BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

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Thomson-Ryan and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2010-063

  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Tapu Misa
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
  • Lucy Thomson-Ryan
Close Up promo
TV One

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Close Up promo – contained the word “fugly” to describe the appearance of a film character – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency

Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – “fugly” used in a light-hearted and jovial manner – not used as a term of abuse – contextual factors – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1]   A brief promo for Close Up was broadcast at 8.33am during an episode of Breakfast and again at 3.07pm during 60 Minute Makeover on Wednesday 7 April 2010. The promo discussed the new Nanny McPhee film starring Emma Thompson.

[2]   During the promo a voiceover said, “... Plus Oscar pro Emma Thompson on having to look fugly for film”, after which Ms Thompson was shown saying, “I really enjoy it. It’s a release from having to look good.”


[3]   Lucy Thomson-Ryan made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the use of the word “fugly” in the promo breached standards of good taste and decency.

[4]   The complainant said that she was appalled that a word which represented the use of “unintelligent gutter language” was used in a promo for a “supposedly respectable current affairs programme”. She stated that her four and six-year-old children had seen the promo and had asked her what the word “fugly” meant.

[5]   Ms Thomson-Ryan argued that the use of “fugly” was no different to “feck off” or “feck you” in the context, and contended that it constituted foul language. She stated that she had seen the promo broadcast both in the morning and afternoon.


[6]   TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standard 1 and guideline 1a of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. These provide:

Standard 1 Good Taste and Decency

Broadcasters should observe standards of good taste and decency.

Guideline 1a

Broadcasters will take into account current norms of good taste and decency bearing in mind the context in which any content occurs and the wider context of the broadcast e.g. programme classification, target audience, type of programme and use of warnings etc.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[7]   TVNZ contended that to constitute a breach of Standard 1 the broadcast material must be unacceptable in the context in which it was shown, including the programme classification, time of broadcast, the target audience, and the use of warnings.

[8]   It noted that standards relating to good taste and decency were primarily aimed at broadcasts that contain sexual material, nudity, violence, or coarse language. It contended that the contents of the promo did not fall into any of these categories.

[9]   TVNZ said that the word “fugly” meant “extremely ugly” and that it had been used with this meaning in the promo. It considered that, even if the word was a shortened version of “fucking” and “ugly”, it was acceptable to screen, and that other shortened versions of “fuck” could also be used such as the “f-word”. It pointed out that the promo had not explained the term “fugly” in any way.

[10]   The broadcaster noted the complainant’s reference to the word “feck”, and stated that this word was used extensively in the comedy Father Ted. It argued that shortened versions of “fuck” were representative of the word, but were not “considered by society to be of the same level of offensiveness”.

[11]   TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint that the promo had breached Standard 1.

Referral to the Authority

[12]   Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Ms Thomson-Ryan referred her complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. She considered that the word “fugly” was unacceptable for broadcast at times when children could be watching.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[13]   TVNZ contended that both Breakfast and 60 Minute Makeover were aimed at adults and that there was a “valid expectation that children would be viewing in the company of a parent or caregiver”. It stated its understanding that “fugly” was also a contraction of the words “fat” and “ugly”, and not just “fucking” and “ugly”.

[14]   The broadcaster maintained that shortening “fuck” to the letter “f” was “socially acceptable in New Zealand”, and was a polite way to talk about the word “fuck”.

Authority's Determination

[15]   The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

[16]   When we consider an alleged breach of good taste and decency, we take into account the context of the broadcast. On this occasion, the relevant contextual factors include:

  • the promo was broadcast during the unclassified news and current affairs programme Breakfast at 8.33am and during the G-rated programme 60 Minute Makeover at 3.07pm
  • it was broadcast during children’s normally accepted viewing times
  • the promo was classified G (General).

[17]   In our view, while the colloquial term “fugly” may have originated from a combination of the words “fucking” and “ugly”, it has become a word in its own right which has been distanced from the words from which it was derived. We consider that the context in which the word was used is vital in determining whether there has been a breach of Standard 1.

[18]   We note that “fugly” was not used as a term of abuse in the promo, but was said in a light-hearted and matter-of-fact way. The presenter’s tone was innocuous and did not carry any invective.

[19]   Taking the above contextual factors into account, we conclude that the promo did not stray beyond the bounds of good taste and decency. We decline to uphold the Standard 1 complaint.


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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Peter Radich
14 September 2010


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

1.          Lucy Thomson-Ryan’s formal complaint – 7 April 2010

2.         TVNZ’s decision on the formal complaint – 4 May 2010

3.         Ms Thomson-Ryan’s referral to the Authority – 12 May 2010

4.         TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 25 June 2010