BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Gautier and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2008-120

Members
  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
Dated
Complainant
  • Lynette Gautier
Number
2008-120
Programme
The Pretender
Channel/Station
TV2

Complaint under section 8(1C) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
The Pretender – character stated "Jesus fucking Christ" – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency

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

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1] An episode of The Pretender was broadcast on TV2 at 10pm on Sunday 28 September 2008. The programme was a satirical comedy that followed the life of a fictional Member of Parliament, Denis Plant, and his fictitious political party, Future New Zealand.

[2] During the episode, one of the characters said "Jesus fucking Christ" after learning of a potentially disastrous political blunder by Mr Plant.

[3] The programme was preceded by a verbal and written warning that stated:

This programme is rated Adults Only. It contains language that may offend some people.

Complaint

[4] Lynette Gautier made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the statement "Jesus fucking Christ" breached broadcasting standards.

[5] The complainant argued the phrase was "highly offensive, not only to Christians, but to many others also" and objected to the words "fuck" and "Jesus Christ" being used together.

Standards

[6] Standard 1 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice is relevant to the determination of this complaint. It provides:

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.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[7] The broadcaster sent a letter to the complainant from its Communications Executive stating that it was "sorry to hear about [her] concern" regarding the programme and that it would "consider a formal complaint if [the complainant] could identify a particular scene" that breached broadcasting standards.

Referral to the Authority

[8] Having not received a decision on her formal complaint from TVNZ within the statutory timeframe, Ms Gautier referred her complaint to the Authority under section 8(1C) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. She stated that it was not the use of the "F-word" itself that she was objecting to, but its use together with the words "Jesus Christ".

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[9] The broadcaster explained that the complainant’s first letter of complaint had not been received by the correct department within TVNZ and apologised for the error.

[10] The broadcaster pointed out that the character, one of Mr Plant’s administrators, uttered the phrase "Jesus fucking Christ" in intense irritation after discovering a serious political blunder by Mr Plant.

[11] TVNZ contended that to breach Standard 1, the broadcast material must be unacceptable to a significant number of viewers in the context in which it was shown. It noted The Pretender was classified AO and broadcast at 10pm. The broadcaster also pointed out that the programme was preceded by a verbal and written warning advising viewers that it contained language that may offend.

[12] The broadcaster accepted that the coupling of the terms "fucking" and "Jesus Christ" made the phrase more likely to be unacceptable, but believed the warning, classification and time of broadcast were sufficient in the circumstances to avoid a breach of broadcasting standards.

[13] TVNZ noted that the Concise Oxford Dictionary defined "Jesus Christ" as a central figure of the Christian religion and, in a separate definition, an "exclamation, informal expression of irritation, dismay or surprise". It contended the use of the phrase "Jesus fucking Christ" in the programme was an expression of intense irritation and frustration.

[14] The broadcaster concluded the use of the phrase would not have offended a significant number of viewers in the context in which it was shown, and it declined to uphold the complaint.

Authority's Determination

[15] 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.

[16] When the Authority considers an alleged breach of good taste and decency, it is required to take into account the context of the broadcast. On this occasion, the relevant contextual factors include:

  • The Pretender was classified AO
  • the programme was preceded by a verbal and written warning
  • the time of the broadcast, at 10pm.

[17] The Authority agrees with the broadcaster that the phrase "Jesus fucking Christ" was used in this instance as an expression of frustration and irritation. It accepts that the use of the phrase was in keeping with the nature of the scene and the aggressive political context of the programme.

[18] The Authority is also mindful of the fact that many people are offended by the profane use of the words "Christ", "Jesus" and "God". In the Authority’s view, the coupling of the words "Jesus Christ" with "fucking" made the phrase more likely to be unacceptable to a greater number of people.

[19] On this occasion, however, the Authority finds that, on balance, the explicit warning regarding language, the 10pm time of broadcast and AO classification were sufficient to avoid a breach of the standard.

[20] Taking the above contextual factors into account, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint that the programme breached Standard 1 (good taste and decency).

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
17 February 2009

Appendix

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

1.  Lynette Gautier’s formal complaint – 29 September 2008
2. Ms Gautier’s referral to the Authority – 25 October 2008
3. TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 27 November 2008