Johnson and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2018-003 (28 March 2018)
- Peter Radich (Chair)
- Paula Rose
- Wendy Palmer
- Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
- Neil Johnson
BroadcasterRadio New Zealand Ltd
Channel/StationRadio New Zealand National
[This summary does not form part of the decision.]
An item on Morning Report featured an interview between presenter Kim Hill and a seismologist from GNS Science, following a 4.3-magnitude earthquake the previous night. At the beginning of the interview, during a discussion of the seismologist’s initial reaction to the earthquake, Ms Hill said, ‘WTF’. The Authority did not uphold a complaint that the use of the term ‘WTF’ in this broadcast was unacceptable and a breach of the good taste and decency standard. The Authority found that, taking into account relevant contextual factors, including the nature of the programme, audience expectations of RNZ and Kim Hill, and the fact that the offensive word implied was not explicitly stated in the broadcast, the use of ‘WTF’ did not threaten community norms of taste and decency, or justify restricting the right to freedom of expression.
Not Upheld: Good Taste and Decency
 An item on Morning Report at 7.55am featured an interview between presenter Kim Hill and a seismologist from GNS Science, following a 4.3-magnitude earthquake the previous night. At the beginning of the interview the following exchange occurred:
Hill: Did you wake up?
Interviewee: …I did wake up and thought, ‘oh right, we are probably having a moderate sized earthquake here’.
Hill: Is that what you think to yourself, is it? ‘Seismologist thought, “Oh right, we’re having a moderate sized earthquake here”.’ As opposed to, ‘WTF’, out the door.
 Neil Johnson complained that the use of the term ‘WTF’ at this time of day, in this situation, was unacceptable.
 The issue raised in Mr Johnson’s complaint is whether the broadcast breached the good taste and decency standard of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.
 The item was broadcast on 13 November 2017 on RNZ National. The members of the Authority have listened to a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.
Did the broadcast threaten current norms of good taste and decency?
 The purpose of the good taste and decency standard (Standard 1) is to protect audience members from viewing or listening to broadcasts that are likely to cause widespread undue offence or distress, or undermine widely shared community standards. Current norms of good taste and decency should be maintained, consistent with the context of the programme and the wider context of the broadcast.
The parties’ submissions
 Mr Johnson submitted that the use of ‘WTF’ was not acceptable considering the timing of the broadcast and the situation.
 RNZ submitted:
- The use of ‘WTF’ was part of Ms Hill’s light-hearted introduction to the segment, canvassing the interviewee’s reaction to the earthquake.
- While the use of the acronym ‘WTF’ refers to a ‘swear word’, Ms Hill did not actually swear on air.
- The use of ‘WTF’ in this broadcast did not reach the threshold for finding a breach of the good taste and decency standard.
 When we determine a complaint alleging a breach of broadcasting standards, we first give consideration to the right to freedom of expression. We weigh the value of the broadcast, as well as the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression, against the level of actual or potential harm that might be caused by the broadcast.
 In considering the level of actual or potential harm that might be caused, and the good taste and decency standard as a whole, context is highly relevant. Relevant contextual factors in this case include:
- Morning Report’s adult target audience
- the time of broadcast at 7.55am
- the level of public interest in the item, which discussed the earthquake that had struck the North Island the night before the broadcast
- audience expectations of both RNZ and Kim Hill as a presenter, including that they will, at times, broadcast challenging and irreverent content.
 We acknowledge that ‘WTF’ is a shortened version of a phrase that contains an offensive word. However, the offensive word was only implied and was not explicitly stated in this broadcast. The expression was used for dramatic effect in the context of an interview about a recent earthquake event, and was not used with any malice or ill-intent. Like some other language acronyms of this kind, the expression ‘WTF’ has over time entered common usage.
 Taking into account the context of the broadcast, including the expectations of Ms Hill as a presenter, the programme’s adult target audience, and the fact that the offensive word in question was not explicitly stated, we do not consider the use of the term in the broadcast went beyond audience expectations, or that it elevated the item to a level which threatened community norms of good taste and decency.
 Accordingly, we find the broadcast did not reach the threshold necessary to find a breach of the standard, or to justify limiting the right to freedom of expression.
 We therefore do not uphold the complaint.
For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
28 March 2018
The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1 Neil Johnson’s formal complaint – 15 November 2017
2 RNZ’s response to the complaint – 18 December 2017
3 Mr Johnson’s referral to the Authority – 1 January 2018
4 RNZ’s confirmation of no further comment – 13 February 2018