BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Barnao and MediaWorks TV Ltd - 2019-002 (2 April 2019)

Members
  • Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
  • Paula Rose
  • Wendy Palmer
  • Susie Staley
Dated
Complainant
  • Carmel Barnao
Number
2019-002
Programme
7 Days
Broadcaster
MediaWorks TV Ltd
Channel/Station
Three

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

Summary

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

The Broadcasting Standards Authority has not upheld a complaint that an episode of 7 Days, in which a panellist said an Australian Santa would say ‘G’day cunts’, breached the good taste and decency standard. The Authority acknowledged that the language was coarse and may have offended some viewers. However, taking into account relevant contextual factors including the nature of the programme, which is targeted at adults, audience expectations, the Adults Only classification, the warning for ‘bad’ language at the beginning of the programme, and the time of broadcast, the Authority found that any potential for harm did not justify a restriction on the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression.

Not Upheld: Good Taste and Decency



The broadcast

[1]  During an episode of 7 Days, the controversy around the Nelson Santa Parade’s Māori Santa was discussed. Panellist Chopper said:

Australia’s got their own version of Santa and instead of going ‘ho ho ho’ he goes ‘G’day cunts’.

[2]  The episode began with a warning sketch presented by the cast:

The following show is adults only and contains bad language that may offend some people.

[3]  The episode was broadcast on Three on 7 December 2018 at 9.02pm.

The complaint

[4]  Carmel Barnao complained that the broadcast breached the good taste and decency standard of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, for the following reasons:

  • Broadcasting the word is unacceptable at any time.
  • The broadcaster has not taken sufficient care to make sure challenging material is played only in an appropriate context.
  • The word is intrinsically offensive to women and the use on the show was abusive.
  • The word is not a term of endearment and associating it with Australians is derogatory.
  • It did not seem necessary in the context, which was the issue of a Māori Santa in New Zealand, not a discussion of ‘foul-mouthed Australian Santas.’
  • The fact that the broadcast was not live and that the broadcaster deliberately included the word made its use ‘even more heinous.’
  • The BSA’s 2018 research ‘Language that May Offend in Broadcasting’ found that 63% of respondents thought the word’s use was totally unacceptable in all circumstances; only 7% thought it was acceptable in all circumstances and 30% depending on the circumstances. The circumstances here did not support the use of the word. 

The broadcaster’s response

[5]  MediaWorks recognised that the complainant found the word offensive but submitted that the standards were not breached, for the following reasons:

  • The broadcast was rated Adults Only and played at 9.02pm, well beyond the 8.30pm Adults Only watershed.
  • It was preceded by a warning: ‘The following show is adults only and contains bad language that may offend some people’.
  • There is a very high level of audience expectation that 7 Days will contain challenging material that will regularly push the boundaries of good taste.
  • The word was used in a light-hearted rather than abusive manner, and had clear contextual relevance to the joke in which it was used. Chopper’s Australian Santa joke conjured the idea of a stereotypical Australian ‘bogan’, with the phrase ‘g’day cunts’ invoking the coarse and unvarnished vernacular often associated with such a character. 

[6]  MediaWorks also explained that in the pre-broadcast appraisal of 7 Days, careful consideration is always given to any instances in which the word is used. Care is taken to assess whether it is likely to cause undue offence in the context in which it is used, allowing its inclusion only if it is deemed to add value to the show. 7 Days’ Executive Producer submitted:

We never include this word without discussion and consideration. We discuss frequency, context, tone etc all the time and read the temperature of NZ comedy by attending numerous live local shows throughout the year.

The standard

[7] 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. The context in which the content occurs and the wider context of the broadcast are relevant to assessing whether the broadcast has breached the standard.1

Our analysis

[8]  In considering this complaint, we recognise that the word that is the subject of complaint is a powerful and divisive word and its use can cause offence and distress. Our task in this case is to consider the harm that may be caused and weigh that against the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression. In undertaking this assessment we consider the actual and potential harm and also the context of the broadcast.

[9]  On this occasion, we have found that the word had the potential to offend and distress, and indeed all of the Authority found its use in this case to be offensive. However, taking into account various contextual factors, including the programme genre, a comedy show aimed at adults, and the programme’s warning, time of broadcast and target audience, we do not consider that it was unacceptable in the context in which it was used. The high threshold required for us to intervene and restrict the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression has therefore not been met and we have decided not to uphold the complaint. We explain this view below.

Good Taste and Decency

[10]  In considering the level of actual or potential harm that might be caused by the broadcasts, and the good taste and decency standard as a whole, we look at both the context of the broadcast, as well as the particular language complained about.2

[11]  We accept that the word ‘cunt’ is widely considered to be unacceptable in most broadcasting scenarios. The word ranked first in our 2018 Language That May Offend in Broadcasting research.3

[12]  The acceptability of the word varied based on the age of respondents, with only 55% of 18-24 year olds and 52% of 25-34 year olds finding the word fairly or totally unacceptable compared to 85% of those aged 65 and over. Across all research participants, 70% said it was fairly or totally unacceptable in stand-up comedy after 8.30pm.

[13]  In a 2013 decision, we found that use of this word was permissible in the context of an AO comedy programme screened at 10pm and preceded by a specific warning.4 Research conducted by the Authority in that year indicated that 78% of survey respondents considered its use was fairly or totally unacceptable during stand-up comedy programmes after 8.30pm, which was higher than in 2018.5 Similar to 2018, younger age groups were less offended (54% of 18-24 year olds and 53% of 25-34 year olds compared to 88% aged 65 and over).

[14]  This word is regularly the subject of news coverage discussing its meaning,6 reclaiming it7 and discussing its offensiveness.8 While generally the word is still considered offensive, research indicates that there is a trend towards its increasing acceptability in certain contexts, with younger adult generations being most accepting.

[15]  However, context is always a key consideration in determining whether the word’s use in broadcasting was likely to cause widespread offence. In this case we consider that relevant contextual factors include:

  • 7 Days is classified Adults Only (AO). 
  • The programme was broadcast at 9.02pm, half an hour after the 8.30pm AO watershed, with the word used half way through the programme at approximately 9.30pm.
  • The programme began with a warning sketch by the cast which stated: ‘The following show is adults only and contains bad language that may offend some people’. The warning clearly indicated the tone and nature of the programme.
  • 7 Days is a comedy series targeted at a young adult audience, with our research showing that this age group is likely to be less offended by the use of the word.
  • Viewers would expect 7 Days to include some coarse language or challenging content.
  • The word complained about was used once during the episode.

[16]  The approach developed by this Authority, in relation to the good taste and decency standard, is to require broadcasters to give viewers sufficient information to regulate their own, and their children’s, viewing behaviour.9 Where broadcasters take effective steps to inform the audience of the nature of the programme, the standard is less likely to be breached.10

[17]  In this case we consider the factors outlined above, including the programme classification, the time of broadcast, the clear warning at the beginning of the broadcast and audience expectations of the programme, clearly signalled the type of content that would follow, including coarse language.

[18]  We do not consider that the use of the word in this context took the episode beyond audience expectations, or that it elevated the programme to a level which was likely to cause widespread undue offence or distress for those who had chosen to watch it. We understand the offence caused to the complainant, however we find viewers were given adequate information to make an informed choice about whether to watch the programme.

[19] Accordingly we do not uphold this complaint.

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

 Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

 

 

Judge Bill Hastings
Chair
2 April 2019

 


Appendix

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

1     Carmel Barnao’s formal complaint – 7 December 2018

2     MediaWorks’ response to the complaint – 15 January 2019

3     Carmel Barnao’s referral to the Authority – 17 January 2019

4     MediaWorks’ further comment – 18 Feb


1 Guideline 1a

2 Guideline 1a

3 See Language that May Offend in Broadcasting (Broadcasting Standards Authority, June 2018, page 24

4 O’Connor and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No 2013-006

5 See What Not to Swear: The Acceptability of Words in Broadcasting (Broadcasting Standards Authority, September 2013, page 18)

6 For example: Revealed: New Zealand’s favourite vagina and vulva nicknames (The Spinoff, 18 January 2019)

7 For example: Green co-leader Marama Davidson says New Zealand must reclaim the ‘C-word’ (Newshub, 7 August 2018) and New Zealand MP uses C-word at rally in call to reclaim it from abusers (The Guardian, 9 August 2018).

8 For example: Good c*nts and pōkokohua: What words do New Zealanders find most offensive? (The Spinoff, 19 July 2018)

Guideline 1b

10 See, for example: Ockey and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2018-024 and Hyslop & McElroy and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2018-073