BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Henderson and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2002-022

Members
  • P Cartwright (Chair)
  • B Hayward
  • R Bryant
  • J H McGregor
Dated
Complainant
  • R L Henderson
Number
2002-022
Channel/Station
TV One

Complaint
Breakfast – replay of item from children’s programme What Now? – parody of political parties – "The Farty Party" – excessive use of fart jokes – breach of good taste and decency – not mindful of effect of broadcast on children

Findings
Standard G2 – contextual matters – no uphold

Standard G12 – Breakfast not children's normally accepted viewing time – no uphold

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

[1] During the Breakfast programme broadcast on TV One on 11 November 2001, an item was replayed from the children’s show What Now? Using a parody of Breakfast presenter Mike Hosking, two of the What Now? presenters acted out the role of political party leaders in a sketch designed to give young children an idea of what was involved in electioneering. One of the make-believe political parties was called "The Farty Party" and the item included jokes about farting.

[2] R L Henderson complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the item was "disgusting and offensive", with farts being referred to excessively.

[3] Declining to uphold the complaint, TVNZ said it was the policy of What Now? to encourage children to be relaxed about normal bodily functions, and that this approach was endorsed by child development consultants to the programme.

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

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

Decision

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

The Programme

[6] During the Breakfast programme broadcast on TV One on 11 November 2001, an item was replayed from the children’s show What Now? Using a parody of Breakfast presenter Mike Hosking, two of the What Now? presenters acted out the role of political party leaders in a sketch designed to give young children an idea of what was involved in electioneering.

[7] One of the make-believe political parties was called "The Farty Party" and the item included jokes about farting.

The Complaint

[8] R L Henderson complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the item was "disgusting and offensive", with farts being referred to excessively.

[9] He said:

I am 70 years of age and had my backside kicked for talking like that as a kid, yet What Now? personnel seem immune and are allowed to get away with it.

The Standard

[10] TVNZ considered Mr Henderson’s complaint against Standard G12 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice which reads:

G12  Broadcasters are required to be mindful of the effect any programme may have on children during their normally accepted viewing times.

TVNZ’s Response to the Complaint

[11] TVNZ responded to Mr Henderson that What Now? was a children’s programme which had been broadcast for 20 years. The presenters frequently acted out scenarios which, while entertaining and amusing children, introduced them to concepts and ideas they would encounter as they grew up, the broadcaster said.

[12] TVNZ noted that What Now? frequently used fart jokes and fart sound effects because research done among five to twelve-year-olds (not to speak of the experience of those who have children in that age group) suggests that most find these jokes to be hilariously funny. They grow out of them, certainly – but at an early stage in their development they are a cause for great joy and laughter.

[13] TVNZ continued:

What Now? regularly undertakes research into its audience’s likes and dislikes and also consults childhood development experts. As a result it has a policy of encouraging children to be relaxed about normal bodily functions, rather than feeling embarrassed or being afraid to mention them. In this context it treats "farting" as natural and also shows skits on "snot, poos, wees, sweat, flaking skin, spit, bad breath" and many others. … The approach is endorsed by the child development consultants referred to above.

[14] Declining to uphold the complaint as a breach of standard G12, TVNZ said the sequence had been prepared especially with children in mind and in accordance with a programme policy carefully developed with professional assistance and based on the results of regular research. It said if the sequence offended anybody it seemed more likely it would be "those adults viewers who perhaps no longer remember the youthful pleasures that come with finding out through natural curiosity how their bodies work and sometimes misbehave!"

The Complainant’s Response to TVNZ

[15] Mr Henderson responded to TVNZ that including the item in an adult’s early morning programme was an "insult to the average adult’s intelligence" and he asked whether viewers were expected to believe that this was "good television". He said:

If that is "good" in What Now? then let it stay there in What Now? but leave Breakfast out. I do not need to listen to things about "farts" and "spit" and "wees" and "snot" and "sweat" and "flaking skin" and "spit" and "bad breath".

[16] Mr Henderson agreed that when he was a child "any naughty word was treated with great hilarity, when spoken in stealth, and provided an adult did not hear". As to TVNZ’s response about teaching children how their bodies worked, the complainant said it was "no excuse for gutter talk on television". In relation to "experts" having advised What Now?, Mr Henderson said:

The proof that their ideas are failing is seen in the way kids are acting (foul language in the streets, shops, disrespect generally on the footpaths to us elderly, etc.)

Mr Henderson’s Referral to the Authority

[17] In his referral, Mr Henderson said he was "horrified to read [from TVNZ’s response] that the matter is actually worse than it originally appeared with gutter language used regularly on What Now? (a children’s programme???)". He concluded:

Maybe I should just switch the television receiver off and go back to playing with my Lego set. After all, I am 71 years old.

TVNZ’s Response to the Authority

[18] In its response to the Authority, TVNZ suggested that Mr Henderson’s objection to the "fart" jokes seemed to "represent a generational difference and that nowadays bodily functions are much more openly discussed with young children".

The Complainant’s Final Comment

[19] In his final comment, Mr Henderson suggested that if teaching about bodily functions had to be done at all, it could be done "a bit more seriously without it sounding like it came from a sewer".

The Authority’s Determination

[20] The Authority's task in determining a complaint is to decide whether the programme which is the subject of the complaint breaches broadcasting standards. Therefore, in considering Mr Henderson's complaint, the Authority's determination is limited to deciding whether the extract from What Now?, as it was broadcast on the programme Breakfast, breaches broadcasting standards.

[21] The Authority notes that TVNZ considered Mr Henderson's complaint under standard G12. That standard requires broadcasters to be mindful of the effect any programme may have on children during their normally accepted viewing times. As noted, the Authority must consider whether the item breached the standard in the context of the programme in which it was broadcast. The Authority does not consider the programme was inappropriate for children and declines to uphold the complaint as a breach of standard G12.

[22] The Authority considers, however, that the original complaint could have been addressed in terms of standard G2 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. That standard requires broadcasters, in programmes and their presentation:

G2  To take into consideration currently accepted norms of decency and taste in language and behaviour, bearing in mind the context in which any language or behaviour occurs.

[23] When the Authority considers whether a broadcast breaches good taste and decency, it takes into account the context in which the item complained about occurred. The context is relevant, but not decisive, to its determination of whether the broadcast breached the standard.

[24] In this case, the relevant contextual factors include the time of the broadcast between 7.30am and 8.00am, the adult target audience of Breakfast, and the Authority's view that the wider community would not find jokes about farts particularly offensive. Accordingly, it declines to uphold that the broadcast breached standards of good taste and decency.

[25] In reaching this decision, the Authority observes that to find a breach of good taste and decency would be to interpret the Broadcasting Act 1989 in such a way as to place too great a limit on the broadcaster’s statutory freedom of expression in s.14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Cartwright
Chair
7 March 2002

Appendix

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

  1. R L Henderson’s Formal Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – received by TVNZ
    20 November 2001
  2. TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 6 December 2001
  3. Mr Henderson’s Response to TVNZ – 8 December 2001
  4. Mr Henderson’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 9 December 2001
  5. TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 21 December 2001
  6. Mr Henderson’s Final Comment – 10 January 2002