BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Mathewson and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2012-128

  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
  • Brian Mathewson
Close Up
TV One

Complaint under section 8(1C) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Close Up – reported on man who faced losing two of his fingers if he chose to continue smoking cigarettes – presenter jokingly asked man if he wanted a cigarette – presenter’s comments allegedly in breach of standards relating to good taste and decency, fairness and responsible programming

Standard 1 (good taste and decency), Standard 6 (fairness), and Standard 8 (responsible programming) – presenter’s offer of a cigarette was hypothetical and intended to highlight the man’s triumph in giving up smoking – not intended to “taunt” the man – man was a willing participant and took the comments with good humour – comments would not have offended or distressed most viewers – man treated fairly – broadcast not socially irresponsible – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1]  An item on Close Up, titled “Fag or Finger”, reported on a man who faced losing two of his fingers after they were severed in a serious accident, if he chose to continue smoking cigarettes. The story contained interviews with the man and his surgeons who discussed his addiction and its impact on his ability to heal. The man explained that, initially, he asked the surgeons to remove his fingers so he could continue smoking, but they persisted in asking him to give up and he eventually agreed. During the interview, the following exchange took place outside a hospital entrance:

Presenter:      Do you want one? Do you want a cigarette right now?

Man:              No, no…

Presenter:      If I pulled one out right now and offered you one?

Man:              Right now I’d throw it away and say, [presenter’s name], you need to give up mate, you 
                     need to give up.

[2]   At the end of the item the man made a plea to viewers, stating, “Please, please give up smoking”. The item was broadcast on 17 October 2012 on TV One.

[3]  Mr Mathewson made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the presenter “taunted the interviewee with cigarettes” which was unfair, irresponsible, and in bad taste.

[4]  Having not received a response within the 20-working-day statutory timeframe, Mr Mathewson referred his complaint to this Authority.1

[5]  The issue is whether the item breached standards relating to good taste and decency (Standard 1), fairness (Standard 6), and responsible programming (Standard 8) as outlined in the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[6]  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 breach broadcasting standards?

[7]  Mr Mathewson argued that, in offering the man a cigarette, the interviewer failed to show discretion and sensitivity. In terms of good taste and decency, he considered that the presenter put pressure on a man whose health had been seriously affected by tobacco, and he did so in a climate where our society is trying to rid itself of smoking. The complainant considered that, in broadcasting the item, TVNZ failed to adhere to an ethic of social responsibility.

[8]  TVNZ explained that the man was a willing participant and gave his informed consent to take part in the programme and to share his experience. It said that the presenter’s comments were light-hearted and were intended to show that the man, who at one time was so addicted to smoking he was prepared to lose his fingers, had beaten his addiction. It did not consider that the comments would have offended or distressed most viewers.

[9]  The item subject to complaint carried a high level of public interest and was valuable in terms of freedom of expression. The story highlighted the seriousness of nicotine addiction and the lengths one man was prepared to go to continue smoking. The overall message conveyed by the story was positive, showing that it is possible even for hard-core addicts to quit.

[10]  The presenter’s offer of a cigarette was hypothetical (in that he was asking the man how he would react if he was offered one) and expressed in a light-hearted and joking tone. His comments were intended to highlight the man’s triumph and conviction in giving up cigarettes, and were not an attempt to distress or “taunt” the man, as alleged. The man handled the offer with good humour and turned the question around on the presenter, indicating that he interpreted the comments as intended.

[11]  We are satisfied that the broadcast would not have offended or distressed most viewers (Standard 1), and that the man, a voluntary and active participant, was not treated unfairly (Standard 6). The comments formed part of an unclassified current affairs programme targeted at adults, and were not socially irresponsible (Standard 8).

[12]  Accordingly, we decline to uphold the complaint.


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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Peter Radich
2 April 2013


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

1          Brian Mathewson’s formal complaint – 18 October 2012

2          Mr Mathewson’s referral to the Authority – 16 November 2012

3          TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 21 January 2013


1See Section 8(1c) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.