Sex and swearing on TV shows such as Outrageous Fortune has seen a steep increase in complaints to the Broadcasting Standards Authority over the past five years.

The authority says increasing complaints reflect the unease some feel at the speed of change in community standards, but advocacy group Family First says those standards are being dragged lower by the authority's permissive stance.

The number of complaints received by the BSA which primarily related to issues of good taste and decency rose by almost 50 per cent last year to 96 of which 47 - almost half - were upheld, according to the authority's annual report.

While last year's numbers were inflated by a rash of complaints about broadcaster Paul Henry, the increase was also driven by complaints about "frequent coarse language" used on Outrageous Fortune and sex scenes from the programme that were shown on 3News at 6.35pm. While the complaints about Outrageous Fortune were upheld, others, dealing with a scene from The Tudors showing a man tortured with a hot steel rod, a scene from Babel where a young girl exposed her genitals and an item on children's show What Now where a judge said to Cinderella: "Next time I'm holding one of my balls, you're invited" were not.


Bob McCoskrie, head of Family First, said the trend of increasing complaints on issues of good taste and decency reflected growing public unease about the graphic content and profanity of many TV shows.

A recent survey of 600 young New Zealanders aged 15 to 21 commissioned by Family First showed 57 per cent of females and 45 per cent of males agreed there was "too much sex, violence, bad language on TV".

Thirty-eight per cent of females and 58 per cent of males disagreed.

Mr McCoskrie said the survey showed greater concern about sex, profanity and violence on television among older survey respondents.

"Our concern is that for the younger ones, 15 to 17, it becomes normalised which is our concern with broadcasting standards full stop in what you allow. The BSA tries to argue that they're representing community standards. We argue that they're creating community standards by normalising it."

But BSA chairman Peter Radich said standards of good taste and decency were changing as they always had.

"The pace of change is quickening and this is partly through the influence that the unregulated internet has, more especially on younger people.

"Some people find the pace of change unsettling and, as they are entitled to do, they complain. Complaints allow broadcasts to be measured against standards, they allow temperatures to be taken, and for our part, they are welcomed."

Deputy Chief Censor Nic McCully said unlike the Office of Film and Literature Classification, which had prescriptive legislation to direct its work, the BSA had less definite framework to operate within.

"They're looking at standards and probably offensiveness, where we're looking at injury to the public good."

Ms McCully said her office and the BSA had to try to balance a lot of competing interests.

However, Ms McCully offered practical advice on dealing with offensive television content. "If people don't like it they can turn it off or change the channel."

Offended viewers
Complaints to the BSA regarding good taste and decency
Received: 23
Upheld: 1
Not upheld/declined to rule etc: 22

Received: 43
Upheld: 7
Not upheld/declined to rule etc: 36

Received: 46
Upheld: 3
Not upheld/declined to rule etc: 43

Received: 61
Upheld: 10
Not upheld/declined to rule etc: 51

Received: 96
Upheld: 47
Not upheld/declined to rule etc: 49