BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Duffy and Lister and Television New Zealand Ltd - 1997-040, 1997-041

Members
  • J M Potter (Chair)
  • A Martin
  • R McLeod
  • L M Loates
Dated
Complainant
  • Geoffrey Duffy, Nancy Lister
Number
1997-040–041
Programme
The Simpsons
Channel/Station
TV2


Summary

"Go to hell you old bastard" were the words of a rock band when it ended its

performance during an episode of The Simpsons broadcast on TV2 on 16 January

1997 at 5.30pm.

Professor Duffy of Auckland complained to the broadcaster, Television New Zealand

Limited, that such language was unsuitable during prime time children's viewing, as it

had a bad influence on small children.

Mrs Lister of Hastings complained that such language was unsuitable for use during

prime time children's viewing and was a breach of broadcasting standards.

In its response to each complainant, TVNZ noted that the words were addressed to

the odious Mr Burns, and suggested that the band's performance lampooned the anti-

social attitudes of modern rock culture in which swearing and generally abusing the

audience were characteristics of some groups. It did not consider the phrase to be

unsuitable in that context, and pointed out that it was the fifth time TV2 had screened

that particular episode. It considered that the audience for this programme were the

older school children, the younger ones having had programmes targeted to them on

TV One and TV2 at an earlier hour.

Dissatisfied with the response, each complainant referred their complaint to the

Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

For the reasons below, the Authority declines to uphold the complaints


Decision

The members of the Authority have viewed the item complained about and have read

the correspondence (summarised in the Appendices). As is its practice, the Authority

determines the complaints without a formal hearing.

An episode of The Simpsons, which screened at 5.30pm on 16 January 1997, featured

a birthday show for Mr Burns, Homer Simpson's employer. Part of the birthday

surprise was the rock group "The Ramones". At the end of the concert a member of

the band came forward and said: "Go to hell you old bastard".

Professor Geoffrey Duffy and Mrs Nancy Lister complained to TVNZ that the use of

such language was unsuitable during prime time children's viewing.

TVNZ considered the complaints under standards G2 and G12 of the Television Code

of Broadcasting Practice. They require broadcasters:

G2   To take into consideration currently accepted norms of decency and

taste in language and behaviour, bearing in mind the context in which

any language or behaviour occurs.

G12  To be mindful of the effect any programme may have on children

during their normally accepted viewing times.


TVNZ in response to both Professor Duffy and Mrs Lister was of the view that the

language needed to be understood in terms of what the programme was portraying. It

advised that the programme was designed to show a stereotype and, by pulling that

stereotype apart, humour was created. It said that the band were an aggressive group

of four rather spindly, unprepossessing musicians who ended their act by swearing at

the audience. By attaching this behaviour to such a weak looking pop group, TVNZ

argued that The Simpsons brought that behaviour into ridicule and showed how

puerile it was. It believed that children understood what was going on. TVNZ also

considered that the word bastard was not as strong as other language considered to be

offensive.

In referring his complaint to the Authority, Professor Duffy expressed his concern

that the children who might watch the programme were in the 2 to 8 age group, and

were particularly susceptible to bad language. In her letter to the Authority, Mrs

Lister objected emphatically to the phrase used – not just the word "bastard".

Responding to the Authority, TVNZ said that the 2 to 8 age group were catered for in

earlier programmes, and that the older school-age audience would be well familiar with

the behaviour of the Frank Zappa type rock group, and would find humour in the

ridicule heaped upon them.

The Authority considers that the programme is quite sophisticated and anarchic, but

able to be enjoyed by children. It accepts TVNZ's view that the content portrayed

needs to be understood within the parameters of the programme and what The

Simpsons represents.

The Authority holds the view that the programme would not have any adverse effect

on the older children who are expected to watch the programme. Nor does it consider

that the programme breaches accepted norms of decency and taste in language or

behaviour, bearing in mind the nature of the programme and the message it conveys.

 

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


Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Judith Potter
Chairperson
17 April 1997

Appendix 1


Professor Duffy's Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd - 21 January 1997

Geoffrey Duffy of Auckland complained to Television New Zealand Ltd that the

broadcast of an episode of The Simpsons on TV2 on 16 January 1997 at 5.30pm was

unsuitable for young viewers.

The incident to which he objected occurred after a rock band played to an audience,

when the leader of the band stepped forward and said to a member of the audience:

"Go to hell you old bastard".

Professor Duffy stated:

I object strongly to such language in the prime viewing time for small children.

This is a bad influence and a poor role model for these young ones.

TVNZ's Response to the Formal Complaint - 10 February 1997

TVNZ assessed the complaint under standards G2 and G12 of the Television Code of

Broadcasting Practice which require broadcasters:

G2 To take into consideration currently accepted norms of decency and

taste in language and behaviour, bearing in mind the context in which

any language or behaviour occurs

G12 To be mindful of the effect any programme may have on children

during their normally accepted viewing times.

TVNZ noted, first, that the episode included a birthday show for Mr Burns, Homer

Simpson's employer. It suggested that the birthday party and show demonstrated

how the programme makers pulled apart a stereotype to create humour. It wrote:

The band were an aggressive group of four rather spindly, unprepossessing

musicians who ended their act by swearing at the audience. Young people (and

older ones too) who are familiar with modern rock culture would recognise the

anti-social attitude such swearing suggests as mimicking those real life pop

groups who take delight in such actions as spitting at their audiences, throwing

things, and generally abusing those who come to see them. "The Simpsons"

by attaching this behaviour to such a weak-looking pop group brings that

behaviour into ridicule and shows how puerile it is.

In the context of the story-line, and bearing in mind the well-known nature of the

series, TVNZ concluded that the remark did not breach standard G2. It also noted

that the word "bastard" was not so strong as other swear words.

TVNZ noted Professor Duffy's concern about "small children" but advised that it

believed that the audience for The Simpsons was the older group of children who might

be at intermediate school or in the early years of secondary school. It expressed its

understanding of the need for programmes for the very young and stated that they

were catered for on TV One and TV2 at earlier viewing times. It advised that it did

not consider the programme to be harmful to the older children who might be expected

to view at that time. TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint.

Professor Duffy's Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority - 16

February 1997

Dissatisfied with TVNZ's response, Professor Duffy referred the complaint to the

Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

Professor Duffy view was that the language complained about was totally

unacceptable on air before 6pm. He considered that the response from TVNZ failed

to examine the real complaint and the issue in question. He advised

Television must act responsibly and must set a standard because they have one

of the most powerful accesses into the minds of young children who will be

the next generation.

...

I feel that Television Broadcasters have a responsibility to this nation and the

only bastion left is at the 2 to 8 age level. Could I suggest that the aim should

be to set positive STANDARDS, vet pre 6.00pm programmes and

advertisements more closely and help stem the tide of slipping morality,

increasing juvenile crime and young peoples behavioural problems.

TVNZ's Response to the Authority - 27 February 1997

In a brief response, TVNZ stated that largely young teenage audience which watched

the series would find familiar the behaviour of the Frank Zappa-type rock group, and

would find humour in the ridicule heaped upon them. It advised that the rock group

featured the voices of the "Ramones" doing a spoof on themselves.

TVNZ reiterated that the 2-8 age group was catered for in earlier programmes on TV

One and TV2, and that by 5.30pm it was fair to provide entertainment for older

children.

Appendix 11

Mrs Lister's Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd - 23 January 1997

Nancy Lister of Hastings complained to Television New Zealand Ltd that the

broadcast of an episode of The Simpsons on 16 January 1997 at 5.30pm breached

standards of good taste and decency.

The incident to which she objected was after a rock band played to an audience, when

the leader of the band stepped forward and said to a member of the audience: "Go to

hell you old bastard".

Mrs Lister expressed her surprise that the programme screened at all since it was

about a dysfunctional family. She believed that TVNZ would agree that the language

was not acceptable at prime time young people's viewing, adding:

I would not accept this type of speaking in my home as I am sure you would

not either - I do ask, do we have to accept it issuing forth from our TV sets at

the time of day when a very large percentage of our young are viewing and

listening.

TVNZ's Response to the Formal Complaint - 3 February 1997

TVNZ's response was similar to that to Professor Duffy summarised in Appendix 1.

It declined to uphold her complaint.

Mrs Lister's Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority - 17 February

1997

Dissatisfied with TVNZ's response, Mrs Lister referred the complaint to the

Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

Mrs Lister did not accept TVNZ's view that the type of language used was the norm

in society. In particular, she did not believe it was suitable in a programme which was

aimed at children and broadcast at 5.30pm.

Referring to TVNZ's response, she complained that it was not the word "bastard"

alone to which she objected, but the whole phrase "Go to hell you old bastard".

Commenting on TVNZ's reference to pop groups abusing their audiences, Mrs Lister

stated that she had never come across that sort of behaviour and was surprised to

discover that it was regarded as "cool".

TVNZ's Response to the Authority - 25 February 1997

In a brief response, TVNZ responded to the complaint about the use of the word

"hell", which it had not dealt with in its first response. It suggested that the word

"hell" was in wide common usage and was heard in broadcasts on radio and television

at any hour of the day. It referred to a popular song which was widely heard which

used the word a number of times.

To Mrs Lister's surprise and disbelief at its assertion that some rock musicians abuse

their audiences, TVNZ named a number of musical groups which adopted that type of

behaviour. It was, it continued, that behaviour which The Simpsons was lampooning.