BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Harrison and Wong and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2008-101

Members
  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
Dated
Complainants
  • Leong Wong
  • Philippa Harrison
Number
2008-101
Channel/Station
TV One

Complaints under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
The Unauthorised History of New Zealand – cartoon involving “King Dick” who ejaculated onto the face of a Chinese character – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency.

Findings
Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – cartoon satirised anti-Asian views of former Prime Minister – contextual factors – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]   The Unauthorised History of New Zealand was a satirical series lampooning certain trends and incidents in New Zealand history. In an episode broadcast on TV One at 10.30pm on 20 July 2008, the programme reviewed past Prime Ministers of New Zealand, including Robert Muldoon and Michael Savage, also mentioning Helen Clark (the then Prime Minister) and John Key (the National Party leader).

[2]   The programme included an animated cartoon entitled “The Aggressions of the Manchurians in the Southern Isles” which was introduced by the presenter as follows:

Long before bro'Town, our pioneering animators used satire to poke fun at our leaders.

[3]   The cartoon was silent, and mostly in black and white. It involved an animated Chinese character, with a yellow face, sailing to shore in New Zealand in a bucket labelled “Laundry”. The reaction of the character who met him on land was presented on screen as “Help! Invasion”. This was followed by the words “Never fear! King Dick will sort this problem out”. A portrait of King Dick was shown, and beneath his face were the words:

~ KING DICK ~
The world’s most superior member of Parliament

[4]   King Dick hopped towards the Chinese character on his over-sized penis. Holding his penis in both hands, King Dick rubbed his hands up and down his penis twice and ejaculated over the Chinese character’s face. The screen displayed the words, “Confuscious [sic] say; Two wanks make a white!”

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

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

Complaints

[6]   Leong Wong and Philippa Harrison lodged formal complaints about the item with Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster. Leong Wong alleged that the cartoon was “racist and distasteful”, and sent the message that it was “OK to poke fun and demean the Chinese”. The complainant contended that the cartoon had nothing to do with the programme.

[7]   Philippa Harrison stated that the cartoon was not in good taste or decent, and that the warning did not make the content inoffensive.

Standards

[8]   TVNZ considered the complaints under Standard 1 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. 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 Complainants

[9]   TVNZ noted that the cartoon reflected the attitudes of Richard Seddon, nicknamed “King Dick”, who was New Zealand’s longest serving Prime Minister and the Minister of Immigration in the late 1890s. It said that Mr Seddon was well known for his hostility towards Chinese immigration to New Zealand, and the cartoon was a satirical reflection of his attitude and policies.

[10]   The broadcaster said that, to constitute a breach of Standard 1 (good taste and decency), the broadcast material must have been unacceptable to a significant number of viewers in the context in which it was shown. It noted that The Unauthorised History of New Zealand was classified AO (Adults Only), broadcast at 10.30pm, and preceded by a written and verbal warning. TVNZ maintained that the programme’s audience would be familiar with both the style of humour in the programme and the type of material it would contain.

[11]   TVNZ noted that the programme had set out to look at New Zealand leaders over the years and considered the role of satire in the political environment. The cartoon was not an attempt to demean Chinese people, TVNZ wrote, but was satirical and meant to reflect the attitudes of the day.

[12]   The broadcaster considered that the material in this programme was similar to other episodes of The Unauthorised History of New Zealand which the Authority had considered. It noted that the Authority had concluded that those episodes did not breach Standard 1 (e.g. Decision Nos. 2007-043 and 2007-038), and declined to uphold the complaint.

Referrals to the Authority

[13]   Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, Leong Wong and Ms Harrison referred their complaints to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. Leong Wong stated that the item was in breach of Standards 1, 2, 4, 5, 6 and 8 of the Television Code.

[14]   Ms Harrison reiterated her view that the cartoon breached standards of good taste and decency, and that such standards did not depend entirely on the broadcast time or whether there was a warning.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[15]   With respect to Leong Wong’s referral, TVNZ stated that it had given the complainant an opportunity to nominate additional standards in a letter prior to considering the complaint. No further standards were nominated at that time, it wrote, and therefore the complaint was only considered under Standard 1 (good taste and decency).

[16]   The broadcaster contended that Standards 2, 4, 5 and 8 were not relevant and were not implicitly raised in Leong Wong’s formal complaint. Although the complainant’s claim of racism could render Standard 6 (fairness) relevant, it said, the cartoon did not reach the level of invective necessary for it to breach the standard.

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.

Procedural Matter

[18]   The Authority notes that, after receiving his formal complaint, TVNZ sent Leong Wong a letter advising him that his complaint would be considered under Standard 1 (good taste and decency), and inviting him to nominate any further standards within seven days. He did not respond to the letter, and TVNZ proceeded to determine his complaint with reference only to the good taste and decency standard.

[19]   In his referral to the Authority, Leong Wong contended that Standards 2, 4, 5, 6 and 8 of the Television Code were also breached. Although his original complaint referred to the cartoon as “racist” and “demeaning” to Chinese people – which potentially raised guideline 6g (denigration) to Standard 6 (fairness) – the Authority is of the view that the complainant had ample opportunity to raise that standard before TVNZ considered his complaint.

[20]   In the circumstances outlined above the Authority concludes that it has no jurisdiction to consider the additional standards raised by Leong Wong in his referral. It proceeds to determine the Standard 1 complaint.

Standard 1 (good taste and decency)

[21]   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 the relevant contextual factors include:

  • the programme was broadcast at 10.30pm, and the cartoon at approximately 10.45pm
  • the target audience of adult viewers
  • the AO classification of the programme
  • the programme was preceded by a verbal and visual warning
  • audience expectations – viewers would have been familiar with the programme’s satirical style.

[22]   Leong Wong argued that the cartoon was racist and sent the message that “it is OK to poke fun and demean the Chinese”. Although the Authority agrees that some viewers may have found the sexual connotations in the cartoon shocking, it is of the view that the cartoon sent the opposite message to that inferred by the complainant. The Authority considers that it did not portray Chinese people in a negative way; it was pillorying the anti-Asian views of Richard Seddon.

[23]   Taking into account the contextual factors outlined above, in particular the time of the broadcast and the highly stylised nature of the cartoon, the Authority finds that the broadcast did not breach standards of good taste and decency.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
25 November 2008

Appendix

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

1.           Philippa Harrison’s formal complaint – received by TVNZ 23 July 2008
2.          TVNZ’s decision on the formal complaint – 19 August 2008
3.          Ms Harrison’s referral to the Authority – 15 September 2008
4.          TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 8 October 2008

1.           Leong Wong’s formal complaint – 21 July 2008
2.          Letter from TVNZ to Leong Wong – 23 July 2008
3.          TVNZ’s decision on the formal complaint – 19 August 2008
4.          Leong Wong’s referral to the Authority – 8 September 2008
5.          TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 6 October 2008