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Hayes and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2002-098

Members

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

Complainant

  • Gordon Hayes of West Otago

Dated

8th August 2002

Number

2002-098

Programme

Moving On

Channel/Station

TV2

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint
Moving On – offensive language – "pissing out" – incorrect classification – unsuitable for children

Findings
Standard 1 – context – no uphold

Standard 7 – appropriate classification – no uphold

Standard 9 – no uphold

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

[1] Moving On was broadcast on TV2 at 7.30pm on 25 April 2002. The programme followed the fortunes of people moving house.

[2] Gordon Hayes complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, about a sequence during which a man featured on the programme used the phrase "pissing out" to describe steam coming from his car’s engine. Mr Hayes said that the phrase was "crude language which should not be allowed in a G programme".

[3] TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint. It did not consider that the use of the phrase breached standards relating to good taste and decency, appropriate classification or the requirement that broadcasters be mindful of the effects of programmes on children.

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

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

Decision

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

The Complaint

[6] Moving On was broadcast on TV2 at 7.30pm on 25 April 2002. The programme followed the fortunes of people moving house.

[7] Gordon Hayes complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, about a sequence during which a man featured on the programme referred to the engine of his car and said:

…and steam started pissing out of it everywhere.

[8] Mr Hayes considered that the phrase "pissing out" was "crude language which should not be allowed in a G programme". He asked whether it was unreasonable for him to expect that there would be no "so called mild vulgarisms" on a G rated programme, screened during children’s normally accepted viewing time. He also asked how anybody was supposed to know what was "safe" for their children to see, given that there were no warnings about the language through the programme.

The Standards

[9] TVNZ assessed the complaint against the standards and guidelines nominated by the complainant. 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.

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.

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.

Standard 7 Programme Classification

Broadcasters are responsible for ensuring that programmes are appropriately classified and adequately display programme classification information, and that time-bands are adhered to.

Guidelines

7a  Broadcasters should ensure that appropriate classification codes are established and observed (Appendix 1). Classification symbols should be displayed at the beginning of each programme and after each advertising break.

Standard 9 Children’s Interests

During children’s normally accepted viewing times (see Appendix 1), broadcasters are required, in the preparation and presentation of programmes, to consider the interests of child viewers.

Guidelines

9a  Broadcasters should be mindful of the effect any programme or promo may have on children during their normally accepted viewing times – usually up to 8.30pm – and avoid screening material which would disturb or alarm them.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[10] TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint. It began its response by explaining that it considered:

… the phrase was used in a conversational, colloquial context. It was not used in an aggressive manner, designed to insult, but as a reflection by the speaker on his motoring experience while moving to a new home.

[11] TVNZ then said:

… it did not believe that the phrase as used would cause widespread offence to New Zealand audiences. It is a very common expression and in this case its spontaneous use was not such as to require a suspension of filming and a request that a different phrase be chosen. As … mentioned in separate correspondence both A Dictionary of Modern New Zealand Slang (Oxford University Press 1999) and the Oxford Dictionary of Idioms (1999) suggest that "piss" and the various phrases incorporating the word have become part of the vernacular both here and abroad.

[12] As to Standard 1, TVNZ considered that the use of the phrase, even in a G programme, did not breach current norms of good taste and decency, and it did not consider that its use warranted the attachment of a warning to the programme. It said it believed a major part of the audience would be adult and did not consider it credible that:

children having social links in the community would be unfamiliar with the word "piss" and the various ways in which that word is used.

[13] TVNZ also concluded that Standard 7 was not breached, noting that it:

found nothing in the programme which, in its view, required a certificate more restricted than G to be attached.

[14] Turning to Standard 9, TVNZ said it was its view that:

the inclusion of the phrase "pissing out everywhere" in this conversational context was not something that threatened harm to child viewers.

The Complainant’s Referral to the Authority

[15] As he was dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, Mr Hayes referred the complaint to the Authority. In his referral, he reiterated his concerns, and wrote:

Moving On was spoiled by just one word near the end. It could have been fixed so easily by bleeping it out.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[16] In its response to the Authority, TVNZ wrote:

We simply do not believe that in New Zealand in 2002 the phrase "pissing out everywhere" when referring to a broken water pump in a car can be regarded as stepping over the threshold of "current norms of decency and taste".

The Complainant’s Final Comment

[17] In his final comment, Mr Hayes reiterated his view that the language used breached current norms of good taste and decency. He wrote:

If TVNZ won’t delete any offending words, they should warn that language may offend and we would not let our grandchildren watch.

[18] Mr Hayes continued:

If the TVNZ complaints panel are happy for children to hear this sort of thing then they are very irresponsible. On a programme rated suitable for children there should not be anything on that is thought of as even mildly offensive.

[19] Finally, Mr Hayes commented that the familiarity of school children with the words he complained about does not make them acceptable, and hearing them on television would make them more acceptable to many.

The Authority’s Determination

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

[21] The Authority accepts that the relevant contextual matters on this occasion include the following matters advanced by TVNZ:

the phrase was used in a conversational and colloquial context

it was not used aggressively or in a manner designed to insult

it is a very common expression

its spontaneous use did not warrant suspension of filming

prominent dictionaries suggest that "piss" and phrases incorporating the word have become part of the vernacular in New Zealand and abroad.

[22] In addition, the Authority notes that the phrase "pissing out" was used to describe the steam from a car’s engine, and was not directed at any particular individual. In the context of the broadcast, the Authority concludes that Standard 1 is not breached.

[23] As to whether the broadcast breached Standard 7, the Authority has considered whether the programme was appropriately classified. It concludes that the attachment of a G certificate to the programme was appropriate, given the content of the broadcast, and that the use of the language complained about did not merit a different classification. The Authority declines to uphold this aspect of the complaint.

[24] Standard 9 requires broadcasters to consider the interests of child viewers during their normally accepted viewing times. Guideline 9a to Standard 9 further provides that broadcasters should be mindful of the effect any programme may have on children during their normally accepted viewing times. For the reasons given above in relation to Standard 1, the Authority does not consider Standard 9 is breached on this occasion.

Bill of Rights

[25] The Authority observes that to find a breach of broadcasting standards on this occasion would be to apply the Broadcasting Act 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). As required by s.6 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, the Authority adopts an interpretation of the relevant standards and applies them in a manner which it considers is consistent with 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
8 August 2002

Appendix

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

  1. Gordon Hayes’ Formal Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 2 May 2002
  2. TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 15 May 2002
  3. Mr Hayes’ Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 17 May 2002
  4. TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 27 May 2002
  5. Mr Hayes’ Final Comment – 10 June 2002