BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Hooker and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2002-037

Members
  • P Cartwright (Chair)
  • B Hayward
  • R Bryant
  • J H McGregor
Dated
Complainant
  • Michael Hooker
Number
2002-037
Programme
60 Minutes promo
Channel/Station
TV One

Complaint
60 Minutes – promo – clip of Norm Hewitt – use of word "shit" – offensive language – breach of good taste and decency – breach of classification codes and time bands – not mindful of the effect on children – explicit material unacceptable in a promo

Findings
Standard G2 – quietly used vernacular figure of speech – context – no uphold

Standard G8 – appropriate classification – no uphold

Standard G12 – important social message for younger viewers – no uphold

Standard G24 – no violence or other explicit material – not relevant

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

[1] A promo for the current affairs programme 60 Minutes contained a 30-second clip of professional rugby player, Norm Hewitt. It was broadcast on 20 October 2001 at 6.35pm during One News. In the promo, Mr Hewitt said: "I don’t really give a shit if I live or die."

[2] Michael Hooker complained to Television New Zealand Limited, the broadcaster, that he considered the word "shit" in the promo offensive and that its use breached a number of broadcasting standards.

[3] TVNZ did not uphold the complaint. It considered that the complaint did not breach the broadcasting standards nominated by the complainant.

[4] Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response, Mr Hooker referred his complaint 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 a tape of the promo complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines this complaint without a formal hearing.

The Programme

[6] A 30-second promo, broadcast on 20 October 2001 at approximately 6.35pm during One News, was a segment of an interview with professional rugby player, Norm Hewitt. It promoted a 60 Minutes current affairs programme. In the promo, Mr Hewitt said: "I thought to myself, I don’t really give a shit if I live or die."

The Complaint

[7] Mr Hooker complained to TVNZ that the promo breached standards G2, G8, G12, and G24 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. He said that he regarded the use of the word "shit" in a promo as offensive for the time band in which it was broadcast.

[8] In his complaint, Mr Hooker referred the broadcaster to a number of Authority decisions relating to promos and to Authority research on words considered offensive by the public.

The Standards

[9] Mr Hooker asked that his complaint be assessed under standards G2, G8, G12 and G24 of the Television Code. Standards G2, G8 and G12 require broadcasters:

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.

G8  To abide by the classification codes and their appropriate time bands as outlined in the agreed criteria for programme classifications.

G12  To be mindful of the effect any programme may have on children during their normally accepted viewing times.

[10] Standard G24 reads:

G24  Broadcasters must be mindful that scenes containing incidents of violence or other explicit material may be acceptable when seen in the total context of a programme, but when extracted for promotion purposes such incidents will be seen out of context and may thereby be unacceptable, not only in terms of the codes but also for the time band during which the trailer is placed.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[11] TVNZ did not uphold the complaint. In its response to the complainant, the broadcaster noted that the word "shit" was not used in an explosive or aggressive manner, but in "…a quietly spoken moment of apparent introspection".

[12] The broadcaster considered that it was difficult to conclude that a widely-used phrase would cause significant offence to viewers. The broadcaster’s view was that, in the context of a person using a quietly-used figure of speech to describe his own despair, the word "shit" did not stray beyond currently accepted norms of decency and taste.

[13] The broadcaster wrote that standard G8 was not breached because, while the promo was screened during G time, it was during a news programme which, according to the broadcaster, might carry material that is more adult in nature. The broadcaster wrote:

G time it may have been, but it was not the G time aimed at pre-schoolers and young primary school children. Children viewing the promo would most likely see it in the company of parents (news programmes not being the first choice of young children free to choose for themselves what to watch). The [complaints] committee believed that it stretched credibility to believe that any child who had spent much time in school would not already be familiar with language of this sort.

[14] The broadcaster maintained that standard G12 had not been breached because the programme in which the promo had been screened was not specifically aimed at the very young, the phrase was delivered without hostility, anger or aggression, and it considered that the word "shit" would be familiar to children likely to be watching.

[15] The broadcaster also argued that standard G24 had not been breached because the promo accurately reflected the content of the item being promoted. Furthermore, TVNZ considered that the word "shit" could hardly be described as violent or otherwise explicit.

The Referral to the Authority

[16] In his referral to the Authority, Mr Hooker disagreed with TVNZ’s assessment that the promo did not breach standard G2. He referred to several previous decisions of the Authority and to the Authority’s research to support his position.

[17] Mr Hooker also reiterated his argument that standard G8 had been infringed. In his opinion, TVNZ’s contention rested on the fact that the promo had been broadcast during One News. He referred to Decision No: 1995-022. In that

decision, the Authority said that "the context of the programme during which the promo is screened will be given minimal weight". Mr Hooker also argued that it was irrelevant that the phrase might be familiar to young children. He said:

What is relevant is whether or not the phrase is within the currently accepted language norms of young children.

[18] The complainant disagreed with the broadcaster that standard G12 had not been breached because the promo had not been screened during a programme specifically aimed at the very young. To support his position, Mr Hooker referred again to Decision No: 1995-022. Mr Hooker also disagreed with what he considered to be the broadcaster’s assertion that G12 had not been breached because the word "shit" would not be unfamiliar to children watching and absorbing a news programme. The complainant wrote:

I don’t think any child watching and absorbing a news programme would be unfamiliar with the word ‘fuck’ either. By TVNZ’s reasoning the phrase "I don’t really give a fuck if I live or die" would also have not breached G12.

[19] Mr Hooker then reiterated his view that standard G24 had been breached, because he considered the word "shit" was too explicit for the time band it was in. Because it was contained in a promo, the phrase lacked any redeeming contextual integrity and breached the expectations of the young children watching, he wrote.

TVNZ’s Response to the Authority

[20] TVNZ said it had little to add in its response to the Authority except to emphasise the context and manner in which the phrase had been used. TVNZ said the words were not used in an explosive or aggressive manner designed to cause insult or offence. They were used "…reflectively by the speaker very much as natural figures of speech," it said.

The Complainant’s Final Comment

[21] In his final comment, Mr Hooker said:

While I accept that… the speaker did [not] intend to cause insult or offence, I believe TVNZ used the [excerpt] gratuitously for the purpose of achieving heightened impact.

The Authority’s Determination

[22] When it determines a complaint about whether an item contravenes standard G2, the Authority is required to determine whether the material complained about breached currently accepted standards of good taste and decency, taking into account the context within which the item was broadcast. The context is relevant, but not decisive, to the Authority’s determination.

[23] In this case, the Authority considers the relevant contextual factors include the way in which the word was used, the manner in which it was delivered, and the nature of the programme within which the item (a promo) containing the word was used. Mr Hooker argued that that the context of the programme during which the promo screened should be given "minimal weight" by the Authority, citing Decision No. 1995-022. The Authority nevertheless considers the fact that the broadcast occurred during One News is a relevant contextual matter, and notes that the comment in Decision No. 1995-022 was made with reference to the Authority’s concern about promos for AO rated programmes in PGR time.

[24] Having viewed the programme, the Authority agrees with the broadcaster’s assessment that the inclusion in a promo of a quietly used vernacular figure of speech to describe the speaker’s despair did not breach currently accepted standards of good taste and decency. The Authority also considers the word was used reflectively and not aggressively. Furthermore, the Authority considers that the promo was for an item that contained an important message from a national sportsman about bullying – a serious social problem of particular concern to school age viewers. Having considered all the circumstances of the broadcast, the Authority concludes that the promo for 60 Minutes did not breach Standard G2.

[25] Standard G8 requires broadcasters to abide by the classification codes and their appropriate time bands. In this case, the Authority considers the promo was correctly classified G and was screened at an appropriate time. Accordingly it finds that Standard G8 was not breached.

[26] In relation to Standard G12, the Authority considers that the promotion of a programme with an important social message to younger viewers in a G time band demonstrated that the broadcaster was mindful of the effect of the broadcast on children. Accordingly, it finds that Standard G12 was not breached.

[27] Standard G24 concerns scenes containing incidents of violence or other explicit material. In this case, the promo did not contain any incidents of violence or other explicit material. On the contrary, it promoted a programme containing a strong anti-violence theme. Accordingly the Authority finds that Standard G24 was not relevant.

[28] The Authority observes that to find a breach of broadcasting standards would be to interpret the Broadcasting Act 1989 in such a way as to limit the broadcaster's statutory freedom of expression in s.14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 in a manner which is not demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society (s.5 of the Bill of Rights). As required by s.6 of the Bill of Rights, the Authority adopts an interpretation of the relevant standards which it considers is consistent with the Bill of Rights.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Cartwright
Chair
21 March 2002

Appendix

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

  1. Michael Hooker‘s Formal Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 14 November 2001
  2. TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 3 December 2001
  3. Michael Hooker‘s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 21 December 2001
  4. TVNZ‘s Response to the Authority – 16 January 2002
  5. Michael Hooker‘s Final Comment – 28 January 2002