Big Train – skit insulted Christians – blasphemy – bad taste
Standard G2 – legitimate humour – no uphold
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
A skit during the comedy programme Big Train portrayed an employer and employee as a devil and a Christ-like figure respectively. The programme was broadcast on TV One at 11.00pm on 17 April 2001.
B S G Lambert complained to the broadcaster, Television New Zealand Ltd, that the broadcast ridiculed and offended Christians and breached standards of good taste.
TVNZ did not consider that the programme had breached standards of good taste. It maintained that the skit had legitimately lampooned religion.
Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, B S G Lambert 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.
The members of the Authority have viewed a tape of the programme complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines this complaint without a formal hearing.
A skit during the British comedy programme Big Train portrayed an employer and employee as a devil and a Christ-like figure respectively. The programme was broadcast on TV One at 11.00pm on 17 April 2001.
B S G Lambert complained to the broadcaster, Television New Zealand Ltd, that the broadcast showed "a figure of Christ with a crown of thorns portrayed as a figure of fun". The complainant regarded the broadcast as "a breach of good taste, to say the least", and maintained:
Those who created the programme might have thought it a laugh to scandalise Christians by holding up to ridicule the Son of God, our Lord and Saviour, but to people like me it was deeply hurtful.
TVNZ considered the complaint under standard G2 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. This standard requires broadcasters, in the preparation and presentation 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 apologised for the distress which the item had caused the complainant, but said it did not believe that most viewers would have shared the complainant’s distress.
TVNZ noted that the skit was broadcast during a British comedy programme. In TVNZ’s view:
To laugh at somebody else’s culture can be unkind, even racist – but when uttered by a member of the culture which is being satirised it can be legitimate and a demonstration of our abilities to make affectionate fun of even our most treasured institutions.
TVNZ maintained that the skit had "legitimately lampoon[ed] Christ-like figures in a way that a representative of a country with a different faith could not".
In TVNZ’s opinion, the skit "did not pose questions about any tenet of the Christian faith" or "ridicule Christian beliefs". Rather, TVNZ considered that it
… used a Christ-like figure and a Devil confronting one another in the context of a very modern day [employment] dispute.
TVNZ maintained that the skit had also mocked television and its propensity to produce "fly-on-the-wall" documentaries.
TVNZ did not consider that the skit breached standard G2, suggesting that most viewers "would believe they could laugh at themselves and their beliefs without diminishing those beliefs".
When the complaint was referred to the Authority, B S G Lambert reiterated that the broadcast was "in bad taste and offensive to the Christian minority".
In a further letter to the Authority, BSG Lambert described as "specious" TVNZ’s argument that "humour may not be in bad taste according to the culture of the person making the joke".
When the Authority considers a complaint alleging a breach of standard G2, it takes into account the context in which the broadcast complained about occurs. The context is relevant, but not decisive, to the Authority’s determination of whether the programme breached standards of good taste and decency.
The relevant contextual factors on this occasion include the programme’s time of broadcast during AO time at 11.00pm, and that the material occurred in the context of a comedy show. The Authority considers that the skit was legitimate humour which did not threaten the good taste and decency standard.
In reaching this conclusion, the Authority has taken into account that the complainant, in common with a number of people in the community, find blasphemy offensive. Nevertheless, having regard to the contextual matters referred to above, the Authority concludes that standard G2 was not breached.
For the above reasons, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
16 August 2001
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint: