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Frewen and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2017-106 (9 March 2018)

Members

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

Complainant

  • Tom Frewen

Dated

9th March 2018

Number

2017-106

Programme

Seven Sharp

Channel/Station

TVNZ 1

Broadcaster

Television New Zealand Ltd

Summary

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

An item on Seven Sharp discussed the case of a woman and an offensive message which was sent to her by a City Councillor. The road sign which was captured in the message read, ‘Jesus is cuming… open your mouth’. The Authority did not uphold a complaint that showing the road sign during the segment was potentially offensive to Christians, in breach of the good taste and decency standard. The Authority acknowledged that people may find the wording of the sign offensive. However, taking into account relevant contextual factors, including the nature of the programme, the relevance of the sign to the subject matter of the item, signposting of the lewd nature of the sign, and audience expectations of Seven Sharp, the Authority did not consider the use of the phrase threatened community norms of taste and decency, or justified restricting the right to freedom of expression.

Not Upheld: Good Taste and Decency  


Introduction

[1]  An item on Seven Sharp discussed the case of a woman and an offensive message which was sent to her by a City Councillor. The road sign which was referred to in the message read, ‘Jesus is cuming… open your mouth’.

[2]  Tom Frewen complained that showing images of the road sign risked causing offence to any viewer who holds Christian values.

[3]  The issue raised in Mr Frewen’s complaint is whether the broadcast breached the good taste and decency standard of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[4]  The programme was broadcast on 22 November 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 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 viewing broadcasts that are likely to cause widespread undue offence or distress, or undermine widely shared community standards. Broadcasters should take effective steps to inform audiences of the nature of the programme, and enable viewers to regulate their own and children’s viewing behaviour.1

The parties’ submissions

[6]  Mr Frewen submitted that 49% of New Zealanders identify as Christian, so it was likely that showing the road sign during the item would offend some people.

[7]  TVNZ submitted:

  • The video was sent by the Councillor to the woman involved as a ‘sexual play’ on her name. There was no religious element to the discussion.
  • While Christians may have been offended, the item did not condone the wording of the sign in any way, and the wording of the sign was relevant to explaining the incident between the Councillor and the woman.
  • Local and international coverage of the story also included images of the sign, or the wording of the sign.

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

  • Seven Sharp has an adult target audience
  • Seven Sharp is an unclassified current affairs programme which screens in the PGR timeband
  • the time of broadcast at 7pm
  • the level of public interest in the item, which discussed allegedly inappropriate behaviour by a City Councillor
  • the introduction to the story signposted that it concerned a lewd joke that was sexual in nature
  • audience expectations of Seven Sharp.

[10]  We acknowledge that some viewers may have been offended by the potentially blasphemous nature of the road sign discussed during the item. However, we do not consider the inclusion of the wording of the sign went beyond audience expectations in the above context, or that it elevated the item to a level which threatened community norms of good taste and decency.

[11]  The focus of this story was the inappropriate nature of the message and its impact on the woman involved. It was in the public interest to explore allegedly inappropriate actions of a local Councillor, and there was value in allowing the woman an opportunity to voice her concerns and speak out about her experience. In this respect, the wording of the sign was relevant to viewers’ understanding of the story. There was nothing in the item to suggest that Seven Sharp approved of the language used (on the contrary it was portrayed as ‘lewd’ and inappropriate). The item also did not comment on, or highlight, the religious aspect of the sign.

[12]  Additionally, the introduction to the item clearly signposted the subject matter, giving viewers an opportunity to decide whether they, or their children, should continue watching the item. The introduction was as follows:

…More and more women are speaking out, talking in public about tricky subjects, everything from sexism to sexual abuse. …Yesterday it was the turn of… to speak out about her experience. [She] took to Twitter to express her outrage at a message sent to her by… City Councillor [name]. It was a lewd joke, too lewd for [her] to ignore.

[13]  For these reasons, we find the broadcast did not reach the threshold necessary to find a breach of the standard, or to justify limiting the right to freedom of expression.

[14]  We therefore 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
9 March 2018  

 


Appendix

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

1     Tom Frewen’s formal complaint – 23 November 2017
2     TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 21 December 2017
3     Mr Frewen’s referral to the Authority – 21 December 2017
4     TVNZ’s confirmation of no further comment – 8 February 2018


 Guideline 1b to Standard 1 – Good Taste and Decency