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Knyazev and MediaWorks TV Ltd - 2014-075

Members

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

Complainant

  • Vladimir Knyazev of Auckland

Dated

9th September 2014

Number

2014-075

Channel/Station

TV3

Broadcaster

MediaWorks TV Ltd


Summary [This summary does not form part of the decision.]

A segment on The Paul Henry Show featured the two presenters discussing recent law changes in Russia that mean it is now illegal to misrepresent Russia’s involvement in World War II, and that people would be fined for swearing on television, in theatre or in films. Mr Henry gave examples of Russian swearwords. There was also a discussion about ‘butt plugs’ made in the likeness of Vladimir Putin and of Paul Henry. The Authority did not uphold the complaint that the language, the references to Russia’s involvement in the war, and the discussion about ‘butt plugs’ were offensive. The segment was on late at night and targeted at adults, it was intended to be light-hearted and was consistent with expectations of the show and of Paul Henry.

Not Upheld: Good Taste and Decency, Responsible Programming


Introduction

[1]  During The Paul Henry Show the two presenters discussed recent law changes in Russia that mean it is now illegal to deny Nazi war crimes or to misrepresent Russia’s involvement in World War II. The new laws also sought to punish people who used expletives on television, in theatre or in films. Paul Henry gave examples of swearwords in Russian and the fines that might be imposed. He and his co-host then discussed ‘butt plugs’ formed in the likeness of Vladimir Putin and Mr Henry himself. The programme was broadcast at 10.30pm on TV3 on 6 May 2014.

[2]  Vladimir Knyazev made a formal complaint to MediaWorks TV Ltd (MediaWorks), alleging that Mr Henry’s comments were irresponsible and in bad taste.

[3]  The issue is whether the broadcast breached the good taste and decency and responsible programming standards as set out in the Free-To-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[4]  The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

Did the item threaten current norms of good taste and decency?

[5]  The good taste and decency standard (Standard 1) is primarily aimed at broadcasts containing sexual material, nudity, coarse language or violence.1 The Authority will also consider the standard in relation to any broadcast that portrays or discusses material in a way that is likely to cause offence or distress.2

[6]  Mr Knyazev was concerned about three aspects of the broadcast in relation to good taste and decency:

  • Mr Henry’s comments about Russia’s involvement in World War II
  • Mr Henry’s use of Russian swearwords
  • Mr Henry’s discussion with his co-host about ‘butt plugs’.

[7]  Mr Knyazev was offended by what he described as ‘strong language’ directed at Vladimir Putin, the light-hearted and insensitive references to Nazi war crimes, and the repeated references to ‘butt plugs’.

Russia’s involvement in World War II

[8]  With regard to the law changes relating to Russia’s involvement in the war, Mr Henry said:

More draconian laws have been passed in Russia… These are the new laws which have come in over the last few days. It is now illegal – punishable by harsh punishments – for you to deny Nazi war crimes; for you to in any way misrepresent Russia’s involvement in the war. …The Soviet Union take their role in World War II very, very seriously. In fact about 30 million people lost their lives so you can understand that.

[9]  Mr Henry was simply reporting the new laws. He was not being derogatory or critical – and in fact said, ‘you can understand’ why the law had been passed, given many people from the Soviet Union lost their lives.

[10]  We are satisfied this aspect of the programme would not have offended most viewers.

Russian swearwords

[11]  Mr Henry went on to explain the new laws in relation to swearing in a public performance by using a form of Pidgin Russian and saying:

…the punishment for swearing if you’re on television, in the theatre, or in films, the punishment is $70 for an individual… or 1,400 for an organisation. So, for instance… if I were to say, ‘ebat Vladimir’, which is the f-word in Russian, that would be $70 for me and $1,400 for TV3. If I was to say ‘ebat huesos Vladimir’, well obviously you can quadruple those. That second one involves something that you might do to a bodily part, to a man’s bodily part.

[12]  Mr Henry’s co-host commented, ‘so you took this as an opportunity to learn some Russian swearwords? Okay, well done.’ Mr Henry responded, ‘Yes, I like to broaden my mind.’

[13]  MediaWorks considered that ‘most regular viewers of the show are unlikely to have been offended at the swearing in the satirical and political content in which it occurred’. With regard to people who spoke Russian – who would have been the only viewers to understand the swearwords – MediaWorks argued there was ‘an expectation for occasional strong language in shows that screen after the 8.30pm Adults Only watershed and especially after 9.30pm’.

[14]  In our view, Mr Henry’s use of Russian swearwords did have the potential to offend some viewers who could recognise what he was saying, particularly as the phrases appeared to be at the higher end on the spectrum of offensive language, and these words were used in relation to an individual, the Russian leader. We do not think that Russian speakers would have been the only viewers to understand the swearwords, as the word for ‘fuck’ comes from the same origins in many Slavonic languages (though the second garbled expletive collection may well have been unrecognisable).

[15]  Nevertheless, we are satisfied that in context the use of this language would not have unduly surprised or offended most viewers, taking into account the following factors:

  • The Paul Henry Show is a late-night, unclassified news programme
  • the programme screened at 10.30pm, two hours after the Adults Only watershed
  • the programme has an adult target audience
  • the language was largely unintelligible
  • the segment was intended to be pointed while also being entertaining; it related to actual current events and Mr Henry used the words to illustrate how the new laws might apply
  • there was the additional satirical purpose of bringing the Russian laws into ridicule
  • these were views which Mr Henry was entitled to express
  • Mr Henry is well-known for his style of presentation and humour, and this discussion was consistent with audience expectations of his show (but caution must be exercised with this justification to avoid any suggestion that repeated unacceptable behaviour can become acceptable through repetition).

[16]  For these reasons, we do not think the use of Russian expletives breached the standard.

Putin and Henry ‘butt plugs’

[17]  Finally in the segment, Mr Henry showed the camera his ‘Putin butt plug’. His co-host then presented Mr Henry with a gift she had bought him, a butt plug made in the likeness of Mr Henry. They had a light-hearted discussion about them, and whether Mr Henry thought he and Mr Putin were alike in any way.

[18]  This segment was obviously intended to be humorous. Mr Henry was self-deprecating in his response to the gift and seemed to take pleasure in laughing at himself. Again, he was not being derogatory or nasty towards Mr Putin, and we do not think the subject matter of ‘butt plugs’ was in itself sufficient to threaten current norms of good taste and decency, in context. As we have said above, this was a late-night news programme targeted at adults and Mr Henry is well-known for his style of humour. We do not think most viewers would have been surprised or offended by this content.

[19]  Accordingly, we decline to uphold the Standard 1 complaint.

Did the item breach the responsible programme standard?

[20]  The responsible programming standard (Standard 8) requires broadcasters to ensure that programmes are correctly classified and screened in the appropriate time-band.

[21]  The Paul Henry Show is an unclassified current affairs programme broadcast during the AO time-band. We have found under the good taste and decency standard that this programme did not exceed audience expectations of content broadcast at 10.30pm.

[22]  We therefore decline to uphold the Standard 8 complaint.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

 

Peter Radich
Chair
9 September 2014

Appendix

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

1            Vladimir Knyazev’s formal complaint – 7 May 2014

2            MediaWorks’ response to the complaint – 5 June 2014

3            Mr Knyazev’s referral to the Authority – 18 June 2014

4            MediaWorks’ response to the Authority – 26 June 2014


1Turner and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2008-112

2 Practice Note: Good Taste and Decency (Broadcasting Standards Authority, November 2006)