BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Fibbens and RadioWorks Ltd - 2011-100

  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
  • Marc Fibbens
Paul Henry Drive
RadioWorks Ltd
Radio Live # 2

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Paul Henry Drive – referring to the name of the show segment, the host stated, “It’s time for our left right shit fight” – guest stated, “As much as this is meant to be a shit fight Sue, you are going to have to find some more subjects that we disagree on” – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency standard

Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – low-level language used in a non-aggressive manner and in a robust talkback environment would not have surprised listeners – contextual factors – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1]  The Paul Henry Drive show was broadcast on Radio Live between 3pm and 6pm on Monday 20 June 2011. Referring to the name of the show segment, in which Sue Bradford and Deborah Coddington gave their respective left and right wing positions on current political issues, the host stated, “It’s time for our left right shit fight”. Later in the item, Ms Coddington stated, “As much as this is meant to be a shit fight Sue, you are going to have to find some more subjects that we disagree on...”


[2]  Marc Fibbens made a formal complaint to RadioWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the use of the words “arse” and “shit” breached Standard 1 (good taste and decency).


[3]  The complainant nominated Standard 1 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice in his complaint, which provides:

Standard 1 Good Taste and Decency

Broadcasters should observe standards of good taste and decency.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[4]  The broadcaster contended that to constitute a breach of Standard 1, the broadcast material must be unacceptable to a significant number of listeners in the context in which it aired. On this occasion, it considered that relevant contextual factors included Radio Live’s adult target audience, the robust nature of talkback and the “infrequent use of low level language”.

[5]  RadioWorks did not consider that the word “shit” on talkback radio would have offended a significant number of listeners, given its infrequent use. It was of the view that, in this instance, the term was used in a light-hearted manner, rather than being aggressive or abusive.

[6]  The broadcaster asserted that research conducted by the Authority indicated that the term “arse” was not considered an expletive because it did not feature in the survey of acceptability of language.1

[7]  Taking into account the relevant contextual factors, RadioWorks did not consider that the language would have departed from audience expectations, and it declined to uphold the complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[8]  Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Mr Fibbens referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

[9]  The complainant argued that the language subject to complaint did not form part of “robust talkback” as contended by the broadcaster. In any event, he considered that talkback radio was played in homes and cars where children were likely to be listening, and noted that in this instance the language was broadcast at a time when parents would be picking their children up from school.

[10]  Mr Fibbens considered that the term “shit” was offensive in everyday conversation and questioned whether RadioWorks would apply the same standard if Mr Henry had casually used the word “fuck”. He maintained that the broadcast breached Standard 1.

Authority’s Determination

[11]  The members of the Authority have listened to 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.

Preliminary Matter

[12]  The complainant argued that the broadcast of the word “arse”, as well as the phrase “left right shit fight” breached standards of good taste and decency. Having listened to the broadcast, we are satisfied that it did not contain the word “arse”, and we have therefore limited our determination to the use of the word “shit”.

Standard 1 (good taste and decency)

[13]  When we consider an alleged breach of Standard 1, we take into account the context of the broadcast. On this occasion, the relevant contextual factors include:

  • the language was broadcast on the Paul Henry Drive show on Radio Live
  • Paul Henry is well known for expressing his views in provocative terms
  • the language was not preceded by a warning
  • the word “shit” formed part of the title of the segment
  • the word “shit” was used by the host and the guest
  • Radio Live’s target audience
  • audience expectations of material broadcast on Radio Live.

[14]  On this occasion, the word “shit” formed part of the segment title, “left right shit fight”, and was used colloquially to categorise a debate between two political figures with differing left and right wing perspectives. In our view, the language was of a low level and would not have surprised most listeners given that its use was non-aggressive and it occurred in a robust talkback environment. While we accept that the language was broadcast during children’s normally accepted listening times, at about 3pm, in our view, children were unlikely to be listening to talkback radio unsupervised, and, given the low-level nature of the language, we do not consider that it was unacceptable for children under the supervision of an adult.

[15]  For these reasons, and taking into account the relevant contextual factors, 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
18 October 2011


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

1                  Marc Fibbens’ formal complaint – 25 July 2011

2                 RadioWorks’ response to the complaint – 3 August 2011

3                 Mr Fibbens’ referral to the Authority – 3 August 2011

4                 RadioWorks’ response to the Authority – 19 August 2011

1See What Not to Swear: The Acceptability of Words in Broadcasting (Broadcasting Standards Authority, 2010)