BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Harrison and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2004-085

  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
  • Phillipa Harrison
TV One

Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Tonight – headline used phrase “… National extends its middle finger…” – allegedly breached requirement for good taste and decency

Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – context – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1] The following headline was broadcast on Tonight, which screened on TV One at 10.35pm on 10 March:

The Government extends the hand of cooperation over race issues but National extends its middle finger in response.

The headline referred to a refusal by National Party leader Dr Brash to the Government’s invitation to take part in a proposed inquiry into race issues.


[2] Mrs Harrison complained that the headline breached standards of good taste and decency. She wrote:

I believe to suggest that Don Brash “extended his middle finger” in response to Helen Clark’s overtures re race relations enquiries is an insult to him an d breaches the observance of good taste and decency. It certainly offended me.


[3] TVNZ considered the complaint in the context of Standard 1 (Guideline 1a) of the Free to Air Television Code of broadcasting Practice, which states:

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.

Guideline 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.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[4] TVNZ wrote:

  • Tonight is not intended to be a “straight” news show – it is intended to be more colloquial and chatty.
  • The headline referred to Dr Brash refusing the Government’s invitation to take part in shaping a proposed inquiry into race issues.
  • The Oxford Dictionary explanation of the phrase “to give someone the finger” is “to make a gesture as a sign of contempt”. It was used on this occasion to show that National had contemptuously dismissed the Government’s invitation.

[5] TVNZ did not consider that the headline was inappropriate in the context of the programme’s genre and the late hour at which it was broadcast. It did not uphold Mrs Harrison’s complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[6] Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, Mrs Harrison referred her complaint to the Authority. She did not agree with the broadcaster’s view that to extend the middle finger meant to show contempt. She said:

… everyone I have asked from a 12 year old to those in their fifties, connected the gesture mentioned with the phrase, “F__ off.”

[7] Mrs Harrison also considered that:

… such a gesture would be considerably more shocking from a senior politician than among teenage or adult friends. Using the phrase to suggest [Dr Brash’s] attitude is therefore amplifying what happened.

Authority's Determination

[8] The members of the Authority have viewed a tape of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

[9] The Authority must consider the context of a broadcast when it determines whether it breaches Standard 1 (good taste and decency). Accordingly, the Authority notes the following relevant matters about the broadcast:

  • it was broadcast in AO time at 10.35pm
  • the programme is a news programme designed to appeal to younger adult viewers and is more colloquial and chatty than a “straight” news programme
  • the degree of offensiveness was relatively mild, particularly because the headline referred to an entity, not a person – and so did not suggest that Dr Brash had made the gesture to which it referred.

[10] Taking into account these contextual matters, the Authority finds that Standard 1 was not breached.


For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Joanne Morris
29 July 2004


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

1    Philippa Harrison’s Formal Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 11 March 2004
2   TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 19 April 2004
3   Mrs Harrison’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 11 May 2004
4   TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 28 May 2004