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McGrath and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2002-105

Members

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

Complainant

  • P M McGrath of Tauranga

Dated

22nd August 2002

Number

2002-105

Programme

What Now?

Channel/Station

TV2

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint
What Now? – children’s programme – skit – revolved around farting – breach of good taste and decency – broadcaster not mindful of the effect on children

Findings
Standard 1 – contextual matters – no uphold

Standard 9 – skit would appeal to children – no uphold

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

[1] What Now?, a children’s programme, broadcast on TV2 at 7.30am on 21 April 2002, featured a parody of a well-known television commercial. The parody revolved around "farting".

[2] P M McGrath complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the item was disgusting, and not appropriate viewing material for children.

[3] Declining to uphold the complaint, TVNZ said it was the policy of What Now? to encourage children to be relaxed about bodily functions and that the programme’s child development experts endorsed this approach.

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

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

Decision

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

The Broadcast

[6] What Now?, a children’s programme, broadcast on TV2 at 7.30am on 21 April 2002, featured a parody of a well-known television commercial. The parody revolved around "farting".

The Complaint

[7] P M McGrath complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the item was disgusting, and not appropriate viewing material for children. The complainant wrote:

To have this dirt on a children’s programme is totally disgusting and shows the "censor" or powers that be in charge of decency are intent on brain-washing kids and undermining the authority of parents.

The Standards

[8] The complainant did not nominate any specific standards from the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice against which to assess the complaint. TVNZ assessed the complaint against Standard 1, Guideline 1a and Standard 9, 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.

Guideline

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.

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.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[9] TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint. It explained that What Now? had been broadcast for 20 years, and that it had frequently used "fart" jokes and "fart" sound effects because:

research done among 5-12 year old children (as well as the personal experience of those who have or have had children in that age group) suggests that generally they find the jokes funny.

[10] TVNZ continued:

What Now? has a policy of encouraging children to be relaxed about normal bodily functions, rather than have children embarrassed or being afraid to mention them. In this context it treats farting as natural, and also includes skits on "snot, poos, wees, sweat, flaking skin, bad breath, spit" and many others. … The programme regularly consults child development experts who endorse the programme’s approach.

[11] Dealing specifically with the item complained about, TVNZ maintained that children would have understood the parody and found the sound effects funny.

[12] In relation to Standard 9, TVNZ argued it had considered the interests of child viewers because it had recognised that:

children go through a period when they develop a keen interest in bodily functions, and derive much enjoyment from jokes about them. Children grow out of this stage but while they are in it can be rendered helpless with laughter at the use of words like "fart", and by "farting noises".

[13] Turning to Standard 1, TVNZ concluded that in the context of a children’s programme this parody did not breach current norms of good taste and decency.

The Referral to the Authority

[14] P M McGrath was dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, and reiterated that the item had breached standards of good taste and decency. The complainant questioned the entertainment value of the item, and also considered that it was inappropriate to amuse children with jokes about bodily functions on television.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[15] In its response to the Authority, TVNZ suggested that the complainant might not be among the programme’s target audience. It noted that, while children considered bodily functions amusing, adult viewers might be offended and find the subject distasteful.

[16] TVNZ said "fart" jokes had always been a part of the What Now? series. It concluded that the skit of a well-known commercial represented "harmless fun, and nothing more".

The Complainant’s Final Comment

[17] P M McGrath disagreed with TVNZ’s comments, and felt that he had been derided.

The Authority’s Determination

[18] When it determines a complaint that a broadcast contravenes Standard 1 of the Television Code, the Authority is required to determine whether the material 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. The Authority considers that the relevant contextual factors on this occasion are the nature of the programme, the time of the broadcast (7.30am) and the target audience.

[19] What Now? is a well-known children’s programme with a mix of content including humour and satire. In this case, the programme parodied a well-known advertisement in a manner, which, in the Authority’s opinion, would be amusing to the target child audience. It included teenagers performing the actions to a well-known jingle sung to new words. The Authority also considers that the material, although it might not appeal to adult viewers, would not be likely to offend a wider viewing audience. The Authority concludes in the context of the broadcast, Standard 1 is not breached.

[20] Standard 9 requires broadcasters to be mindful of the effect any programme may have on children during their normally accepted viewing times. In the Authority’s view TVNZ did consider the interests of children viewers, as evidenced by the following considerations:

TVNZ’s research into children’s humour, in particular the preferences of 5-12 year-olds;

What Now?’s policy of encouraging children to be relaxed about bodily functions; and

What Now?’s policy of seeking advice from programme child development experts.

[21] Given these factors, and taking into account that What Now? is a children’s programme, the Authority concludes that there has been no breach of Standard 9.

[22] 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 and applies them in a manner which it considers is consistent with and gives full weight to the provisions of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Cartwright
Chair
22 August 2002

Appendix

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

  1. P M McGrath’s Formal Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 23 April 2002
  2. TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 7 May 2002
  3. P M McGrath’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 29 May 2002
  4. TVNZ’s Response to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 10 June 2002
  5. P M McGrath’s Final Comment – 28 June 2002