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Duff and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2001-110

Members

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

Complainant

  • Robin Duff of Christchurch

Dated

20th September 2001

Number

2001-110

Programme

The Machine

Channel/Station

TV2

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint
The Machine – "arse end" used to describe Southland – quiz show aimed at children and teenagers – offensive language – broadcaster not mindful of children

Findings
Standard G2 – insufficiently offensive to constitute breach – majority – no uphold

Standard G12 – majority – no uphold

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

One of the presenters of the TV2 quiz show The Machine, during the episode broadcast at 5.30pm on 17 June 2001, introduced two competing school teams from Northland and from Southland as being "one from the top, one from the arse end" of the country.

Robin Duff complained to the broadcaster, Television New Zealand Ltd, that such "crude language" was unacceptable. He said the word would have been acceptable in, for example, a police drama directed to adults, but not in a young person’s quiz show.

Declining to uphold the complaint, TVNZ responded that The Machine was targeted at teenagers. It said the word "arse" was "very much a part of teenagers’ everyday vocabulary".

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

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

Decision

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.

One of the presenters of the TV2 quiz show The Machine, during the episode broadcast at 5.30pm on 17 June 2001, introduced two competing school teams from Northland and from Southland as being "one from the top, one from the arse end" of the country.

Robin Duff complained to the broadcaster, Television New Zealand Ltd, that it was unacceptable to use such "crude language" in a quiz show aimed at children. He said the phrase had been used in a "totally unnecessary, gratuitous way", and that its use undermined the guidance provided by parents. In his view, some of the participants would also have been embarrassed, particularly given that the language had been used by someone they could regard as an adult role model. He said:

I consider that the word could be acceptable in, say, a police drama directed to adults, but not in a children’s quiz.

I presume that the programme was not "live", but pre-recorded, so there was also an opportunity for this to be subsequently edited by the director prior to broadcast.

Mr Duff requested that the presenter apologise during the following week’s broadcast of The Machine.

TVNZ considered the complaint under standards G2 and G12 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. These standards require 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.

G12  To be mindful of the effect any programme may have on children during their normally accepted viewing hours.

TVNZ explained that The Machine was a programme targeted at teenagers. It said the programme’s producer had advised that the word "arse" was "very much a part of teenagers’ everyday vocabulary".

Declining to uphold the complaint, TVNZ cited the Authority’s research into offensiveness and bad language in the broadcasting context, explaining that a majority of those questioned did not regard the word "arse" as offensive.

In his referral to the Authority, Mr Duff said he would have taken the complaint no further if TVNZ had generally agreed with it, and if the producer had assured him that care would be taken in the future to avoid a "similar lapse".

However, he said:

I believe that on this occasion, the presenter did not follow the lowering standard of youthful language, but led it, and in so doing harmed the youth of New Zealand by giving them the signal that this was a perfectly good word to use in public.

He reiterated his view that the language was an "unnecessary crudity", which added nothing to the introduction of the teams and was "crude for the sake of being crude".

In its response to the Authority, TVNZ maintained that the language reflected "common parlance among young people". TVNZ accepted that "arse" was a slang word, and used in certain ways could be vulgar or even offensive. However, context was always relevant, the broadcaster said, and in that regard drew the Authority’s attention to one of the dictionary definitions of the word, "the lower or hinder end, the bottom".

The Authority’s Findings

Before turning to consider whether the episode of The Machine complained about breaches broadcasting standards, the Authority makes two preliminary observations. First, it is not persuaded by the broadcaster’s argument that because a word is "common parlance" among teenagers, it is therefore acceptable in a broadcast aimed at teenagers. There are a number of words and phrases which, although no doubt part of many teenagers’ everyday vocabulary, threaten broadcasting standards when used in programmes targeted at young people.

Second, the Authority addresses the broadcaster’s questionable use of the Authority’s research. TVNZ stated that, according to the research, a majority of those questioned did not regard the word "arse" as offensive. In fact, the Authority’s research has never specifically addressed community attitudes to the word "arse". The Authority’s research canvassed attitudes to the word "arsehole", when used in a particular broadcasting context, and almost half of those questioned found the word unacceptable. The Authority accepts, however, that there is a substantial difference between the phrase "arse-end" and the word "arsehole".

Turning to consider whether the broadcast complained about breaches standard G2, the Authority notes that when it considers a complaint alleging a breach of good taste and decency, it takes into account the context in which the broadcast occurs. The context is relevant, but not decisive, to the Authority’s determination.

On this occasion, the relevant contextual factors include the programme’s time of broadcast during G time at 5.30pm, its screening on a Sunday evening, the programme’s target audience of teenagers and the likelihood that it also attracts younger viewers, and the manner of delivery of the phrase complained about.

A majority of the Authority considers the use of the phrase "arse-end" in the subject programme only narrowly avoids transgressing standard G2. In its view, although the phrase was used gratuitously and was designed for effect, it was insufficiently offensive to constitute a breach of good taste and decency. In reaching that conclusion, the majority considers upholding the complaint would unreasonably infringe the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression, in section 14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990. For the same reason, the majority also declines to uphold the complaint as a breach of standard G12.

A minority of the Authority (Professor Judy McGregor) considers the phrase did breach broadcasting standards. In the minority’s view, the gratuitous use of the phrase was unacceptable in a quasi-educational programme aimed at a younger audience and broadcast at 5.30pm during G time when children would be in the viewing audience.

 

For the above reasons, a majority of the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Cartwright
Chair
20 September 2001

Appendix

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

  1. Robin Duff’s Formal Complaint to TVNZ – 18 June 2001
  2. TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 4 July 2001
  3. Mr Duff’s Referral to the Authority – 11 July 2001
  4. TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 23 July 2001