BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Philip and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2002-183

  • P Cartwright (Chair)
  • J H McGregor
  • R Bryant
  • Lyall Philip
The Last Boy Scout

The Last Boy Scout – film – "fuck" – frequent use – offensive language

Standard 1 – contextual matters – no uphold

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1] The Last Boy Scout, an action movie, was broadcast on TV2 at 9.25pm on 10 August 2002.

[2] Lyall Philip complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the language used was offensive, and that it occurred at the beginning of the movie when children might have still been up watching television.

[3] In declining to uphold the complaint, TVNZ said in context the language did not breach current norms of good taste and decency, and that the film was screened outside "children’s normally accepted viewing times".

[4] Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision in regard to the offensive language used in the film, Mr Philip referred that aspect of his 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.


[5] The members of the Authority have viewed a tape of the film 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] The Last Boy Scout was a film broadcast on TV2 at 9.25pm on 10 August 2002. According to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster:

The film, which stars Bruce Willis, is an action movie in which a pair of mismatched detectives (one a former secret service agent, the other a former pro-football quarterback), work together on uncovering corruption in the American football business, a quest which also involves investigating the murder of the former secret service agent’s girlfriend.

The Complaint

[7] Mr Philip complained to TVNZ that the language in the movie was offensive, and that it occurred at the beginning of the movie when children might have still been up watching television. Mr Philip specifically complained about the frequent use of the word "fuck", and phrases containing that word.

[8] Mr Philip also complained about a scene in which one actor said "you fucked my wife", and slapped the other party on the shoulder, "indicating approval for an act of adultery."

[9] The complainant also expressed his concern that the movie was screened at 9.25pm, and that offensive language referred to above occurred at the beginning of the film, when "many youngsters are still awake."

The Standards

[10] TVNZ assessed Mr Philip’s complaint against Standard 1 and Standard 9 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which 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.

Standard 9 Children’s Interests

During children’s normally accepted viewing times (see Appendix 1), broadcasters are required, in the preparation and presentation of programmes, to consider the interests of child viewers.


9a  Broadcasters should be mindful of the effect any programme or promo may have on children during their normally accepted viewing times – usually up to 8.30pm – and avoid screening material which would disturb or alarm them.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[11] In declining to uphold the complaint, TVNZ noted that this film has been screened four times previously, between January 1995 and December 1999. TVNZ suggested that there was "the likelihood of widespread familiarity with the film itself."

[12] In relation to Standard 1, TVNZ stated that the relevant contextual factors included the classification, the presence of a warning, the time of screening, the type of film, and the familiarity of the audience with the specific movie involved.

[13] TVNZ advised that the film was classified AO (Adults Only) with the AO symbol appearing at the beginning of the film and after each commercial break. TVNZ noted that the warning referred to not only language, but also nudity and violence, and that it specifically stated that the film was recommended for "a mature audience aged 18 years and over." It also noted that the film screened almost an hour after the "Adults Only" watershed. TVNZ maintained that these factors all clearly indicated that the film may not be suitable viewing material for children.

[14] Turning to the type of film itself, TVNZ noted that this was an action film, featuring a well-known actor in this genre. Given the familiarity of this actor and his movies, TVNZ submitted that the audience would not be surprised or shocked by the language used in the film.

[15] As a general comment on the content of the film, TVNZ wrote:

Given the type of characters portrayed, the [Complaints] Committee made the general observation that to remove the language from this film would take from it an important element of realism which is essential if an audience is to relate to the fictional story being told. The characters were simply not the type of people who would refrain from the use of bad language.

[16] TVNZ concluded that, taking into account the contextual matters stated above, the broadcast did not breach Standard 1.

[17] In relation to Standard 9, TVNZ noted that the film was broadcast at 9.25pm and that this was outside "children’s normally accepted viewing times". TVNZ said that it had considered children’s interests through the viewing time, the use of a warning, and the Adults Only classification. It continued:

The [Complaints] Committee accepts your point that some youngsters are still up at 9.25pm. However, it does not seem unreasonable that there should be a time of the evening at which mature audiences can watch programmes which are made for adults. Viewers were left in no doubt TVNZ was recommending this film only for adult audiences. It is widely accepted in the community that parents and caregivers have the key role in deciding whether or not their children should watch material which is clearly intended for more mature viewers.

[18] TVNZ also declined to uphold this aspect of the complaint.

The Referral to the Authority

[19] Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response in relation to the offensive language aspect of his complaint, Mr Philip referred it to the Authority and wrote:

I can only conclude that the committee went to different schools or studied at different places to the NZ Police, who advise one would be arrested if such language was used in a public place. Perhaps TVNZ operates under a different law to everyone else.

[20] Mr Philip advised that he accepted TVNZ’s explanation as to the time of the broadcast in relation to children’s viewing interests, and withdrew this aspect of his complaint.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[21] TVNZ disagreed with Mr Philip’s comment regarding the use of such language in a public place. It submitted that it was invalid to contrast possible police action with respect to language, with the language found in drama or literature. It said "drama has depicted countless events which would be illegal if they occurred in real life".

The Complainant’s Final Comment

[22] Mr Philip refuted TVNZ’s comments regarding the role of the police, and reiterated that TVNZ had failed to address the central focus of his complaint, namely that the use of the language breached broadcasting standards.

The Authority’s Determination

[23] 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 breaches 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 material complained about was broadcast.

[24] The Authority accepts that the relevant contextual matters on this occasion include the time of broadcast (at 9.25pm), the type of film (an "action" movie), the target audience (a mature audience anticipating a movie involving a certain theme and characters), the pre-broadcast warning, and the programme’s AO classification. The Authority also accepts that an audience watching a film of this nature, would not be surprised by the language used in the film, as it is not uncommon for films of this genre to seek realism through the characterisation and language that is the subject of this complaint. In view of the contextual matters referred to above, the Authority concludes that the language on this occasion did not breach current norms of good taste and decency.

[25] TVNZ advised that the film had been screened four times previously. The Authority notes this point, but does not accept that it is necessarily a relevant contextual matter. Under the Broadcasting Act, it is an obligation upon broadcasters to ensure that all programmes, whether or not screened before, comply with broadcasting standards.

[26] 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 and applies them in a manner 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
21 November 2002


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

  1. Lyall Philip’s Formal Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 11 August 2002
  2. TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 27 August 2002
  3. Mr Philip’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 4 September 2002
  4. TVNZ’s Response to the Authority –16 September 2002
  5. Mr Philip’s Final Comment – 30 September 2002