BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Schwabe and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2000-057

Members
  • S R Maling (Chair)
  • J Withers
  • R McLeod
  • L M Loates
Dated
Complainant
  • Paul Schwabe
Number
2000-057
Channel/Station
TV One

Complaint
One World of Sport: Rugby Sevens – live broadcast during half-time break – "fuck"– offensive language

Findings
Standard G2 – barely audible – emotionally charged sports broadcast – no uphold

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

One World of Sport: Rugby Sevens was broadcast live on TV One from 7.00pm until 9.36pm on 5 February 2000.

Mr Schwabe complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that offensive language "containing the ‘f’ word" was broadcast in the half-time break of the final match, during filming of the New Zealand team’s half time huddle. Mr Schwabe said that it was irresponsible to broadcast from a live microphone in these and similar circumstances.

TVNZ responded that, while there appeared to be strong language used, it was indistinct. It also said its intention was to provide viewers with an insight into the intensity generated on occasions such as a big rugby final. In these circumstances, and in the context of a live broadcast, it did not consider it had breached broadcasting standards.

Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, Mr Schwabe referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

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

Decision

The members of the Authority have viewed a tape of the item complained about and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. On this occasion, the Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

One World of Sport: Rugby Sevens was broadcast live on TV One from 7.00pm until 9.36pm on 5 February 2000.

Mr Schwabe complained to TVNZ about the broadcast of "offensive language containing the ‘f’ word". According to Mr Schwabe, this appeared to result from "a live microphone thrust into the (private) half-time coaching huddle of the NZ Sevens rugby team". He said that it seemed "plainly irresponsible to broadcast from a live microphone in these and similar circumstances".

TVNZ assessed the complaint under s.4(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act and standard G2 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

Section 4(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act reads:

s.4(1) Every broadcaster is responsible for maintaining in its programmes and their presentation, standards which are consistent with –

(a) The observance of good taste and decency

Standard G2 requires broadcasters:

G2  To take into consideration currently accepted norms of decency and taste in language and behaviour bearing in mind the context in which any language or behaviour occurs.

In TVNZ’s view, although there seemed to be some strong language used, it felt that the words were indistinct and hard to hear. Examining the circumstances in which the language was picked up by the microphone, TVNZ observed that the team and coach knew they were being filmed. TVNZ said its intention was:

to provide viewers with extra information – this time an insight into the intensity that is generated on such occasions as a big rugby final.

As to the issue of live broadcasts, TVNZ noted that there was an ever-present risk that unseemly behaviour would be picked up through live microphones and cameras. In TVNZ’s opinion, the majority of viewers preferred to see events live, though there was a slight risk associated with this. Furthermore, it considered that any offensive behaviour that slipped in as a result of live broadcasting represented more a reflection of the individuals involved than an irresponsible approach to standards by a broadcaster.

TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint.

Mr Schwabe then asked the Authority to review TVNZ’s decision . He said that TVNZ appeared "to regard the string of ‘f’ words as merely [a] ‘crudely uttered epithet’ which viewers must risk being subjected to". Mr Schwabe also said that he believed the ‘f’ word was the most offensive and aggressive word that New Zealanders know of, and "this property is used by males to boost their own confidence in their macho image". He continued:

It carries a very strong inference that women are mere sex objects and I am sure that most New Zealanders do not want to hear it, or have their family hear it, while they are enjoying sport or other family programmes on television.

Mr Schwabe disagreed that the broadcast of the ‘f’ word was an "acceptable risk" that viewers took when watching live broadcasts. He contended that the "old broadcasters managed to cope well in similar situations with primitive technology", and that today’s broadcasters had "no excuse with all the awesome technology they have at their fingertips". He concluded his referral by commenting that TVNZ appeared not to have the "slightest intention of modifying its live microphone procedures" and appeared to have "a blatant disregard for the intention of s.4(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act".

In its response to the referral, TVNZ said it had little to add, except that there had always been a risk in live broadcast.

The Authority’s Findings

As a preliminary point, the Authority records that it has subsumed its consideration of s.4(1)(a) under standard G2, as standard G2 describes the requirement to observe standards of good taste and decency in greater detail than in the statutory provision.

As required, the Authority considers alleged breaches of standard G2 in the context in which the language or behaviour occurs. On this occasion, the relevant contextual factors include the time of broadcast, the lack of audibility of the language complained about and the expectations viewers would have when watching a highly emotionally charged sports broadcast. Taking these contextual matters into account, the Authority is not persuaded that the broadcast breached standard G2. Accordingly, it declines to uphold the complaint.

The Authority records that it is not persuaded by TVNZ’s suggestion that offensive behaviour might be excused or treated with leniency in live broadcast situations. Broadcasters are still required to be cognisant of their obligations when covering events live, and are responsible for taking such steps as they consider appropriate to minimise associated risks.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Sam Maling
Chairperson
11 May 2000

Appendix

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

1.    Paul Schwabe’s Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 18 February 2000

2.    TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 2 March 2000

3.    Mr Schwabe’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 9 March 2000

4.    TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 17 March 2000