BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Family First New Zealand and Stephens and TVWorks Ltd - 2010-092

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Tapu Misa
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
Dated
Complainants
  • Family First New Zealand
  • Mamari Stephens
Number
2010-092
Programme
3 News
Broadcaster
TVWorks Ltd
Channel/Station
TV3 # 3

Complaints under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
3 News
– item on a Labour MP using his ministerial credit card to purchase pornographic films while staying at hotels – presenter mentioned that people had been making suggestions on the website Twitter about possible titles of the films, including “Bipartisan Bitches” – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency, responsible programming and children’s interests


Findings

Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – remarks light-hearted attempt at humour – contextual factors – not upheld

Standard 9 (children’s interests) – sexual innuendo was too sophisticated for children to understand – broadcaster adequately considered the interests of child viewers – not upheld

Standard 8 (responsible programming) – standard not applicable – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]   An item on 3 News, broadcast on TV3 at 6pm on Thursday 10 June 2010, reported that Labour MP Shane Jones had used his ministerial credit card to purchase pornographic films while staying at hotels. It also investigated several other MPs’ questionable credit card use.

[2]   At the conclusion of the coverage, the presenter mentioned that people had been making humorous suggestions on the social website Twitter as to the possible titles of the pornographic films Mr Jones had watched. She said:

Among the suggestions: “Shane and the Party Whip”, “If It Pleases the Speaker”, “Bipartisan Bitches” and, dare we say it, “Withdraw and Apologise”.

Complaints

[3]   Family First New Zealand and Mamari Stephens made formal complaints to TVWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the item had breached broadcasting standards.

[4]   Family First noted that the item was broadcast during the 6pm news, “which is well before the 8.30pm watershed for adult content”. It argued that the 6pm news was watched by many young people and children, and that the item’s inclusion of the word “bitches” and its sexual connotations breached standards of good taste and were “totally unnecessary as part of a news programme”.

[5]   Referring to guideline 8c of the responsible programming standard, Family First contended that the item breached Standard 8. It also considered that the broadcast had breached Standard 9 (children’s interests).

[6]   Ms Stephens argued that the item had breached standards relating to good taste and decency and children’s interests, because the presenter had used the offensive term “bitches” and had made “obvious, although implied” sexual allusions. She stated that her young children had been watching the programme and contended that the broadcaster had failed to take the interests of child viewers into account.

[7]   Ms Stephens contended that the presenter’s comments were gratuitous when considering the programme’s 6pm timeslot.

Standards

[8]   Standards 1, 8 and 9 and guidelines 1a, 1b, 8c and 9a of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice are relevant to the determination of this complaint. These provide:

Standard 1 Good Taste and Decency

Broadcasters should observe standards of good taste and decency.

Guidelines

1a   Broadcasters will take into account current norms of good taste and decency bearing in mind the context in which any content occurs and the wider context of the broadcast e.g. programme classification, target audience, type of programme and use of warnings etc.

1b   The use of visual and verbal warnings should be considered when content is likely to disturb or offend a significant number of viewers except in the case of news and current affairs, where verbal warnings only will be considered. Warnings should be specific in nature, while avoiding detail which may itself distress or offend viewers.

Standard 8 Responsible Programming

Broadcasters should ensure programmes:

• are appropriately classified;

• display programme classification information;

• adhere to timebands in accordance with Appendix 1;

• are not presented in such a way as to cause panic, or unwarranted alarm or undue
  distress; and

• do not deceive or disadvantage the viewer.

Guideline 8c

Except as justified in the public interest, news flashes screening outside regular news and current affairs programmes, particularly during children’s viewing time, should avoid unnecessary, distressing or alarming material or should provide a prior warning about the material.

Standard 9 Children’s Interests

During children’s normally accepted viewing times (see Appendix 1), broadcasters should consider the interests of child viewers.

Guideline 9a

Broadcasters should be mindful of the effect any programme or promo may have on children during their normally accepted viewing times – usually up to 8.30pm – and avoid screening material that would disturb or alarm them.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainants

[9]   With respect to good taste and decency, TVWorks stated that the item formed part of a news programme which screened at a scheduled time each day and had an adult target audience. It alleged that the Authority had accepted that although news and current affairs programmes screened prior to the Adults Only watershed at 8.30pm, these were unlikely to be watched by unsupervised young children who, “given the choice, are more likely to watch programming directed at them screening on other channels”. It also noted that news programmes were unclassified because of their distinct nature.

[10]   The broadcaster argued that the Twitter film title piece was not intended to be salacious or titillating, but rather served as an amusing conclusion to a story of significant public interest. It considered that the film titles were not graphic and would have been unlikely to offend a significant number of viewers.

[11]   TVWorks contended that the “brief mention of the humorous Twitter names acted as an amusing editorial footnote to the story and also provided a relevant insight into an (admittedly light-hearted) aspect of the public response to the credit card abuse issue”. It said that, while the story dealt with a serious matter, the issue of the MP using his card to purchase pornographic films carried a certain humorous tone which had been conveyed in the news coverage.

[12]   The broadcaster argued that the Twitter film titles “employed sophisticated innuendo targeted at mature viewers”. It considered that it was unlikely that children would have grasped the meaning behind the titles, and therefore it was unlikely that they would have been upset or offended.

[13]   TVWorks stated that the producer of 3 News had carefully selected the film titles to cause minimal offence and made the decision to leave out some of the more salacious titles. It contended that the word “bitches” was generally considered to be “at the lower end of the offensive language spectrum and would not ordinarily be deemed inappropriate for a news broadcast”. It was of the view that parents should generally expect a certain degree of sophisticated material in news programmes, but should also expect that children’s interests are considered in the form of editorial choices.

[14]   The broadcaster argued that it had sufficiently considered the “sensibilities of both child viewers and viewers in general” and declined to uphold the complaint that the item had breached Standard 1.

[15]   For the same reasons, TVWorks declined to uphold the complaints that the item had breached Standard 8 (responsible programming) and Standard 9 (children’s interests).

Referrals to the Authority

[16]   Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Family First and Ms Stephens referred their complaints to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

[17]   With respect to TVWorks’ contention that news programmes were unlikely to be watched by unsupervised young children, Family First argued that the issue of supervision was irrelevant. It considered that the broadcaster’s statement was a “tacit admission that children may be watching” and that both parents and children may be unexpectedly confronted with objectionable material.

[18]   Family First noted that the presenter had said “dare we say it” before saying the last suggested film title and considered that this showed the material was intended to titillate viewers. It maintained that the use of the word “bitches” and the reading out of the suggested film titles in the 6pm news item was offensive and unnecessary.

Authority's Determination

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

Standard 1 (good taste and decency)

[20]   When we consider an alleged breach of good taste and decency, we take into account the context of the broadcast. On this occasion, the relevant contextual factors include:

  • 3 News was an unclassified news programme

  • the programme was broadcast at 6pm during children’s normally accepted viewing times

  • the expectations of regular viewers

  • the programme had an adult target audience.

[21]   In our view, the presenter’s concluding remarks about suggested film titles were mildly coarse and puerile. We note that in recent research conducted by the Authority, the word “bitch” was considered totally or fairly unacceptable by 26 percent of people when used in any context.1 However, we also note that the word “bitches” was not used in an abusive manner by the presenter, but was part of an innuendo-laden play on words that was intended to be light-hearted and humorous. We also find that the material was too sophisticated for younger viewers to understand.

[22]   We consider that, while the words may have offended some viewers, the remarks were not sufficiently offensive to have breached standards of good taste and decency.

[23]   Taking the above contextual factors into account, we decline to uphold the complaints that the item breached Standard 1.

Standard 9 (children’s interests)

[24]   Standard 9 requires broadcasters to consider the interests of child viewers during their normally accepted viewing times – usually up to 8.30pm.

[25]   Taking into account the light-hearted manner in which the remarks were made and their level of sophistication, we consider that the presenter’s comments would not have disturbed or alarmed child viewers. We therefore find that the broadcaster adequately considered the interests of child viewers on this occasion.

[26]   Accordingly, we decline to uphold the Standard 9 complaints.

Standard 8 (responsible programming)

[27]   Standard 8 requires that programmes are correctly classified, display programme classification information, and adhere to the time-bands set out in the Free-to-Air Television Code. It also states that programmes should not cause viewers unwarranted alarm or distress, or deceive or disadvantage them through, for example, subliminal messaging, or failing to distinguish advertising from programme material.

[28]   Family First referred to guideline 8c in its formal complaint which relates to news flashes screening outside regular news and current affairs programmes. We note that the item subject to complaint was not a “news flash”, but was contained in a regular unclassified news programme.

[29]   Accordingly, we find that Standard 8 does not apply in the circumstances.

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
26 October 2010

Appendix

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

Family First New Zealand’s complaint

1.           Family First NZ’s formal complaint – 10 June 2010

2.          TVWorks’ response to the formal complaint – 15 July 2010

3.          Family First NZ’s referral to the Authority – 22 July 2010

4.          TVWorks’ response to the Authority – 10 August 2010


Mamari Stephens’ complaint

1.           Mamari Stephens’ formal complaint – 10 June 2010

2.          TVWorks’ response to the formal complaint – 15 July 2010

3.          Ms Stephens’ referral to the Authority – 21 July 2010

4.          TVWorks’ response to the Authority – 10 August 2010


1Broadcasting Standards Authority, What Not To Swear: The Acceptability of Words in Broadcasting, (Wellington, 2010) page 14.