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Wolf and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2007-043

Members

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

Complainant

  • Graham Wolf of Lower Hutt

Dated

27th June 2007

Number

2007-043

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
The Unauthorised History of New Zealand – presenter commented that “the white settlers were intent on fucking over the natives” in New Zealand – pretended to urinate on a public sculpture – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency, law and order and balance standards

Findings

Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – contextual factors – not upheld

Standard 2 (law and order) – no realistic portrayal of anti-social behaviour – not upheld

Standard 4 (balance) – programme was not a news, current affairs or factual programme – standard did not apply – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]   The Unauthorised History of New Zealand was a satirical series lampooning certain trends and incidents in New Zealand history. In an episode broadcast on TV One at 10pm on 26 March 2007, presenter Jeremy Wells commented on conflicts between early Pakeha and Maori people which, he said, were not surprising considering “the white settlers were intent on fucking over the natives (to use the parlance of the early whalers)”.

[2]   In the same episode, the presenter appeared to urinate on a sculpture in Albert Park in Auckland. He stated that the relationship between “the public and public art has always been fraught – partly because we’re a nation of miserable penny-pinching party poopers, and partly because artists are such wankers”.

Complaint

[3]   Graham Wolf made a formal complaint about the programme to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster. He objected to the presenter’s statement about Pakeha settlers “fucking over” the Maori.

[4]   The complainant was also concerned about the “derogatory remarks about artists”, and the scene in which the presenter appeared to urinate on a public sculpture. Mr Wolf contended that urinating in public was illegal, and the presenter had glamorised this behaviour. In the complainant’s view, the programme breached standards of good taste and decency, law and order, and balance.

Standards

[5]   TVNZ assessed the complaint under the standards nominated by the complainant, which 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 2 Law and Order

In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are responsible for maintaining standards which are consistent with the maintenance of law and order.

Standard 4 Balance

In the preparation and presentation of news, current affairs and factual programmes, broadcasters are responsible for maintaining standards consistent with the principle that when controversial issues of public importance are discussed, reasonable efforts are made, or reasonable opportunities are given, to present significant points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[6]   TVNZ contended that the presenter’s reference to Pakeha “fucking over the natives” was simply a blunt metaphor implying that early white settlers had no qualms about “doing Maori over for everything they could get”.

[7]   Looking at the second part of the complaint, TVNZ noted that the presenter was not actually urinating on a sculpture. The scene was shot from behind, it said, and he had used a water bottle to give the appearance that he was urinating.

[8]   In TVNZ’s view, neither segment breached Standard 1 (good taste and decency) because of the context in which they were shown. The programme was a late-night satire, screened with an AO classification and a content warning. Viewers would have been familiar with the particular comedic style of the presenter, it added.

[8]   Turning to consider Standard 2 (law and order), TVNZ noted that when he pretended to urinate on the sculpture, the presenter had been making a satirical point about the way New Zealanders scornfully regarded public works of art. It wrote:

[9]   There was nothing about either segment which “invited imitation” of any technique of crime, nor was there any way in which anti-social behaviour was glamorised.

[10]   The broadcaster contended that Standard 4 (balance) was not relevant, because the programme did not fall into the categories of “news, current affairs or factual programmes”.

Referral to the Authority

[11]   Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s decision, Mr Wolf referred his complaint to the Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. He maintained that the comment about early settlers and natives was insulting and offensive.

[12]   Mr Wolf accepted that the presenter had clearly faked urinating on the sculpture. However, he said, it was still anti-social behaviour that had been glamorised in the programme and invited imitation.

Authority's Determination

[13]   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.

Standard 1 (good taste and decency)

[14]   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, relevant contextual factors include:

  • the time of the broadcast, at 10pm
  • the target audience of adult viewers
  • the AO classification of the programme
  • the visual and verbal warning given prior to the programme
  • audience expectations – viewers would have been familiar with the presenter’s satirical style.

[15]   Looking first at the remark that early settlers “were intent on fucking over the natives (to use the parlance of the early whalers)”, the Authority finds that the statement did not breach Standard 1. Taking into account the contextual factors above, particularly the adult target audience and the late time of the broadcast, the Authority considers that the remark did not threaten current norms of good taste and decency.

[16]   Similarly, in the context in which it was shown, the Authority concludes that the segment involving the presenter appearing to urinate on a sculpture did not amount to a breach of the standard. It agrees with TVNZ that the presenter was obviously making a satirical point about the way New Zealanders scornfully regarded public works of art, and it was clear that he was only pretending to urinate on the sculpture.

[17]   Accordingly, the Authority finds that Standard 1 was not breached.

Standard 2 (law and order)

[18]   Mr Wolf’s complaint under Standard 2 is that the presenter glamorised anti-social behaviour under guideline 2e. However, the Authority notes that this guideline relates to “the realistic portrayal” of anti-social behaviour. The presenter’s actions in the item complained about were not realistic; it would have been clear to viewers that he was not urinating on the sculpture. Furthermore, the Authority does not agree that the satirical piece “glamorised” the behaviour that the presenter was simulating.

[19]   In these circumstances, the Authority declines to uphold the Standard 2 complaint.

Standard 4 (balance)

[20]   In considering Standard 4, the Authority notes that the requirement for balance only extends to news, current affairs and factual programmes. The Unauthorised History of New Zealand does not fall into any of these categories, and therefore the balance standard does not apply. Accordingly, the Authority declines to uphold this aspect of the complaint.

 

For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
27 June 2007

Appendix

The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1            Graham Wolf’s formal complaint – 18 April 2007
2           TVNZ’s decision on the formal complaint – 1 May 2007
3           Mr Wolf’s referral to the Authority – 18 May 2007
4           TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 23 May 2007