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Bradstock and Māori Television - 2011-025

Members

  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Mary Anne Shanahan

Complainant

  • Mike Bradstock of Christchurch

Dated

3rd May 2011

Number

2011-025

Programme

Hunting Aotearoa

Channel/Station

Māori Television

Broadcaster

Māori Television


Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Hunting Aotearoa – hunter said, “Fuck, wonder if I should shoot the cunt now” in reference to his dog – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency standard

Findings
Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – majority of viewers would not have expected that level of language in a hunting programme which did not carry a specific warning for language – research suggests that majority of viewers consider the word “cunt” unacceptable in the context of a reality television programme – upheld

No Order

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]   An episode of Hunting Aotearoa, a reality television programme about hunters, was broadcast on Māori Television at 9.30pm on Thursday 24 February 2011. At approximately 9.35pm, one of the hunters featured in the programme said, “Fuck, wonder if I should shoot the cunt now,” in reference to his dog.

Complaint

[2]   Mike Bradstock made a formal complaint to Māori Television, the broadcaster, alleging that the hunter’s language breached broadcasting standards. He considered that it “gives hunters a bad name”.

Standards

[3]   Māori TV assessed the complaint under Standard 1 and guidelines 1a and 1b 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.

Guidelines

1a   Broadcasters will take into account current norms of good taste and decency bearing in mind the context in which any content occurs and the wider context of the broadcast e.g. programme classification, target audience, type of programme and use of warnings etc.

1b   The use of visual and verbal warnings should be considered when content is likely to disturb or offend a significant number of viewers except in the case of news and current affairs, where verbal warnings only will be considered. Warnings should be specific in nature, while avoiding detail which may itself distress or offend viewers.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[4]   Māori TV apologised to the complainant for the use of “such an offensive phrase”. It said that it had investigated the complainant’s concerns and that as a result it had taken steps to ensure that new episodes of the programme did not include “language of this nature”. The broadcaster concluded by saying:

Usage of such language during an Adults Only timeslot is well within the ambit of Standard 1... and is well within Māori Television’s right to freedom of expression as guaranteed under section 14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990... despite this we agree that this kind of language is a lamentable choice of words.

[5]   Māori TV said that the “most offensive word in the phrase” had been edited out so that if the episode was broadcast again it would not contain the language subject to complaint, and that it had instructed the production company to exclude the “most offensive language” in future.

Referral to the Authority

[6]   Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Mr Bradstock referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. He said he was “surprised” by Māori TV’s response because he had assumed that an error had been made. However, he said, it seemed that the inclusion of the language was not an accident and that the broadcaster thought the language was acceptable. He reiterated his view that it brought hunters and hunting into disrepute, and “reinforces the stereotype of the uncouth, vulgar hunter”.

[7]   Mr Bradstock considered that Hunting Aotearoa was shown in an Adults Only timeslot because it involved killing animals, and that people would not expect to hear the words “fuck” and “cunt” on the programme. He disagreed that this language was “well within the ambit” of Standard 1 and that it was excused by the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression.

Authority’s Request for Further Information from the Broadcaster

[8]   We asked Māori TV to clarify whether the programme was preceded by a warning. The broadcaster responded that there was a visual warning, accompanied by a voiceover in Te Reo Māori, stating:

This programme shows graphic scenes of violence toward animals intended for an adults only audience. Scenes may offend.

Authority’s Determination

[9]   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.

[10]   At the outset, we acknowledge that the broadcaster has the right to freedom of expression under section 14 of the Bill of Rights Act 1990. We acknowledge the importance of section 14 and the values underlying the right to freedom of expression. Any restriction on the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression must be prescribed by law, reasonable, and demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society (section 5 of the Bill of Rights Act 1990).

[11]   Looking at Standard 1 (good taste and decency), the Authority has previously determined that upholding a complaint under this standard would be prescribed by law and a justified limitation on the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression as required by section 5 of the Act.1 We see no reason in this case to depart from that finding.

[12]   In considering whether it would be a reasonable and proportionate limit on Māori TV’s freedom of expression to uphold a breach of Standard 1 on this occasion, we note that the following contextual factors all favour the broadcaster’s decision to include the remark, “Fuck, wonder if I should shoot the cunt now” during the broadcast:

  • Hunting Aotearoa was broadcast on Māori TV at 9.30pm an hour after the Adults Only watershed
  • it was classified Adults Only
  • the programme’s adult target audience
  • expectations of regular viewers.

[13]   We also accept that the comment subject to complaint was said in jest rather than in an abusive manner. Against these factors we must weigh the objective and significance of the broadcasting standard concerned, and the extent to which upholding the complaint would limit the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression.

[14]   In Turner and TVNZ,2 the Authority described the primary objective of Standard 1 as follows:

... to protect against the broadcast of sexual content, violent material, and language that exceeds current norms of good taste and decency in the context in which it was shown.

[15]   We consider that this objective is an important one. Viewers or listeners should be able to make informed choices about the kind of broadcast material they consume, and have the right not to be offended by material which exceeds norms of good taste and decency in the context in which it is shown.

[16]   The Authority has conducted specific research on the acceptability of words in particular contexts. Research published in 2010 indicates that 80 percent of people surveyed considered “cunt” fairly or totally unacceptable in the context of a reality television programme, while 55 percent considered “fuck” unacceptable in that context.3

[17]   Against that background, we consider that the hunter’s remark in the absence of the word “cunt” would likely have been consistent with the expectations of the programme’s regular viewers. However, we consider that the inclusion of that word, which the research indicates is considered to be the most offensive, elevated the phrase to a different level, and that most viewers would have been surprised to hear it in the context of a jovial, light-hearted programme about hunting. This was exacerbated by the fact that the programme was preceded by a warning for violence toward animals, but not for language, and also by the fact that the hunter uttered the expletives in English, while the majority of the programme was in Te Reo.

[18]   In our view, adult viewers would still have appreciated the meaning and tone of what the hunter was saying if the language had been censored. The broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression would not be unduly restricted in this regard; it accepted in its response to the complainant that the broadcast of the comment was regrettable, and has taken steps to censor the language for future broadcasts of the episode.

[19]   Having weighed all of the considerations outlined above, we have reached the conclusion that the Standard 1 complaint should be upheld and that doing so would be a reasonable and proportionate limit on Māori TV’s freedom of expression. Accordingly, we uphold the complaint that the broadcast of the hunter’s comment breached standards of good taste and decency.

 

For the above reasons the Authority upholds the complaint that the broadcast by Māori Television of Hunting Aotearoa on 24 February 2011 breached Standard 1 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[20]   Having upheld the complaint, the Authority may make orders under sections 13 and 16 of the Broadcasting Act 1989. Taking into account that the broadcaster acknowledged that the language subject to complaint was regrettable, and the steps it has taken to censor the comment for future broadcasts, we find that publication of the decision is sufficient and that no order is warranted.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
3 May 2011

Appendix

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

1                  Mike Bradstock’s formal complaint – 2 March 2011

2                 Māori Television’s response to the complaint – 11 March 2011

3                 Mr Bradstock’s referral to the Authority – 14 March 2011

4                 Māori Television’s responses to the Authority – 21 and 25 March 2011


1See Turner and TVNZ, Decision No. 2008-112

2Decision No. 2008-112

3What Not to Swear: The Acceptability of Words in Broadcasting (Broadcasting Standards Authority,
  2010) at page 22