Tux Super Dog Challenge – bugger – offensive language
S4(1)(a) – context relevant – not used in anger – no uphold
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
Tux Super Dog Challenge was a series which featured dogs and their owners competing over a range of physical tests in the high country. It was broadcast weekly on TV One at 7.00pm on Saturdays.
Paul Schwabe complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, about the language used during the episode on 18 November 2000. The use of the word "bugger" on two occasions, he said, was offensive.
Acknowledging that the word might be offensive in some contexts, TVNZ said nevertheless it was used in a "friendly" way on this occasion. It declined to uphold the complaint.
Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, Mr Schwabe referred it 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.
The members of the Authority have viewed a tape of the item complained about and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines this complaint without a formal hearing.
The series Tux Super Dog Challenge showed dogs and their owners competing in a range of physical tests in the South Island high country. The episode broadcast at 7.00pm on TV One on 18 November featured a city police dog handler and his dog competing against a shepherd and his farm dog.
During the programme the commentator related a conversation he had had with the police officer when the latter said he kept fit "by chasing bad buggers". A little later the commentator reported that the dog had tracked down "a bad bugger" who had held up two young lads with a knife.
Mr Schwabe complained to TVNZ about the broadcast of the word "bugger". He considered the programme to be wholesome family entertainment, and that the use of the offensive word should have been edited out.
TVNZ assessed the complaint under s.4(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989, which had been nominated by Mr Schwabe. It reads:
4(1) Every broadcaster is responsible for maintaining in its programmes and their presentation, standards which are consistent with:
(a) The observance of good taste and decency.
Noting that the provision had been repeated in standard G2 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice which included the requirement to look at the context in which the language was used, TVNZ recorded that it was well aware of Mr Schwabe’s disapproval of the use of the word "bugger". In the context complained about however, TVNZ pointed out that it was not used in anger. Rather, it served to emphasise the bond between the police officer and the dog and it declined to uphold the complaint.
When he referred the complaint to the Authority, Mr Schwabe referred to the Authority’s research on the use of the word "bugger", which had earlier been cited by TVNZ. He argued that TVNZ had misinterpreted the research and he insisted that its use in Tux Super Dog Challenge breached the standards.
TVNZ did not comment further on the complaint.
The Authority has ruled on complaints from Mr Schwabe on three previous occasions about the use of "bugger" (Decisions Nos: 2000-067, 2000-080, and 2000-166). The Authority has referred to its research on each occasion, and has emphasised that the word "bugger" is not acceptable in all circumstances, and that context is significant.
This emphasis on context is also relevant to the comments on the Authority’s research made by Mr Schwabe and TVNZ. The Authority agrees with Mr Schwabe’s comments that the use of the word "bugger" in the research is contextual. This unfortunately was not acknowledged by TVNZ when it wrote:
… that research undertaken by the Broadcasting Standards Authority shows that three quarters of New Zealanders interviewed wound the word acceptable.
In relation to context on this occasion, the Authority acknowledges Mr Schwabe’s point that the word was used during the broadcast of a programme designed for family entertainment. It also considers the tone in which it was used to be relevant and, as TVNZ pointed out, it was first used by the police officer as part of a good-natured conversation. The second use was light-hearted, albeit mildly provocative.
The Authority is firmly of the opinion that the standards were not breached.
In decision 2000-166, the third complaint from Mr Schwabe about the use of the word "bugger" in a broadcast, the Authority referred to its power under s.16 of the Broadcasting Act 1989 to impose costs against a complainant in specific circumstances. After careful consideration, the Authority is of the view that, principally because of the commentator’s gratuitous repetition of the word, that the complaint on this occasion does not justify an order for costs against Mr Schwabe.
For the reasons given, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
8 March 2001
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint: