BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Larsen and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2012-055

  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
  • Ross Larsen
One News
TV One

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
One News – item included footage of rugby player mouthing the words “fucking bullshit” – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency and children’s interests standards

Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – language inaudible which reduced its potential to offend – contextual factors – not upheld

Standard 9 (children’s interests) – language would have bypassed most children as they would have to have been actively watching to understand what was said – news not targeted at, nor likely to appeal to, children – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1]  An item on One News, broadcast at 6pm on TV One on 28 April 2012, reported on the fate of the Auckland Blues rugby team following their eighth successive loss. The item included footage of a Blues player, as the reporter commented by voiceover, “[player’s name]’s not the only Blues player shaking and cursing after yet another loss.” As he said this, another player was shown mouthing the words “fucking bullshit” as he shook his head in frustration during the game.

[2]  Ross Larsen made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the editing of the footage to show a player mouthing “foul language – so explicitly that any adult could tell what was being said” was “disgraceful”, especially when broadcast at a time when children would be watching.

[3]  The issue is whether the item breached Standards 1 (good taste and decency) and 9 (children’s interests) of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[4]  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 item threaten current norms of good taste and decency?

[5]  Standard 1 states that broadcasters should observe standards of good taste and decency. The standard is primarily concerned with the broadcast of sexual material, nudity, coarse language or violence.1 The Authority will also consider the standard in relation to any broadcast that portrays or discusses material in a way that is likely to cause offence or distress.2

[6]  When we consider an alleged breach of good taste and decency, we take into account the context of the broadcast, which here includes:

  • the item was broadcast during One News which was unclassified
  • it was broadcast during children’s normally accepted viewing times, although it is recognised that children are unlikely to watch the news unsupervised
  • the footage was not accompanied by audio of the comment
  • One News is targeted at an adult audience
  • audience expectations.

[7]  Mr Larsen argued that TVNZ had the opportunity to edit out the “foul language”, yet deliberately chose to include it. In his view, the item required a warning, and the lack of audio did not mitigate its offensiveness. He stated, “Language after all comes in many forms, the written, the vocal and the seeing eye formats of comprehension”.

[8]  TVNZ argued that the item was acceptable in the context of an unclassified news programme targeted at adults. It contended that the footage of the player served to visually illustrate the focus of the item, being a “hotly contested rugby match featuring a team that is widely known to be frustrated at its own poor performance this season”.

[9]  We acknowledge that the complainant was offended by the footage, and that the phrase “fucking bullshit”, when spoken, would likely be considered by many to be unacceptable for broadcast during children’s normally accepted viewing times. Research published in 2010 shows that 40 percent of people surveyed considered “fuck” totally unacceptable in all scenarios, while 51 percent said that it depended on the scenario. Twelve percent considered “bullshit” to be unacceptable in all scenarios, while 50 percent said that it depended on the scenario.3 In our view, had the phrase “fucking bullshit” been audible in this particular context – that is, uttered by a sportsperson during a One News item – it would have been considered gratuitous and unacceptable by most viewers.

[10]  However, we consider that the offensiveness of the footage was neutralised due to the fact the comment was inaudible; while many viewers who saw the footage would have understood the phrase, it was not spoken out loud, which reduced its potential to offend viewers. Likewise, this reduced its impact on child viewers. The Authority has previously declined to uphold good taste and decency complaints about language where it was masked or inaudible.4

[11]  Taking into account the relevant contextual factors – in particular that the item formed part of an unclassified news programme targeted at adults – and giving full weight to the right to freedom of expression, we decline to uphold the complaint under Standard 1.

Did the broadcaster adequately consider children’s interests?

[12]  Standard 9 requires broadcasters to consider the interests of child viewers during their normally accepted viewing times – usually up to 8.30pm. The purpose of the children’s interests standard is to protect children from broadcasts which might adversely affect them.[5

[13]  Mr Larsen stated that many children used “foul language” and would be able to detect what was being said through lip-reading. He considered that the broadcast of such language encouraged children to continue to use it.

[14]  TVNZ reiterated that One News was targeted at an adult audience, and noted that the Authority had previously acknowledged that younger viewers were unlikely to watch the news unsupervised. It said that there was an expectation that parents would exercise discretion when viewing news and current affairs programmes with their children.

[15]  We disagree that only adults capable of lip-reading would have understood the exact words spoken, as contended by TVNZ. However, we are satisfied that the language used by the sports player would have bypassed most children who would need to be actively watching the news to be aware of it. In other words, the potential harm to child viewers in incidentally hearing such language if they were near the television, and adopting it, was mitigated due to the phrase being inaudible. In any case, we acknowledge that news programmes are not targeted at, nor likely to appeal to, younger viewers.

[16]  We are therefore satisfied that the broadcaster adequately considered children’s interests, and we decline to uphold the Standard 9 complaint.


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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Peter Radich
21 August 2012


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

1                  Ross Larsen’s formal complaint – 28 April 2012

2                 TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 25 May 2012

3                 Mr Larsen’s referral to the Authority – 28 May 2012

4                 TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 6 July 2012

5                 Mr Larsen’s final comment – 10 July 2012

6                 TVNZ’s final comment – 10 July 2012

1Turner and TVNZ, Decision No. 2008-112

2Practice Note: Good Taste and Decency (Broadcasting Standards Authority, November, 2006)

3What Not to Swear: The Acceptability of Words in Broadcasting (Broadcasting Standards Authority, 2010) at page 19

4See, for example, Hind and TVNZ, Decision No. 2008-005, and Bacon and RNZ, Decision No. 2000-050.

5E.g. Harrison and TVNZ, Decision No. 2008-066