BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Mainwaring and Television New Zealand Ltd - 1998-019

Members
  • S R Maling (Chair)
  • J Withers
  • R McLeod
  • L M Loates
Dated
Complainant
  • Ray Mainwaring
Number
1998-019
Programme
The Simpsons
Channel/Station
TV2


Summary

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

1989.

For the reasons given below, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.


Decision

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

that context.

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

parental responsibility?


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

way.

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

 

Sam Maling
Chairperson
5 March 1998

Appendix


Mr Mainwaring's Complaint to Television New Zealand Limited – 3 November
1997

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

episode.

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

responsibility?


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

that:

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.