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BSA releases research into screen content and youth harm

The Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA) has today released research which explores how depictions of nudity on screen in different scenarios may impact or harm children and young people.

A literature review conducted by The Collaborative Trust found that there are a limited number of local or international studies that refer to plain nudity on television and its impact on children and young people. Some studies found nudity on screen that is educational can provide a positive context for sexuality education. A small number of studies that looked at nudity in the artistic context proposed that this can help reframe nudity as a positive discourse.

Most studies have looked at the impact of exposure to sexual media content. While some studies found no link between exposure to sexual content media and harm to children and young people, a large number of studies concluded that exposure to such media impacts on the attitudes and behaviours of children and young people.

Key insights from the studies about impact of sexual media content on children and young people include:

• Some studies found that exposure to sexual media content can affect children’s attitudes towards sexual behaviour and appropriate body image, and may lead to risky behaviour such as early initiation of sex and more frequent casual sex.

• Studies found that exposure to pornographic images (defined as content with the purpose of sexual arousal) has negative effects for children.

• Seeing nudity is less likely to cause harm in some scenarios (eg nudity presented in educational/medical context, nudity viewed in supportive environment where it can be explained).

• Sexual media content may lead children to regard the content as normative, shaping their attitudes and perceptions of sexual reality.

• Children from different cultures can be impacted differently. Children’s attitudes and behaviours about nudity/sex are influenced by role models from media/TV who are similar in ethnicity/gender.

• Some studies suggest factors such as influence from parents and peers, or parental-adolescent conflict have more impact on children’s sexual behaviour and attitudes than media.

• Parents play an important role in monitoring children’s viewing habits, but are often reluctant to talk about sexual content.

• Key changes to the brain occur around puberty. Connected families/whānau and communities/schools are important to healthy development. Parental support is important for supporting healthy changes in the brain.

• Where exposure to nudity or sexual media content might be perceived as risky, harm will be mitigated if exposure occurs in a supportive environment where the child or young person feels able to talk about what they have seen or to make sense of it in a way that is meaningful for them.

• Parents/caregivers can help by openly discussing such content and emphasising the positive aspects of sexuality, including the love and respect angle in relationships.

• Parents are encouraged to understand their children’s experiences with media and to use appropriate monitoring, filters and restrictions around media use.

• Several researchers advocate parents and educators being less reactive and risk focused around sexual content and media. They recommend using positive strategies that recognise the pervasive nature of media in young people’s lives and finding opportunities for education about it.

The BSA has identified a range of actions that broadcasters, parents/caregivers and the BSA can take to respond to these findings, including:

• Broadcasters should ensure that nudity and sexual media content is properly classified, warnings are used and programme guides clearly state the nature of the content so viewers can make informed decisions about what they watch.

• Information about support networks for children and young people who may be impacted by challenging sexual content media should be provided with programmes.

• Parents and caregivers are encouraged to understand what children are watching and where appropriate use tools to manage and restrict content such as parental locks, classifications and warnings, and to have open discussions about what youth have seen.

• BSA will collaborate with other agencies to increase their focus on mitigating harm by contributing to media literacy through education and engagement, and to commission further research to fill the gaps in understanding of how New Zealand children and young people are impacted.

BSA Litmus Testing on Nudity Decisions

The BSA has also released its annual litmus testing research which explored the public’s views regarding nudity on screen and whether they agreed with the BSA’s recent decisions on complaints relating to nudity on screen. The research found:

• An average of 85% of participants agreed with the 4 BSA decisions tested (91% considered the BSA’s decision on Naked Attraction was very good, good or acceptable).

• Participants indicated a higher tolerance for nudity, compared with sex scenes.

• Context is important when determining whether nudity on screen is acceptable (ie classification, type of show, audience expectation, type of nudity).

• Nudity is more acceptable when depicted positively (eg educational context).

• Most participants agreed parents/caregivers are responsible for monitoring what their children view.

• Use of available tools to manage content (such as electronic programming guide, classifications, warnings, parental locks, timebands) is low.

BSA Chief Executive, Belinda Moffat said, ‘The research reflects that nudity and sexual media content is a pervasive part of the content landscape. It is part of a body of content that may inform and entertain, but it also has the potential to harm children and young people. Our focus is to engage with and educate broadcasters and the public, particularly parents and caregivers, to ensure that these harms may be mitigated. We will support increased media literacy so that New Zealanders can navigate the complex content world in which we all live without harm. We will work with broadcasters to increase the effectiveness of classifications and warnings, including raising awareness of tools such as parental locks to help viewers manage or restrict content.’

‘Importantly, we will collaborate with other agencies who also seek to promote the wellbeing of children and young people and protect them from harm. These research reports help us and broadcasters understand the potential harms to children from nudity and sexual media content and provide us with information and insights we can use to avoid or mitigate those harms’.

The full research reports are available at:

Literature Review: Impacts on Children and Young People of Exposure to Nudity on Television and Other Media, 2019

Litmus Testing, 2019

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