BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Hoban and TVWorks Ltd - 2011-013

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
Dated
Complainant
  • Russell Hoban
Number
2011-013
Programme
3 News
Broadcaster
TVWorks Ltd
Channel/Station
TV3 # 3

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
3 News – interviewed Cyclone Yasi survivor – reporter stated “Jesus, what went through your mind?” – allegedly in breach of standards relating to good taste and decency, and discrimination and denigration

Findings
Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – “Jesus” used to convey exclamation of shock – contextual factors – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]   An item on 3 News, broadcast on TV3 at 6pm on Friday 4 February 2010, reported on Cyclone Yasi in Queensland. During the item, the reporter interviewed a survivor who explained that she had been sitting on the toilet when a big tree came through the wall, to which the reporter responded, “Jesus, what went through your mind?”

Complaint

[2]   Russell Hoban made a formal complaint to TVWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the host’s comment breached standards relating to good taste and decency, and discrimination and denigration. The complainant considered that the use of the word “Jesus” as an “expletive” during prime time television was offensive.

Standards

[3]   TVWorks assessed the complaint under Standards 1 and 7 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which provide:

Standard 1 Good Taste and Decency

Broadcasters should observe standards of good taste and decency.

Standard 7 Discrimination and Denigration

Broadcasters should not encourage discrimination against, or denigration of, any section of the community on account of sex, sexual orientation, race, age, disability, occupational status, or as a consequence of legitimate expression of religion, culture or political belief.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[4]   The broadcaster apologised for any offence caused to the complainant, but said that the reporter’s reference to “Jesus” was not intended to “provoke Christian viewers”. It referred to the Compact Oxford English Dictionary, which defined “Christ” as “expressing irritation, dismay, or surprise”, and maintained that the exclamation was employed instinctively in this instance, as the reporter expressed her shock at the interviewee’s frightening experience.

[5]   TVWorks said that the Authority’s research indicated a “polarised” view on the acceptability of the phrase “Jesus Christ” in this sort of context. While it was considered blasphemous language by some parts of the community, it said, in others it formed part of everyday colloquial speech.

[6]   The broadcaster concluded by stating that, given there was nothing in the report to suggest that the term “Jesus” was intended as an attack against Christian people, and in light of its common colloquial use as an exclamation, it did not consider that norms of good taste and decency had been breached. Accordingly, TVWorks declined to uphold the complaint under Standard 1.

[7]   Turning to Standard 7, the broadcaster stated that, when determining complaints about denigration, it had to consider whether the broadcast blackened the reputation of a class of people.1 For the reasons given above under its consideration of Standard 1, TVWorks did not consider that the reporter’s comment blackened the reputation of Christians, or that it amounted to hate speech or vitriol. It therefore declined to uphold the Standard 7 complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[8]   Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Mr Hoban referred his complaint under Standard 1 to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

[9]   The complainant considered that the fact that the term “Jesus” was used by a professional as part of a news item broadcast at 6pm made it even less acceptable. Further, he said that it was “disingenuous to argue the offensiveness of words by selective dictionary use”, and considered that the item could easily have been edited, for example by removing the word altogether.

Authority’s Determination

[10]   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.

[11]   When we consider a complaint that alleges a breach of good taste and decency, we take into account the context of the broadcast. On this occasion the relevant contextual factors include:

  • 3 News was an unclassified news programme
  • the programme had an adult target audience
  • the comment subject to complaint was broadcast during children’s normally accepted viewing times.

[12]   In our view, while the reporter’s use of the term “Jesus” in this context was somewhat unprofessional, it was not intended as blasphemy but was an instinctive reaction to express shock at the interviewee’s experience. The unobjectionable nature of the comment was further reinforced by the reporter’s tone of voice and her respectful demeanour towards the interviewee.

[13]   We note that the Authority has consistently found that the use of such language for the purpose of exclaiming light-hearted surprise or shock is not a breach of the good taste and decency standard.2 We see no reason to depart from that reasoning on this occasion.

[14]   For the above reasons, we decline to uphold the complaint that the item beached Standard 1.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
3 May 2011

Appendix

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

1                 Russell Hoban’s formal complaint – 4 February 2011

2                 TVWorks’ response to the complaint – 8 February 2011

3                 Mr Hoban’s referral to the Authority – 8 February 2011

4                 TVWorks’ response to the Authority – 21 March 2011


1New Zealand Catholic Bishops’ Conference and CanWest TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2005-112

2See, for example, Collier and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2010-123