Holmes – offensive language – presenter said "bugger the international media" – America’s Cup context
Standard G2 – "bugger" not acceptable for common usage, but acceptable in context – no uphold
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
During an item about the America’s Cup on Holmes on TV One at 7.00pm on 21 February 2000, the presenter said "bugger the international media".
Paul Schwabe complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the use of the word "bugger" breached broadcasting standards which require the observance of good taste and decency.
TVNZ responded that, in the context of a highly charged America’s Cup campaign, the use of the word "bugger" did not breach broadcasting standards. It did not accept that its use carried the suggestion that the word was now acceptable for common usage. 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.
During an item about the America’s Cup on Holmes on TV One at 7.00pm on 21 February 2000, the presenter said "bugger the international media". This retort was made in response to criticism of Team New Zealand’s skipper by members of the foreign press.
Paul Schwabe complained to TVNZ that the broadcast of the word "bugger" was not consistent with standards of good taste and decency. He wrote:
I am hoping that TVNZ will not suggest that the "bugger" word has gained respectability by its very incorporation into a successful (I say offensive) advertisement and has now become decent language.
TVNZ assessed the complaint under s.4(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act and standard G2 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 –
the observance of good taste and decency.
Standard G2 requires broadcasters:
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 reassured the complainant that it had not adopted a policy of regarding the word "bugger" as decent language, and apologised if its use on this occasion distressed him.
In considering the good taste provision, TVNZ noted that the word was used in the context of a highly charged America’s Cup campaign. TVNZ considered that the presenter had made a "firm but flippant retort" in response to criticism of Team New Zealand’s skipper for not attending a press briefing attended by members of the foreign press. It did not accept that the manner in which the word "bugger" was used carried the suggestion that it was acceptable for common usage. On the contrary, TVNZ believed that the presenter had implicitly acknowledged that her choice of phrasing had been strong, but was justified in the context of a heated debate. TVNZ declined to uphold Mr Schwabe’s complaint.
In his referral to the Authority Mr Schwabe advised that he was dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response. He said that TVNZ’s failure to uphold his complaint indicated to him that the use of the word could be expected to be repeated.
TVNZ advised that it had no further comment.
The Authority notes that language complained about was broadcast in the context of an item about the emotionally charged America’s Cup campaign. The specific circumstance which prompted the language was criticism of the New Zealand skipper over an incident which had generated a typically heated debate.
In a previous decision on a complaint by Mr Schwabe about the broadcast of the word "bugger" (Decision No: 2000-067), the Authority referred to its 1999 national survey on community attitudes to language in the broadcasting context. That research is equally relevant to the determination of the present complaint. It showed that almost three quarters of those interviewed considered the word "bugger" to be acceptable. On that basis and given that the word was not used gratuitously in the context of the item, the Authority finds no breach of standard G2.
As a further point, the Authority notes that TVNZ said that it did not believe that the language used on this occasion implied that the word "bugger" was acceptable for common usage. The Authority agrees and wishes to record for clarity that it does not accept that the word "bugger" is acceptable in all contexts.
For the reasons set forth above, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
6 July 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 – 13 March 2000
2. TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 3 April 2000
3. Mr Schwabe’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 1 May 2000
4. TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 10 May 2000