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Lough and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2017-080 (15 December 2017)

Members

  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Paula Rose

Complainant

  • Ray Lough

Dated

15th December 2017

Number

2017-080

Programme

1 News

Channel/Station

TVNZ 1

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd

Summary

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

An item on 1 News reported on the outbreak of a cattle disease on a farm in South Canterbury. The item featured an interview with a farmer who used the expression ‘for Christ’s sake’. The Authority did not uphold a complaint that this expression was offensive and unacceptable to broadcast during children’s normally accepted viewing times. The Authority found there was public interest and high value in hearing an authentic voice from a New Zealand farmer as part of the news report. The Authority also noted it has consistently found that variations of ‘Christ’ and ‘Jesus Christ’ are commonly used as exclamations, and in this case, the interviewed farmer used the phrase to express his frustration and strong support of the affected farm owner. The content of the interview did not go beyond audience expectations of the news, therefore it was not necessary to broadcast an audience advisory. In these circumstances, the Authority found that the alleged harm did not outweigh the right to freedom of expression, both of the farmer to express himself in his own words, and of the broadcaster to broadcast the item, including the farmer’s views.

Not Upheld: Good Taste and Decency, Children’s Interests


Introduction

[1]  An item on 1 News reported on the outbreak of a cattle disease on a farm in South Canterbury. The reporter attended a question-and-answer session between concerned farmers in the region and the Ministry for Primary Industries, as well as the vet employed by the farm owners. The reporter described the view of some attendees that the herd should be culled, and interviewed one of the farmers who attended the meeting, who said:

As far as the [farm owners] go, they’re not dickheads. These are very, very good farmers. They have a lot of farms and a lot of cows and for Christ’s sake don’t let these people in here [at the meeting] try and get up good farmers.

[2]  Ray Lough complained that the interviewee’s use of the expression ‘for Christ’s sake’ was offensive and unacceptable to broadcast during an item when children might be viewing.

[3]  The issues raised in Mr Lough’s complaint are whether the broadcast breached the good taste and decency and children’s interests standards of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[4]  The item was broadcast at 6.10pm on 2 August 2017 on TVNZ 1. 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 breach broadcasting standards?

[5]  Mr Lough’s complaint raises similar issues under the good taste and decency and children’s interests standards. As the same contextual factors and other considerations are relevant to our assessment of each of these two standards, we have addressed them together.

[6]  The purpose of the good taste and decency standard (Standard 1) is to protect audience members from viewing broadcasts that are likely to cause widespread undue offence or distress, or undermine widely shared community standards.

[7]  The children’s interests standard (Standard 3) requires broadcasters to consider the interests of child viewers during their normally accepted viewing times – usually up to 8.30pm. The purpose of the standard is to protect children from broadcasts which might adversely affect them.

The parties’ submissions

[8]  Mr Lough submitted:

  • While the news often contained items about violence, it also contained items of general interest to adults and children. Offensive language was used in this report, which was of no educational value and broadcast during children’s normal viewing times.
  • The phrase was outside audience expectations of the item, which was pre-recorded, with no effort made to edit the expression and no audience advisory issued.
  • Research undertaken by the Authority showed that an average of 35% of people surveyed found similar words (‘God’ (29%), ‘Jesus’ (34%), ‘Jesus Christ’ (41%)) totally or fairly unacceptable when used by people being interviewed on TV or radio.1

[9] TVNZ submitted

  • 1 News was aimed at an adult audience and there was an expectation that parents would exercise discretion around viewing news and current affairs programmes with their children (as news programmes may contain material unsuitable for them).2
  • The use of the word ‘Christ’ in the phrase ‘for Christ’s sake’ was acceptable in G and PGR programming. In this item, the word was used as a mild exclamation which was not intended to offend.
  • It pointed to previous decisions by the Authority in which complaints about similar phrases such as ‘Jesus Christ’ and ‘Christ’, were not upheld when used as an ‘exclamation expressing irritation, dismay or surprise’.3

Freedom of expression

[10]  When we determine a complaint alleging a breach of broadcasting standards, we first give consideration to the right to freedom of expression. We weigh the value of the broadcast item, as well as the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression, against the level of actual or potential harm that might be caused by the broadcast. Here, Mr Lough has submitted that the use of the phrase ‘for Christ’s sake’ during this item was not within audience expectations for the programme, and therefore the item caused harm as viewers could not exercise discretion to regulate their own, or children’s, viewing.

[11]  We consider this item was in the public interest, as it informed viewers about an important issue in New Zealand and allowed viewers to hear from those affected first-hand and in their own words. The right to freedom of expression allows individuals to express themselves in the way they choose, so long as standards are maintained.4 In a previous decision by the Authority, a complaint about potentially offensive language used during a news item interview was not upheld. In that case, we said: 5
In our view, audiences should accept that in a diverse society such as New Zealand, people may communicate differently. The expressions subject to complaint represented an authentic use of language by the interviewees featured in the items, to convey their response to the issues discussed.

[12]  It is important for viewers to hear New Zealand stories directly from New Zealanders, and there is high value in the use of the authentic New Zealand voice in news reporting. In our view, this interview therefore had high value in terms of the right to freedom of expression.

Our analysis of the standards

[13]  The next question is whether the actual or potential harm alleged to have been caused by the language used in this broadcast outweighed the high value of the item. In considering this question, we have had regard to the context of the broadcast, which is relevant to our consideration of the nominated standards, as well as the particular words complained about.

[14]  Looking first at the wider context of the broadcast, relevant contextual factors in this case include:

  • 1 News is an unclassified news programme broadcast at 6pm each weekday
  • 1 News is targeted at an adult audience
  • the nature of news programmes, which frequently contain strong or adult material. As such, the Authority recognises that children are unlikely to be watching unsupervised
  • there was no audience advisory preceding the item
  • audience expectations of 1 News and news programming in general
  • the relatively high public interest in the broadcast.

[15]  Taking these contextual factors into account, we do not consider that the use of the phrase ‘for Christ’s sake’ would be outside audience expectations of this item or of 1 News generally, therefore no audience advisory was necessary. As we have noted above, 1 News is targeted at an adult audience and sometimes features adult material. We are satisfied that viewers are aware of the need to exercise discretion during news programming to regulate their own, and children’s, viewing.

[16]  When assessing the language itself, we note that the Authority has previously found that, while some people may find the use of variations of ‘Christ’ and ‘Jesus Christ’ unnecessary and offensive, expressions of this nature are commonly used as exclamations, without any intention to be offensive.6 We have recognised that, in many cases, use of these expressions will not breach broadcasting standards.7

[17]  In this item, the phrase was used by an interviewee to express his frustration at the way the disease outbreak was being handled, and in strong defence of the farm owners. In these circumstances, and taking into account the contextual factors outlined above, we do not consider the language used by the interviewee reached the threshold necessary for finding a breach of standards, or to justify limiting the right to freedom of expression.

[18]  Accordingly, we do not uphold the complaint.

 

 

For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.


Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

 

Peter Radich
Chair
15 December 2017  

 


Appendix

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

1  Ray Lough’s formal complaint – 11 August 2017
2  TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 13 September 2017
3  Mr Lough’s referral to the Authority – 4 October 2017
4  TVNZ’s confirmation of no further comment – 17 November 2017


1 What Not to Swear: The Acceptability of Words in Broadcasting (Broadcasting Standards Authority, 2013), at pages 18-19

2 Citing Bracey and Ee and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2013-084 at [9]. TVNZ also pointed to the Authority’s decisions Barker and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2000-033, Baldwin and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2006-125, and Roberts and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2007-115.

3 Citing Swale and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2003-098; Parkinson and Harvey and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2006-057

4 McCaughan and MediaWorks TV Ltd, Decision No. 2016-062, at [11] 

5 As above

Campbell and Radio New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2016-069, at [8]

7 As above. See also Ironside and MediaWorks TV Ltd, Decision No. 2014-113 and Busse and Milner Busse and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2012-038.