BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Apps and MediaWorks TV Ltd - 2019-055 (18 November 2019)

  • Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
  • Paula Rose QSO
  • Susie Staley MNZM
  • John Apps
MediaWorks TV Ltd
Three (MediaWorks)


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

The Authority has not upheld a complaint that a promo for The Titan Games, broadcast during Newshub Live at 6pm and containing the phrase ‘holy crap’ breached the good taste and decency standard. The Authority found that the phrase was unlikely to undermine or violate widely shared community norms and overall any potential for harm did not justify a restriction on the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression.

Not Upheld: Good Taste and Decency

The broadcast

[1]  A promo for The Titan Games broadcast during an episode of Newshub Live at 6pm included a clip of a contestant yelling ‘holy crap it’s The Rock’, referring to host Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson.

[2]  The promo was broadcast on Three on 16 June 2019 at approximately 6.20pm. The Authority has watched a recording of the broadcast and has read all documents referred to in the Appendix.

The complaint

[3]  John Apps complained that use of the phrase ‘holy crap’ breached the good taste and decency standard of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, for the following reasons:

  • It was gratuitous and unnecessary.
  • This sort of language should be edited out at that time of the evening and only permitted at a time when young children would not be listening, for example, after 8.30pm.
  • It doesn’t contribute any factual content.
  • Normalising this kind of language is irresponsible and negligent.
  • It erodes the mana of journalism as a profession and the broadcaster as an organisation.

The broadcaster’s response

[4]  MediaWorks responded:

  • ‘Holy crap’ is at ‘the very low end of the offensive language scale’.
  • It would not have caused widespread undue offence or distress to Newshub’s target audience.  

The standard

[5]  The purpose of the good taste and decency standard (Standard 1) is to protect audience members from viewing broadcasts that are likely to cause widespread undue offence or distress, or undermine widely shared community standards.1

Our analysis

[6]  In New Zealand we value the right to freedom of expression. Accordingly, when we consider a complaint that a broadcast has breached broadcasting standards, we weigh the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression against the level of actual or potential harm that might be caused by the broadcast.

[7]  The complainant submitted that the phrase ‘holy crap’ was gratuitous and unnecessary.  

[8]  The phrase ‘holy crap’ and the word ‘crap’ were not tested in our 2018 Language That May Offend in Broadcasting research.2 The word ‘crap’ was tested in 2013 but removed for the 2018 survey which was updated to be reflective of New Zealand society in 2018.3 In 2013, it was ranked 28th out of 31 for unacceptability.4 The term was not raised by any respondents to the survey when asked if there were other offensive words we should have tested, although ‘holy cow’ and ‘holy shit’ were both raised.5 Having regard to this research, we consider, while the use of the phrase may offend some people, it is unlikely to cause widespread undue offence or distress.

[9]  We also note that context is crucial when determining a complaint under the good taste and decency standard.6 We found the following contextual factors important in our determination:

  • The promo was shown during Newshub Live at 6pm which has an adult target audience.
  • The phrase was used once in the promo.
  • The phrase was used as an expression of excitement and was not targeted at anyone or used maliciously.
  • The promo was for a reality show which tend to contain slang and less formal language.

[10]  For these reasons we do not consider the use of this expression on this occasion was likely to cause widespread undue offence or distress, or undermine widely shared community standards. We find that the phrase ‘holy crap’ would not have caused harm justifying a restriction on the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression.

[11]  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


18 November 2019     


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

1                 John Apps’ complaint to MediaWorks – 16 June 2019

2                 MediaWorks’ decision – 15 July 2019

3                 Mr Apps’ referral to the Authority – 15 July 2019

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

5                 Mr Apps’ confirmation of programme – 15 October 2019

1 Commentary: Good Taste and Decency, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 12
2 See Language That May Offend in Broadcasting (Broadcasting Standards Authority, June 2018)
3 As above, page 32
4 See What Not to Swear: The Acceptability of Words in Broadcasting (Broadcasting Standards Authority, September 2013)
5 As above, pages 28-29
6 Guideline 1a