BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Mackie and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2005-087

Members
  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
Dated
Complainant
  • J T Mackie
Number
2005-087
Channel/Station
TV One

Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Seven Periods with Mr Gormsby – comedy series about a politically incorrect relief teacher – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency

Findings
Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – contextual factors – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1] Episode three of Seven Periods with Mr Gormsby, a comedy series about a politically incorrect teacher in a New Zealand school, was screened on TV One on 20 May 2005 at 9.35pm.

[2] The programme’s storyline involved the discovery of a used condom in the reading recovery area of the school, and the subsequent revelation that a young female teacher had been sexually involved with a male student.   

Complaint

[3] Mr Mackie complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the programme was degrading to women teachers, showed male teachers as “idiots”, and depicted some students as “louts more interested in sex than education”. He also claimed that the programme ridiculed Māori women.

[4] He was particularly concerned that the sexual relationship between a teacher and student was depicted as “acceptable and smart”.

Standards

[5] TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standard 1 and Guideline 1a of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which provide:

Standard 1 Good Taste and Decency

In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are responsible for maintaining standards which are consistent with the observance of good taste and decency.

Guideline 1a

Broadcasters must take into consideration current norms of decency and taste in language and behaviour bearing in mind the context in which any language or behaviour occurs. Examples of context are the time of the broadcast, the type of programme, the target audience, the use of warnings and the programme’s classification. The examples are not exhaustive.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[6] In its response to the complainant, TVNZ noted that the style of humour employed in the programme was not to everyone’s liking. It observed that no broadcaster could hope to please all viewers all of the time. Simply because the programme was not to everyone’s liking did not mean that it breached statutory programme standards, TVNZ asserted.

[7] TVNZ considered that the nature of satire was such that there were few boundaries for the satirist. It noted that satire was often used to poke fun at public figures, and to “correct or change (through ridicule) the subject which the satire is attacking.”

[8] The broadcaster maintained that the series was harsh on teachers and students in general, not solely the Māori characters. The programme poked fun at people and situations through the use of sarcasm, ridicule and irony, it contended.

[9] TVNZ considered that, in the episode complained about, the main character did not condone the teacher/student relationship. Rather, it maintained, he had praised the teacher on her common sense in ensuring a condom was used.

[10] TVNZ observed that the relevant contextual factors to be taken into account when considering this complaint were the time of the broadcast, the classification of the broadcast, the presence of a warning and the satirical nature of the programme.

[11] It noted that the programme did not start until 9.35pm, an hour after the “adults only” watershed at 8.30pm, and that the programme was classified AO. Further, it noted that the programme was preceded by a visual and verbal warning.

[12] TVNZ considered that satire was an important part of literature, of which, it contended, television was an extension. It considered that the broadcast of Seven Periods with Mr Gormsby was in accordance with the principle of freedom of expression enshrined in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990. It did not uphold the complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[13] Dissatisfied with the response from the broadcaster, Mr Mackie referred his complaint to the Authority under s8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

[14] He reiterated his view that the programme breached standards of good taste and decency. He also recorded his view that it was the duty of the broadcaster to endeavour to screen programmes that were acceptable to everyone. He considered that SevenPeriods with Mr Gormsby used satire in a degrading and “evil” way.  

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[15] In its response to the Authority, TVNZ stated that it was bemused by the complainant’s opinion that its duty was to screen programmes that were acceptable to everyone.

[16] TVNZ noted that it endeavoured to reflect the wide variety of cultures and interests existing in New Zealand, and to cover a diverse range of subject matter. It asserted that there were no programmes that were acceptable to everyone.

Complainant’s Final Comment

[17] In his final comment, the complainant maintained his argument that the broadcaster should endeavour to screen programmes acceptable to all viewers. He considered that programmers tried to push the limits of acceptability, without regard for viewer disapproval.

[18] Mr Mackie observed that broadcasters had an influential role, and considered that more responsibility should be exercised in respect of improving standards.

Authority's Determination

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

[20] When the Authority considers a complaint which alleges a breach of good taste and decency, it is required to take into consideration the context of the broadcast. On this occasion, the relevant contextual factors include:

  • the time of the broadcast, at 9.35pm
  • the AO classification of the programme
  • the visual and verbal warning preceding the programme
  • the adult target audience of the programme
  • the satirical nature of Seven Periods with Mr Gormsby.

[21] Taking into account the contextual factors listed above, the Authority considers that the programme, despite the challenging nature of the storyline, did not breach standards relating to good taste and decency.

[22] The Authority accepts that Seven Periods with Mr Gormsby would not have appealed to all viewers. Nevertheless, it agrees with the broadcaster that any perceived need for television programming catering to a diverse audience is not, of itself, a matter for broadcasting standards.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
20 September 2005

Appendix

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

  1. J T Mackie’s formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 21 May 2005
  2. Mr Mackie’s further correspondence to TVNZ – 3 June 2005
  3. TVNZ’s response to the formal complaint – 27 June 2005
  4. Mr Mackie’s referral to the Authority –  14 July 2005
  5. TVNZ’s response to the referral – 2 August 2005
  6. Mr Mackie’s final comment – 12 August 2005