BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Rogers and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2003-101

  • P Cartwright (Chair)
  • R Bryant
  • Tapu Misa
  • Frank Rogers
The Last Word
TV One

The Last Word item about high-achieving student – presenter made disparaging comment – unfair

Standard 6 – comment about adolescence rather than the featured student – no uphold

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1] An item about a high-achieving 13-year-old boy in the United States was broadcast on The Last Word on TV One at 10.30pm on 10 June 2003. At the item’s conclusion, the presenter made a comment about what she saw as the young man’s sense of self-satisfaction.

[2] Frank Rogers complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the presenter’s disparaging comment was unfair and could invite bullying against the studious and clever.

[3] In response, TVNZ stressed the style of the programme and the presenter’s well-known disdain for hypocrisy. As it regarded the comment as humorous, TVNZ did not uphold the complaint.

[4] Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, Mr Rogers 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.


[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] TVNZ described The Last Word, broadcast at 10.30pm each weekday, as

[A] late night miscellany combining chat and satire, built around topical issues, woven together in the idiosyncratic personality of the host, Pam Corkery.

[7] An item about a high-achieving 13-year-old American youth was screened on The Last Word on 10 June. He displayed considerable academic success and the item revealed that he had a high opinion of his present worth and future importance. At the conclusion of the item, the presenter commented:

Hasn’t he got "kick me" written all over his forehead? Wait till he discovers wine, women and song ...

The Complaint

[8] Frank Rogers complained to TVNZ about the presenter’s comment, which he did not accept as light-hearted. Rather, he wrote:

It was the spontaneous reaction of a person of modest intelligence against a high performer’s successes, an expression of disgust. In the present climate of concerns about bullying in schools this was an invitation to others of like mind to follow her injunction against the studious and clever, and was quite irresponsible and unnecessary.

The Standard

[9] In view of the matters raised, TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standard 6 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. It reads:

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.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[10] After explaining the style of the programme The Last Word and the style of the presenter who had made the comment to which Mr Rogers objected, TVNZ added that the presenter’s aim was to send "viewers to bed with smiles upon their faces".

[11] TVNZ also contended the American reporter had also shown some cynicism with the youth’s expressed intention "to improve society". It argued that the item could be seen as inspirational or one which showed the young man’s sense of self-satisfaction.

[12] In declining to uphold the complaint that the presenter’s comment was unfair, TVNZ said many viewers could well share the presenter’s reservations about the young man’s "inflated views about his own work", adding:

Viewers were reminded in a humorous way that, whatever the young man’s academic triumphs might have been thus far, he was still to reach puberty – with all the emotional challenges that would bring.

The Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority

[13] Describing TVNZ’s response as "unsatisfactory, if not frivolous", Mr Rogers referred his complaint to the Authority for investigation and review.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[14] TVNZ contended that the key to the complaint was to recognise the distinctive nature of the programme and the presenter’s style.

The Complainant’s Final Comment

[15] In response, Mr Rogers reiterated his complaint that the presenter’s comment was irresponsible and snide.

The Authority’s Determination

[16] The Authority accepts that the presenter’s remark included an aspect of cynicism. While the remark was robust and involved a caustic tinge, the Authority did not consider that it disparaged the gifted young man’s achievements. The presenter noted that the young man had yet to pass through adolescence, and the stresses that growing-up could involve.

[17] As it is of the view that the presenter’s remark more reflected her cynical views about adolescence rather than a comment about the young man featured, the Authority considers that the item did not treat him unfairly. Accordingly, it declines to uphold the complaint.

[18] The Authority observes that to find a breach of broadcasting standards on this occasion would be to interpret 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
18 September 2003


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

  1. Frank Roger’s Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 11 June 2003
  2. TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 30 June 2003
  3. Mr Roger’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 3 July 2003
  4. TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 25 July 2003
  5. Mr Roger’s Final Comment – 4 August 2003