BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Lord and SKY Network Television Ltd - 2009-137

Members
  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
Dated
Complainant
  • Peter Lord
Number
2009-137
Channel/Station
Prime TV

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Amazon with Bruce Parry – during the programme the presenter said “fuck” – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency and children’s interests standards

Findings
Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – broadcast prior to 8.30pm watershed – research suggests that the word “fuck” would be unacceptable to majority of New Zealanders in this context – upheld

Standard 9 (children’s interests) – broadcaster did not adequately consider the interests of child viewers – upheld

No Order

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]   The programme Amazon with Bruce Parry was broadcast on Prime TV at 7.30pm on Friday 26 June 2009. It was part of a series that examined the area around the Amazon River, its people, their culture, resource extraction and environmental issues.

[2]   During the episode subject to complaint, Bruce Parry visited one of the largest illegal gold mining sites in Brazil. While there, he visited a group of men who had dug a horizontal mine shaft 60 metres into the side of a hill. Mr Parry was invited to go into the mine shaft to take a look. When he reached the end of the shaft, Mr Parry was given a pick axe and he began to chip away at the face of the tunnel. As he did this, he accidentally struck one of the overhead support beams moving it out of place. Startled, Mr Parry said, “Fuck, [laughing] you don’t want to be knocking them down too often”, before continuing to chip away.

Complaint

[3]   Peter Lord made a formal complaint to SKY Network Television Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the inclusion of the word “fuck” in the programme breached standards relating to good taste and decency and children’s interests.

[4]   The complainant noted that the programme was broadcast during children’s normally accepted viewing times. Mr Lord considered that the expletive should have been edited out of the programme.

Standards

[5]   Standards 1 and 9 and guidelines 1a and 9a are relevant to the determination of this complaint. These provide:

Standard 1 Good Taste and Decency

Broadcasters should observance standards of good taste and decency.

Guideline 1a

Broadcasters will take into account current norms of good taste and decency bearing in mind the context in which any content occurs and the wider context of the broadcast e.g. programme classification, target audience, type of programme and use of warnings etc.

Standard 9 Children’s Interests

During children’s normally accepted viewing times (see Appendix 1), broadcasters should consider the interests of child viewers.

Guideline 9a

Broadcasters should be mindful of the effect any programme or promo may have on children during their normally accepted viewing times – usually up to 8.30pm – and avoid screening material that would disturb or alarm them.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[6]   SKY contended that the expletive uttered by Mr Parry was barely audible and that, while the word itself was a little surprising, the reason for its use was not when the actual circumstances were taken into account.

[7]   The broadcaster argued that the use of the word was so brief and hard to hear that many viewers would not have noticed it. SKY also pointed out that the programme was rated PGR, which meant that parental guidance was recommended.

[8]   SKY declined to uphold the complaint that the programme breached Standards 1 and 9.

Referral to the Authority

[9]   Dissatisfied with SKY’s response, Mr Lord referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

Authority's Determination

[10]   The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

Standard 1 (good taste and decency)

[11]   When the Authority considers an alleged breach of Standard 1, it takes into account the context of the broadcast. On this occasion, the relevant contextual factors include:

  • the programme was broadcast at 7.30pm
  • Amazon with Bruce Parry was classified PGR
  • the programme was broadcast during children’s normally accepted viewing times
  • the programme had an adult target audience
  • the programme was not preceded by a warning
  • the expletive was uttered at 8.05pm.

[12]   The Authority notes that there are contextual factors which favour the broadcaster’s position in relation to the current complaint, including the programme’s adult target audience and its PGR classification. Further, the expletive was in the context of the presenter accidentally shifting a support beam while in an underground mineshaft; it was low key and not used as a term of abuse. Factors such as these, however, will not always be sufficient to prevent a programme breaching standards of good taste and decency.

[13]   Research published by the Authority in 2006 showed that the word “fuck” was considered by a majority of New Zealanders surveyed to be unacceptable when used as a term of abuse in television movie broadcast in the AO time-band.1 This research suggests that the word would be even less acceptable in a PGR programme broadcast on free-to-air television during children’s normally accepted viewing times.

[14]   The Authority considers that this is a borderline decision due to the factors outlined in paragraph [12] above. However, it concludes that the use of the word “fuck” on free-to-air television at 8.05pm, during a programme which could be viewed by children in the company of their parent or guardian, would be unacceptable to a majority of New Zealanders. Therefore the Authority finds that standards of good taste and decency were threatened on this occasion.

[15]   Having reached this conclusion, the Authority must consider whether to uphold this complaint as a breach of Standard 1.

[16]   The Authority acknowledges that upholding the Standard 1 complaint would place a limit on the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression, which is protected by section 14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990. In Turner and TVNZ,2 the Authority determined that upholding a complaint under Standard 1 would be prescribed by law and a justified limitation on the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression as required by section 5 of the Bill of Rights Act. In the Authority’s view, the primary objective of Standard 1 is to protect against the broadcast of sexual content, violent material, and language that exceeds current norms of good taste and decency in the context in which it was shown.

[17]   With that in mind, the Authority must consider whether it would be a reasonable and proportionate limit on SKY’s freedom of expression to uphold a breach of Standard 1 on this occasion. It finds that upholding a breach of the good taste and decency standard on this occasion would ensure that free-to-air television broadcasters take care to ensure that profane language is not broadcast prior to adults-only viewing time. In this respect, upholding this complaint clearly promotes the objective of Standard 1, and therefore places a justified and reasonable limit on SKY’s freedom of expression. The Authority upholds this part of the complaint.

Standard 9 (children’s interests)

[18]   Standard 9 (children’s interests) requires broadcasters to consider the interests of child viewers during their normally accepted viewing times – usually up to 8.30pm. For the reasons outlined above in its consideration of Standard 1, the Authority also finds that the broadcaster did not adequately consider the interests of child viewers on this occasion by allowing the word “fuck” to be broadcast at 8.05pm.

[19]   Having reached this conclusion, the Authority must now decide whether to uphold the complaint as a breach of Standard 9.

[20]   The Authority acknowledges that upholding the children’s interests complaint would place a limit on the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression. In Harrison and TVNZ3, the Authority determined that upholding a complaint under Standard 9 would be prescribed by law and a justified limitation on the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression as required by section 5 of the Bill of Rights Act. In that decision, the Authority described the objective of Standard 9 in the following terms:

In the Authority’s view, the purpose of the children’s interests standard is to protect children from broadcasts which might adversely affect them.

[21]   With that in mind, the Authority must consider whether it would be a reasonable and proportionate limit on SKY’s freedom of expression to uphold a breach of Standard 9 on this occasion. It finds that upholding a breach of the children’s interests standard would ensure that broadcasters take care to protect child viewers from profane language during their normally accepted viewing times. In this respect, upholding this part of the complaint clearly promotes the objective of Standard 9, and therefore places a justified and reasonable limit on SKY’s freedom of expression.

[22]   Accordingly, the Authority upholds the complaint that the item breached Standard 9.

 

For the above reasons the Authority upholds the complaint that the broadcast by SKY Network Television Ltd of Amazon with Bruce Parry on 26 June 2009 breached Standards 1 and 9 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[23]   Having upheld the complaint, the Authority may make orders under sections 13 and 16 of the Broadcasting Act 1989. It does not intend to do so on this occasion.

[24]   In the Authority’s view, this decision clarifies its expectations surrounding the broadcast of the word “fuck” on free-to-air television during children’s normally accepted viewing times. In these circumstances, it considers that the publication of the decision is sufficient.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
21 December 2009

Appendix

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

1.         Peter Lord’s formal complaint – 12 August 2009
2.         SKY’s response to the formal complaint – 19 October 2009
3.         Mr Lord’s referral to the Authority – 28 October 2009
4.         SKY’s response to the Authority – 3 November 2009


1Broadcasting Standards Authority, Freedoms and Fetters: Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand , (Dunmore Publishing Ltd: Wellington, 2006), 95–98.

2Decision No. 2008-112

3Decision No. 2008-066