BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Harrison and TVWorks Ltd - 2011-022

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
Dated
Complainant
  • Philippa Harrison
Number
2011-022
Programme
7 Days
Broadcaster
TVWorks Ltd
Channel/Station
TV3 # 3

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
7 Days – host of comedy programme said “motherfucker” with reference to MP Hone Harawira – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency standard

Findings
Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – comment was legitimate humour referencing earlier news story about Hone Harawira – consistent with expectations of New Zealand comedy programme broadcast at 9.30pm – contextual factors – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision. 


Broadcast

[1]   An episode of 7 Days, a comedy programme in which two teams of comedians reviewed the week’s events, was broadcast on TV3 at 9.30pm on Friday 11 February 2011. During a segment called, “My Kid Could Draw That”, both teams were asked to guess which event from the week a school pupil had drawn. One of the pictures depicted MP Hone Harawira leaving the Māori Party. At the end of the round, the host awarded points to each team, saying, “Team two you can have the number of letters in the name ‘Hone Harawira’, which is 12 – ironically the same as ‘motherfucker’.”

[2]   At the beginning of the programme the host issued the following verbal warning:

The following show is for adults only and contains bad language that may offend some people. If the pilot’s daughter should fall from the ceiling place her over your nose and mouth and breathe normally.

Complaint

[3]   Philippa Harrison made a formal complaint to TVWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the level of language in the programme, particularly the use of the word “motherfucker”, was offensive and breached standards relating to good taste and decency.

Standards

[4]   TVWorks assessed the complaint under Standard 1 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which provides:

Standard 1 Good Taste and Decency

Broadcasters should observe standards of good taste and decency.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[5]   TVWorks maintained that the comments in the programme were intended to be humorous and “did not, within the context of this programme, stray into unacceptable territory”. It noted that at the beginning of the programme the host issued a verbal warning for “bad language that may offend some people”, which gave viewers ample opportunity to make an alternative viewing choice.

[6]   The broadcaster noted that 7 Days was a very popular local programme and had become a “mainstay of the TV3 Friday night schedule”. It therefore considered that most viewers would be familiar with the type of material it was likely to contain and would not have been surprised or “unduly offended” by the use of strong language. Further, the programme screened well after the 8.30pm watershed, when programmes were expected to contain stronger material, it said.

[7]   Taking into account all of the relevant contextual factors, TVWorks concluded that the broadcast of the word “motherfucker” did not breach Standard 1.

Referral to the Authority

[8]   Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Ms Harrison referred her complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. She argued that the fact the language was intended to be humorous did not make it any more acceptable, and that “when professional entertainers use it in a popular show, this language is promoted and normalised”. She alleged that the use of a verbal warning suggested that the broadcaster was aware the programme would breach broadcasting standards.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[9]   TVWorks noted that the Authority had previously held that the purpose of the good taste and decency standard was not to prohibit challenging material, or material that some people find offensive. Its purpose was to ensure sufficient care was taken so that challenging material was played in the appropriate context and that the challenges were not so offensive that they were unacceptable regardless of context, it said.

[10]   The broadcaster reiterated that 7 Days was a popular local show so viewers would have a reasonable idea of its nature and likely content. It said:

It is light-hearted, irreverent, anarchic, and occasionally vulgar and we believe these traits are integral to the appeal of the show. There is a raw, stand-up comedy aesthetic to 7 Days and although the producer and programme appraiser take care to moderate the level of coarse language to ensure it remains within acceptable levels, the occasional use of coarse language is unsurprising given the style and tone of the show.

[11]   On this occasion, TVWorks argued, the use of the word “motherfucker” was “a satirical dig at the unruly Māori Party MP who sent an email that used the term ‘white motherfuckers’ that was published in the news media and spurred a record number of complaints to the Race Relations Commissioner”. It considered that this was “clearly relevant to the show’s theme of mocking the news and we maintain most viewers would have understood the reference and its humorous intent”. TVWorks contended that, although challenging, the use of the word in this instance had a satirical relevance and was not used solely to be gratuitous or shocking.

[12]   The broadcaster accepted that “motherfucker” was a challenging term that would “not be appropriate for broadcast in every programme”. However, it was crucial to consider context, it said, and it was of the view that the use of the word during this episode of 7 Days did not breach standards of good taste and decency.

Complainant’s Final Comment

[13]   Ms Harrison said that she understood the satirical nature of the host’s comment, but she considered that Hone Harawira should not have used the word in the first place and that the host should not have repeated it. She maintained that the language in the programme was “disgusting” and that it was inconsistent with current norms of good taste and decency.

Authority's Determination

[14]   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.

[15]   When we consider an alleged breach of good taste and decency, we take into account the context of the broadcast. On this occasion, the relevant contextual factors include:

  • 7 Days was broadcast at 9.30pm on a Friday night, an hour after the watershed
  • the programme was classified Adults Only
  • “motherfucker” was used at approximately 9.40pm
  • the host issued a verbal warning for “bad language that may offend some people”
  • the programme’s target audience
  • expectations of regular viewers.

[16]   7 Days is a local comedy programme in which comedians discuss news stories from the previous week. During this episode, one of the segments related to MP Hone Harawira leaving the Māori Party, with reference to a child’s drawing. It was in this context that the host made the comment subject to complaint, “Team two you can have the number of letters in the name ‘Hone Harawira’, which is 12 – ironically the same as ‘motherfucker’.”

[17]   We note that in 7 Days the word “motherfucker” was used in a satirical, humorous context, rather than as an expletive or a term of abuse. The comment linked Mr Harawira’s departure with an earlier news story, in which Mr Harawira had sent an email including the phrase, “White motherfuckers have been raping our lands and ripping us off for centuries”. This satirical comment on a news story was consistent with the programme’s premise.

[18]   We consider that the host’s remark sat within viewers’ expectations of 7 Days within the 9.30pm timeslot. The host issued a verbal warning for “bad language”. The Authority has also previously declined to uphold a complaint about the use of the word in a stand-up comedy programme rated AO and screened at 10pm.1

[19]   In these circumstances, we are of the view that upholding the complaint would place an unreasonable restriction on the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression.

[20]   Accordingly, taking into account the above contextual factors, we find that the programme did not breach Standard 1, and 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
Chair
7 June 2011

Appendix

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

1                  Philippa Harrison’s formal complaint – 14 February 2011

2                 TVWorks’ response to the complaint – 17 February 2011

3                 Ms Harrison’s referral to the Authority – 4 March 2011

4                 TVWorks’ response to the Authority – 8 April 2011

5                 Ms Harrison’s final comment – 23 April 2011


1Langford and TVNZ, Decision No. 2001-101