BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Crouch and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2005-043

Members
  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
Dated
Complainant
  • W A Crouch
Number
2005-043
Channel/Station
TV One

Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Billy Connolly’s World Tour of New Zealand – repeated use of the word “fuck” by comedian – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency standards

Findings
Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – language not unexpected – contextual factors – clear warning given – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1] Billy Connolly’s World Tour of New Zealand was broadcast on TV One at 9.40pm on 3 April 2005. The programme followed the well-known Scottish comedian around New Zealand, and included extracts from his live stage appearances.

Complaint

[2] W A Crouch made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, in respect of the comedian’s repeated use of the word “fuck”. He asserted that TVNZ must have the ability to beep out this word and wondered why it was not done on this occasion. He considered that the amount of swearing and bad language broadcast by TVNZ was “quite deplorable”.

Standards

[3] Standard 1 and Guideline 1a of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice are relevant to the determination of this complaint. They 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.

Guideline 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 (see Appendix 1). The examples are not exhaustive.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[4] In its response, TVNZ noted that Guideline 1a required the context in which the language occurred to be taken into account. In this case, it believed that the contextual factors included the time of the broadcast, the programme’s AO rating, the presence of a warning and the nature of Billy Connolly’s comedy. 

[5] TVNZ said that the programme did not start until 9.40pm, more than an hour after the Adults Only watershed. It noted that the programme was rated Adults Only, with the AO symbol displayed on the screen at the beginning of each programme and after each commercial break.  

[6 ]TVNZ also noted that the programme was preceded by a visual and verbal warning, specifically referring to the language contained in the programme. The warning advised:

Billy Connolly’s World Tour of New Zealand is rated Adults Only. It contains frequent use of language which may offend some people.

[7] In respect of the nature of the comedy, TVNZ considered that to “beep” the words out would have adversely affected the integrity of Mr Connolly’s distinctive brand of humour. It contended that the language, in particular the word “fuck”, was a central part of his on and off-stage performance.

[8] TVNZ referred to Australian linguist Ruth Wajnryb, who observed in her book Language Most Foul, that:

Comedians, of course, step outside the boundaries and we are rewarded, for giving them permission to break the rules, with the gift of laughter. 

[9] It also noted previous decisions of the Broadcasting Standards Authority relating to Billy Connolly, in particular Decision No. 1997-067. In that decision the Authority declined to uphold a complaint relating to the use of the word “fuck” in Billy Connolly’s World Tour of Australia.

[10] TVNZ considered that, in view of all of the contextual factors, the episode of Billy Connolly’s World Tourof New Zealand did not breach Standard 1.

Referral to the Authority

[11] Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Mr Crouch referred his complaint to the Authority. He stated that the Authority should “stamp on this foul language” and censure TVNZ.

Authority's Determination

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

[13] When the Authority considers a complaint alleging a breach of good taste and decency, it is required to consider the context of the broadcast. On this occasion, relevant contextual factors include:

  • the AO rating of the programme
  • the time of broadcast at 9.40pm
  • the well-established nature of this comedy
  • the warning, which expressly referred to frequent use of potentially offensive language.

[14] The Authority has already considered the use of the word “fuck” by Billy Connelly on previous occasions. In Decision No. 1997-067 it noted:

Billy Connolly is well known for his florid language and it is to be expected in the programme particularly when preceded by the warning that there will be language of the nature broadcast.  It believes that the word "fuck" was used for effect and not gratuitously.

[15] Taking into account the contextual factors listed above, the Authority sees no reason to depart from that position on the present occasion. Accordingly, the complaint is not upheld.

 

For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
30 June 2005

Appendix

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

  1. W A Crouch’s formal complaint to the broadcaster – 6 April 2005
  2. TVNZ’s response to the formal complaint – 21 April 2005
  3. Mr Crouch’s referral to the Authority – 13 May 2005
  4. TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 24 May 2005