Mainwaring and Television New Zealand Ltd - 1998-019
- S R Maling (Chair)
- J Withers
- R McLeod
- L M Loates
- Ray Mainwaring
BroadcasterTelevision New Zealand Ltd
In an episode of The Simpsons broadcast on TV2 at 6.00pm on 30 October, an
unpleasant character described the good characters as "You smarmy little bastards".
Mr Mainwaring complained to the broadcaster, Television New Zealand Limited, that
such language was unsuitable during a time when quite young children would be
watching. He also objected to the dramatisation of smoking shown during the same
episode. In both instances, he was concerned about the effects of the depictions on
children of all ages.
TVNZ responded that the word "bastard" was not offensive when viewed in context.
It contended that the programme was satirical and, at that time, catered for older
children who could handle its concepts and ideas. It argued that the depicted smoking
was part of the satirical presentation.
Dissatisfied with the broadcaster's response, Mr Mainwaring referred his complaint
to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act
For the reasons given below, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
The members of the Authority have viewed the item complained about and have read
the correspondence (summarised in the Appendix). On this occasion, the Authority
determines the complaint without a formal hearing.
An episode of The Simpsons, which screened at 6.00pm on TV2 on 30 October 1997,
featured an unlikeable character who had manipulated the results of a local government
election. His manipulation was exposed in a confrontation in which the unlikeable
character said "You smarmy little bastards" to the good characters who had uncovered
his misdeeds. In the same episode, another character was shown smoking.
Ray Mainwaring complained about the use of the word "bastard". He also objected to
the dramatisation of smoking in the same episode. He contended that the cartoon
nature of the programme attracted children, including those as young as four and six
year olds, to its early evening time slot.
TVNZ considered the complaint 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.
Noting that the programme was essentially satire, the broadcaster commented that it
portrayed events which touched a familiar chord with most viewers by its use of a
series of quite absurd situations. The particular episode in question, it wrote,
successfully lampooned the manipulation of local government.
Regarding the use of the word "bastard", TVNZ submitted that it was now widely
used and was perhaps not regarded as being as offensive as might have been the case
twenty years ago. The broadcaster wrote that programming for younger children was
provided earlier in the afternoon and that, by 6.00pm:
. . . we cater for older children, home from school, who can handle more
sophisticated concepts and ideas and can appreciate the irony and
pathos present in programmes like The Simpsons.
Denying that the word "bastard" breached either standard G2 or G12, TVNZ
contended that, given the context of the programme, the word did not stray beyond
audience expectations and that children would not be harmed by hearing the word in
TVNZ also rejected the claim that smoking was dramatised or glamorised in the
episode. It suggested that the depiction of smoking was part of the satire and was in
fact associated with ignorance and foolishness.
In referring his complaint to the Authority, Mr Mainwaring wrote that it had:
. . . always been my understanding that programmes screened prior to 8.30 p.m.
should be suitable for children – OF ALL AGES. I certainly object most
strongly to the word "Bastard" being used in a cartoon type programme aired
at 6 p.m. when quite young children will be searching the channels for a
programme of this type.
Noting that most households had a second television set and most adults would be
watching the news in the particular time-slot, the complainant wondered how many
parents and caregivers were totally unaware of what their children were being exposed
to through the objectionable content of The Simpsons. He asked why the programme
was not shown at a later time when all younger children would be in bed.
TVNZ in response referred to the nature of the programme and its sophisticated and
anarchic content. It submitted that the series had a strong moral thread, to do with
public gullibility and cynicism.
The broadcaster reiterated that the series was deliberately scheduled after most of the
programming directed at young children, because it was more likely to appeal to older
children. If younger children watched the programme, it wrote, then "the positive
moral messages they receive can only be of benefit".
Rejecting the complainant's view that six o'clock programming should be suitable for
unsupervised children, TVNZ emphasised that:
. . . we do not subscribe to the Orwellian view that television broadcasters
should become babysitters. Surely Mr Mainwaring would agree that is a
In a final comment, Mr Mainwaring maintained that many parents were not aware of
the nature and content of The Simpsons and believed that programmes screened before
8.30pm were suitable for all children. The "standard" to be sought for programmes in
that time slot, he asserted, was quality programmes "with not a hint of bad language".
The Authority first deals with the complaint that the episode glamorised smoking. It
accepts the view of TVNZ that the depiction of smoking among the characters was
associated with ignorance and foolishness, and did not glamorise the practice in any
In relation to the issue of language and behaviour, the Authority considers that the
older children who constitute the programme's target audience would not be adversely
affected by the conduct and idiom displayed in the episode. It feels that the language
used is within the currently accepted norms of decency and taste in the context of the
programme, when – as here – it was used as an extreme form of dramatisation and
would be appreciated as such by its viewers. The moral position of the programme
was, the Authority believes, very clear. The episode complained of, in the
Authority's opinion, did not breach accepted norms of decency and taste in language
or behaviour and would not have had an untoward effect upon viewers.
For the reasons set forth above, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
5 March 1998
Mr Mainwaring's Complaint to Television New Zealand Limited – 3 November
Ray Mainwaring of Rangiora complained to Television New Zealand Limited about
the word "bastard" used in an episode of the The Simpsons, broadcast on TV2 on 30
October 1997 at 6.00pm. He also objected to the dramatisation of smoking in the same
The depictions, he wrote, were shown in a programme which was broadcast at a time
of the evening when quite young children were watching and were attracted to it
because of its cartoon nature.
TVNZ's Response to the Formal Complaint – 25 November 1997
TVNZ responded initially by noting that The Simpsons was essentially satire and:
. . . through a series of quite absurd situations [it] manages to portray events
which somehow touch a familiar chord with most viewers.
Noting that the word "bastards" was used in the episode when an unlikeable character
was being uncovered in his evil manipulations by the good characters, TVNZ
submitted that the word was now widely used. Therefore, it alleged, the word might
not currently be regarded as being as offensive as it had previously been.
The broadcaster noted that programming for very young children was provided for
earlier in the day and that:
. . . by 6pm we cater for older children, home from school, who can handle more
sophisticated concepts and ideas and can appreciate the irony and pathos
present in programmes like The Simpsons.
Treating the complaint under standards G2 and G12 of the Television Code of
Broadcasting Practice, the broadcaster denied that the use of the word, in its context,
strayed beyond audience expectations. Equally, it denied that children would be
harmed by hearing the word in its context.
TVNZ suggested that the smoking which was depicted in the episode was also part of
the satire. Denying that the practice of smoking was glamorised in any way, it noted
that the characters in the series were "all exaggerated stereotypes" and the depiction of
smoking was associated with ignorance and foolishness.
Mr Mainwaring's Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 3 December 1997
Dissatisfied with TVNZ's response, Mr Mainwaring referred his complaint to the
Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
In his referral, Mr Mainwaring stated that it was his understanding that programmes
which were screened prior to 8.30pm should be suitable for children of all ages. He
noted that, at 6.00pm, quite young children "will be searching the channels" for a
cartoon type programme.
The complainant wrote that most households would have a second television and, at
6.00pm, most adults would be watching the news. He questioned how many parents
and grandparents would be totally unaware
. . . of what their children are being exposed to through the objectionable
content of the Simpsons.
Inquiring why the programme could not be screened at a later time when all younger
children would be in bed, Mr Mainwaring noted that he valued children's formative
years which "we all have a duty to protect".
TVNZ's Response to the Authority – 9 December 1997
TVNZ responded by reiterating the contents of its letter to the complainant of 25
November. It emphasised that the offending word was uttered by a character in
circumstances which lampooned society in general and which served to reveal the true
nature of the character when he uttered the word.
The broadcaster submitted that:
As with all episodes of The Simpsons there is a strong moral thread running
through the programme all to do with public gullibility, and cynicism.
Noting that the series was deliberately scheduled after most programmes directed at
the young because the broadcaster believed it more likely to appeal to older children,
TVNZ submitted that, if young children watched it, then the positive moral messages
which they received from it could only be of benefit.
Referring to the complainant's contention that six o'clock programming should be
suitable for unsupervised child viewers, TVNZ stated:
. . . we do not subscribe to the Orwellian view that television broadcasters should
become babysitters. Surely Mr Mainwaring would agree that that is a parental
Mr Mainwaring's Final Comment – 16 December 1997
The complainant criticised the broadcaster's view, that children could receive positive
moral messages from the programme, as "totally beyond belief". He submitted that
the programme contained what could "only be described as BAD LANGUAGE".
Noting that there would be parents who were not aware of the nature and content of
the programme, Mr Mainwaring reiterated that many parents would also believe that
most programmes screened before 8.30pm were suitable for all children. He concluded
The Simpsons screened at 6pm is the only "cartoon" type of programme airing at
this time and as such must attract an awful lot of juvenile viewers whilst most
people will be watching the news.