Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Dancing with the Stars – remarks made by hosts considered offensive and blasphemous – allegedly in breach of standards relating to good taste and decency
Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – comments mild and light hearted – not upheld
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
 TV One broadcast Dancing with the Stars on 19 June 2005 at 8.30pm. The two hour special was the finale of an ongoing ballroom dancing competition which partnered New Zealand celebrities with professional dancers. The show was hosted by a female dancer and a well known male television personality.
 At one point in the show, the male host made a remark about a performance, commenting “on a Sunday too!”, followed by “Hail Mary!”
 The female host interviewed the dancers backstage and alluded to having a “quickie later” with a male judge, which she then explained as meaning that she was later performing a quickstep dance routine. She later commented on the hip movement of one of the male competitors, saying that she was sure he had no problem moving them back and forth, in a reference to sex.
 Clare McClean complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the programme contained “irreverent and sleazy” remarks. She considered that the comments by the female host were offensive and inappropriate.
 She also considered that the remarks made by the male host, referring to the day being Sunday and saying “Hail Mary”, were offensive and blasphemous.
 TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standards 1 and Guidelines 1a and 1b of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, 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.
1a Broadcasters must take into consideration current norms of decency and taste in language and behaviour bearing in mind the context in which any language or behaviour occurs. Examples of context are the time of the broadcast, the type of programme, the target audience, the use of warnings and the programme’s classification. The examples are not exhaustive.
1b Broadcasters should consider – and if appropriate require – the use of on-air visual and verbal warnings when programmes contain violent material, material of a sexual nature, coarse language or other content likely to disturb children or offend a significant number of adult viewers. Warnings should be specific in nature, while avoiding detail which may itself distress or offend viewers.
 In its response to the complaint, TVNZ asserted that any sexual references or allegedly blasphemous remarks contained within the programme were good-natured, light-hearted humour. It maintained that sexual innuendo was part of humour and was not uncommon in entertainment programmes, especially those filmed live as in this case. It also stated that sexual innuendo need not be confined to late night hours – noting programmes like Neighbours and Friends.
 TVNZ considered for a comment to be blasphemous it must be hurtful to followers of religion concerned. It asserted that the remark did not set out to denigrate Christians and could not have been regarded as “ridiculing God”. It noted that Christian churches have a long history of making and enjoying jokes against themselves.
 TVNZ concluded that, in view of the absence of malice and the cheerful spirit in which the programme was presented, no breach of Standard 1 had occurred.
 Dissatisfied with the response from the broadcaster, Ms McClean referred her complaint to the Authority under s8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
 She reiterated her view that the male host’s comments were blasphemous. She defined blasphemy as “insulting language which expresses contempt for God, either directly or indirectly through his saints and holy things”. She considered that TVNZ’s view that the comments were “light hearted” showed that it was out of touch with its viewers.
 In its response to the referral, TVNZ provided a definition of blasphemy from Australian linguist, Ruth Wajnryb, which defined blasphemy as:
A form of swearing by deliberately vilifying religion or anything associated with religious meaning. What’s important here is the swearer’s intention. ‘Jeez’, for instance, is quite a common and, indeed, conventional word today and would not be regarded as blasphemous unless its use was intended to give offence to a Christian.
 TVNZ considered that the comments complained of were not intended to offend Christians, especially considering the light-hearted, celebratory nature of the programme.
 The members of the Authority have viewed a tape of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.
 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 Authority considers that the language contained in this broadcast was mild. The remark “Hail Mary”, alluding to the fact that the programme took place on a Sunday, was a humorous reference to Christian practices made in a light-hearted way. In the Authority’s view, it was not intended to denigrate or ridicule Christians.
 The Authority also considers that the sexual references complained of were joking references to dance movements with a mildly sexual double-entendre. The Authority is of the view that they were sufficiently oblique not to require a warning. Accordingly, the Authority does not uphold the complaint.
For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
28 September 2005
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint: