BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Bergman and TVWorks Ltd - 2013-013

  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
  • Frits Bergman
TVWorks Ltd
TV3 # 3

Complaint under section 8(1C) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Promo for The Graham Norton Show – promo for Christmas special showed a photograph of a couple dressed as Mary and Joseph holding a dog in swaddling clothes – allegedly in breach of broadcasting standards

Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – content was a light-hearted attempt at humour – would not have offended most viewers in context – innocent lampooning of religious figures comes within the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression – not upheld

Standard 7 (discrimination and denigration) – content was a light-hearted attempt at humour as opposed to a criticism of Christians – content did not encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, Christians as a section of the community – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1]  In the week leading up to Christmas, a promo for the comedy chat show The Graham Norton Show featured the host commenting, “Nothing says Christmas like Mary and Joseph… and the baby dog,” in relation to a photograph of a couple dressed as Mary and Joseph holding a dog in swaddling clothes, followed by laughter from the audience. The promo was broadcast at 7.45pm on 21 December 2012 on TV3, during X Factor USA which was rated PGR.1

[2]  Frits Bergman made a formal complaint to TVWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the promo, and specifically the depiction of Jesus as a dog, was highly offensive and denigrated Christians.

[3]  Having not received a response from the broadcaster within the 20-working-day statutory timeframe, Mr Bergman referred his complaint to this Authority.2

[4]  The issue is whether the promo breached standards relating to good taste and decency (Standard 1) and discrimination and denigration (Standard 7), as set out in the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[5]  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 promo threaten current norms of good taste and decency?

[6]  Standard 1 (good taste and decency) is primarily aimed at broadcasts that contain sexual material, nudity, coarse language or violence.3 The Authority will also consider the standard in relation to any broadcast that portrays or discusses material in a way that is likely to cause offence or distress.4

[7]  When we consider an alleged breach of good taste and decency, we take into account the context of the broadcast, which here includes:

  • the promo was rated G
  • it was broadcast at 7.45pm during X Factor USA which was rated PGR
  • The Graham Norton Show was classified AO and screened at 8.30pm
  • audience expectations of The Graham Norton Show
  • the content was intended to be humorous.

[8]  TVWorks noted that the content subject to complaint formed part of a regular segment in the show where the host reviewed “wacky” internet material related to the topic being discussed with his guests. It maintained that the segment was intended to be humorous and to encourage the audience to laugh “at the silly things people do on the internet”. The content was not meant to cause offence or to be taken as a derogatory comment on Christendom, it said.

[9]  We acknowledge that some Christians, including the complainant, would find the image of a dog dressed as Jesus offensive, and even more so considering it was broadcast close to Christmas. However, we are satisfied that the brief photograph and comment did not carry any malice or invective, but was a light-hearted attempt at humour, in keeping with the general tenor of the programme. The content of the promo was consistent with its G classification, and would not have offended most viewers of the host programme, X Factor USA, which was rated PGR.

[10]  Further, the Authority and the High Court have held that the lampooning of, and caricaturisation of religious figures is usually acceptable, and have emphasised the value of humour and satire as a form of critique.5 In a decision declining to uphold complaints about a satirical depiction of the Virgin Mary, the Authority stated:6

Were the Authority to uphold the complaint, this would amount to a statement that broadcasters who offer satire, humour and drama as their fare may not offend against the religious convictions of others, and that such offence amounts to a breach of good taste and decency. That, in the view of the Authority, would be an unreasonable limitation of a broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression, which includes the right to satirise religious issues.

[11]  We agree with the approach taken in that case, and therefore consider that upholding Mr Bergman’s complaint on the basis the broadcast allegedly demonstrated disrespect towards Christian beliefs, without anything more, such as vitriol or viciousness, would be an unjustifiable limit on the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to promote the programme in the way it wanted.

[12]  Accordingly, we decline to uphold the complaint under Standard 1.

Did the item encourage discrimination against or the denigration of any section of the community?

[13]  The discrimination and denigration standard (Standard 7) protects against broadcasts which encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, a section of the community.

[14]  The term “denigration” has consistently been defined by the Authority as blackening the reputation of a class of people.7 “Discrimination” has been consistently defined as encouraging the different treatment of the members of a particular group to their detriment.8 It is also well-established that in light of the requirements of the Bill of Rights Act 1990, a high level of invective is necessary for the Authority to conclude that a broadcast encourages denigration or discrimination in contravention of the standard.9

[15]  Mr Bergman argued that the promo encouraged discrimination and denigration against Christians. He alleged that there was a distinction in the treatment of different religious groups, asserting that the Western media were “cautious when stating things regarding Islam and the prophet Mohammed”, but applied an “anything goes” attitude when it came to offending Christian beliefs.

[16]  TVWorks contended that a programme’s humorous or satirical intent was highly relevant to assessing an alleged breach of the discrimination and denigration standard, because democratic societies place high value on these forms of expression.

[17]  As noted above under Standard 1, the content was light-hearted and an attempt at satire and humour, and was not intended to be taken seriously. Guideline 7a to Standard 7 states that it is not intended to prevent the broadcast of legitimate humour or satire. The content related to a segment which reviewed “wacky” internet material and reflected more on the people who posted the photo on the internet, rather than being intended as a criticism of, or derogatory comment about, Christians. The content did not carry any invective, and could not be said to have encouraged the blackening of the reputation of all Christians, or the different treatment of them, to their detriment.

[18]  We are therefore satisfied that the content did not encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against Christians as a section of the community, and we decline to uphold the Standard 7 complaint.

[19]  As an aside, we note that the Authority’s approach to complaints about alleged discrimination and denigration does not vary depending on the religious group alluded to, and we refer the complainant to a recent decision where we declined to uphold a complaint that a radio broadcast allegedly denigrated and discriminated against Muslims.10


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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Peter Radich
11 June 2013


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

1          Frits Bergman’s formal complaint – 7 January 2013

2          Mr Bergman’s referral to the Authority – 18 February 2013

3          TVWorks’ response to the Authority and the complainant – 22 February 2013

4          Mr Bergman’s final comment – 25 March 2013

5          TVWorks’ final comment – 9 April 2013

6          TVWorks’ response to the Authority’s request for clarification of the promo’s classification,
            time ofbroadcast and host programme – 24 May 2013

The complainant did not specify a time of broadcast in his original complaint, so the Authority requested clarification from the broadcaster relating to the time the promo screened on the evening of 21 December, and the programme in which it screened.

2See section 8(1C) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

3Turner and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2008-112

4Practice Note: Good Taste and Decency (Broadcasting Standards Authority, November, 2006)

5Simmons et al and CanWest TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2006-022, which was affirmed by Wild J in Browne v CanWest TVWorks Ltd PDF109.85 KB HC WN CIV 2006 485 1611 [31 July 2007].

6Simmons et al and CanWest TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2006-022 at paragraph [117]

7See, for example, Mental Health Commission and CanWest RadioWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2006-030

8See, for example, Teoh and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2008-091.

9For example, McCartain and Angus and The Radio Network Ltd, Decision No. 2002-152

10Caddie and Radio New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2011-172