Broadcasters are putting on a show of unity in the High Court at Auckland on Wednesday in an attempt to stop tightening of controls for sexual content on television.

Television New Zealand and MediaWorks' TV division are appealing against Broadcasting Standards Authority decisions in September for TV2's Hung - over an oral sex scene - and slightly saucy content on TV3's 5.30pm teen soap Home & Away.

Television folk say the decisions show a more conservative and activist approach by the BSA, which has some new members.

The counter-argument is that there is no change at the BSA. Rather, TV is getting raunchier. The trend is not with the regulator but with broadcasters who are showing more sexualised content to boost audiences and advertising revenue.

In that sense, the decision against a scene in Home & Away is more important to networks. If it remains upheld, the complaint might set a precedent for limits on content in early prime time - potentially affecting commercially successful shows such as Shortland Street, Two and a Half Men and Family Guy.

Broadcasters view the Hung decision as an intrusion into a liberal interpretation of what is allowed on late-night TV.

There are freedom of speech issues - you don't want be too priggish. But there are strategic issues for broadcasters as well. If late-night free TV is sanitised, it will hasten the shift to Sky.

Outrageous Fortune set the tone for raunchy sexual content and foul language and - on language at least - it has been replaced by The Almighty Johnsons, which plays Monday nights on TV3.

The 9.30pm show has been a ratings success in an adult time slot, but has a laddish plot that appeals to young teens, including those with MySky or TV3's on-demand service.

There is a lot of effing-this and effing-that.

Halfway through last week's episode, the F-word had been mentioned seven times with a few other expletives thrown in. You have to ask, was it effing necessary?

MediaWorks TV programmer Kelly Martin was comfortable with the language and said she was conscious that the F-word should not be be used excessively. She had advised producers for the TV3 comedy panel show Seven Days that it would be good to reduce the amount of time the F-word is used, even to go an entire show without using it.

BSA boss Dominic Sheehan said the number of complaints about language had not increased, but complainants now largely ignored what were once regarded as offensive words.

Complaints were now almost universally about the F-word and C-word. The latter would never have appeared on television five years ago, he said.


Six months after The Hobbit industrial dispute, Actors' Equity and producers' body the Screen Production and Development Association are finally setting a date for talks which were agreed amid a government deal that removed Warner Bros threats the production would be moved overseas.

The Government changed industrial laws to allay Warner concerns, allowing screen industry workers to be regarded as contractors rather than employees, and handed the Peter Jackson project an extra $33 million of taxpayer funding.

Actors' Equity had claimed Spada was not prepared to discuss collective agreements, but the union - run from Sydney by the bumbling Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) - said it had been agreed that "everything was on the table".

It will interesting to see whether the troubled topic of collective bargaining gets an airing given the entrenched opposition by Jackson's Three Foot Seven and other production companies in Spada against collective bargaining.


The $33 million handout to Warner Bros was controversial - some blamed the union for forcing the sweetheart deal.

Others felt the Government had lost a game of bluff with Warner Bros.

So it was surprising in the early days after the February 22 Christchurch earthquake that John Key mentioned "our friends at Warner Bros" as possible corporate donors.

I asked the Prime Minister's office if there had been any approach to the Hollywood studio or any response, but they said Warners was just one name suggested. Warner Bros PR folk had not replied at press time, so maybe the studio made a private donation - though it's not normal for a company to hide its light under a bushel.

And one argument advanced by local producers during the dispute was that New Zealanders should be grateful Warners is spending money here. Thank you.


The NZ Actors' Guild was born out of that dispute and takes a very different attitude to industrial relations.

Actors' Equity claims 600 members were reported to be unhappy about the casting of New Zealand roles in The Hobbit, but Actors' Guild chairman Greg Ellis was pleased as punch.

"The NZ Actors' Guild believes that it is churlish and argumentative to call into question the whole casting process that has already benefited New Zealand performers and will continue to give countless opportunities to actors outside the speaking roles.

"I have a great contract and awesome working conditions and a performance fee that is almost double my 'day job' wage," says guild member Gareth Ruck.

"I look at the hundreds of fellow actors and crew members I'm working with and think how bad it could have been if Equity had its way."


Government officials are still deciding what the public is allowed to know about its deal loaning radio frequencies to nine companies for delayed payments.

Private-equity-controlled MediaWorks could not afford to pay $43 million in one whack so the Government delivered it and other radio stations a life-saver scheme - but Communications Minister Steven Joyce is delaying naming other broadcasters that have accepted a mortgage from the Crown.

Which is strange. One of the other eight was Colin McCabe, a veteran broadcaster who owns Coromandel community station Kool FM.

The delayed-payment loan deal was promoted the Radio Broadcasters Association, which McCabe described as "the big boys' club that's run by MediaWorks and The Radio Network". McCabe says that without the deal Kool FM would have folded.

That said, he was sceptical about successive governments' overall approach for allocating radio frequencies. As for MediaWorks, he said he had bid in many frequency auctions where the radio giant was bidding against him for frequencies and kept bidding until all competitors were knocked out, "setting ridiculous prices for frequencies and creating the duopoly we have in radio today".

"So maybe MediaWorks is just reaping what it sowed," he said.

There certainly is an argument that the market-based system has almost inevitably led to a radio duopoly. Another view is that consumers have been well served with a wide array of radio stations catering for small niche markets.

The question is: where do small players like Kool FM fit into the scheme of things?