BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Abel and MediaWorks TV Ltd - 2019-004 (7 May 2019)

  • Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
  • Paula Rose QSO
  • Wendy Palmer
  • Susie Staley MNZM
  • Edward Guy Abel
MediaWorks TV Ltd
Three (MediaWorks)


[This summary does not form part of the decision.]

The Authority has not upheld a complaint that a news item on Newshub Live at 6pm was insensitive and encouraged the denigration of Christians. The item covered the controversy around an Australian advertisement, which featured two Roman soldiers asking Jesus on the cross to consent to organ donation via an app. The Authority found that while the advertisement made light of the crucifixion, the news item itself was a balanced discussion of the controversy that did not contain any statements encouraging the denigration of, or discrimination against, Christians. 

Not Upheld: Discrimination and Denigration

The broadcast

[1]  A news item covered the controversy around an Australian advertisement which featured two Roman soldiers asking Jesus on the cross to consent to organ donation via an app. The presenter introduced the item by saying, ‘A new TV ad to raise awareness about organ donation in Australia is also raising eyebrows with church groups.’

[2]  During the item, the reporter said ‘…it’s also generated criticism for making light of the crucifixion.’  The item included an interview with the director of the advertisement about the importance of the public health message and comments from passers-by about the potential offensiveness of the advertisement. Both passers-by agreed that the advertisement could be seen as offensive:

  • ‘It’s just wrong, just wrong. [On] so many levels, it’s wrong’.
  •  ‘[It] could be seen as emotionally manipulative’.

[3]  The item was broadcast on Newshub Live at 6pm on 16 October 2018. The Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast and have read the correspondence referred to in the Appendix.

The complaint

[4]  Mr Abel complained that the broadcast breached the discrimination and denigration standard of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, for the following reasons:

  • The fact that the advertisement was covered at all was insensitive.
  • The scenes denigrated one of the holiest and bedrock moments of the life of Jesus by making fun of it or depicting it in a jocular fashion, which was appalling (other scenes with Jesus would be less offensive).
  • A newscaster smirked after the item which heightened the indignity.
  • ‘Denigration’ means malign, besmirch, slander, disparage and vilify. Depicting Jesus on the cross in a jocular way is blasphemy, and denigrates, slanders and disparages Christianity.

The broadcaster’s response

[5]  MediaWorks responded with an apology for the offence caused to Mr Abel and submitted that:

  • The report examined the controversial advertisement and the reaction and criticism it engendered.
  • It was factual, with elements of analysis, comment and opinion, and did not carry a high level of condemnation toward any section of the community.
  • It did not meet the threshold necessary to conclude that it encouraged discrimination against, or denigration of, a section of the community.

The standard

[6]  The discrimination and denigration standard (Standard 6) protects against broadcasts which encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, any section of the community on account of sex, sexual orientation, race, age, disability, occupational status or as a consequence of legitimate expression of religion, culture or political belief.

[7]  The importance of freedom of expression means that a high level of condemnation, often with an element of malice or nastiness, will be necessary to conclude that a broadcast encouraged discrimination or denigration in contravention of the standard.1

[8]  Context must always be considered when assessing whether the broadcast ‘encouraged’ discrimination or denigration, including the nature of the programme and channel.2

Our analysis

[9]  In New Zealand we value the right to freedom of expression. However, when considering a complaint that broadcasting standards have been breached, the Authority’s primary focus is whether a broadcast has caused harm, and whether the broadcaster has appropriately balanced the right to freedom of expression with the obligation to avoid harm. Accordingly, when we consider a complaint that a broadcast has breached broadcasting standards, we weigh the value of the programme and the importance of the expression against the level of actual or potential harm that may be caused by the broadcast.

[10]  We acknowledge that the advertisement discussed during this item made light of the crucifixion, using satire. However, we do not consider that the news item as a whole, which reported on the release of the advertisement in Australia, encouraged discrimination against, or denigration of, Christians as a section of our community.

[11]  As we have said above, context must always be considered when determining whether a broadcast is in breach of the discrimination and denigration standard. We found the following contextual factors important in our determination:

  • The broadcaster framed the advertisement as controversial, referring to the criticism it had generated, and presented viewers with the perspectives of two people who considered it to be offensive (set out above at paragraph [2]).
  • The broadcast did not contain any specific statements encouraging the denigration of, or discrimination against, Christians as a section of the community.
  • The advertisement carried an underlying important public health message, which was presented by one interviewee as having value.
  • The item was part of a news programme designed to inform audiences about current affairs and events of interest. 

[12]  We accept that the rebroadcast of the Australian advertisement may have offended and caused distress to some people. In our view, however, the broadcaster’s framing of the discussion about the advertisement, which included discussion about its controversial nature, mitigated the potential for harm, as well as alerting viewers to the nature of the advertisement before it was shown. 

[13]  In these circumstances, it was clear the advertisement was not shown with the intention to encourage the different treatment, or devalue the reputation, of Christians as a section of the community. The broadcast also did not contain the high level of condemnation, malice or nastiness required to find a breach of this standard.3 

[14]  Accordingly we do not uphold this complaint.

For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


 Judge Bill Hastings


7 May 2019



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

1                 Mr Abel’s formal complaint – 16 October 2018

2                 MediaWorks’ response to the complaint – 30 January 2019

3                 Mr Abel’s referral to the Authority – 6 February 2019

4                 MediaWorks’ confirmation of no further comment – 19 February 2019

5                 Mr Abel’s further comments – 18 March 2019

1 Guideline 6b
2 Guideline 6d
3 Guideline 6b