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McGrath and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2003-015

Members

  • P Cartwright (Chair)
  • R Bryant
  • Tapu Misa
  • J H McGregor

Complainant

  • Dr M C McGrath of Dunedin

Dated

27th February 2003

Number

2003-015

Programme

Breakfast

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint
Breakfast reference to song "Loyal" – presenter said viewers who disliked that song were "stuffed" – vulgar – offensive language

Findings
Standard 1 and Guideline 1a – context – no uphold

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

[1] The presenter used the phrase "If you don’t like that song, then you’re stuffed" when referring to the song "Loyal" played after a magazine item on the Louis Vuitton Cup for yachting. The item was included in the programme, Breakfast, broadcast on TV One between 7.00–9.00am on 19 November 2002.

[2] Dr McGrath complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the expression was vulgar and unacceptable in a news programme.

[3] In response, TVNZ explained that the Breakfast format involved both orthodox news items and magazine items and the word, which meant "exhausted" as well as being a vulgar term for sexual intercourse, was not inappropriate in that context. It declined to uphold the complaint.

[4] Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, Dr McGrath referred his complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

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

Decision

[5] The members of the Authority have viewed a video of the programme complained about and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

The Programme

[6] Breakfast is the title of the programme shown on TV One between 7.00 – 9.00am each weekday morning. TVNZ described the style of the programme as one which included magazine pieces as well as orthodox news items. After a magazine piece about the Louis Vuitton Cup for yachting on Breakfast on 19 November 2002, the presenter said in relation to the music:

If you don’t like that song, then you’re stuffed.

The Complaint

[7] Dr McGrath complained that the expression was "completely vulgar", and not what was expected in a news programme.

The Standards

[8] TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standard 1 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. The Standard, and relevant Guideline, reads:

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.

Guidelines

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 (see Appendix 1). The examples are not exhaustive.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[9] TVNZ stated that Breakfast was not an orthodox news programme. Although news items were included, it said that the programme included magazine pieces which might be presented in colloquial and chatty fashion. The "breakfast" style, it explained, was well-established in a number of countries.

[10] Turning to the specific phrase complained about, TVNZ contended that it could not be considered vulgar in the context in which it was used. While the meaning of "stuffed" in a sexual intercourse context would be regarded as vulgar, other definitions included "exhausted" and "ruined". TVNZ added:

Clearly on this occasion [the presenter], referring to the song Loyal, was not suggesting a vulgar interpretation but was indicating to those who might not like music that they were "beaten". With America’s Cup fervour building, and the regatta not taking place until February, they were going to have to put up with it!

[11] TVNZ concluded:

In the deliberately chatty and colloquial context of Breakfast, and in the specific context in which the word was used, the [complaints] committee felt unable to conclude that the utterance of "stuffed" was in breach of standard 1. Accordingly your complaint was not upheld.

The Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority

[12] Dr McGrath maintained that the language was inappropriate and unacceptable during Breakfast, and he said he found TVNZ’s response to be "dismissive and somewhat condescending".

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[13] Noting that it had nothing to add to the substance of the complaint, TVNZ said that its letter was not meant to be dismissive, and apologised if it had been taken that way.

The Authority’s Determination

[14] When it determines a complaint about whether a broadcast contravenes Standard 1 of the Television Code, the Authority is required to determine whether the material complained about breached currently accepted standards of good taste and decency, taking into account the context of the broadcast. The context is relevant, but not determinative of whether the programme breached the Standard. Accordingly, the Authority has considered the context in which the word complained about was broadcast.

[15] Relevant contextual matters on this occasion include the type of broadcast, the various meanings of the word, and the manner of delivery.

[16] The Authority accepts TVNZ’s contention that while Breakfast contains news items, it also includes magazine stories which are presented in a colloquial style. It also agrees with Dr McGrath that one meaning of the word "stuffed" is a slang term for sexual intercourse. However, the Authority notes, along with TVNZ, that there are alternative definitions of the word, including "beaten", "useless" and "ruined". It can also be an exclamation of dismissal or contempt, as noted by the Concise Oxford Dictionary. It is the Authority’s view that, as used on this occasion, the word was not meant to convey a vulgar meaning. It accepts that it was used in reference to the America’s cup promotional song "Loyal", and that the presenter was suggesting that those who did not like the song, were beaten, as they would be hearing much more of it. Finally, the Authority notes, it was said as an aside, rather than as an expression of aggression.

[17] The Authority concludes that the use of the word "stuffed" on Breakfast in a colloquial sense on the occasion complained about, while inelegant, did not breach the Standard.

[18] The Authority observes that to find a breach of broadcasting standards on this occasion would be to apply the Broadcasting Act 1989 in such a way as to limit freedom of expression in a manner which is not reasonable or demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society (s.5 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990). As required by s.6 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, the Authority adopts an interpretation of the relevant standards which it considers is consistent with and gives full weight to the provisions of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Cartwright
Chair
27 February 2003

Appendix

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

  1. Dr M C McGrath’s Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 19 November 2002
  2. TVNZ’s Response to Dr McGrath – 2 December 2002
  3. Dr McGrath’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 9 December 2002
  4. TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 16 December 2002