Skip to main content

Sandbrook and Mediaworks Radio Ltd - 2017-096 (16 February 2018)

Members

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

Complainant

  • Steven Sandbrook

Dated

16th February 2018

Number

2017-096

Programme

Fire Water Burn

Channel/Station

The Rock

Broadcaster

MediaWorks Radio Ltd

Warning: This decision contains language that some readers may find offensive.

Summary

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

The song ‘Fire Water Burn’ by the Bloodhound Gang was broadcast on The Rock FM at 5.45pm on 25 October 2017. The song contained the word ‘motherfucker’, which was partially censored, and also contained lyrics such as, ‘but if I crashed into Uranus I would stick it where the sun don't shine’. The Authority did not uphold a complaint that the song, in its edited format, breached the good taste and decency standard. The Authority acknowledged that the censoring could have been more effective in disguising the word used, and that some of the lyrics may offend listeners. However, the Authority found overall the song did not reach the threshold for finding a breach of good taste and decency taking into account the context, including audience expectations of The Rock and rock songs, and the longstanding popularity of this particular song. Therefore limiting the right to freedom of expression was not justified in this case.

Not Upheld: Good Taste and Decency 


Introduction

[1]  The song ‘Fire Water Burn’ by the Bloodhound Gang was broadcast on The Rock FM at 5.45pm on 25 October 2017. The chorus of the song contains the words, ‘we don’t need no water let the motherfucker burn, burn motherfucker…’ The word ‘fuck’ was partially edited out in the song.

[2] Steven Sandbrook complained that the editing of the word ‘fuck’ out of ‘motherfucker’ was inadequate, highly offensive and in ‘poor taste’. Mr Sandbrook also complained that other lyrics in the song were sexually violent and offensive. He requested that the song be removed permanently from playing on The Rock.

[3]  The issue raised in Mr Sandbrook’s complaint is whether the song, in its edited format, breached the good taste and decency standard of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.

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

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

[5]  The purpose of the good taste and decency standard (Standard 1) is to protect audience members from listening to broadcasts that are likely to cause widespread undue offence or distress, or undermine widely shared community standards. Current norms of good taste and decency should be maintained, consistent with the context of the programme and the wider context of the broadcast.

The parties’ submissions

[6]  Mr Sandbrook submitted:

  • Despite editing, the song remained explicit and offensive.
  • Properly editing the song to remove the coarse word in question in its entirety would still leave the rest of the offensive content, such as the sexually violent phrase, ‘crashed into your anus’.
  • A song containing a partially-edited coarse word and multiple references to masturbation, sodomy and sexual violence should not air on any public radio station.
  • The song should be removed permanently from playing on The Rock.

[7]  MediaWorks submitted:

  • Strong language was removed from the version of the song played on The Rock.
  • In the 21 years since the song’s release it does not appear to have been the subject of any significant criticism or controversy.
  • The song contains some instances of ‘mildly puerile’ wordplay or innuendo, but this is manifestly light-hearted and not sexually explicit.

Our analysis

[8]  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.

[9]  This song has enjoyed long standing popularity. It has been broadcast on New Zealand airwaves since its release in 1996. The song’s lyrics are mainly in the nature of sexual innuendo and word play. This is common in rock music lyrics. The Bloodhound Gang are well known for their use of sexual innuendo, risqué puns and double entendre in their lyrics.

[10]  When the song has previously been broadcast in New Zealand, we understand the word ‘motherfucker’ has sometimes been removed. On this occasion the complainant says that it was not completely removed and remained audible.

[11]  The removal of offensive words by deletion or bleeping rarely results in the message of the word being completely obliterated. Many people ‘hear’ the word although not aurally. Here, there were some aural remnants of the word but these were, in our view, in all the circumstances insufficient for us to uphold a breach of standards.

[12]  In considering the level of actual or potential harm that might be caused by the broadcast, and the good taste and decency standard as a whole, context is highly relevant. Relevant contextual factors in this case include:

  • the time of broadcast, at 5.45pm on a weekday
  • The Rock FM has an adult target audience
  • audience expectations that The Rock will often feature adult themes and edgy or challenging content and music
  • the song was released in 1996 by a popular and well-known group, the Bloodhound Gang and has been broadcast as a popular song in an edited form since then
  • the song and its chorus, which features the word complained about, are also well known and popular.

[13]  Having regard to these factors, we have reached the view that the broadcast of the song did not reach the threshold necessary to find a breach of the good taste and decency standard. We do not think the song went beyond audience expectations of The Rock radio station, taking into account the adult target audience and that the station is well-known for its typically more edgy, and sometimes confronting, content, compared with some other radio stations. The importance of the right to freedom of expression was not outweighed on this occasion by the alleged harm.

[14]  Nevertheless, we encourage broadcasters to take care, when strong language is edited out of songs scheduled to air on radio, to ensure the editing is effective. We believe the editing in this case was marginal and could have been more effective in disguising the language.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

 

Peter Radich
Chair
16 February 2018 


Appendix

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

1      Steven Sandbrook’s original complaint – 28 October 2017
2      MediaWorks’ response to the complaint – 24 November 2017
3      Mr Sandbrook’s referral to the Authority – 25 November 2017
4      MediaWorks’ response to the Authority – 13 December 2017