One News – offensive language – horse named Bugger me – unsuitable for children
Standard G2 – newsworthy – not gratuitous – no uphold
Standard G12 – no uphold
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
A news item broadcast on One News on TV One at 6.00pm on 21 February 2000 described the controversy in the harness racing industry which had arisen over a horse named "Bugger Me".
Paul Schwabe complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the word "bugger" was offensive and its use on television had a detrimental effect on children and society in general.
TVNZ responded that in the context of a news item reporting on a controversial matter, the use of the word bugger did not breach broadcasting standards. As for the content being unsuitable for children, TVNZ said it believed that parents and caregivers recognised the special nature of news and monitored children’s viewing accordingly. It declined to uphold the complaint.
Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, 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 which is listed in the Appendix. On this occasion, the Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.
The controversy surrounding a harness racing horse named "Bugger Me" was reported in an item on One News broadcast on TV One on 21 February 2000 at 6.00pm. Extracts from an award winning advertisement containing the word "bugger" were also shown.
Paul Schwabe complained to TVNZ that the broadcast in the early evening news hour of the word "bugger" was not consistent with standards of good taste and decency and would have a detrimental effect on children.
TVNZ assessed the complaint under s.4(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act and standard G12 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. The statute provides:
s.4(1) Every broadcaster is responsible for maintaining in its programmes and their presentation, standards which are consistent with –
i) the observance of good taste and decency.
Standard G12 requires broadcasters:
G12 To be mindful of the effect any programme may have on children during their normally accepted viewing hours.
TVNZ noted that the interest in the story lay in the "broader implied debate" over how far society should go in its acceptance of the word "bugger". In discussing the naming of the racehorse, the item included comments both for and against the horse’s name, which it said illustrated the wider community debate on the issue.
In considering the good taste provision, TVNZ argued that this was a story with a strong public and social interest which could not have been told without specific reference both to the name of the racehorse and the television advertisement from which it was taken. It pointed out that the statutory provision was expanded in standard G2 to include contextual considerations. In its view, the language as used was not inappropriate.
Turning to standard G12, TVNZ expressed its view that "necessarily, news and current affairs programmes will contain material that some parents find unsuitable for their children." It considered that parents and caregivers recognised the special nature of news and monitored their children’s viewing accordingly. It found no breach of standard G12.
In his referral to the Authority Mr Schwabe advised that he was dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response. He argued that it was unnecessary to broadcast offensive language, and said he considered that viewers of the item had been exposed to an "overdose".
TVNZ advised that it had no further comment.
The name of a racehorse was said to have caused some controversy when it was sold, according to a news report. A number of different views were expressed about the propriety of naming the horse "Bugger Me". The complainant contended that the word "bugger" was offensive and its use would have a detrimental effect on children.
In the Authority’s view, the item was newsworthy because it accurately reflected that community views were polarised about the propriety of using the word "bugger". In reaching its decision on this complaint, the Authority turns to its 1999 research on community attitudes to language in the broadcasting context. The results of that national survey showed that almost three quarters of those interviewed considered the word "bugger" was acceptable. On the basis that a clear majority is not offended by the use of the word "bugger" and given also that the word was not used gratuitously in the context of the item, the Authority finds no breach of standard G2.
With respect to the complaint that the broadcaster was not mindful of children, the Authority finds no breach of the standard. It notes, and to some extent, accepts, TVNZ’s argument that parents generally monitor their children’s viewing during news programmes and, bearing in mind its own research evidence on the use of language, it concludes that TVNZ did not fall short of its obligation to be mindful of children on this occasion.
For the reasons set forth above, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
25 May 2000
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1. Paul Schwabe’s Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 9 March 2000
2. TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 22 March 2000
3. Mr Schwabe’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 16 April 2000
4. TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 3 May 2000