Moffat and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2014-161
- Peter Radich (Chair)
- Leigh Pearson
- Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
- Mary Anne Shanahan
- Alan Moffat
BroadcasterTelevision New Zealand Ltd
[This summary does not form part of the decision.]
At the end of an episode of Seven Sharp, presenter Mike Hosking read out a letter from a disgruntled viewer about comments he had made during an earlier episode about music group One Direction. The letter contained numerous expletives which were 'beeped' out during the broadcast. The Authority did not uphold a complaint that the 'disgusting' language was contrary to good taste and decency and children's interests. Beeping is a commonly employed broadcasting technique to mask potentially offensive language. While most viewers would have discerned what the words were, in the context of an unclassified current affairs programme targeted at adults, which is known for being humorous and at times provocative, the segment did not threaten standards.
Not Upheld: Good Taste and Decency, Children's Interests, Responsible Programming
 At the end of an episode of Seven Sharp, presenter Mike Hosking read out a letter from a disgruntled viewer. The letter responded to comments he made in an earlier episode when he suggested that music group One Direction's performance during a particular song was 'lacking in talent'. The letter contained expletives which were beeped out (censored) during the broadcast.
 Alan Moffat complained that the 'disgusting' language used was contrary to good taste and decency and that parents would not have had a chance to prevent their children from viewing the 'obscene rant'. He argued the content was inappropriate in the context of a 'G-rated programme' screened at 7pm.
 The issue is whether the broadcast breached the good taste and decency, children's interests and responsible programming standards as set out in the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.
 The programme was broadcast on TV ONE at 7pm on 21 November 2014. 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 broadcast breach broadcasting standards?
 The good taste and decency standard (Standard 1) is primarily aimed at broadcasts containing sexual material, nudity, coarse language or violence.1 The children's interests standard (Standard 9) requires broadcasters to consider the interests of child viewers during their normally accepted viewing times – usually up to 8.30pm. The purpose of the standard is to protect children from broadcasts which might adversely affect them.2 The responsible programming standard (Standard 8) requires broadcasters to ensure that programmes are correctly classified and screened in an appropriate time-band. Because all of these standards require us to consider relevant contextual factors, we have addressed the three standards together.
 In the segment subject to complaint Mr Hosking read out a viewer's letter, saying:
I thought that you (beep)wads were alright until you trashed One-D. I hope someone slips cyanide into your $14,938 cocktail. One Direction sound like every pure good force in the world whereas you sound like a homeless person trying to take a (beep) after eating rotten (beep) McDonalds. All you (beep)holes do is sit around with your heads up your spoilt (beeps). Grow up, (beep) learn that there are going to be people that are wayyyyyy' – that's six y's by the way – 'wayyyyyy better than you and One Direction are definitely some of those people. In fact the whole population of the earth is one trillion, nine thousand billion, five hundred million, seven hundred and sixty-three times better than you. So stop judging people you (beep)wipe. You probably think I'm a 13-year-old girl, but surprise, I'm 20. I hope you read this and put it on your crappy show and laugh [Mr Hosking laughs and says 'See I am'] – but I know you will go home and cry about it like the (beep) dirty baby you are. I hope you and all your co-workers and crew eat a huge (beep) (beep), airhead.
 Mr Moffat argued that the use of electronic beeping to mask the language was 'completely incompetent' because viewers could easily discern what Mr Hosking was saying. Mr Moffat was seriously offended that this sort of 'foul-mouthed' and 'obscene' language was broadcast into New Zealand households without any warning or opportunity to switch channels. He felt that parents would have had no chance to prevent their children from viewing what he considered to be an 'obscene rant', and argued that in the context of a 'G-rated programme', there should have been a warning for potentially offensive language.
 TVNZ argued that to constitute a breach of this standard, the material must be unacceptable to a significant number of viewers in the context it was shown. It noted that Seven Sharp is an unclassified current affairs programme which is aimed at adults and screened during the PGR time band. TVNZ maintained that the material in the broadcast – specifically the masking of the coarse language – was consistent with the expectations of the PGR classification, and was not necessarily unsuitable for supervised child viewers. It did not consider the content would have offended most viewers in this context.
 When we consider a complaint about good taste and decency, we take into account the context of the broadcast, which here includes:
- Seven Sharp is an unclassified current affairs programme
- the programme is broadcast at 7pm during children's normally accepted viewing times
- the programme's adult target audience
- audience expectations of Seven Sharp and of Mike Hosking
- 'beeping out' expletives is a commonly employed broadcasting technique used to mask coarse language.
 We acknowledge that most viewers would have discerned the words featured in the letter notwithstanding the beeping. Beeping or other disguises or masking of the actual words is a common practice in broadcasting and in print media. These practices are widespread and are seen to be a satisfactory response to dampen down the offensiveness of language which would likely be unacceptable if spoken or written literally. We well understand that arguments can be made against this practice but it is, as we say, widespread and accepted in the industry. That does not mean that the practice will be effective in removing offensiveness in every case where it is used. Each case must depend on its own circumstances and context.
 Seven Sharp is an unclassified current affairs programme aimed at an adult audience; it is not rated G. It is not targeted at, nor likely to appeal to, child viewers. If children did happen to see the segment, it is unlikely they would be viewing without the supervision of an adult. Further, Seven Sharp and Mr Hosking are known for presenting current affairs in a manner that can be light-hearted, humorous and at times provocative.
 We do not think this segment strayed outside audience expectations of the programme. Mr Hosking read out the letter as part of his 'final word' that evening (in which the presenters give their personal views on their chosen topic of the day) and gave an extreme example of the reaction to his comments about One Direction. It was in the nature of self-deprecating humour and in this respect the beeping actually added to the comedic effect and lightened the tone.
 For these reasons, we do not consider that the item would have unduly surprised or offended most viewers. The broadcaster adequately considered children's interests by masking the language and screening the segment in an unclassified programme targeted at adults. As the programme was unclassified, the responsible programming standard does not apply.
 Accordingly we decline to uphold the complaint under Standards 1, 9 and 8.
For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
1 May 2015
The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1 Alan Moffat's formal complaint – 22 November 2014
2 TVNZ's response to the complaint – 17 December 2014
3 Mr Moffat's referral to the Authority – 22 December 2014
4 TVNZ's response to the Authority – 20 March 2015
1Turner and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2008-112
2E.g. Harrison and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2008-066