BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Allen and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2011-057

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
Dated
Complainant
  • Graeme Allen
Number
2011-057
Channel/Station
TV One

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
One News
– segment called “Good Sorts” profiled volunteer fireman – interviewee used the phrase “good bastard” twice – allegedly in breach of standards relating to good taste and decency, controversial issues, responsible programming, and children’s interests

Findings
Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – language used in complimentary way – not aggressive or abusive – contextual factors – not upheld

Standard 9 (children’s interests) – One News was an unclassified news programme targeted at adults – contextual factors – not upheld

Standard 8 (responsible programming) – One News was an unclassified news programme – standard not applicable – not upheld

Standard 4 (controversial issues) – no discussion of a controversial issue – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision. 


Broadcast

[1]  A segment called “Good Sorts”, broadcast at the end of One News at 6pm on Sunday 3 April 2011, profiled a 78-year-old volunteer fireman. During the segment, the reporter interviewed a fellow fireman, who commented, “Yeah, I thought [the name of the ‘Good Sorts’ segment] was ‘Good Bastards’ actually. So he is a good sort, but he is a really good bastard too.”

Complaint

[2]  Graeme Allen made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the interviewee’s use of the word “bastard” breached standards relating to good taste and decency, controversial issues, responsible programming and children’s interests. The complainant said that he was “appalled” at the language used in the item, especially the fact that it was broadcast at a time when children could be watching. He requested that TVNZ issue an on-air apology and refrain from broadcasting such language in the future.

Standards

[3]  Mr Allen nominated Standards 1, 4, 8 and 9 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice in his complaint. These provide:

Standard 1 Good Taste and Decency

Broadcasters should observe standards of good taste and decency.

Standard 4 Controversial Issues – Viewpoints

When discussing controversial issues of public importance in news, current affairs or factual programmes, broadcasters should make reasonable efforts, or give reasonable opportunities, to present significant points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest.

Standard 8 Responsible Programming

Broadcasters should ensure programmes:

  • are appropriately classified;
  • display programme classification information;
  • adhere to timebands in accordance with Appendix 1;
  • are not presented in such a way as to cause panic, or unwarranted alarm or undue distress; and
  • do not deceive or disadvantage the viewer.
Standard 9 Children’s Interests

During children’s normally accepted viewing times (see Appendix 1), broadcasters should consider the interests of child viewers.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[4]  TVNZ said that to constitute a breach of Standard 1, the broadcast material must be unacceptable in the context in which it was shown, including the time of broadcast, the programme’s classification, the target audience, and the use of warnings.

[5]  The broadcaster maintained that One News was targeted at adults and that the “Good Sorts” segment was a “feel-good piece” that contained some “low level” language on occasion. It said that the interviewee genuinely thought that the “Good Sorts” segment was entitled “Good Bastards”, a phrase which it said constituted well-known New Zealand colloquialism carrying positive, not negative, overtones.

[6]  The broadcaster considered that, in the context of the item, most viewers would have understood that the interviewee’s language was “complimentary” and spoken with affection for the volunteer fireman, rather than with malice or invective. It said that the comment was used in a non-aggressive, colloquial way and was not intended to be pejorative. It asserted that the Authority’s research indicated that the word “bastard” ranked “low” in terms of its unacceptability in broadcasting.1

[7]  Accordingly, TVNZ declined to uphold the Standard 1 complaint.

[8]  Turning to consider the responsible programming standard, the broadcaster said that, as a live news programme, One News was unclassified. It did not consider that the language in the item would have caused panic, unwarranted alarm or undue distress in the context in which it screened. It argued that a warning was not necessary because such “low level” language would have accorded with the expectations of regular viewers.

[9]  Accordingly, the broadcaster declined to uphold the Standard 8 complaint.

[10]  With regard to Standard 9, TVNZ maintained that One News was targeted at adults and noted that the Authority had previously acknowledged that younger viewers tended not to watch such programmes unsupervised. It reiterated its view that the language used in the item was the vernacular of the man being interviewed and was spoken with affection.

[11]  The broadcaster did not consider that the interviewee’s use of the word “bastard” twice in the item constituted a breach of the children’s interests standard in the context in which it screened. Accordingly, it declined to uphold the Standard 9 complaint.

[12]  TVNZ stated that, before considering a complaint under Standard 4, it first had to determine whether the item discussed a “controversial issue of public importance”. On this occasion, it did not consider that the item discussed such an issue.

[13]  For these reasons, the broadcaster declined to uphold a breach of Standard 4.

Referral to the Authority

[14]  Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Mr Allen referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. He maintained that the “bad language” in the item was unacceptable, even if its intended meaning was “positive”.  

Authority’s Determination

[15]  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.

Standard 1 (good taste and decency)

[16]  When we consider an alleged breach of good taste and decency, we take into account the context of the broadcast. On this occasion, the relevant contextual factors include:

  • One News was broadcast at 6pm during children’s viewing times
  • it was an unclassified news programme targeted at adults
  • the term “bastard” was used by an interviewee  
  • the language was not preceded by a warning
  • audience expectations of the “Good Sorts” segment.

[17]  The “Good Sorts” segment was a light-hearted and colloquial piece which celebrated the achievements and contributions of everyday New Zealanders, on this occasion, a volunteer fireman who was nominated by his West Auckland community. The reporter interviewed a fellow fireman, who used the term “good bastard” to describe the name of the segment and the nominee.

[18]  We consider that, on this occasion, the term “bastard” was used in a conversational and complimentary manner; it was not aggressive and was not used as a term of abuse. Further, we note that recent research conducted by the Authority indicated that only 14 percent of people surveyed considered the use of the word “bastard” to be totally unacceptable in all broadcasting scenarios.2 In our view, the language was not sufficiently offensive to require a verbal warning, and we do not consider that its inclusion in the “Good Sorts” segment would have offended or distressed a majority of viewers.

[19]  For these reasons, and taking into account the relevant contextual factors, in particular that One News was unclassified and targeted at adults, we decline to uphold the complaint as a breach of Standard 1.

Standard 9 (children’s interests)

[20]  Standard 9 requires broadcasters to consider the interests of child viewers during their normally accepted viewing times – usually up to 8.30pm.

[21]  We note that One News was an unclassified news programme targeted at adults. The Authority has previously acknowledged that children are unlikely to watch news programmes unsupervised.3 As outlined above, in our view, the term “bastard” was used colloquially to convey affection and respect for the “Good Sorts” nominee and was not used in an aggressive or abusive manner.

[22]  Having regard to the contextual factors listed above at paragraph [16], we find that TVNZ adequately considered children’s interests in screening the segment during One News. Accordingly, we decline to uphold the Standard 9 complaint.

Standard 8 (responsible programming)

[23]  Standard 8 requires that programmes are correctly classified, display programme classification information, and adhere to the time-bands set out in the Free-to-Air Television Code.

[24]  As the language subject to complaint formed part of an unclassified news programme, we find that Standard 8 is not applicable in the circumstances. Accordingly, we decline to uphold this part of the complaint.

Standard 4 (controversial issues – viewpoints)

[25]  Standard 4 states that when controversial issues of public importance are discussed in news, current affairs or factual programmes, broadcasters should make reasonable efforts, or give reasonable opportunities, to present significant points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest.

[26]  As noted above at paragraph [17], the “Good Sorts” segment was a light-hearted, human interest story which, on this occasion, focused on one man who had been nominated by his community for volunteering with his local fire service. The segment did not discuss a controversial issue of public importance to which Standard 4 applied. Accordingly, we decline to uphold this part of the complaint.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
9 August 2011

Appendix

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

1                  Graeme Allen’s formal complaint – 3 April 2011

2                 TVNZ’s response to the formal complaint – 4 May 2011

3                 Mr Allen’s referral to the Authority – 4 May 2011

4                 TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 1 July 2011


1What Not to Swear: The Acceptability of Words in Broadcasting (Broadcasting Standards Authority, 2010)

2What Not to Swear: The Acceptability of Words in Broadcasting (Broadcasting Standards Authority, 2010) at page 19

3For example, Harang and TVNZ, Decision No. 2006-098