BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Family First New Zealand and TVWorks Ltd - 2012-037

  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
  • Family First New Zealand
3 News
TVWorks Ltd
TV3 # 3

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
3 News – reported on the Government’s asset sales policy – included excerpts from interviews with opposition MPs, including Hone Harawira who said “bullshit” – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency and children’s interests standards

Standard 1 (good taste and decency), and Standard 9 (children’s interests) – the word “bullshit” was used by an MP to express his opinion on a controversial political issue – the comment provided information about a political response to the issue as well as providing insight into the characteristics of a political figure, and was therefore of high value in terms of freedom of expression – comment would not have surprised or distressed most viewers in the context of a political story screened during an unclassified news programme targeted at adults – broadcaster adequately considered children’s interests – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision. 


[1]  An item on 3 News, broadcast on TV3 at 6pm on 6 March 2012, reported on the Government’s proposed asset sales policy. An interview excerpt with Mana Party MP Hone Harawira was shown, juxtaposed between comments from the Prime Minister John Key and the reporter. Mr Key stated, “We will make sure we are setting [asset prices] at a level where it is affordable for a lot of New Zealanders”, and the reporter commented, “But Harawira said this to that...”, before Mr Harawira bluntly stated, “Bullshit.”

[2]  Family First New Zealand (Family First) made a formal complaint to TVWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the inclusion of Mr Harawira’s pre-recorded comment was “unnecessary” and “offensive”.

[3]  The issue is whether the item, and specifically the inclusion of the word “bullshit”, breached Standards 1 (good taste and decency) and 9 (children’s interests) of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[4]  The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

Did the item, and specifically the inclusion of the word “bullshit”, breach broadcasting standards relating to good taste and decency and children’s interests?

[5]  Standard 1 states that broadcasters should observe standards of good taste and decency. 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 “bullshit” was used once by a politician in response to a controversial political issue
  • audience expectations of news content
  • audience expectations of the language used by Hone Harawira.

[7]  TVWorks argued that the word “bullshit” was acceptable in the context of an unclassified news programme reporting on the Government’s asset sales legislation, which included the opinions of various MPs. It considered it unnecessary to obscure the language, given its low level of offensiveness and the public interest in hearing a politician’s expression of his views.

[8]  The word “bullshit” was used by Mr Harawira to convey his opposition to a major Government policy that had been the subject of much controversy. In this respect, the comment provided viewers with information about a political response to the issue, as well as insight into the characteristics of a political figure in terms of the way he chose to express himself. We consider that this was of high value in terms of the right to freedom of expression, and we should be cautious about interfering with its broadcast and its reception.

[9]  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 the inclusion of the pre-recorded comment was an attempt to “normalise the language amongst children [which was] a particularly bad example when it’s said by a political leader”.

[10]  We disagree. The inclusion of one swear word, broadcast during an unclassified news programme targeted at adults, would not in our view serve to normalise such language, especially among children who were unlikely to be watching unsupervised. We note that research conducted by the Authority indicated that only 12 percent of people surveyed considered the use of the word “bullshit” to be totally unacceptable in all broadcasting scenarios.3 In this respect, the potential harm to viewers, including children, in broadcasting the comment during the news, was minimal.

[11]  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 “bullshit” in this context would not have offended or distressed most viewers, and that TVWorks adequately considered children’s interests in broadcasting the comment during 3 News

[12]  Accordingly, we 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
17 July 2012


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

1                  Family First’s formal complaint – 7 March 2012

2                 TVWorks’ response to the complaint – 29 March 2012

3                 Family First’s referral to the Authority – 29 March 2012

4                 TVWorks’ response to the Authority – 24 April 2012

5                 Family First’s final comment – 30 April 2012

6                 TVWorks’ final comment – 17 May 2012

1Turner and TVNZ, Decision No. 2008-112

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

3What Not to Swear: The Acceptability of Words in Broadcasting (Broadcasting Standards Authority, 2010) at page 19