Keam and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2017-090 (15 December 2017)
- Peter Radich (Chair)
- Paula Rose
- Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
- Trevor Keam
Programme1 News Vote 17 Leaders Debate
BroadcasterTelevision New Zealand Ltd
[This summary does not form part of the decision.]
During the 1 News Vote 17 Leaders Debate, moderator Mike Hosking questioned Bill English about a damaged fuel pipeline in Auckland that caused disruption to flight services, using the phrase ‘for God’s sake’. The Authority did not uphold a complaint that Mr Hosking’s use of this phrase was blasphemous and offensive. The Authority has consistently found that variations of ‘God’, ‘Christ’ and ‘Jesus Christ’ are commonly used as exclamations and in this case, Mr Hosking used the phrase to express his own, and voters’, frustration at the Government’s management of the fuel crisis. In these circumstances, the Authority found that the alleged harm did not outweigh the important right to freedom of expression, particularly in the lead up to a general election.
Not Upheld: Good Taste and Decency
 During the 1 News Vote 17 Leaders Debate, moderator Mike Hosking questioned Bill English about a damaged fuel pipeline in Auckland that caused disruption to flight services. Mr Hosking said:
…you can’t upsell this. This is a disaster. This is a pipe with a hole in it for God’s sake, in 2017, and if it’s not your fault it’s at least in part your responsibility because it goes back to reputation. And we look like a huckleberry little nation that can’t pump fuel to an airport for God’s sake.
 Trevor Keam complained that he found Mr Hosking’s use of the phrase ‘for God’s sake’ blasphemous and offensive. He said that Mr Hosking would not use the name of ‘other deities’ in the same way.
 The issue raised in Mr Keam’s complaint is whether the broadcast breached the good taste and decency standard of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.
 The Leaders Debate was broadcast at 7pm on 20 September 2017 on TVNZ 1. The members of the Authority have viewed 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 broadcasts that are likely to cause widespread undue offence or distress, or undermine widely shared community standards. Broadcasters should take effective steps to inform audiences of the nature of the programme, and enable viewers to regulate their own and children’s viewing behaviour.1
The parties’ submissions
 Mr Keam submitted that he was deeply offended by Mr Hosking ‘using God’s name in an expletive manner’. He considered that Mr Hosking would ‘never use the name of other deities in this way such as Allah, Buddha or a Hindu God’.
 TVNZ submitted:
- The 1 News Vote 17 Leaders Debate was aimed at an adult audience and there was an expectation that parents would exercise discretion around viewing news and current affairs programmes with their children (as news programmes may contain material unsuitable for them).2
- This type of language was acceptable in the context of the debate and was used as an expression of frustration over the fuel pipe leak. It was not intended to offend and this type of coarse language did not dominate the programme.
- It pointed to previous decisions by the Authority in which complaints about the use of words such as ‘Christ’, ‘Jesus’ and ‘God’, were not upheld when used as an ‘exclamation expressing irritation, dismay or surprise’.3
- It also pointed to a previous decision by the Authority regarding the Vote 2014 Leaders Debate, during which Mr Hosking said ‘jeez’, ‘gee’ and ‘Jesus’. The Authority stated in that case:4
While we acknowledge the use of ‘Jesus’ and ‘Jesus Christ’ would be considered by some people to be blasphemous, this Authority has consistently recognised that variants of the word ‘Jesus’ used as an exclamation for the purpose of expressing irritation, dismay or surprise, do not amount to coarse language and in our modern secular society have come to be widely used as part of everyday colloquial speech. Whether or not Mr Hosking used the term ‘jeez’ or ‘Jesus’ to express ‘shock’ or ‘distaste’ as alleged does not impact on our finding, because the use of either did not threaten broadcasting standards, particularly in the context of an important political broadcast which carried very high public interest.
 When we determine a complaint alleging a breach of broadcasting standards, we first give consideration to the right to freedom of expression, and, in this particular case, the importance of political speech. We weigh the value of the broadcast item, 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.
 We consider that the Authority’s reasoning in the Bloem case regarding the Vote 2014 debate (cited in TVNZ’s submissions above), applies here. While some people may find the use of variations of ‘God’, ‘Christ’ and ‘Jesus Christ’ unnecessary and offensive, expressions of this nature are commonly used as exclamations, without any intention to be offensive.5 We have recognised that, in many cases, use of these expressions will not breach broadcasting standards, though context is critical in each case.6
 In this case, during the 1 News Vote 17 Leaders Debate, Mr Hosking used the phrase ‘for God’s sake’ to express his own, and voters’, frustration at the way the Government was managing the fuel crisis. In these circumstances, we do not consider the language used by Mr Hosking reached the threshold necessary for finding a breach of standards, or to justify limiting the right to freedom of expression.
 Accordingly, we do not uphold the complaint.
For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
15 December 2017
The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1 Trevor Keam’s formal complaint – 22 September 2017
2 Mr Keam’s clarification of his complaint – 25 September 2017
3 TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 24 October 2017
4 Mr Keam’s referral to the Authority – 27 October 2017
5 TVNZ’s confirmation of no further comment – 17 November 2017
1 Guideline 1b to Standard 1 – Good Taste and Decency
2 Citing Bracey and Ee and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2013-084 at . TVNZ also pointed to the Authority’s decisions Barker and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2000-033, Baldwin and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2006-125, and Roberts and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2007-115.
5 For example, Campbell and Radio New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2016-069, at