One News – Hector dolphins on the Avon river – comment from observer – "just watching dolphins…sitting like a dork in the rain – use of term "dork" offensive
Standard G2 – no breach of good taste and decency – no uphold
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
The word "dork" was used by a man interviewed during an item on Hector dolphins, broadcast on One News on 28 November 2000 at 6.00pm.
Paul Schwabe complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the use of the word dork, which he described as a "gutter word for penis" was irrelevant to the appearance of the dolphins. He contended that it should not have been broadcast in an early evening item of high interest to children.
TVNZ responded that the person interviewed was using the word "dork" to point out to people that he must look a bit stupid standing in the rain waiting for dolphins to appear. The broadcaster did not believe that the word was used in an offensive manner. It declined to uphold the complaint.
Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response, Mr Schwabe 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.
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.
Hector dolphins entering the mouth of the Avon river in Christchurch were the subject of an item on One News broadcast on TV One at 6pm on 28 November 2000. The item explained that these dolphins made the trip on a regular basis. One of the people interviewed, Mr Jim Lilley of the organisation Marine Watch, explained his role in the following terms:
I’m the one that has been trying to baby-sit and follow them. Just watching dolphins basically…sitting like a dork in the rain.
Paul Schwabe complained to the broadcaster, Television New Zealand Ltd, that he considered inclusion of the word "dork" in the item offensive. He explained that, as dork was a "gutter word for penis", the comment was entirely irrelevant to the dolphin item and not in good taste. He noted that this was particularly so in an early evening item of high interest to children. He believed the broadcast breached section 4(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
TVNZ considered his complaint under section 4(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act, and in the context of standard G2 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.
Section 4(1)(a) provides:
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
Standard G2 provides that, in the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are required:
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 noted that:
[w]hile various dictionaries agree with you that "dork" can be a slang term for penis, all seem to provide an alternative definition of the word which is perhaps best summed up by the entry in the Oxford English Reference Dictionary (2nd Edition 1996) which says that "dork" means "a stupid or contemptible person."
TVNZ argued that it was clear Mr Lilley was using "dork" in the latter sense to indicate that he felt a bit stupid standing in the rain trying to keep track of a group of sea mammals. The broadcaster did not believe the word was used in an offensive manner, and declined to uphold the complaint.
In referring his complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority Mr Schwabe argued that the word "dork" was an indecent term.
I’m fed up with broadcasters suggesting that offensive language is not offensive because it "means" something else, eg. damaged, ruined, exhausted, etc. or more relevantly, a contemptible person.
Nearly all offensive words are routinely included to demonstrate their user’s opinion that a person or thing is contemptible … This does not make an indecent word’s use magically decent.
I consider that the brief phrase was indecent, was completely devoid of any relevance to the subject – Hector dolphins entering the Avon River – and should not have been broadcast
The Authority acknowledges that the word "dork" has more than one meaning. It is, however, unable to agree with the complainant that the use of the term "dork" was offensive in the context and manner in which it was broadcast.
The Authority notes that the man interviewed came across as a typical "kiwi" bloke who found himself in a slightly silly position. The use of the phrase, "sitting like a dork in the rain" was not used inappropriately in that context. The Authority’s view is that there is nothing in the comments made by Mr Lilley which breached standards of good taste and decency.
For the above reasons, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
3 May 2001
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
- Paul Schwabe’s Formal Complaint to TVNZ – 20 December 2000
- TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 24 January 2001
- Mr Schwabe’s Referral to the Authority – 31 January 2001
- TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 12 February 2001