BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Hayes and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2002-046

Members
  • P Cartwright (Chair)
  • B Hayward
  • R Bryant
  • J H McGregor
Dated
Complainant
  • Gordon Hayes
Number
2002-046
Programme
The Weakest Link
Channel/Station
TV One

Complaint
The Weakest Link G rating  contestant said "pissed off" – offensive language

Findings
Standard 1 and guideline a – contextual matters – no uphold

Standard 9 and guideline a – context and use – no uphold

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

[1] A celebrity edition of The Weakest Link was broadcast on TV One between 7.408.40pm on 6 January 2002. A contestant, Pam Corkery, said among her later final comments that she was "pissed off" at her inability to answer one specific question.

[2] Gordon Hayes complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that to include such language in a programme rated G was "absolutely disgusting".

[3] In response, TVNZ described the phrase as a "mild vulgarism" which was not sufficiently offensive to breach current community standards, and that children who were still awake after 8.30pm would be familiar with the slang term. It declined to uphold the complaint.

[4] Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, Mr Hayes referred it to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

For the reasons below, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Decision

[5] The members of the Authority have viewed the part of the programme containing the term complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

The Programme

[6] The Weakest Link is a game show where the contestants are ridiculed and where one is eliminated after each round. A celebrity episode was broadcast on TV One between 7.408.40pm on 6 January 2002. Well-known radio personality and former MP Pam Corkery lost in the final round. Her later broadcast comments included the phrase that she was "pissed off" at her inability to answer one specific question.

The Complaint

[7] Gordon Hayes complained to TVNZ that such offensive language was "absolutely disgusting" in a programme rated "G".

The Standards

[8] TVNZ assessed the complaint under the following standards and guidelines. They read:

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.

Standard 9 Children’s Interests

During children’s normally accepted viewing times, broadcasters are required, in the preparation and presentation of programmes, to consider the interests of child viewers.

Guideline

9a  Broadcasters should be mindful of the effect any programme or promo may have on children during their normally accepted viewing times – usually up to 8.30pm – and avoid screening material which would disturb or alarm them.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Complaint

[9] TVNZ noted that the phrase complained about had been used by a personality, well-known for her "earthy" language to express her frustration at not being able to answer what she considered an easy question. TVNZ described the phrase as a "mild vulgarism" which was now close to becoming part of the New Zealand vernacular. It did not consider the phrase sufficiently offensive to breach current community standards of taste and decency.

[10] In regard to Standard 9, TVNZ noted that the phrase was not used until after 8.30pm when young children would be in bed. It maintained that school-age children would be familiar with the term as it amounted to kiwi slang.

[11] TVNZ apologised to Mr Hayes for any offence caused but argued that, in view of the adult-only appeal of the programme which followed The Weakest Link, it was unlikely that it was heard by unaccompanied children.

The Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority

[12] Mr Hayes contested TVNZ’s suggestion that, because the phrase was used by Ms Corkery, viewers would not have been offended. He repeated the point that the programme was rated "G", and questioned whether TVNZ was correct in describing the phrase as only a "mild vulgarism".

[13] Mr Hayes did not agree that it was acceptable for school children aged 5 to hear "crude language". He argued that a "G" rated programme should be safe for children "until the absolute end".

[14] Mr Hayes stated that broadcasters should set a "decent example", and not broadcast crude language.

The Complainant’s Final Comment

[15] In his final comment, Mr Hayes repeated his complaint that the phrase was "too crude" to be broadcast in "G" rated programme. He again expressed concern about what he described as society’s deteriorating standards.

The Authority’s Determination

[16] When it determines a complaint about whether a broadcast contravenes Standard 1 of the Television Code, the Authority is required to determine whether the material complained about breaches currently accepted standards of good taste and decency, taking into account the context of the broadcast. The context is relevant, but not decisive, to the Authority’s determination of whether the programme beaches Standard 1. Accordingly, the Authority has considered the context in which the phrase "pissed off", was used by a contestant on The Weakest Link.

[17] The Authority considers the most relevant contextual matter to be the manner in which the phrase was used. It was not used aggressively. Rather, the contestant used the phrase in frustration at her inability at the time to answer a question to which she knew the answer. The Authority considers another relevant matter is that the term is, as TVNZ stated, a relatively mild vulgarism.

[18] Having considered the contextual matters noted, the Authority concludes that the phrase Mr Hayes complained about did not breach Standard 1.

[19] In regard to Guideline 9a of Standard 9, the Authority agrees with TVNZ that, at the time the phrase was used, any younger children would have been watching with their parents who would have been able to respond to any concern. Further, older children would not be unfamiliar with the phrase. Accordingly, given the time at which the phrase was used, the Authority considers that TVNZ was not unmindful of children, and it declines to uphold that aspect of the complaint.

[20] The Authority observes that to find a breach of broadcasting standards on this occasion would be to interpret the Broadcasting Act 1989 in such a way as to limit freedom of expression in a manner which is not reasonable or demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society (s.5 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990). As required by s.6 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, the Authority adopts an interpretation of the relevant standards which it considers is consistent with and gives full weight to the provisions of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Judy McGregor
Member
18 April 2002

Appendix

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

  1. Gordon Hayes’ Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd (through the Broadcasting Standards Authority) – 7 January 2002
  2. TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 31 January 2002
  3. Mr Hayes’ Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 17 February 2002
  4. TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 22 February 2002
  5. Mr Hayes’ Final Comment – 5 March 2002