Loud overreaching advertisements in religious programmes broadcast on Christmas Eve – breach of good taste
G2 – presence and type of advertising not an issue of broadcasting standards – decline to determine
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
The programmes screened on TV One between 10:15pm and midnight on Christmas Eve included carols, Christmas music and Bible readings.
John Watson complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that it was offensive for the commercial breaks during these programmes to feature Boxing Day bargains and an exhortation to end prostitution.
Questioning whether the complaint raised a matter of broadcasting standards, TVNZ said that it was, by law, a commercial organisation. However, it added, it had shown restraint about the amount of advertising screened at that time because of the type of programmes being broadcast. It declined to uphold the complaint.
Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, Mr Watson referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
For the reasons below, the Authority declines to determine the complaint.
The members of the Authority have viewed part of a tape of part of the programmes complained about (including two commercial breaks) and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines this complaint without a formal hearing.
Mr Watson’s complaint focused on some of the material screened on TV One between 10:15pm on Christmas Eve, and 12.25am on Christmas Day. He pointed out that the two programmes broadcast were a selection of carols from Dormiton Abbey, Jerusalem, and a selection of Christmas music and Bible readings from Westminster Abbey. The programmes set in recognised holy places, Mr Watson wrote:
... should never have been chosen as vehicles for loud overreaching advertising featuring Boxing Day bargains and an exhortation to end prostitution, among others.
Mr Watson continued:
The result was a gross breach of the observance of good taste and represented, in my humble opinion, an offensive affront to viewers, considering the content of the respective and otherwise admirable programmes.
Noting that advertising ceased at midnight on Christmas Eve, Mr Watson asked whether it was appropriate to broadcast what he described as "unjustified commercialism" before that time.
In its initial response, TVNZ questioned whether the complaint raised a matter of broadcasting standards. It pointed out that advertising was required by law to stop at midnight on Christmas Eve, and that rule was not related to the type of programming being screened. TVNZ decided to assess the complaint as an alleged breach of standard G2 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice which requires broadcasters:
G2 To take into consideration currently accepted norms of decency and taste in language and behaviour bearing in mind the context in which any language or behaviour occurs.
TVNZ had accepted the complaint, it added, because the formal complaints procedure in the Broadcasting Act was concerned with "programmes and their presentation".
TVNZ acknowledged that it was easy to see how a Christian could be offended by the interruption by advertisements of programmes involving carol singing or Bible readings. Nevertheless, it added, it was an SOE and was required to operate as a commercial entity. Like other commercial organisations, it did not see the need to withhold advertising around religious subject matter. It declined to uphold the complaint.
When he referred his complaint to the Authority, Mr Watson said he failed to see the relevance of TVNZ’s argument that it was required to operate as a commercial entity. He wrote:
Surely there is a substantial difference between audio/visual advertising material injected into a TV programme, that is being directly watched, and that which can be completely ignored at will in the print media.
Reviewing the extent to which Sundays had become increasingly commercialised over the years, Mr Watson persisted in his complaint that it was unsuitable to include "loud overreaching advertising" around religious based broadcasts.
In its response to the Authority, TVNZ pointed out that, by law, it was required to be a "commercial, profit-making entity". However, it argued, restraint had been shown on Christmas Eve. Observing that the Authority was not concerned with the content of individual commercials, TVNZ explained that advertising breaks had differing content by region. It enclosed a copy of the advertising log from the Auckland region for the time period complained about.
In his final comment, Mr Watson argued that TVNZ’s response, while it dealt with the "mechanics and technicalities of the broadcast", did not address the issue as to the "unpleasant and tasteless interruptions" in the once-a-year programmes.
Taking into consideration the points raised in the correspondence, the Authority is firmly of the opinion that the complainant is expressing a preference about the type and amount of advertising which should have been broadcast in the commercial breaks during A Christmas Dream from a Holy Land and Christmas Glory from Westminster Abbey screened at 10:15pm and 11:15pm on Christmas Eve on TV One.
The Broadcasting Act 1989, s.5(c), records that:
Complaints based merely on a complainant’s preferences are not, in general, capable of being resolved by a complaints procedure.
The complainant clearly expresses a preference in regard to a matter of broadcasting philosophy and practice. It is an issue which could well be addressed in the proposed Charter for TVNZ. However, it is not a matter of broadcasting standards and, accordingly, does not fall within the Authority’s jurisdiction. In the circumstances, the Authority declines to determine the complaint.
For the above reasons, under s.11(b) of the Broadcasting Act 1989, the Authority declines to determine the complaint in all the circumstances.
Signed for and on behalf of
22 March 2001
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint.
- John Watson’s Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 26 December 2000
- TVNZ’s Initial Response – 8 January 2001
- TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 23 January 2001
- Mr Watson’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 7 February 2001
- TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 12 February 2001
- Mr Watson’s Final Comment – 15 February 2001