BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Hooker and TV3 Network Services Ltd - 2001-228

Members
  • P Cartwright (Chair)
  • B Hayward
  • R Bryant
  • J H McGregor
Dated
Complainant
  • Michael Hooker
Number
2001-228
Programme
3 News
Channel/Station
TV3

Complaint
3 News – film review segment – review of "Crooked Earth" – excerpt included expression "kiss my arse" – offensive and unsuitable for children

Findings
Standard G2 – acceptable in context – no uphold

Standard G12 – not unsuitable for children – no uphold

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

[1] The New Zealand film "Crooked Earth" was one of the films considered in the film review segment of 3 News broadcast on 25 August 2001. The review included a brief excerpt from the film in which one of the characters said "kiss my arse".

[2] Michael Hooker complained to TV3 Network Services Ltd, the broadcaster, that such offensive language was unacceptable at that hour and unsuitable for children.

[3] In response, TV3 maintained that it was not unacceptable in the context of a film review, and declined to uphold the complaint.

[4] Dissatisfied with TV3's decision, 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 item complained about and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

The Programme

[6] 3 News is broadcast daily by TV3 between 6.00-7.00pm. A film review segment during 3 News broadcast on 25 August 2001 contained comment about the New Zealand film "Crooked Earth", and included some excerpts from the film. In one excerpt one of the characters says to another "kiss my arse".

The Complaint

[7] Michael Hooker complained to TV3 Network Services Ltd, the broadcaster, that the word "arse" breached the standard relating to good taste and decency, and was unsuitable for children. He cited some research carried out by the Broadcasting Standards Authority, where, in the scenario presented during the research, nearly 50% of the respondents considered the word "arsehole" unacceptable.

The Standards

[8] TV3 assessed the complaint under the two standards nominated by the complainant. Standards G2 and G12 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice require broadcasters in the preparation and presentation of programmes:

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.

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

The Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[9] TV3 explained that the word "arse" had been used by a character in a movie being reviewed as part of a news item. Looking at the type of scenarios used in the research and the type of language found unacceptable in those situations, TV3 argued that the scenario depicted in the research had little relevance to the use of language in the news. As the word "arse" was used during a film review broadcast segment on the news, TV3 opined that it did not breach either of the nominated standards.

The Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority

[10] When he referred his complaint to the Authority, Mr Hooker asked that it also be considered under standard G8. It requires broadcasters:

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

[11] Mr Hooker disagreed with TV3’s contention that it was necessary to distinguish the scenarios used in the research from the broadcast of the news. He again referred to the Authority’s research which recorded that language considered offensive was accorded a higher rate of disapproval when broadcast before 8.30pm. He concluded:

How much more unacceptable must contentious material be when screened in G time as opposed to AO time?

The Broadcaster's Response to the Authority

[12] TV3 observed that it was unacceptable for a complainant to broaden the basis of a complaint when it was referred to the Authority. The broadcaster, it wrote, was the organisation to which complainants were required to address their concerns.

The Complainant's Final Comment

[13] Mr Hooker contended that the Authority was required to consider his complaint under standard G8 as it amounted to a relevant submission to which the Authority had to have regard to under s.10(1)(b) of the Broadcasting Act.

[14] Referring to Decision No: 2001-110 where a majority of the Authority decided that the use of the expression "arse-end" during a children’s programme at 5.30pm only "narrowly" avoided breaching standard G2, Mr Hooker considered that "arse" was closer than "arse-end" to the word "arsehole" which had featured in the Authority’s research.

[15] Mr Hooker also referred to some other decisions where such words as "piss" and "bastard" were complained about and, in addition, considered the impact of the freedom of expression provision in the NZ Bill of Rights Act 1990. He also noted a comment from the Authority’s research where it was said in summarising community attitudes:

Perhaps even more than the portrayal of violence, the preponderance of bad language on radio and television was a matter where the so-called lowering of standards was most acutely felt.

[16] Mr Hooker observed in response:

With rulings by the majority of the Authority that allow the use of the phrase "arse-end" in a G timeband I regard this sentiment as unsurprising. This is a timeband when parents and caregivers should be able to trust the integrity of broadcasters and not have to supervise what their children watch.

The Authority's Determination

[17] When he referred his complaint to the Authority Mr Hooker asked the Authority to assess his complaint under standard G8, a standard not previously considered by the broadcaster.

[18] The Authority points out that its task is to investigate and review the broadcaster’s decision. Its task is not to consider the complaint anew. Nevertheless, it may consider a complaint under standards not already taken into account by the broadcaster provided it is apparent that they were concerns held by the complainant at the time of the original letter of complaint.

[19] On this occasion, Mr Hooker nominated explicitly the standards under which he wanted TV3 to assess his complaint. The additional standards raised in the letter of referral raise new issues which the Authority does not accept were part of the original complaint.

[20] In determining a complaint which alleges a breach of standard G2 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, the Authority is required to take "context" into account. The context is relevant, but not decisive, to the Authority’s determination of whether the programme breached standards of good taste and decency.

[21] Mr Hooker argued that the use of the word "arse" was in breach of standards G2 and G12.

[22] The contextual matters which the Authority considers relevant are that the item was brief, that it involved a film review, and that the language complained about was used in a non aggressive way. Moreover, it was a segment within the news. Taking these contextual issues into account the Authority does not consider the language came near to breaching standard G2. The Authority considers that the same contextual issues are relevant to its decision in regard to standard G12.

[23] Mr Hooker has referred to the Authority’s research in his complaint. The Authority agrees with TV3 that the scenarios depicted in the research had little relevance to the use of the language in the news.

[24] Finally, the Authority observes that to find a breach of the standards 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 NZ Bill of Rights Act 1990. It prefers to adopt an interpretation of the standards which is consistent with the Bill of Rights.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Cartwright
Chair
17 December 2001

Appendix

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

1. Michael Hooker's Complaint to TV3 Network Services Ltd – 25 August 2001
2. TV3's Response to the Complaint – 18 September 2001
3. Mr Hooker's Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 25 September 2001
4. TV3's Response to the Authority – 11 October 2001
5. Mr Hooker’s Final Comment – 22 October 2001