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Niumata and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2002-166

Members

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

Complainant

  • Angela Niumata of Auckland

Dated

17th October 2002

Number

2002-166

Channel/Station

TV2

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint
Behind the ScenesAli G in da house – offensive behaviour

Findings
Standard 1 – contextual matters – no uphold

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

[1] The programme Behind the Scenes – Ali G in da house was broadcast on TV 2 at 10.45pm on 16 July 2002.

[2] Angela Niumata complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the programme included a sequence where the main character performed a suggestive and offensive act upon another character.

[3] In declining to uphold the complaint, TVNZ said that in the context of adult comedy, the scene complained about did not breach current norms of good taste and decency.

[4] Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, Ms Niumata referred her 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 tape 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] The programme Behind the Scenes – Ali G in da house was broadcast on TV2 at 10.45pm on 16th July 2002. The programme was a "behind the scenes" look at the making of the feature-length movie Ali G in da house, starring British comedian Ali G.

The Complaint

[7] Angela Niumata complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the programme contained a "short burst of extra offensive action which grossly offended me."

[8] Ms Niumata wrote:

It was a suggestive scene and offensive, as I remember. The Ali G character was in a squatting position over a figure lying on the floor. I switched channels – I think – and before I did I heard him say something but not too sure what it was. Ali G was squatting over the face of a figure on the floor, who was a very traditional Englishman.

The Standards

[9] TVNZ assessed the complaint against Standard 1 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which 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

[10] In declining to uphold the complaint, TVNZ noted that the scene complained about featured Ali G pretending to "fart" in the face of the Prime Minister. TVNZ acknowledged that certain forms of humour are not to everyone’s taste, and that any particular brand of comedy is essentially a subjective matter. It continued:

[a]ppreciation of humour very often comes down to "personal preference" and, it noted, section 5(c) of the Broadcasting Act states that "complaints based merely on a complainant’s preferences are not, in general, capable of being resolved by a complaints procedure."

[11] TVNZ considered the nature of Ali G’s humour and stated that the sequence complained about indicated that Ali G’s jokes include "slapstick and what we might describe as English toilet humour."

[12] Turning to the context of the broadcast itself, TVNZ noted that the programme started late at night, advising that "10.45pm is more than two hours after the ‘adults only’ watershed". TVNZ advised further that the programme had an AO (Adults Only) certificate, and that this certificate was shown at the beginning of the programme and after each commercial break. The programme was also, TVNZ advised, preceded by a warning reminding viewers that it was ‘rated Adults Only’, and that it contained ‘scenes that may offend some viewers’.

[13] Having regard to the contextual factors and the "inherently subjective nature" of the humour, TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint that the broadcast breached a standard of good taste and decency.

The Referral to the Authority

[14] Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response, Ms Niumata contended that the scene "went beyond the pale", and concluded that this sort of behaviour would be considered an "indecent act".

The Authority’s Determination

[15] 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. Accordingly, the Authority has considered the context in which the behaviour complained about was broadcast.

[16] Relevant contextual matters on this occasion include the time of the broadcast (at 10.45pm), the nature of the broadcast (a comedy), the pre-broadcast warning and the programme’s AO classification. In addition the Authority notes that the scene complained about was described as "English toilet humour", and it accepts that some viewers may have found such behaviour crude. However, it considers that given the time of the broadcast, more than two hours after the watershed, it did not breach current norms of good taste and decency. Accordingly, the Authority concludes that Standard 1 is not contravened.

[17] The Authority notes TVNZ’s comments regarding the nature of humour as being a matter of "personal preference", and that pursuant to section 5(c) of the Broadcasting Act "complaints based merely on a complainant’s preferences are not, in general, capable of being resolved by a complaints procedure." While the Authority recognises the subjective nature of humour, it disagrees that it is a matter outside of broadcasting standards. It is the Authority’s view that humour can be assessed in accordance with broadcasting standards, and that section 5(c) of the Act does not necessarily preclude the assessment of a complaint regarding humour.

[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 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
17 October 2002

Appendix

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

  1. Angela Niumata’s Letters to Television New Zealand Ltd – 18 and 31 July 2002
  2. TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 20 August 2002
  3. Ms Niumata’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 21 August 2002
  4. TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 2 September 2002