BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Fowles and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2009-143

  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Tapu Misa
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
  • Reg Fowles
TV One

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(ii) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Eyewitness: The Danielle Cable Story – movie contained coarse language including the word “fuck” – programme preceded by a warning for graphic violence, but not for coarse language – broadcaster agreed that the movie should have included a specific warning for coarse language – stated that it had instituted changes to ensure warnings were provided where appropriate – action taken allegedly insufficient

Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – adequate explanation of why breach occurred given to complainant – action taken by the broadcaster was appropriate and sufficient – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1]   A movie called Eyewitness: The Danielle Cable Story was broadcast on TV One at 8.30pm on Sunday 27 September 2009. The movie contained coarse language which included the phrases “fuck off” and “fucking idiot”.

[2]   The programme was preceded by the following verbal and visual warning:

This programme is rated adults only. It contains graphic violence that may disturb some people.


[3]   Reg Fowles made a formal complaint to TVNZ Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that standards of good taste and decency had been breached because the warning given to viewers did not mention that the movie contained “offensive language”.


[4]   TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standard 1 and guidelines 1a and 1b of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. These provide:

    Standard 1 Good Taste and Decency

     Broadcasters should observe standards of good taste and decency.


    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. 

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[5]   TVNZ stated that, while the programme was classified AO and had been preceded by a warning, it agreed with Mr Fowles that the language contained in the movie reached a threshold where a specific warning for coarse language should have been given to viewers. It upheld the complaint that the broadcast breached Standard 1.

[6]   The broadcaster noted that it had previously upheld a similar complaint made by Mr Fowles and stated that its appraisers had been “reminded to take care with the use of warnings”. It said that changes had been instituted to ensure that its appraisal department would prevent this type of error occurring in the future. However, it explained that Eyewitness: The Danielle Cable Story had been appraised before Mr Fowles’ first complaint was considered and therefore had not been appraised “with either the reminder or the changes in action”.

[7]   TVNZ stated that, due to the large volume of material its appraisers view and the time between when programmes are appraised and broadcast, it would take some time for the changes “to be seen fully on screen”.

[8]   The broadcaster apologised to the complainant for the lack of warning and any offence caused.     

Referral to the Authority

[9]   Dissatisfied with the action taken by TVNZ, Mr Fowles referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(ii) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

Authority's Determination

[10]   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.

[11]   The Authority considers that Mr Fowles received an adequate and reasonable response to his complaint. It observes that while a language warning would have been appropriate, the language in the movie fell within the bounds of good taste and decency bearing in mind the context in which it occurred. In the Authority’s view, the language that is the subject of the complaint sat comfortably in the context of the two-hour movie.

[12]   Therefore, the Authority finds that the broadcaster’s action in upholding the Standard 1 complaint and changing its appraisal process was sufficient in all the circumstances. Accordingly, it does not uphold Mr Fowles’ complaint that the action taken by TVNZ was inadequate.


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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Peter Radich
15 February 2010


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

1.           Reg Fowles’ formal complaint – 28 September 2009
2.          TVNZ’s response to the formal complaint – 28 October 2009
3.          Mr Fowles’ referral to the Authority – 3 November 2009
4.          TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 2 December 2009