BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Anderson and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2005-132

  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
  • Malcolm Anderson

Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Distraction – British comedy quiz show – host referred to one contestant as having “wanked off a dog” – alleged frequent use of the word “fuck” – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency

Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – context – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1] An episode of Distraction, a British comedy quiz programme in which the utmost is done to distract contestants from the task at hand, was broadcast on TV2 at 9.30pm on 23 September 2005. During the introductory sequence, the host referred to one contestant as having “wanked off a dog”.


[2] Malcolm Anderson complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the reference to “wanking off a dog” was disgusting, and in breach of good taste and decency. He also considered the repeated use of the word “fuck” to be gratuitous and completely unnecessary.


[3] TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standard 1 and guidelines 1a and 1b of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which provide:

Standard 1 Good Taste and Decency

In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are responsible for maintaining standards which are consistent with the observance of good taste and decency.


1a  Broadcasters must take into consideration current norms of decency and taste in language and behaviour bearing in mind the context in which any language or behaviour occurs. Examples of context are the time of the broadcast, the type of programme, the target audience, the use of warnings and the programme’s classification. The examples are not exhaustive.

1b  Broadcasters should consider – and if appropriate require – the use of on-air visual and verbal warnings when programmes contain violent material, material of a sexual nature, coarse language or other content likely to disturb children or offend a significant number of adult viewers. Warnings should be specific in nature, while avoiding detail which may itself distress or offend viewers.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[4] Referring to guideline 1a of Standard 1 (good taste and decency), TVNZ noted that it was required to take into consideration the context in which any language or behaviour had occurred. The broadcaster considered that, in this case, the context included the time of the broadcast, the classification of the programme, the presence of a warning, and the nature of the programme.

[5] TVNZ observed that Distraction did not start until an hour after the adults only watershed at 8.30pm. The programme was also classified AO (adults only) with the AO symbol displayed at the beginning of the programme and after each commercial break. TVNZ noted that AO material is defined in the Television Code as:

Programmes containing adult themes and directed primarily at mature audiences.

[6] TVNZ observed that the programme was preceded by a warning which was delivered both visually and verbally. It stated:

This programme on TV2, Distraction, is rated adults only. It contains nudity and language that may offend some people.

[7] In assessing the nature of the programme, the broadcaster referred again to its “free-and-easy humour”, the light-hearted interchanges between the host and the contestants, and the good-natured environment in which the quiz show was acted out.

[8] In reference to Standard 1 and to the use of “wanking”, “wanker” and “fuck”, TVNZ noted that the words were used sparingly in the programme. In each case, the words were used as part of a humorous reply or – as in the case of “wanker” – to describe a bizarre experience.

[9] Referring to the word “wanker”, the broadcaster again examined previous decisions by the Authority. In Decision No. 2004-001, it noted, the Authority declined to uphold a complaint about the word “wanker” being used in an episode of The Simpsons shown on TV2 at 7pm. TVNZ noted that in Distraction the word was used descriptively rather than as an expression of abuse or denigration.

[10] TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[11] Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response, Mr Anderson referred his complaint to the Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. He maintained his view that the content of Distraction was unnecessary and gratuitous, and had breached Standard 1.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[12] TVNZ responded that, while it was sorry that Mr Anderson did not enjoy the programme, it believed that the many viewers who did enjoy its off-beat humour were entitled to see it.

Complainant’s Final Comment

[13] In his final submission, Mr Anderson reiterated his view that the content of Distraction breached standards of good taste and decency.

Authority's Determination

[14] The members of the Authority have viewed a copy of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

[15] Having viewed the programme, the Authority observes that the word “fuck” was not used during the segment complained about, or indeed at any stage during the episode. Accordingly, it declines to uphold this part of the complaint. The Authority confines its consideration of Standard 1 (good taste and decency) to the description of a contestant having “wanked off a dog”.

[16] The Authority initially notes that the precedent decision referred to by TVNZ is not directly relevant to this complaint. A reference to someone having “wanked off a dog” differs from using the word “wanker” as an expression of abuse. The Authority considers that the complainant’s concern relates to both the use of the word “wanked” and the act it described.

[17] When the Authority considers a complaint which alleges a breach of good taste and decency, it is required to take into consideration the context of the broadcast. On this occasion, relevant contextual factors include:

  • the time of the broadcast, at 9.30pm
  • the AO classification of the programme
  • the young adult target audience of the programme
  • the visual and verbal warning given prior to the programme
  • the light-hearted and humorous nature of the programme.

[18] In the Authority’s view, Distraction employed a juvenile style of humour that would not have appealed to all viewers. The Authority agrees that some people would have found the expression complained about distasteful. However, taking particular account of the young adult target audience and the time of the broadcast, the Authority is of the view that that Standard 1 was not breached on this occasion.


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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Joanne Morris
22 December 2005


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

  1. Malcolm Anderson’s formal complaint – 4 October 2005
  2. TVNZ’s decision on the formal complaint – 25 October 2005
  3. Mr Anderson’s referral to the Authority – 2 November 2005
  4. TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 9 November 2005
  5. Mr Anderson’s final comment – 20 November 2005