BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Francis and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2006-010

  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
  • Ken Francis
TV One

Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
The Gathering Storm – use of obscene language in a PGR classified film – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency and programme classification

Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – contextual factors – not upheld

Standard 7 (programme classification) – warning not necessary – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1] The Gathering Storm screened on TV One at 9.15pm on 7 January 2006. It was a dramatised documentary about the life of Winston Churchill during the period between the two world wars.


[2] Ken Francis complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that despite the programme being rated PGR, it contained objectionable language, and no warning had been given.

[3] He noted that he was not protesting about the broadcast of the programme, but simply about the right to make an informed viewing choice. While he acknowledged that the word “fuck” occurred only once, he maintained that a warning should have been given to enable him to assess the suitability of the programme for family viewing.


[4] TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standards 1 and 7 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which provide:

Standard 1 Good Taste and Decency

In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are responsible for maintaining standards which are consistent with the observance of good taste and decency.


1a   Broadcasters must take into consideration current norms of decency and taste in language and behaviour bearing in mind the context in which any language or behaviour occurs. Examples of context are the time of the broadcast, the type of programme, the target audience, the use of warnings and the programme’s classification. The examples are not exhaustive.

1b   Broadcasters should consider – and if appropriate require – the use of on-air visual and verbal warnings when programmes contain violent material, material of a sexual nature, coarse language or other content likely to disturb children or offend a significant number of adult viewers. Warnings should be specific in nature, while avoiding detail which may itself distress or offend viewers.

Standard 7 Programme Classification

Broadcasters are responsible for ensuring that programmes are appropriately classified; adequately display programme classification information; and adhere to time-bands in accordance with Appendix 1.

Guideline 7e

Broadcasters should consider the use of warnings where content is likely to offend or disturb a significant proportion of the audience.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[5] In its response to the complaint, TVNZ noted that the scene complained of showed Churchill talking with a friend. He quoted a translation of a poem by Pushkin, which included the word “fuck”.

[6] TVNZ noted that the scene was the only occasion in the film in which strong language was used.

[7] In all the circumstances, TVNZ felt that it would have been misleading to place a general language warning before the programme, especially when it was scheduled to start 45 minutes after the adults only watershed. It considered that a warning might have driven viewers away from what was an interesting and informative drama.

[8] TVNZ noted that the word that the complainant objected to did not pervade the whole programme, and that most of the dialogue was delivered in the “rather stilted” English of the British aristocracy in the 1920s and 1930s.

[9] TVNZ asserted that, had the PGR rated programme screened prior to the AO watershed, extra consideration might have been given to the use of a warning, or to excising the word altogether. It noted that such measures were not considered necessary because the broadcast occurred well after “children’s normally accepted viewing times” in terms of guideline 9a to Standard 9.

[10] In the context of a dramatised documentary, illustrating the frustration of an historical figure, TVNZ considered the “low impact” use of the word “fuck”, as part of a poem, did not breach standards of good taste and decency.

[11] In terms of Standard 7, the broadcaster considered that the single use of the word complained of did not disqualify the film from a PGR classification, particularly because the film did not start until 9.15pm. It noted that PGR material was defined as “programmes containing material more suited for mature audiences but not necessarily unsuitable for child viewers when subject to the guidance of a parents or an adult”.

[12] The broadcaster considered it would have been “disappointing” to have indicated that a drama of this genre was unsuitable for young people. It maintained that this would have been the message if the programme was AO-rated or carried a warning.

[13] Turning to guideline 7e, TVNZ considered that there was no evidence that the sequence would have offended or disturbed a significant proportion of the audience. TVNZ apologised for any distress caused to the complainant, but did not uphold the complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[14] Dissatisfied with the response from the broadcaster, Mr Francis referred his complaint to the Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. He disagreed with TVNZ’s response that the programme did not warrant a warning, and asserted that viewers were entitled to make informed choices about their viewing preferences.

[15] He reiterated that the programme was rated PGR and was not preceded by a warning. Accordingly, he asserted, he and his family had watched the film “in good faith”.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[16] In its response to the referral, TVNZ reiterated its belief that a language warning on the PGR-rated drama would have misled potential viewers as to the content of the programme.

Authority's Determination

[17] 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.

[18] When the Authority considers a complaint that alleges a breach of good taste and decency, it is required to take into account the context of the broadcast. On this occasion, relevant contextual factors include

  • The commencement time of the broadcast (9.15pm), 45 minutes after the adults only watershed
  • the use of the word 1 hour and 5 minutes into the film, at 10.20pm
  • the single use of the word “fuck” in the context of a poem
  • the PGR classification of the programme
  • the mature target audience, and the lack of appeal to younger viewers.

[19] Taking these matters into account, the Authority considers that the programme did not threaten the good taste and decency standard.

[20] Guideline 7e to Standard 7 states that broadcasters should consider the use of warnings where content may offend or disturb a significant proportion of the audience. Noting the character of the programme, and the contextual factors listed above, the Authority considers a warning was not required on this occasion. Accordingly, the Authority is of the view that the broadcast did not breach Standard 7.


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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

Joanne Morris
11 April 2006


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

  1. Mr Francis’ formal complaint to TVNZ – 23 January 2006
  2. TVNZ’s response to the formal complaint – 7 February 2006
  3. Mr Francis’ referral to the Authority – 1 March 2006
  4. TVNZ’s response to the referral – 6 March 2006