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Collier and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2010-123

Members

  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Tapu Misa
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Mary Anne Shanahan

Complainant

  • John Collier of Christchurch

Dated

23rd December 2010

Number

2010-123

Programme

Breakfast

Channel/Station

TV One

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Breakfast
- host read out viewer feedback that contained joke referring to "Jesus Christ" – allegedly in breach of standards relating to good taste and decency, fairness, discrimination and denigration, and children's interests


Findings

Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – "Jesus Christ" used to covey exclamation of light-hearted surprise – contextual factors – not upheld

Standard 6 (fairness) – no individual or organisation taking part or referred to treated unfairly – not upheld

Standard 7 (discrimination and denigration) – not intended to encourage denigration of Christian people – not upheld

Standard 9 (children's interests) – broadcaster adequately considered children's interests – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]  An episode of Breakfast was broadcast on TV One at 6.30am on Tuesday 23 March 2010. During the viewer feedback segment at 8.09am, host Paul Henry stated "we have had a lot of feedback on the wine, can I sum it up with just this one?" After being encouraged by co-host, Pippa Wetzell, Mr Henry read out the following email sent in by a viewer:

On a return visit from the UK to New Zealand in 1976 when the New Zealand whites were just getting underway and were drinkable, and the reds were certainly not, my brother-in-law said he wanted me to try a new New Zealand red wine called Saviour Wine. Saviour Wine, says I, why Saviour wine? Because, he said, when you take the first sip you go, "Jesus Christ"!

[2]  The joke was received with laughter from those present in the studio.

Complaint

[3]  John Collier made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the host's reference to "Jesus Christ" breached broadcasting standards relating to good taste and decency, fairness, children's interests and discrimination and denigration.

[4]  The complainant argued that the comment was "unfair, offensive and in bad taste". He contended that it was a "cheap below the belt shot at Christians" and was "contrary to one of the Ten Commandments which says ‘Though shall not take the name of the lord in vain.'" In Mr Collier's view, the comment unfairly targeted Christians and was not legitimate humour.

[5]  Mr Collier argued that the comment was not in children's interests because it taught children to use the words Jesus Christ "vainly contrary to their Christian beliefs or if they are not Christian in the belief that using [the words] in that manner is not offensive to Christians".

Standards

[6]  TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standards 1, 6, 7 and 9 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. These provide:

Standard 1 Good Taste and Decency

Broadcasters should observe standards of good taste and decency.

Standard 6 Fairness

Broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to.

Standard 7 Discrimination and Denigration

Broadcasters should not encourage discrimination against, or denigration of, any section of the community on account of sex, sexual orientation, race, age, disability, occupational status, or as a consequence of legitimate expression of religion, culture or political belief.

Standard 9 Children's Interests

During children's normally accepted viewing times (see Appendix 1), broadcasters should consider the interests of child viewers.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[7]  TVNZ noted that the comment subject to complaint in the viewer feedback segment related to an earlier segment of Breakfast, "What Not to Buy", which featured a cheap French-produced wine.

[8]  The broadcaster argued that to constitute a breach of Standard 1, the broadcast material must be unacceptable to a significant number of viewers in the context in which it was shown, including the time of broadcast, the programme's classification, the target audience, and the use of warnings. TVNZ said that Breakfast had an adult target audience and that regular viewers would consider the content subject to complaint "typical of the daily fare the programme routinely features".

[9]  The broadcaster said that, in its view, the words "Jesus Christ" would not be considered "unacceptable" to the majority of New Zealanders. It contended that the phrase was included in the item as the punch-line to a joke that Mr Henry was telling, stating that it was used "as a mild exclamation (because in the joke the wine was so rough)". The broadcaster maintained that the comment was meant to be humorous and was not intended to offend.

[10]  Accordingly, TVNZ declined to uphold the Standard 1 complaint.

[11]  Turning to fairness, the broadcaster reiterated that the basis for Mr Collier's complaint was a joke told within the Breakfast programme. The words "Jesus Christ" were used to "exclaim surprise and shock", it said, and were not used in reference to any individual or organisation. Accordingly, the broadcaster declined to uphold the Standard 6 complaint.

[12]  With regard to Standard 7, TVNZ noted the Authority's previous finding that a comedy which satirised the Catholic Church did not breach the discrimination and denigration standard1. Relying on that decision, the broadcaster argued that Christianity was a global institution "sufficiently robust to withstand the light-hearted joke on Breakfast."

[13]  TVNZ argued that to uphold a breach of Standard 7 would be an unjustifiable limitation on its right to freedom of expression, and it therefore declined to uphold that part of the complaint.

[14]  Turning to children's interests, the broadcaster contended that the joke was appropriate to screen during Breakfast, which it described as a "magazine format current affairs programme aimed at adult viewers". Despite the programmes adult target audience, the broadcaster acknowledged that the comment subject to complaint was made during children's normally accepted viewing times, but argued that the phrase "Jesus Christ" was acceptable in the context of the underlying time-band. It maintained that the broadcast would not have disturbed or alarmed child viewers.

[15]  Accordingly, TVNZ declined to uphold the Standard 9 complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[16]  Dissatisfied with the broadcaster's response, the complainant referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

Authority's Determination

[17]  The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

Standard 1 (good taste and decency)

[18]  When we consider an alleged breach of good taste and decency, we take into account the context of the broadcast. On this occasion, the relevant contextual factors include:

  • Breakfast was an unclassified news and current affairs programme
  • the programme's adult target audience
  • the comment subject to complaint was broadcast at approximately 8.09am during children's normally accepted viewing times
  • the comment formed part of an email read out during the viewer feedback segment and did not come directly from the host.

[19]  We note that on this occasion the words "Jesus Christ" formed part of the punch-line to a joke sent in by a Breakfast viewer, and in our view, they were not used in a manner intended to offend.

[20]  We consider that it is a fact of modern secular society that such language will often be used to convey different meanings and will be coloured by the context of its expression. To illustrate this point, the Authority has consistently referred to the definition of "Christ" in the Concise Oxford Dictionary, which includes "exclamation, expressing irritation, dismay, or surprise". While we acknowledge that the use of the words "Jesus Christ" as an exclamation is offensive to some people, we note that for many New Zealanders it is a common part of everyday colloquial speech.

[21]  On this occasion, we consider that "Jesus Christ" was used both as an exclamation to register light-hearted surprise and the punch-line to a joke which played on the words "Jesus Christ" and "Saviour". In our opinion, it was used in a non-derogatory and inoffensive manner. Taking into account the above contextual factors, we decline to uphold the Standard 1 complaint.

Standard 7 (discrimination and denigration)

[22]  For the reasons given above in our consideration of Standard 1, we consider that the use of the words "Jesus Christ" as an exclamation could not be seen as encouraging discrimination against, or the denigration of, Christian people.

[23]  Accordingly, we decline to uphold the Standard 7 complaint.

Standard 6 (fairness)

[24]  The fairness standard requires broadcasters to deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to in a programme.

[25]  The complainant's fairness concerns related to Christians in general, and not to an individual or organisation to which the fairness standard applies. We therefore find that Standard 6 is not applicable on this occasion and we decline to uphold this part of the complaint.

Standard 9 (children's interests)

[26]  We note that Breakfast was an unclassified news programme targeted at adults and that children were unlikely to be watching unsupervised. We consider that the item would not have alarmed or distressed child viewers and that the broadcaster adequately considered children's interests when it screened the item during their normally accepted viewing times. We therefore decline to uphold the Standard 9 complaint.

 

For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
23 December 2010

Appendix

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

1.          John Collier's formal complaint – 19 April 2010

2.         TVNZ's response to the formal complaint – 28 April 2010

3.         Mr Collier's referral to the Authority – 14 May 2010

4.         TVNZ's response to the Authority – 9 November 2010