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Hind and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2008-005

Members

  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Paul France
  • Tapu Misa
  • Diane Musgrave

Complainant

  • Peter Hind of Christchurch

Dated

30th April 2008

Number

2008-005

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i)
Promo for F**k Off I’m Small – use of “F**k Off” in the promo – promo screened during PGR-rated programme – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency and programme classification standards

Findings
Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – swear word was not said or spelled out – contextual factors – not upheld

Standard 7 (programme classification) – promo should have been rated PGR but was appropriately screened during PGR programme – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]    A promo for the programme F**k Off I’m Small was broadcast on Tuesday 13 November 2007 at 7.55pm on TV One during Coronation Street. F**k Off I’m Small was advertised as the premiere episode of a documentary series entitled Real Life, which was to screen at 9.30pm on Wednesday.

[2]   Visually, the title was displayed as Real Life: F**k Off I’m Small; one shot in the promo showed a truck which had “F*** OFF I’M SMALL” painted on its side. Verbally, the voiceover referred to the programme as “‘F’ Off I’m Small”.

Complaint

[3]   Peter Hind complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the broadcast of the promo breached standards of good taste and decency and programme classification.

[4]   Mr Hind took issue with TVNZ’s choice to promote an AO programme with an “offensive and obscene title” during an advertisement break for Coronation Street, which was classified PGR. He argued that the promo was not appropriate viewing for children, and that he had no opportunity to stop his ten-year-old granddaughter from seeing it because he had not expected it to be screened during a PGR-rated programme.

[5]   With regard to the title, Mr Hind said:

I know that the title of the programme is Fuck Off I’m Small; TVNZ knows that the title of the programme is Fuck Off I’m Small; my ten-year-old granddaughter knows that the title is Fuck Off I’m Small. The presence of the ** does not disguise the obscenity and offensiveness of the title.

Standards

[6]   Standards 1 and 7 and guideline 7b of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice are relevant to the determination of this complaint. They provide:

Standard 1 Good Taste and Decency

In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are responsible for maintaining standards which are consistent with the observance of good taste and decency.

Standard 7 Programme Classification

Broadcasters are responsible for ensuring that programmes are appropriately classified; adequately display programme classification information; and adhere to time-bands in accordance with Appendix 1.
Guideline 7b
Broadcasters should ensure that all promos (including promos for news and current affairs) are classified to comply with the programme in which they screen (“host programme”). For example:

(i)   promos for AO programmes shown outside AO time must comply with the classification of their host programme

(ii)  promos shown in G or PGR programmes screening in AO time must comply with the G or PGR classification of their host programme.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[7]   TVNZ contended that to constitute a breach of Standard 1, the broadcast material must be unacceptable to a significant number of viewers in the context in which it was shown, including the time of broadcast, the programme’s target audience, its classification, and the use of warnings.

[8]   TVNZ maintained that there were three relevant contextual factors on this occasion. First, it said the PGR rating and tone of the host programme Coronation Street meant that children would have been viewing the programme with a parent or adult. Second, the promo was censored so that the swear word was not said or spelled, which, TVNZ said, “meant that while viewers who knew what the ‘f**k’ meant would know what the word was, those viewers who did not know what the swear word was would not be any the wiser”. TVNZ argued that this was appropriate in a PGR-rated host programme. Finally, TVNZ maintained that as Coronation Street often contains storylines that are mature in nature, the promo with the censored “‘F’ word” was appropriate in that context.

[9]   Accordingly, TVNZ found that the promo for F**k Off I’m Small would not have offended a significant number of viewers in the context of a PGR-rated programme such as Coronation Street. It declined to uphold the Standard 1 complaint.

[10]   With regard to Standard 7 (programme classification), TVNZ noted that Coronation Street was rated PGR, and that PGR programmes may be screened between 9am and 4pm, and after 7pm until 6am. The PGR rating means:

Parental Guidance Recommended – programmes containing material more suited for mature audiences but not necessarily unsuitable for child viewers when subject to the guidance of a parent or adult.

[11]   TVNZ stated that the promo for F**k Off I’m Small was rated “hard G” by the promo scheduler. It argued that while none of the material in the promo was unsuitable for a G audience, the title was more suitable for children with the guidance of a parent or an adult. TVNZ said that the promo was scheduled during news and programmes not aimed at child viewers. It argued that the promo did not in fact include any swear words as the “f word” was censored in both the title of the programme and in the promo. Accordingly, TVNZ found that the promo was correctly rated and was screened in the appropriate time-band and host programme. It found no breach of Standard 7.

Referral to the Authority

[12]   Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response, Mr Hind referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

[13]   The complainant said there were two aspects of his complaint. First, the use of the obscenity “F**k Off” in the title was unacceptable, and second that TVNZ had incorrectly classified the promo as G and it was inappropriate to screen it during the PGR time-band. He maintained that Standards 1, 7 and 9 had been breached.

[14]   With regard to the title, Mr Hind said:

The title does not contain what TVNZ disingenuously and coyly refers to as the “f word”. It contains the “F**k” word coupled with the preposition “Off”, and as such there is one way of pronouncing it and that is “Fuck Off”.

[15]   Mr Hind disagreed with TVNZ’s assessment of “censorship”, saying the title F**k Off I’m Small was in a different category to bleeping the offensive word or the title of the programme The ‘F’ Word. He said when the title was displayed across the screen, viewers, including children, were invited to read it aloud. He argued that in the age of text messaging, people are adept at shortening words, but do not read the words as if there are letters missing, so that even the most elementary reader would accurately read the phrase as “fuck off”.

[16]   The complainant maintained that TVNZ had implied in its response that because viewers knew what the word was and what it meant it was acceptable for TVNZ to display “F**k Off” on the screen even though those viewers may find it obscene and offensive. He said TVNZ similarly implied it was acceptable to show the words to his granddaughter, even though she knew it was an unacceptable and offensive term.

[17]   Mr Hind contended that “the coupling of ‘fuck’ with the preposition ‘off’ is one of the most obscene and abusive phrases in the English language”. He disagreed with TVNZ that the title of the programme was “humorous”.

[18]  Referring to Standard 7, Mr Hind argued:

It is socially irresponsible of TVNZ to have given the promo a G classification, [and] to have displayed the phrase “F**k Off I’m Small” during PGR viewing (“not necessarily unsuitable for child viewers”)...

[19]   Mr Hind noted that TVNZ said it had rated the promo “hard G”, which is a term not found in the Code. He maintained that the Authority must respond to his complaint on the basis of the classifications currently found in the Code. As the promo was rated G, he said, TVNZ believed it “excludes material likely to be unsuitable for children” or “likely to alarm or distress them”. He said his granddaughter was distressed and alarmed, and also confused that a phrase which she knew to be unacceptable was somehow acceptable in a television advertisement.

[20]   The complainant argued that TVNZ had implied that if he chose to watch Coronation Street, which dealt with adult themes, and allowed his grandchild to watch with him, then “[he got his] just desserts when an obscene and offensive promo [was] screened in a commercial break”. He said that TVNZ was hypocritical in that it classified Coronation Street as PGR and then described the programme as if it was AO. Mr Hind emphasised that there was no use of obscene or offensive language in Coronation Street.

[21]   Mr Hind stated that he guided his television viewing using the classification system, so that he knew what to expect and could control his granddaughter’s viewing on that basis. He said he could control “unsuitable” material in programmes by using the remote control to change the channel or turn the television off, but he “could not control the visual obscene language TVNZ displayed across the screen during the commercial break at 7.55pm”, because there was no warning and no regard for the PGR time-band, and it was too late to change the channel.

[22]   Referring to Standard 9, Mr Hind noted that TVNZ defended the placement of the promo during programmes “not aimed at child viewers” and listed adult storylines from Coronation Street to prove its point. He cited the Standard 9 guidelines which state that children’s normally accepted viewing times usually run until 8.30pm, and argued that TVNZ was unreasonable to assume children would not be watching or in the vicinity of the television when adults were watching Coronation Street.

Authority's Determination

[23]   The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.  The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

Preliminary Issue

[24]   Mr Hind alleged in his referral that the promo breached the children’s interests standard. In the Authority’s view, Mr Hind did not raise Standard 9 in his original complaint, either implicitly or explicitly, such that TVNZ should have considered his complaint under Standard 9 as well as Standards 1 and 7. Accordingly, the Authority has no jurisdiction to consider Mr Hind’s complaint with reference to Standard 9.

Standard 1 (good taste and decency)

[25]   When the Authority considers a complaint which alleges a breach of good taste and decency it is required to take into consideration the context of the broadcast. On this occasion the relevant contextual factors include:

  • the promo was broadcast at 7.55pm, during the PGR time-band
  • the promo was rated G
  • the promo was broadcast during Coronation Street, which was classified PGR
  • the expletive in the title was not actually said or spelled in the promo
  • the programme F**k Off I’m Small was rated AO and screened at 9.30pm.

[26]   Mr Hind argued that the use of the asterisks did not have the effect of censoring or diluting the phrase “fuck off”. The Authority disagrees. While many viewers would have realised what the phrase represented, it was not spoken in full. Further, the tone with which “‘F’ off” was spoken in the voiceover was matter-of-fact rather than abusive in nature.

[27]   Taking the above contextual factors into account, the Authority considers that the broadcast of the promo at 7.55pm during Coronation Street did not breach Standard 1.

Standard 7 (programme classification)

[28]   Mr Hind took issue with TVNZ’s choice to promote an AO programme with an “offensive and obscene title” during an ad break for a PGR-rated programme.

[29]   Under Guideline 7b, promos must be classified to comply with the programme in which they screen. The promo subject to complaint was for an AO-rated programme. The promo was rated G by TVNZ and was screened within a PGR-rated host programme.

[30]   The Authority disagrees with TVNZ’s classification of the promo as G. The promo should have been classified PGR. However, it was not deserving of an AO classification which would have required it to be screened after 8.30pm. Therefore it was acceptable to screen the promo at 7.55pm during a PGR-rated programme.
Accordingly, the Authority declines to uphold the Standard 7 complaint.

 

For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
30 April 2008

Appendix

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

1.            Peter Hind’s formal complaint – 13 November 2007
2.           TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 14 December 2007
3.           Mr Hind’s referral to the Authority – 31 December 2007
4.           TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 13 March 2008