BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Mahoney and The Radio Network Ltd - 2003-112

Members
  • P Cartwright (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • R Bryant
Dated
Complainant
  • J H Mahoney
Number
2003-112
Channel/Station
Newstalk ZB

Complaint
Newstalk ZB: Larry Williams Breakfast Show – host said "I don’t want to piss in your pocket"  offensive

Findings
Principle 1 – colloquialism – context – no uphold

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

[1] "I don’t want to piss in your pocket" was the phrase used by the host of the Larry Williams Breakfast Show when talking to a guest. The comment was made at about 8.15am on 18 July 2003 on Newstalk ZB.

[2] J H Mahoney complained to The Radio Network Ltd, the broadcaster, that the use of the phrase, especially at that time of the morning, was disgusting.

[3] In response, TRN described the phrase as a "widely used colloquialism" which would not have caused major offence to its primary audience aged 35 years and over.

[4] Dissatisfied with TRN’s decision, J H Mahoney referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

For the reasons below, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Decision

[5] The members of the Authority have listened to a tape of the programme complained about and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

The Programme

[6] The Larry Williams Breakfast Show, broadcast on Newstalk ZB, is a magazine show which includes news, current affairs and items of general interest. At about 8.15am on 18 July, during a discussion with some guests about current news items, the host, in referring to one of the guests, said "I don’t want to piss in your pocket".

The Complaint

[7] J H Mahoney complained to TRN that the language was "disgusting". The comment, he added, was not funny as the host seemed to think.

The Standard

[8] TRN assessed the complaint under Principle 1 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice. Principle 1 and the relevant Guideline provides:

Principle 1

In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to
maintain standards which are consistent with the observance of good taste and decency.

Guideline

1a  Broadcasters will take into consideration current norms of decency and good taste in language and behaviour bearing in mind the context in which any language or behaviour occurs and the wider context of the broadcast eg time of day, target audience.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[9] Explaining that it did not condone the use of "bad language" and that the host had been reminded of that policy, TRN said that "piss" was a "widely used colloquialism". On the basis that Newstalk ZB’s primary audience was people aged over 35 years, TRN considered that "while on the margins of acceptability", it would not have caused major offence. TRN declined to uphold the complaint.

The Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority

[10] In the referral, J H Mahoney said the phrase "sounded quite disgusting", and that the station would have had a large number of younger listeners at that time in the morning. Concern was expressed that TRN did not find the use of the phrase offensive.

The Authority’s Determination

[11] When it determines a complaint that a broadcast contravenes Principle 1 of the Radio Code, the Authority is required to determine whether the material complained about breaches currently accepted standards of good taste and decency, taking into account the context of the broadcast. The context is relevant, but does not determine whether the programme breached the standard. Accordingly, the Authority has considered the context in which the comment complained about was broadcast.

[12] While the expression complained about was used at about 8.15am when school children might have been listening, the Authority concludes that the broadcast did not breach Principle 1 in view of the following relevant contextual factors. The phrase was not used offensively and seemingly did not offend the guests participating in the programme. The target audience for the programme is listeners aged 35 and over and the phrase, in the Authority’s opinion, is a commonly used colloquialism. The Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

[13] The Authority observes that to find a breach of broadcasting standards on this occasion would be to interpret the Broadcasting Act 1989 in such a way as to limit freedom of expression in a manner which is not reasonable or demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society (s.5 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990). As required by s.6 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, the Authority adopts an interpretation of the relevant standards which it considers is consistent with and gives full weight to the provisions of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Cartwright
Chair
16 October 2003

Appendix

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

1. J H Mahoney’s Complaint to The Radio Network Ltd – undated
2. TRN’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 25 July 2003
3. J H Mahoney’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 7 August 2003
4. TRN’s Response to the Authority – 11 August 2003