BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Family First New Zealand and MediaWorks TV Ltd - 2014-122

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
Dated
Complainant
  • Family First New Zealand
Number
2014-122
Programme
3 News
Broadcaster
MediaWorks TV Ltd
Channel/Station
TV3 # 4

Summary [This summary does not form part of the decision.]

3 News reported on an incident in which Pam Corkery of the Internet-Mana Party swore at journalists. The Authority declined to uphold the complaint that the inclusion of the word 'shit' breached standards. Ms Corkery's choice of language was largely what made her behaviour newsworthy, and it was in the public interest to show viewers the footage uncensored. The inclusion of one swearword during an unclassified news programme targeted at adults did not threaten broadcasting standards.

Not Upheld: Good Taste and Decency, Children's Interests


Introduction

[1]  A 3 News item briefly reported on an incident in which the Internet-Mana Party's press secretary, Pam Corkery, was filmed swearing at journalists at the party's campaign launch. The item showed footage of part of the incident in which Ms Corkery pointed her finger and said, 'You work in news, you puffed up little shit'.

[2]  Family First NZ complained that the coverage of the 'expletive-laden attack on journalists' made no attempt to mask the word 'shit'. It considered that 'shit' should have been 'beeped' because children were watching with their families.

[3]  The issue is whether the broadcast breached the good taste and decency and children's interests standards, as set out in the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[4]  The news item was broadcast during the 6pm news on 24 July 2014 on TV3. The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the item and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

Did the item, and specifically the inclusion of the word 'shit', breach broadcasting standards relating to good taste and decency and children's interests?

[5]  The good taste and decency standard (Standard 1) states that broadcasters should observe standards of good taste and decency. The children's interests standard (Standard 9) requires broadcasters to consider the interests of child viewers during their normally accepted viewing times – usually up to 8.30pm.

[6]  The good taste and decency standard is primarily concerned with the broadcast of sexual material, nudity, coarse language or violence.1 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.2 When we consider an alleged breach of standards, we take into account the context of the broadcast, which here includes:

  • 3 News was broadcast at 6pm during children's normally accepted viewing times
  • it was an unclassified news programme targeted at adults
  • the item was not preceded by a warning
  • the word 'shit' was used once by the Internet-Mana Party's press secretary at its campaign launch, two months before the 2014 general election
  • audience expectations of news content
  • audience expectations of the language used by Pam Corkery.

[7]  Family First argued that Ms Corkery's use of the word 'shit' should have been masked. It maintained that this would not have 'minimised the story in any way'.

[8]  MediaWorks stood by the 'unadulterated' broadcast of Ms Corkery's 'outburst'. It considered that obscuring the word 'shit' would have left the 'choice of expletive to the viewer's imagination potentially making it sound worse than it was'. Further, it asserted that 'shit' is considered low to moderate on the spectrum of bad language and was therefore acceptable in a news programme that 'plays at the junction of the PGR timeslot'. The broadcaster maintained that children were unlikely to watch the news unsupervised and it referred to other potentially distressing stories in the news hour.

[9]  We are satisfied that the inclusion of the word 'shit' in the news item did not threaten current norms of good taste and decency, in context. The footage was very brief, being about five seconds in length, and contained only one swearword. Ms Corkery's outburst and her choice of language was in large part what made the incident newsworthy. There was public interest in showing uncensored the actions of a political party's press secretary at the party's campaign launch leading up to the 2014 general election. We therefore should be cautious about interfering with its broadcast and its reception.

[10]  In determining whether to intervene, we have considered the potential harm in allowing the speech to go unfettered by broadcasting standards restraints. Family First contended that that 'shit' was being 'normalised' and asked the Authority to 'draw a line in the sand and make the news appropriate for families to watch'.

[11]  Following our reasoning in relation to a previous complaint from Family First about an expletive used in a news item,3 the inclusion of one swearword, broadcast during an unclassified news programme targeted at adults, would not in our view serve to normalise such language, including among children. The Authority has acknowledged that the news is not targeted at, nor likely to appeal to, younger viewers, and that children are unlikely to watch the news unsupervised.4 In addition, research conducted by the Authority indicates that only 12 percent of people surveyed considered the use of the word 'shit' to be totally unacceptable in all broadcasting scenarios.5 In this respect, the potential harm to viewers, including children, in broadcasting the comment during the news, was minimal.

[12]  In these circumstances, and giving full weight to the right to freedom of expression guaranteed by section 14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, we find that the use of the word 'shit' in this context would not have offended or distressed most viewers, and that MediaWorks adequately considered children's interests in broadcasting the comment during 3 News.

[13]  We therefore decline to uphold the complaint.

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
5 February 2015


Appendix

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

1      Family First New Zealand's formal complaint – 25 August 2014
2      MediaWorks' response to the complaint – 22 September 2014
3      Family First's referral to the Authority – 23 September 2014
4      MediaWorks' response to the Authority – 22 October 2014
5      Family First's final comment – 23 October 2014
6      MediaWorks' confirmation of no final comment – 5 November 2014

 

 


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

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

3 Family First New Zealand and TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2012-037

4 See, for example, Chin and TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2011-066

5 What Not to Swear: The Acceptability of Words in Broadcasting (Broadcasting Standards Authority, 2010) at page 19