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White and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2001-036

Members

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

Complainant

  • Harold White of Palmerston North

Dated

3rd May 2001

Number

2001-036

Programme

The $20 Challenge

Channel/Station

TV2

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint
The $20 Challenge – four participants challenged to live in Paris on $20 a day – one participant’s use of "bugger" and "shit" – offensive language

Findings
G2 – language acceptable in context – no uphold

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

The $20 Challenge, broadcast on TV2 on 19 February 2001 at 7.30pm, featured four young New Zealanders challenged to survive in Paris on just $20 for three days. The group was set a number of assignments, including talking part in a skate-athon, selling produce at a local market, and getting work in the kitchen of a leading restaurant. They also had to arrange their own accommodation.

Harold White complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, about the language used by one of the participants in the challenge. During the course of the challenge, the participant was heard to use the words "bugger" and "shit" on several occasions.

TVNZ responded that the participant’s language reflected the "everyday idiom" of the contestants, such words being "widespread" among people of their age group. The programme was rated PGR and the words were not unacceptable in a PGR context, it said.

Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s decision, Mr White referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

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

Decision

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 the complaint without a formal hearing.

The $20 Challenge, broadcast on TV2 on 19 February 2001 at 7.30pm, featured four young New Zealanders challenged to survive in Paris on just $20 for three days. The group was set a number of assignments, including talking part in a skate-athon, selling produce at a local market, and getting work in the kitchen of a leading restaurant. They also had to arrange their own accommodation.

During the course of the programme, one of the participants commented in the following terms on a car parked carelessly on a Paris street:

If the traffic wardens back home in Dunedin could see how these buggers park their cars in Paris they’d be making a whole lot of money.

Later, the same participant was shown to be lost and kilometres from the restaurant at which he was meant to be trying for work. He said:

… It’s nowhere around here so basically I "beeped" up – can’t say that word on TV. So basically I’m up shit creek, basically. So I have to find the restaurant pretty quick.

A few minutes later, the participant was shown trying to get work at a different restaurant. He said:

It’s been a hell of a day and I’m pretty buggered but still have to get to work in the kitchen.

Then, while waiting for permission from the restaurant manager to enter the kitchen, he was filmed looked stressed and increasingly desperate. He said:

Shit, shit and shit … I still haven’t got accommodation, I’ve still got to get back to Oz bar and get accommodation. I haven’t eaten and it’s quarter-past six.

Harold White complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, about the participant’s "coarse language". He complained that no attempt had been made to "cover" the words, which had been screened on more than one occasion and at a time when young viewers would be exposed to the language.

TVNZ considered the complaint under standard G2 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which states:

G2  Broadcasters are required 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.

The broadcaster said:

In considering these utterances the [Complaints] Committee noted that it is the essence of reality programmes that the dialogue should be spontaneous and should reflect the character and personalities of the people involved. If a reality programme shows someone in other than his or her natural guise it ceases to be a "reality" programme because it is presenting the featured person as something other than that person really is.

TVNZ said the programme’s producer had advised its Complaints Committee that all four challengers in the series had used from time to time language of the nature complained about. While the producer had taken care not to let the language dominate the dialogue, she believed it was appropriate that some of it be left in so as to "properly reflect the everyday idiom of the four contestants." The broadcaster said:

The [Complaints] Committee noted that words like "shit" and "bugger" are in widespread use among people of this age group. The Committee shared the producer’s view that The $20 Challenge would most likely appeal to an age group similar to that of the participants – the young mature adult – for whom the language is everyday and commonplace.

TVNZ also noted the programme had been broadcast with a PGR certificate, with the PGR symbol appearing at the beginning of the programme and after each commercial break. While acknowledging that some viewers may be offended by the words "shit" and "bugger", TVNZ said it believed the words were "mild compared to some in circulation" and that they were not unacceptable in a PGR context. It said:

PGR recommends parental discretion and in suggesting adult counselling for young viewers provides the opportunity for those adults to tell children that the language is unsavoury, if that is what they want their children to believe.

TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint as a breach of standard G2. In the context of a reality programme featuring real people doing real things, and aimed at a young adult audience for whom the words would be part of the everyday vernacular, it said the language did not stray beyond "currently accepted norms of decency and taste."

In his referral to the Authority, Mr White said he realised such language occurred in real life. However, he said, that was not a reason to condone it. He described how he had just spent five days in the company of more than 300 bowlers from all walks of life and all parts of New Zealand, adding, "I assure you words used by the performers in this programme were not everyday idiom in that company." He questioned whether members of TVNZ’s Complaints Committee and members of the Authority would allow such language to be used by their own family members. He wrote:

Surely it shows a lack of education, firstly from those using the language (whatever the context), and secondly from those permitting it to be thrust upon others.

Mr White said the fact the programme had a PGR certificate amounted to an admission that "standards in place from your Authority are declining." In his view, by the time child and adult viewers had heard the language, the damage had already been done. He concluded:

Sir, I firmly believe that television has a strong influence on youngsters and you well know that. Can you please consider taking action to prohibit such nonsense in our own programmes, at least. It is neither necessary nor needed to produce quality television.

The Authority’s Findings

When it considers whether a broadcaster breaches the requirements in Standard G2, which refer to community norms of taste and decency, the Authority is required to take into account contextual issues.

The Authority considered the following contextual matters to be relevant on this occasion:

  • the programme was rated PGR, broadcast during the PGR time band, and the PGR symbol was shown at the beginning of programme and after each commercial break.
  • the target audience was young adults
  • it was a reality programme
  • the language used was part of the participants’ everyday idiom
  • the language was used in a tone of frustration, rather than abuse.

Taking into account these contextual issues, the Authority concludes that standard G2 was not breached.

The Authority wishes to remind broadcasters that just because a programme is described as a reality production, broadcasters are not relieved of their duty to comply with broadcasting standards.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Cartwright
Chair
3 May 2001

Appendix

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

  1. Harold White’s Formal Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 19 February 2001
  2. TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 6 March 2001
  3. Mr White’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 12 March 2001
  4. TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 19 March 2001