BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Lethborg and MediaWorks TV Ltd - 2019-053 (10 October 2019)

Members
  • Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
  • Paula Rose
  • Wendy Palmer
  • Susie Staley
Dated
Complainant
  • Shirley Lethborg
Number
2019-053
Broadcaster
MediaWorks TV Ltd
Channel/Station
Three

Summary

[This summary does not form part of the decision.]

The Authority has not upheld a complaint that a comment made by Dai Henwood referring to the Mountain City Fiddlers breached the good taste and decency and children’s interests standards. The comment, which was made while introducing a country music-themed section in Dancing with the Stars, was found to be within audience expectations for the programme, the presenter, and PGR programmes in general. It was unlikely to cause widespread offence or adversely affect child viewers, and did not reach the threshold requiring regulatory intervention.

Not Upheld: Good Taste and Decency, Children’s Interests


The broadcast

[1]  An episode of Dancing with the Stars included the following comment from host Dai Henwood, who was introducing a country music-themed section:

Now it’s almost time for a gear change as we head to Nashville for some country music. Now here’s a little fact I used to be a fully signed up member of the Mountain City Fiddlers but let me tell you something it’s certainly not the organisation it used to be.

[2]  The episode was broadcast at 7:00pm on 9 June 2019 on Three. As part of our consideration of this complaint, we have watched a recording of the broadcast and read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

The complaint

[3]  Shirley Lethborg submitted that Mr Henwood’s comment breached the good taste and decency and children’s interests standards:

  • He insinuated that sexual abuse or ‘touching others sexually’ is something to laugh at.
  • His comment ‘implies that there used to be many more “fiddlers” around and it is not a good thing that people are not allowed to get away with this now.’
  • It was inappropriate to make this joke at a time when children could be watching.
  • People who have been abused should not have to listen to such a comment.
  • The way the ‘joke’ was delivered, including Mr Henwood’s body language was consistent with a play on the word ‘fiddler’.
  • ‘Even if the producer did not intend the joke to be a play on words with a sexual abuse connotation, if a lot of the audience interpreted it as such, then my complaint is still valid’.

The broadcaster’s response

[4]  MediaWorks responded that the comment did not breach standards for the following reasons:

  • The comment was ‘clearly intended to be a humorous (if vague and somewhat confusing) play on words’.
  • It would not have caused widespread undue offence or distress.
  • It is highly unlikely that child viewers would have ‘grasped the sophisticated connotations of the remark’ so there was no potential for it to have harmed them.

[5]  In response to Mrs Lethborg’s referral to the Authority, MediaWorks provided comments from the show’s producer, clarifying that the comment was not intended as a ‘play on words’ (as it was interpreted by MediaWorks’ Complaints Committee):

The joke was one of mine actually. The theme was Country Music week and I was looking to pepper the script with country music references. The Mountain City Fiddlers was an actual (although historic) organisation1. . .  No reference to sexual abuse intended, or to my mind, made.

The standards

[6]  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.2 Audience expectations are crucial. Audiences who know what they are getting can usually avoid material or supervise their children’s exposure to it.3

[7]  The children’s interests standard (Standard 3) states that broadcasters should ensure children can be protected from broadcasts which might adversely affect them. Material likely to be considered under this standard includes violent content or themes, offensive language, social or domestic friction and dangerous, antisocial or illegal behaviour where such material is outside the expectations of the programme’s classification.4

Our findings

[8]  When we make a decision on a complaint that a broadcast has breached broadcasting standards, we first consider the important right to freedom of expression and weigh this against the level of actual or potential harm that might be caused by the broadcast. The right to freedom of expression includes both the right of broadcasters to impart ideas and information, and of audiences to receive that information. We may only interfere and uphold complaints where the limitation on the right to freedom of expression is reasonable and justified.

[9]  Context is an important consideration when assessing complaints under the good taste and decency and children’s interests standards.5 We found the following contextual factors to be relevant in our decision:

  • This episode of Dancing with the Stars played at 7.00pm, during the PGR timeband and children’s normally accepted viewing times.6
  • The PGR timeband anticipates ‘material more suited for mature audiences but not necessarily unsuitable for child viewers when subject to the guidance of a parent or an adult.’7
  • Dancing with the Stars is a live reality TV show.
  • It is known for being a fun, high energy and light-hearted dance competition.8
  • Dai Henwood is a comedian who is known for his edgy and irreverent style.9
  • Audience expectations would have been for a reality dance show which includes off-the-cuff remarks or cheeky humour.

[10]  If Mr Henwood’s comment was a play on words, we agree with MediaWorks’ initial comment, that it is vague and somewhat confusing. It appeared to be an attempted double entendre, but in our view the intended second meaning was obscure. Regardless of whether reference to sexual abuse or interaction was intended or not, we understand how the complainant reached the interpretation she did. However, we do not agree that it contains the deeper implication she suggests (ie that it is ‘not a good thing’ that such crimes are prosecuted more frequently now).

[11]  While we understand the complainant’s interpretation and agree that the comment may not be to the taste of all viewers, we consider that the comment was an attempt at humour and within audience expectations of the show. It was unlikely to cause widespread offence or undermine community standards and did not meet the threshold requiring regulatory intervention.

[12]  We are also of the view that the wordplay would have gone over the heads of most children watching. Although some children may have understood or been curious about the comment, the PGR timeband anticipates parental supervision, which would mitigate any potential confusion the comment would cause children.

[13]  Taking into account the above factors, the audience expectations for Dancing with the Stars and programmes generally shown in the PGR timeband, we do not consider that the comment would have adversely affected child viewers.

[14]  For the above reasons, we do not uphold the complaint under the good taste and decency or children’s interests standards.

For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.


Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

  

Judge Bill Hastings

Chair
10 October 2019


 

Appendix

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

1                 Shirley Lethborg’s complaint to MediaWorks – 9 June 2019

2                 MediaWorks’ response – 8 July 2019

3                 Mrs Lethborg’s referral to the Authority – 14 July 2019

4                 MediaWorks’ final comments – 26 July 2019

5                 Mrs Lethborg’s final comments – 9 August 2019


1 <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mountain_City_Fiddlers_Convention>
2 Commentary: Good Taste and Decency, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 12
3 As above
4 Guideline 3a
5 Guidelines 1a and 3b
6 Definitions: Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 9
7 As above
8 See for example “The ten biggest moments of Dancing With the Stars NZ 2019” (18 June 2019) Stuff
9 See for example Duff and TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2010-003; <http://www.comedy.co.nz/comedians/profiles/dai-henwood/>; Dai Henwood - ThreeNow profile; Kerry Havey “Dai Henwood is serious about being funny” (2 April 2015) Stuff