BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

McMillan and RadioWorks Ltd - 2010-050

  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Tapu Misa
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
  • Andrew McMillan
Devlin on Sport
Radio Live

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Devlin on Sport – host read out list of swear words from Authority’s survey – attempts made to censor the words, but some were still distinguishable – RadioWorks upheld a complaint that the broadcast breached good taste and decency – action taken allegedly insufficient

Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – action taken by broadcaster adequate considering the nature of the breach – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1]   During an item on Devlin on Sport, broadcast on Radio Live at 3.45pm on Sunday 28 March 2010, the host briefly discussed a survey conducted by the Broadcasting Standards Authority on swear words in broadcasting after an interviewee had used the word “bullshit” during a discussion.

[2]   The host stated:

They’ve just put out today, the BSA, a media release, for immediate release. The survey reveals changing attitudes towards swear words in broadcasting and the word that you just said Kieran is one on the list of thirty words that you are not allowed to say on air. And these are those words...

[3]   The host read out the list of words and, as he did this, a buzzer went off as he stated each one in an attempt to prevent listeners from hearing them. However, the buzzer was mistimed on occasion and a number of the words, including “asshole”, “wanker”, “Jesus fucking Christ” and “motherfucker”, were distinguishable.


[4]   Andrew McMillan made a formal complaint to RadioWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the broadcast breached Standard 1 (good taste and decency). He contended that, while a “bleep device was used to blank out the words”, some were clearly audible and it was obvious what the host was saying.


[5]   RadioWorks assessed the complaint under Standard 1 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice, which provides:

Standard 1 Good Taste and Decency

Broadcasters should observe standards of good taste and decency.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[6]   RadioWorks agreed with the complainant that certain words had been inadequately censored, and found that the piece was gratuitous and irrelevant for a radio sports show. It considered that a significant number of listeners would have been offended by the broadcast and it upheld the complaint that Standard 1 had been breached.

[7]   The broadcaster said that the programme director had been made aware of the decision and that he had spoken to the staff involved. It apologised to the complainant for any offence caused and thanked him for bringing the matter to its attention.

Referral to the Authority

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

[9]   The complainant stated that, while he was satisfied with the decision to uphold his complaint, he was dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s actions “in both addressing their response to the issue and to ensure that a similar incident does not happen in the future”. He contended that RadioWorks should have, “at a bare minimum”, broadcast an apology.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[10]   RadioWorks said that it was “satisfied that the action taken was appropriate both to recognise the issue that arose and to ensure no repeat”.

Authority's Determination

[11]   The members of the Authority have listened to 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.

[12]   In our view, the broadcaster was correct in upholding Mr McMillan’s complaint that the segment breached Standard 1.

[13]   We consider that the segment was a poorly conceived stunt to use the Authority’s research to broadcast a range of unacceptable words. The “buzzer” effect appears to have been designed to ensure that the words were not adequately masked. However, the words, while gratuitous, were brief and not repeated.

[14]   Taking this into account, we consider that the action taken by RadioWorks after upholding the complaint was sufficient. RadioWorks spoke to the staff concerned and apologised to Mr McMillan. We find that this action was appropriate and proportionate to the nature of the breach of standards.

[15]   Accordingly, we decline to uphold the action taken complaint.


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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Peter Radich
1 June 2010


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

1.           Andrew McMillan’s formal complaint – 28 March 2010

2.          RadioWorks’ response to the complaint – 31 March 2010

3.          Mr McMillan’s referral to the Authority – 12 April 2010

4.          RadioWorks’ response to the Authority – 19 April 2010