. But on the face of it, these figures suggest that if there’s anything conservative about this BSA it’s their reluctance to hold broadcasters to account for alleged lapses that aren’t related to taste and decency…

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