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Schwabe and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2000-129

Members

  • P Cartwright (Chair)
  • L M Loates
  • R McLeod
  • J Withers

Complainant

  • Paul Schwabe of Auckland

Dated

28th September 2000

Number

2000-129

Programme

Holmes

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint
Holmes – footage of English coach’s half-time speech – offensive language – unsuitable for children

Findings
(1) Standard G2 – use of language not endorsed – no uphold 

(2) Standard G12 – no uphold

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

Footage from a soccer coach’s half-time speech to players which contained strong language was broadcast on Holmes on TV One on 27 April 2000 beginning at 7.00pm.

Paul Schwabe complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the footage contained repeated and gratuitous offensive language. He contended that the item was offensive and unsuitable for children.

TVNZ responded that the item was linked to new research findings that such angry motivational speeches did not assist performance, and maintained that the item was of topical interest. In this context, TVNZ considered that it was legitimate to screen the material to illustrate the extreme nature of some such speeches. TVNZ also contended that the footage was "almost comical", and said it did not consider that it had breached standards of good taste. Neither did it consider that it had breached the broadcasting standard relating to the protection of children, as it had "bleeped" out the offending language.

Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response, Mr Schwabe referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

For the reasons given below, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Decision

The members of the Authority have viewed a tape of the item complained about, and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines this complaint without a formal hearing.

Footage from a soccer coach’s half-time speech to players which contained strong language was broadcast on Holmes on TV One on 27 April 2000 beginning at 7.00pm.

Paul Schwabe complained to TVNZ that the footage contained repeated and gratuitous use of the ‘f’ word, which he said was very obvious, despite being "bleeped".

Mr Schwabe observed that the item was preceded by comment about research findings concerning the lack of effectiveness of motivational speeches. He said he suspected the findings were fabricated "to pay lip service to the magic context clause of G2". He then contended that the item was a "shocking example of the worst sort of language". In his view, it had been presented as "completely harmless, ‘quite fun’ and highly amusing". He believed the item encouraged viewers to buy the video recording of the clip and "join in".

Mr Schwabe was particularly concerned about the item’s effect on children. He observed that the item was broadcast immediately before a segment which he believed was "specifically aimed at children and which previously had been heavily promoted, including earlier in the programme".

Mr Schwabe said he believed that s.4(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act and standard G12 of the Television Code had been breached by the item.

TVNZ assessed the complaint under the section and standard nominated by the complainant. Section 4(1)(a) provides:

4(1) Every broadcaster is responsible for maintaining in its programmes and their presentation, standards consistent with –

The observance of good taste and decency

Standard G12 requires broadcasters:

G12  To be mindful of the effect any programme may have on children during their normally accepted viewing times.

TVNZ also took standard G2 into consideration. That standard requires broadcasters:

G2  To take into consideration currently accepted norms of decency and taste in language and behaviour bearing in mind the context in which any language or behaviour occurs.

TVNZ began its response by noting that it was made clear by the "bleeping" in the item and through the demeanour of the coach and players that the language used had been strong. It then observed that the item was linked to research findings on the lack of correlation between angry motivational speeches and performance. It disagreed that this link had been made as an excuse to justify the broadcast of the footage.

TVNZ submitted that the item was of topical interest, because of New Zealanders’ interest in sport, and in discussions about motivation and sport. While TVNZ did not deny the extreme language recorded during the footage shown, it believed that it was justified in screening the item to show the level of intensity which was reached. It also believed that the behaviour was "so outrageous as to become almost comical".

As to standard G2, under which TVNZ subsumed its consideration of s.4(1)(c), TVNZ noted that the item’s offensive language was "bleeped". It did not believe that the "thoroughly bleeped" item strayed beyond viewer expectations of good taste and decency. Although TVNZ said it respected Mr Schwabe’s view that strong language was "not a laughing matter", and agreed that the coach almost certainly strayed beyond standards of good taste, it considered that the broadcast did not breach standard G2, because of the precautions it had taken

Turning to standard G12, TVNZ said that it believed it had complied with the standard by "bleeping" the soundtrack. It also commented that "the only way an innocent child could know what might [have been] said was to ask an adult". TVNZ declined to uphold this aspect of the complaint.

In his referral, Mr Schwabe said that his suspicion about the authority of the linkage between the research report and the item had not been addressed by TVNZ. He asked the Authority to investigate the matter of the authenticity of the research report. He also asked the Authority to consider whether TVNZ had overestimated the thoroughness of its "bleeping" of the item, and whether the item would have been offensive had the entire soundtrack been deleted.

Mr Schwabe went on to express his view that TVNZ had underestimated young children’s intelligence and ability to recognise offensive language. Furthermore, he contended that TVNZ’s response disregarded the effect of the item on "impressionable children".

In its response to the referral, TVNZ commented that the item was a light-hearted piece linked to a topical subject, and said it had nothing to add to the comments made in its response to Mr Schwabe.

In his final comment, Mr Schwabe said that he felt "sick" at TVNZ’s description of the item as "light-hearted". He also said he noted that TVNZ did not identify the research report to which the item referred.

The Authority’s Findings

The Authority begins its assessment of this complaint by considering whether standard G2 was breached by the broadcast of the item. As is its task, it considers the context in which the language Mr Schwabe complained about was used. The Authority considers that the way the item was presented and the "bleeping" of the language complained about made the point that the kind of language used in the dressing room footage was not acceptable and was ineffective for motivational use. The footage itself was, in the Authority’s view, obviously over-the-top and humorous. While the Authority observes that there might have been an element of gratuitousness in the use of the footage, its use was justified as it had the effect of highlighting the unacceptable nature of the behaviour and language depicted. Accordingly, it finds that the broadcast did not contravene standard G2.

As to standard G12, the Authority considers, for the reasons noted above in relation to standard G2, that TVNZ’s "bleeping" of the footage was sufficient demonstration that it was mindful of the effect of the item’s potential effect on children. It declines to uphold this aspect of the complaint.

The Authority notes that Mr Schwabe questioned the authenticity of the research report which was referred to in the programme before the footage was shown. The Authority accepts TVNZ’s assurances that the source for that report was a radio report which originated from an English tabloid newspaper item, and that the existence of the report was not a fabrication.

 

For the reasons given, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

P J Cartwright
Chair
28 September 2000

Appendix

The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:

1.    Paul Schwabe’s Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 18 May 2000

2.    TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 6 June 2000

3.    Mr Schwabe’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 29 June 2000

4.    TVNZ’s Response to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 13 July 2000

5.    Mr Schwabe’s Final Comment – 20 July 2000