BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Miller and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2008-128

  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
  • Andrew Miller
Close Up
TV One

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Close Up – item about dance troupe Real Hot Bitches – word "bitches" used throughout the item – separate item in same programme looked at sculpture of giant sperm in Christchurch's main square – member of the public used phrase "no shit" while being interviewed about sculpture – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency

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

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1] An item on Close Up, broadcast on TV One at 7pm on Monday 29 September 2008, reported on an attempt to break a world record in which 3000 people took part in a synchronised dance routine. The record-breaking attempt was led by a Wellington dance troupe called Real Hot Bitches. Throughout the item, the word "bitches" was used a number of times in reference to the dance troupe.

[2] During a separate item in the same programme, the word "shit" was used twice by a man being interviewed in Christchurch’s main square, as a Close Up reporter canvassed local views on a sculpture of a giant sperm that was on display. The following exchange took place between the reporter and the man being interviewed:

Man:           That is really a giant sperm?

Reporter:     It is.

Man:            No shit! Can I say ‘shit’ on television?

Reporter:     I’m not sure. Can you say ‘sperm’? [laughing]


[3] Andrew Miller made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, arguing that the inclusion of the words "bitches" and "shit" in a programme broadcast at 7pm breached broadcasting standards.

[4] The complainant stated "for a prime time news or current affairs show, these words are not acceptable to the family viewer". He also noted that Close Up was not preceded by a warning that the programme contained offensive language.


[5] TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standard 1 and guidelines 1a and 1b of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. They 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.


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.

1b   Broadcasters should consider – and if appropriate require – the use of on-air visual and verbal warnings when programmes contain violent material, material of a sexual nature, coarse language or other content likely to disturb children or offend a significant number of adult viewers. Warnings should be specific in nature, while avoiding detail which may itself distress or offend viewers.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[6] The broadcaster contended that to constitute a breach of Standard 1, the broadcast material must be unacceptable to a significant number of viewers in the context in which it was shown. TVNZ pointed out that the programme was broadcast in the PGR time-band, in a current affairs programme with an adult target audience. It stated that the word "bitches" was included because it was part of the name of the dance troupe featured in the item. It argued the term was not used with any invective and its use did not stray beyond the current norms of good taste and decency.

[7] TVNZ contended that the word "shit" came about in a live interview and was used by the interviewee as an expression of surprise after learning the public sculpture he was looking at was a giant sperm. In the context in which the word "shit" was used, the broadcaster considered that the boundaries of good taste and decency had not been exceeded. It declined to uphold the complaint that the item breached Standard 1.

Referral to the Authority

[8] Dissatisfied with the broadcaster's response, Mr Miller referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. The complainant reiterated his argument that he could not "see how swearing can be considered to be in good taste and decency, especially in the context of the prime time news and current affairs TV programme".

Authority's Determination

[9] The members of the Authority have viewed 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.

[10] When the Authority considers an alleged breach of good taste and decency, it is required to take into account the context of the broadcast. On this occasion, the relevant contextual factors include:

  • Close Up was broadcast at 7pm
  • the programme was broadcast in the PGR time-band
  • the broadcast was not preceded by a warning
  • Close Up is an unclassified news and current affairs programme aimed at an adult audience.

[11] In the Authority's view, the word "bitches" was not used as a term of abuse, but rather in a humorous, light-hearted and somewhat affectionate manner as a reference to the dance troupe and its members. While acknowledging that the word is still regarded as moderately offensive by many people, on this occasion the Authority concludes that the context would have made it more acceptable to a significant number of viewers.

[12] The Authority acknowledges that many viewers may regard the word "shit" as having no place in a current affairs programme screened during "family viewing" time. It also notes that the interview with the member of the public in Christchurch's main square was not live as contended by the broadcaster, but was clearly pre-recorded. However, the Authority is of the view that the phrase "No shit!" was a spontaneous reaction; it was a light-hearted exclamation of surprise by the man being interviewed. Because of its humorous tone, the Authority finds that the word's inclusion and repetition would not have offended a significant number of viewers.

[13] Taking the above contextual factors into account, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint that the programme breached Standard 1.


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


Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Joanne Morris
3 March 2009


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

1.      Andrew Miller's formal complaint – 4 October 2008
2.     TVNZ's response to the formal complaint – 5 November 2008
3.     Mr Miller's referral to the Authority – 12 November 2008
4.     TVNZ's response to the Authority – 1 December 2008