BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

McGuckian and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2005-032

Members
  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
Dated
Complainant
  • Frank McGuckian
Number
2005-032
Channel/Station
TV One

Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
A Game of Two Halves – hosts said “Christ Almighty” and “Jesus” – allegedly blasphemous and in breach of good taste and decency

Findings
Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – alternative definition to words to that alleged by complainant – use of words in such manner not offensive generally – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1] A Game of Two Halves screened on TV One at 9.30 pm on 28 March 2005. The programme is a weekly sports quiz show featuring two teams of various sporting personalities. The teams are headed by well known sporting personalities Marc Ellis and Matthew Ridge. During the programme, the contestants used the words “Christ Almighty” and “Jesus”.

Complaint

[2] Frank McGuckian complained that the words “Christ Almighty” and “Jesus” were used as “intended expletives”. He considered that the use of the words in this context was blasphemous and objectionable, and breached standards of good taste and decency. 

Standards

[3] Television New Zealand Ltd assessed the complaint under Standard 1 and Guideline 1a of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which provides:

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 (see Appendix 1). The examples are not exhaustive.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[4] In its response to the complaint, TVNZ expressed regret and apologised for any offence caused to the complainant.

[5] TVNZ said that while it understood some Christians would automatically consider the use of the words “Christ” and “Jesus” to be blasphemous, it noted that the Concise Oxford Dictionary defined “Christ” not only as a noun meaning the “title, also treated as a name, given to Jesus”, but also as an exclamation expressing “irritation, dismay or surprise”. It observed that other dictionaries also gave similar definitions of “Jesus” and “Christ” as colloquial exclamations.

[6] TVNZ referred to a previous decision by the Authority (No. 2003-098), in which the Authority declined to uphold a complaint from a viewer about the use of “Jesus Christ” as an exclamation. In that instance, the Authority ruled that it did not consider that “the broadcast encouraged denigration of, or discrimination against, Christians.”

[7] TVNZ considered that implicit in the word “blasphemy”, was an intention to hurt Christians or to denigrate their beliefs. TVNZ noted that in the context of A Game of Two Halves the words were used as exclamations and did not imply any comment on religious matters; indeed, it suggested, religion was far from the minds of the hosts when the words were spoken.

[8] TVNZ also considered the contextual factors in which the language was used, including the nature of the programme, the classification of the programme, and the time of the broadcast. TVNZ noted that the “uninhibited” nature of the programme was well known. It considered that viewers were used to the informal boisterous exchanges between the two teams.

[9] TVNZ further noted that the programme was rated AO, with the AO symbol shown at the beginning of the programme and after each commercial break. It also noted that the time of the broadcast, at 9.30pm, was an hour after the 8.30pm watershed.  

[10] Taking into account all the relevant contextual factors, TVNZ considered that the use of “Jesus” and “Christ” was not a breach of Standard 1. Accordingly, the complaint was not upheld.

Referral to the Authority

[11] Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Mr McGuckian referred his complaint to the Authority. He disagreed that the words “Jesus” and “Christ” had two distinct definitions and noted that the Webster’s dictionary included only one definition for each word.

[12] He suggested that TVNZ should be a “stalwart” for good taste and decency, rather than a medium through which concepts of good taste and decency were “debased to the point of extinction”. He considered the use of the words, in the context of A Game of Two Halves, was culturally insulting, blasphemous and against all standards of good taste and decency.

[13] Mr McGuckian alleged that it was objectionable for TVNZ to acknowledge that blasphemy was hurtful and denigratory to Christians, while finding it acceptable within A Game of Two Halves.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[14] In its response to the Authority, TVNZ noted the concept of “good taste and decency” was not an absolute, and that broadcasters must bear in mind the context in which any such language or behaviour occurred.

[15] TVNZ reiterated the contextual factors influencing its decision, noting the time of the broadcast, the AO rating of the programme, and the “well-known, uninhibited and testosterone charged” nature of A Game of Two Halves. It also maintained that the words complained of were not used in a blasphemous sense, but in accordance with dictionary definitions.

Complainant’s Final Comment

[16] Mr McGuckian observed that he enjoyed watching A Game of Two Halves and found it generally entertaining. For that reason he was able to tolerate a reasonable amount of “coarse and crass behaviour”.

[17] He considered that TVNZ made “coarse language, swearing and crass behaviour” acceptable in the context of the programme by lowering the standards of the show. He did not accept that such rules applied to profanity and blasphemy.

[18] Finally, he claimed that the use of the words “Jesus” and “Christ Almighty” were always profane and blasphemous when used in a context such as a programme like A Game of Two Halves.

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 that alleges a breach of good taste and decency, it is required to consider the context of the broadcast. On this occasion, relevant contextual factors include:

  • the time of the broadcast (close to 10.00pm)
  • the AO rating of the programme
  • the well-known character of the show
  • the fact that the use of the words was neither repeated nor gratuitous.

[21] The Authority accepts that some Christians regard any inappropriate use of the words “Jesus” and “Christ” as blasphemous. It also acknowledges that the repeated and gratuitous use of these words in an inappropriate setting may well be regarded as offensive by New Zealanders generally. However, the Authority considers that the context and limited use in A Game of Two Halves, as an expression of dismay and surprise, would not have been offensive to a large proportion of New Zealanders.  

[22] The Authority has previously considered the use of the words “Jesus” and “Christ” (Decision No. 2003-068) and declined to uphold that complaint on the basis that the use of the words “fitted into the category of an exclamation of irritation and alarm”. Taking into account the contextual factors listed above, the Authority sees no reason to depart from that position in the present case. Accordingly, the complaint is not upheld.  

 

For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
30 June 2005

Appendix

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

  1.    Mr McGuckian’s formal complaint to TVNZ – 29 March 2005
  2.    TVNZ’s response to the formal complaint – 14 April 2005
  3.    Mr McGuckian’s referral to the Authority – 28 April 2005
  4.    TVNZ’s response to the referral – 5 May 2005
  5.    Mr McGuckian’s final comment – 13 May 2005