BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Moore and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2003-071

Members
  • P Cartwright (Chair)
  • J H McGregor
  • Tapu Misa
  • R Bryant
Dated
Complainant
  • W M Moore
Number
2003-071
Programme
One News
Channel/Station
TV One

Complaint
One News item broadcast on Good Friday about modern Stations of the Cross exhibition – included picture of Jesus Christ on the lid of a toilet seat – offensive – unfair to Catholics

Findings
Standard 1 and Guideline 1a – report of Christian celebration of Easter - context – no uphold

Standard 6 and Guideline 6g – no denigration – no uphold

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

[1] The modern and unconventional imagery used in a Stations of the Cross exhibition by a Christian Church group was featured in an item broadcast on One News at 6.00pm on Good Friday. One image showed a picture of Jesus Christ inside the lid of a toilet seat.

[2] W M Moore complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the picture of Jesus Christ in a toilet was "offensive beyond belief" and encouraged discrimination against Catholics.

[3] In response, TVNZ acknowledged that the imagery might startle some viewers but argued that reporting an unconventional Christian celebration of Easter was not offensive. It did not accept that the item encouraged denigration of, or discrimination against, Christians and it declined to uphold the complaint.

[4] Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, W M Moore referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

For the reasons below, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Decision

[5] The members of the Authority have viewed a video of the programme complained about and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

The Programme

[6] A modern Stations of the Cross exhibition put together by a church group in Auckland featured in an item on One News broadcast on TV One on Good Friday at 6.00pm. One of the Stations showed a picture of Jesus Christ inside the lid of a toilet seat.

The Complaint

[7] W M Moore complained to TVNZ that the picture of Jesus Christ in a toilet was desecration which was designed to offend Catholics and Christians of other denominations. W M Moore considered that the item was "offensive beyond belief in any context".

[8] Reiterating the concern about the offensiveness of the image, W M Moore contended that thinking about pictures of the Maori Queen or Muhammad in a toilet, which had never been screened, illustrated how offensive the item was.

The Standards

[9] In view of the matters raised by the complainant, TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standards 1 and 6 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. The Standards, and relevant Guidelines, 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.

Guidelines

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.

Standard 6 Fairness

In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are required to deal justly and fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to.

Guidelines

6g  Broadcasters should avoid portraying persons in programmes in a manner that encourages denigration of, or discrimination against, sections of the community on account of sex, sexual orientation, race, age, disability, or occupational status, or as a consequence of legitimate expression of religious, cultural or political beliefs. This requirement is not intended to prevent the broadcast of material which is:

i) factual, or

ii) the expression of genuinely held opinion in news, current affairs or other factual programmes, or

iii) in the legitimate context of a dramatic, humorous or satirical work.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[10] Noting that the item was broadcast during the news on Good Friday and followed an item about the Pope’s Easter message, TVNZ acknowledged that some of the imagery in the exhibition "might seem startling to viewers more used to conventional ceremonies of worship". Nevertheless, it continued, the unconventional exhibition could be seen as making Easter worship "more intriguing and challenging".

[11] TVNZ argued that the item was not designed to offend Catholics. Rather, it reflected one denomination’s way of marking the Easter festival.

[12] In regard to Standard 1, TVNZ acknowledged that some Christians might have been offended by the exhibition portrayed in the item. However, it added, it did not consider that the broadcast of an unconventional celebration of the Easter message strayed outside current norms of decency and taste.

[13] Turning to Standard 6, TVNZ maintained that the item neither encouraged denigration of Christians, nor discrimination against them, writing:

The exhibition was itself the work of Christians, and that was reflected in a news programme which also showed the more traditional images associated with Easter.

[14] Apologising to the complainant for the offence caused, TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint.

The Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority

[15] W M Moore asked the Authority to review TVNZ’s decision, stating:

It is my belief that Christians, and especially Catholics, are increasingly insulted and abused by the news media and the Government of the day. Although 1 billion people in the world are Catholics, their sacred beliefs seemingly have no standing in PCNZ. While there is certainly a need for fair and balanced news reporting of scandal and criminal activity in all sectors, including the Church, the trend of insulting the Catholic Church by omission and commission must stop. Catholics are not getting a fair go.

[16] Maintaining that similar images of New Zealand icons would not be screened, W M Moore asked:

In all honesty, can you truly say a news item showing an image of the Son of God in a toilet is acceptable?

The Authority’s Determination

[17] When it determines a complaint that a broadcast contravenes Standard 1 of the Television Code, the Authority is required to determine whether the material complained about breached currently accepted standards of good taste and decency, taking into account the context of the broadcast. The context is relevant, but does not determine whether the programme breached the standard. Accordingly, the Authority has considered the context in which the news item complained about was broadcast.

[18] One News on Good Friday 2003 included a number of items which covered the Christian observance of Easter. The item complained about was preceded by one about the Pope’s Easter message and was followed by one which reported on a conventional cross-carrying ceremony by some worshippers elsewhere in New Zealand.

[19] A Stations of the Cross exhibit by a Baptist Church which challenged traditional images was dealt with in the item complained about. One image in the exhibit showed a picture of Jesus Christ inside the lid of a toilet seat which W M Moore considered breached the standard of good taste and decency, and denigrated Catholics and all Christians.

[20] Noting that the item was among others reporting Easter activities, the Authority also notes that the exhibit was prepared by a seemingly mature church group who, like other Christians, were observing Easter but doing so in an unconventional way. Accordingly, the Authority does not consider that the good taste standard was threatened.

[21] Given that the item generally showed the importance of the Easter message to Christians and, in particular, reported the use by some Christians of modern imagery, the Authority did not detect any suggestion that the exhibit was designed to ridicule other Christians – whether Catholics or Protestants. Accordingly, the Authority does not consider the item encouraged discrimination against Catholics.

[22] The Authority observes that to find a breach of broadcasting standards on this occasion would be to apply the Broadcasting Act 1989 in such a way as to limit freedom of expression in a manner which is not reasonable or demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society (s.5 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990). As required by s.6 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, the Authority adopts an interpretation of the relevant standards which it considers is consistent with and gives full weight to the provisions of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Cartwright
Chair
24 July 2003

Appendix

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

  1. W M Moore’s Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 18 April 2003
  2. TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 8 May 2003
  3. W M Moore’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 17 May 2003
  4. TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 28 May 2003