BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Hooker and TV3 Network Services Ltd - 2002-035

Members
  • P Cartwright (Chair)
  • B Hayward
  • R Bryant
  • J H McGregor
Dated
Complainant
  • Michael Hooker
Number
2002-035
Programme
Titus
Channel/Station
TV3

Complaint
Titus – "whore" – "ho" – offensive language – incorrect classification – broadcaster not mindful of the programme’s effect on children

Findings
Standard G2 – context – no uphold

Standard G8 – PGR rating correct – no uphold

Standard G12 – correct classification and time of broadcast – no uphold

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

[1] An episode of Titus was broadcast on TV3 at 8.00pm on 22 October 2001. Titus is an American situation comedy series.

[2] Michael Hooker complained to TV3 Network Services Ltd, the broadcaster, that the use of the word "whore" in the programme breached standards relating to good taste and decency. He also considered that the broadcast had been incorrectly classified and that TV3 had not been mindful of the programme’s effect on children.

[3] TV3 declined to uphold the complaint. It did not consider that the programme breached any of the standards to which Mr Hooker referred in his 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 given, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Decision

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

The Programme

[6] An episode of Titus was broadcast on TV3 at 8.00pm on 22 October 2001. Titus is an American situation comedy series.

The Complaint

[7] Michael Hooker complained that the use of the word "whore" in the programme breached broadcasting standards relating to good taste and decency. He also considered that the broadcast had been incorrectly classified and that TV3 had not been mindful of the programme’s effect on children. Mr Hooker referred to the Authority’s research, which he interpreted as being supportive of his complaint.

The Standards

[8] Mr Hooker asked that his complaint be assessed under standards G2, G8 and G12 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. Those standards 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 classification.

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

TV3’s Response to the Complaint

[9] TV3 did not uphold Mr Hooker’s complaint. It explained that, in the episode:

Christopher and his girlfriend break up. They both sleep with other people (although this is not shown in the programme), and then get back together again. The bulk of the episode deals with the couple’s argument about the break-up/infidelity.

[10] TV3 then considered whether standard G2 had been breached. In its view, the words "ho" and "whore" were appropriate to screen in a PGR rated comedy programme because:

The words are used for comedic effect and do not seem inappropriate in context.

[11] As to standard G8, TV3 did not consider that the use of the word "whore", particularly in a comedic, non-aggressive manner, would mean the programme should attract an AO rating.

[12] TV3 then explained, in relation to standard G12, that it had been mindful of the child viewer, as Titus was rated PGR and correctly screened in a PGR time band.

[13] Finally, TV3 said it disagreed with the "extrapolation of survey data" that appeared to be the basis of Mr Hooker’s complaint.

Mr Hooker’s Referral to the Authority

[14] In his referral to the Authority, Mr Hooker again referred to Authority research and decisions to reinforce his view that the word "whore" was offensive and breached standard G2.

[15] Mr Hooker then referred to Decision No: 1996-135 in relation to his complaint that the programme breached standard G8. In that decision, the Authority upheld a complaint as a breach of standard G8 in relation to a programme Mr Hooker considered to be similar to Titus.

[16] Mr Hooker also said he considered standard G12 had been breached because the broadcaster should have expected that children would be part of the viewing audience at the time the programme was broadcast.

TV3’s Response to the Authority

[17] TV3 did not accept Mr Hooker’s use of the Authority’s research and previous decisions. It submitted:

… the correlations drawn between unrelated words and "extrapolations" of the research, which lead to unfounded conclusions.

In this instance, [TV3] would also like to add that "whore" and "ho" are everyday words that are acceptable to the community at large. 180,000 people (from the AC Nielson ratings) watched TITUS that night and TV3 received only one complaint about the programme (either informally or formally). That complaint was from Mr Hooker.

Mr Hooker’s Final Comment

[18] In Mr Hooker’s final comment, he disagreed with TV3’s contention that "ho" and "whore" were everyday words, and said that it was irrelevant that his was the only complaint about the programme.

The Authority’s Determination

[19] When it determines a complaint about whether a broadcast 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 of the broadcast. The context is relevant, but not decisive, to the Authority’s determination. The Authority considers that relevant contextual matters on this occasion include the programme’s PGR rating and its broadcast during the PGR time band time of broadcast (8.00pm).

[20] The Authority also takes into account the context in which the words were used in the broadcast. The episode explored (in a modern comedic context) questions about morality and whether a relationship can survive infidelity. During the programme, the main character (Titus) and his girlfriend (Erin) discovered that, during a break in their relationship, each had slept with a different partner. The words "ho" and "whore" were used for comedic effect by both Erin and Titus during the resultant argument. Having considered the contextual matters referred to above, the Authority concludes that standard G2 was not breached by the broadcast of these terms during a PGR rated programme.

[21] Standard G8 requires broadcasters to abide by the classification codes and their appropriate time bands. In this case, the Authority considers that the programme was correctly classified as PGR material and was screened at an appropriate time. Accordingly, it does not uphold this aspect of the complaint.

[22] In relation to standard G12, the Authority considers that, by correctly applying a PGR certificate to the programme and screening it within the PGR time band, TV3 demonstrated that it was mindful of the effect of the broadcast on children.

[23] 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.

[24] In passing, the Authority also observes that TV3’s comment that Mr Hooker’s was the only complaint about the programme, was not taken into account in the Authority’s deliberations. The Authority’s jurisdiction is invoked upon the making of a single complaint, and the number of complaints received about a broadcast is irrelevant to its consideration of whether standards have been breached.

 

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 TV3 Network Services Ltd – 3 November 2001
  2. TV3’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 4 December 2001
  3. Mr Hooker’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 21 December 2001
  4. TV3’s Response to the Authority – 14 January 2002
  5. Mr Hooker’s Final Comment – 28 January 2002