One News – comment in both headlines and item – kick up the arse – political meeting – offensive language
Standard G2 – no tape of headlines – decline to determine; comment in item acceptable in context – no uphold
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
The contest for the presidency of the National Party was dealt with in an item on One News broadcast at 6.00pm on 6 May 2001. The item reported on the voting at a regional conference, with one delegate saying that "the party needs a good kick up the arse". The remark was also included in the opening headlines for One News.
Don Campbell complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the opening headline and the item containing that expression failed to meet standards of good taste and decency.
In response, TVNZ said that the comment reflected the feelings the contest engendered and, in context, did not breach the standards.
Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, Mr Campbell referred his complaints 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 about the headlines, and declines to uphold the complaint about the news item.
The members of the Authority have viewed a tape of the news item complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The members have not viewed a tape of the headlines. The Authority determines the complaints without a formal hearing.
The contest for the presidency of the National Party was dealt with in an item broadcast on One News on 6 May. The item reported on the voting at a regional conference. One delegate who was interviewed said:
I think the party needs a good kick up the arse to be quite honest. It concerns me that the party is not facing reality and is not being honest with itself about what it needs to do and I want to see some radical changes happen.
Don Campbell complained to Television New Zealand Ltd that the expression "kick up the arse" failed to maintain standards consistent with good taste and decency. He also said he was concerned that the expression had been used both in the introduction to the news, and in the body of the item.
TVNZ assessed the complaints under standard G2 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice which requires broadcasters, in preparation and broadcast of programmes:
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 explained that the item had looked at the "battle-lines" in the Party between those who supported the present leader, and those who wanted a change in direction. The expression had been included in the item, it said, to highlight the fact that the clash was both polarised and passionate. It declined to uphold the complaints.
When he referred the complaints to the Authority, Mr Campbell maintained that the broadcast of the expression at that hour breached the standard. The word, he continued, was "disgusting" and "unfit for inclusion in a news item in family viewing time".
Mr Campbell did not agree with TVNZ that the use of the word was necessary to convey the dissatisfaction of the person interviewed. An alternative expression, he said, could have been used. His major concern, he added, was the possible widespread use of the word within society if its use was found acceptable on television.
When determining a complaint that a broadcaster has failed to comply with the standard G2 requirements for good taste and decency, the Authority takes into account the context of the material which was broadcast. In this instance, the item reported the contest for the presidency of the National Party and one delegate, when interviewed, expressed the opinion that the party needed "a good kick up the arse".
In assessing the context about the item, the Authority notes that the use of the word "arse" during the brief item revealed the strong views of the interviewee. In its assessment, the word was not designed to offend. Indeed, because it seemed to be a throw away line in the context of political comment, the Authority concludes that standard G2 was not contravened.
The Authority observes that context is central to a ruling on whether the requirement for good taste and decency has been breached. The absence of a tape meant the Authority was unable to assess the relevant contextual matters in regard to the use of the word in the headlines. Accordingly it declines to determine that complaint. The Authority expresses its regret that that the opening headlines were not recorded on TVNZ’s master tape.
For the above reasons, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint in regard to the broadcast of the item on One News. Pursuant to section 11(b) of the Broadcasting Act 1989, it declines to determine the complaint in regard to the headlines for One News.
Signed for an behalf of the Authority
19 July 2001
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
- Don Campbell’s Formal Complaints to Television New Zealand Ltd – 6 May 2001
- TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaints – 21 May 2001
- Mr Campbell’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 26 May 2001
- TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 6 June 2001