Pressure is building on television networks to reduce the amount of sleaze in early prime time. The Broadcasting Standards Authority is expected to announce a decision next week that will set the new tone.

There is particular concern about sexual content on early-evening TV.

BSA chief executive Dominic Sheehan said he was aware of concerns and had spoken to two community groups.

He will be suggesting that the BSA board commission more research into the issue of how sexuality is presented, including the effect on early prime time - up to the 8.30pm cut-off for adult viewing.

He had met the groups - one of which is Family First - and they had raised convincing arguments that the BSA needed to develop its research.

There had been issues about the portrayal of sex in the news and in promotions. Sheehan stressed that the BSA acted only on complaints.

It cannot act proactively or make subjective decisions.

The authority has been created that way to ensure the industry is self-regulating. But self-regulation has gone out the door as the networks chase ratings.

Sheehan would not discuss an upcoming decision that will have an impact on how the BSA treats complaints about good taste and decency.

Television researcher Ruth Zanker has raised alarm bells about the growing levels of sexual content in early prime time, warning that children were being sacrificed on the altar of higher ratings for TV networks.

But if the number of complaints are any judge, New Zealanders are happy with sleazy 7pm shows such as Family Guy.

The show regularly features a paedophile character and themes of incest and bestiality. AGB Nielsen surveys suggest an average 25,000 children aged 7 to 14 watch the show at 7pm each weeknight.

Sheehan said the context of shows - like the different approach of cartoons and of an edgy channel like C4 - was taken into account by the BSA.

TV2's early prime time show Two and a Half Men regularly had a sexual theme.

Another sign of the times in 2010 telly? A programme this week has included a promo for a show where a character is sexually attracted to pregnant women.

QUALITY RATES

Let's not get too grumpy with the television folk. While there's a big push toward the "tabloidisation" of media, TV3's Inside New Zealand is sticking to strong, old-fashioned documentaries.

And TV3 head of factual programmes Sue Woodfield says that the docos - made with taxpayer subsidies from New Zealand On Air - are still delivering ratings that make commercial sense.

A repeat screening of The King of The Benefit Cheats took a 21 per cent share. Also rating well was the beautifully crafted doco 200 Kilogramme Kid, which told the story of an obese but remarkably charming Gisborne lad having a stomach reduction operation.

Meanwhile, state TV seems to have seen the future of the documentary genre in countless stories of crime, crime, crime.

TV3 has maintained good New Zealand storytelling that makes a buck. Woodfield says she's proud of the Inside New Zealand strand. And so she should be.

JUDY, JUDY, JUDY

You'd think Judy Bailey would be nervous about making personal endorsements after her old mate Richard Long came a cropper backing Hanover.

But by all accounts she is a dutiful and enthusiastic "ambassador" for Retirement Assets, a company that sells homes in retirement villages.

Bailey was in Christchurch yesterday at the opening of a bowling green for Russley Village in quake-torn Christchurch.

Retirement Assets chief executive Peter Cross said the company had a commercial relationship with Bailey, whose parents lived at a development in Auckland.

Cross said the Mother of the Nation was popular with older people from her broadcasting days.

Bailey presented One News with Long. But if she's in the commercial market for more endorsements you'd hope that she never winds up like Long, who says he regretted fronting for Hanover, dragging in customers and losing $50,000 of his own money along the way.

FREEVIEW EXTENSION

There was relief all around when the Government announced a 2013 switch-off for analogue TV signals - a programme that will deliver into government funds about $100 million from selling off frequencies to telco companies. The fear was it would linger on until 2015. Broadcasting Minister Jonathan Coleman said about 70 per cent of people were on digital.

He said inevitably there would be some who hadn't shifted over to digital by 2013 and the Government would be coming up with a programme to assist them. Meanwhile, the Government was working with TV networks about extending the reach for terrestrial service Freeview from 75 per cent of the country to 89 per cent.

Coleman expected the extension to include Taupo, Rotorua, Whangarei, Invercargill, Timaru, Nelson, Wairarapa, Wanganui, Gisborne and Taranaki.

2ND TIME AROUND

Television New Zealand has rehired a former top executive who headed programming.

Annemarie Duff stepped down in 2006 amid plummeting ratings for TV One. TVNZ has confirmed it has appointed her as general manager of marketing.

A spokesman for the broadcaster could not confirm that Duff was paid severance money the last time she left.

Originally a marketer - whose role in programming raised eyebrows - her two-year reign deciding what gets shown on TV One and TV2, and when, was marked by a massive slump in ratings for TV One.

Her supporters remind us that TV2 held firm.

In her time, she increased marketing control and oversight of the news and current affairs operation, a trend that became entrenched and that is accelerating under the new head of sales and marketing, Paul Maher.

Industry insiders say that Maher fought hard to hire Duff. The two would have worked together when Maher was head of TVNZ's own advertising agency Starcom.

Duff will be working in the same division as her husband - head of sales Alistair Duff.

TVNZ has a history of second-time-around execs.

Rick Ellis was eased out as chief executive under Labour in 2002 and he returned in 2005 after a period of major ructions.

BEYOND REACH

Established media companies know breaching legal orders can cost a lot in legal charges. And losing a defamation writ can leave a gaping hole in annual profits.

But the case of Cameron Slater and the Whale Oil blog - Slater was convicted on eight charges of breaching a non-publication order and one for naming a sexual abuse victim - shows freewheeling online media types are also legally responsible for what they say.

Some people will have sympathies for Slater - if not for him personally then for his views about the use of suppression orders. But few will be surprised that the District Court did not buy his argument, which it said was "based on a mistaken belief that behaviour utilising the internet was beyond the reach of the law".

TWITTER TWIST

It's that view that undermines the value of online comment.

New media bloggers like Cameron might have some inkling that they can be held accountable for what they write.

But what of the new, new media - the huge number of people, including teenagers, posting comments on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter?

If you write something and it is read, heard or seen, it is published.

"It's something that's quite difficult to explain to teenagers," said Rosemary Tobin, associate professor of law and a defamation expert at Auckland University.

On the one hand, the scale of the internet meant potentially actionable comments might never get noticed. Legal action might not be worth it or suing would bring more unwanted publicity.

But the potential was still there and many people were unaware that what they were writing was subject to defamation laws, Tobin said.

The issue is particularly relevant with mainstream media increasingly quoting from social media sites in news.

The Herald recently contacted an individual who had made allegations about a major and legally vigilant corporation, which was angry and sought legal advice when the Herald indicated it was considering publication.

The comment's writer said: "I would prefer if you did not put it in the media."

Too late, says Tobin - the comment was already part of the media.

Beyond being republished by mainstream media there are dangers also for someone who simply passes on libellous comments, such as by re-tweeting a Twitter message.

There is also the danger of making instantaneous tweets that come back to haunt you. TV3 newsreader Mike McRoberts - who criticised TV3 coverage of the Canterbury earthquake - can tell you all about that.