BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

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Bennett and Television New Zealand - 2020-091 (9 December 2020)

  • Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Paula Rose QSO
  • Susie Staley MNZM
  • Carole Bennett
TV One

Warning: This decision contains language that some readers may find offensive.


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

The Authority has not upheld a complaint that the language used in two episodes of The Hotel Inspector, breached the good taste and decency and children’s interests standards. In this context, the language used would not have caused audiences undue offence or harm and it was not beyond what viewers would reasonably expect from the programme. The programme was adequately signposted to enable audiences to protect children.

Not Upheld: Good Taste and Decency and Children’s Interests

The broadcast

[1]  The Hotel Inspector is a British reality TV show broadcast on TVNZ 1 at 7.30pm on Sundays. In the programme Alex Polizzi, an experienced hotelier, visits hotels which are struggling and gives them advice and suggestions on how to improve their business.

[2]  The complaint highlighted two episodes broadcast on 11 July 2020 and 18 July 2020, where the words ‘fuck’ and ‘fucking’ were used. The four instances in the 11 July 2020 episode are:

  • ‘Instead of doing something like this they could start whitewashing the fucking wood, I mean do something useful.’
  • ‘Oh fuck! And then what happened?’
  • ‘There must be those weeks where you just think fucking hell.’
  • ‘You’re living like you’re twenty still, there must be those weeks when you just think fucking hell get me out of here.’

[3]  The two instances in the 18 July 2020 episode are:

  • ‘Ah fuck, comfy bed and breakfast and conference venue.’
  • ‘What you have given me is more of the same boys and I am telling you what it is people are going to want from an independent place, with you two charming gentlemen at the helm and it isn’t LED fucking lighting.’

The complaint

[4]  Ms Bennett complained the broadcast breached the good taste and decency standard of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice on the basis the ‘frequent use of the f-word breaches the watershed for children watching at 7.30pm’.

[5]  TVNZ appears to have accepted Ms Bennett’s complaint as impliedly also raising the children’s interests standard (which we agree was appropriate).  It has been referred to us under both standards.

The broadcaster’s response

[6]  TVNZ did not uphold Ms Bennett’s complaint for the following reasons:

  • The episodes were classified ML. The M classification means the programme might contain content that some children and parents find challenging or content with a moderate impact and themes that require a mature outlook. The L advisory indicates the programme contains language that may offend.
  • The episodes were also preceded by a warning which stated: ‘M This programme is rated M. It contains coarse language.’
  • Ms Polizzi in her introduction explains she is going to ‘deliver tough home truths’ and ‘is not holding back’. This along with the warning indicates the likely content and tone of comments in the programme.
  • There is an expectation that the M classification may contain the ‘f-word’. The amount of coarse language was not excessive or aggressive. The language was used by Ms Polizzi to express her upset and sympathy with the owners.
  • Sufficient information was provided for viewers to make an informed decision about viewing the programme.
  • There is an expectation under the standards that parents monitor their children’s viewing of M classified programming.

The standards

[7]  The good taste and decency standard states current norms of good taste and decency should be maintained, consistent with the context of the programme. The standard is intended to protect audiences from content likely to cause widespread undue offence or distress, or undermine widely shared community standards.1

[8]  The children’s interests standard requires broadcasters to ensure children are protected from broadcasts which might adversely affect them. Material likely to be considered under this standard includes violent content or themes, offensive language, social or domestic friction and dangerous, antisocial or illegal behaviour where such material is outside the expectations of the programme’s classification.2

Our analysis

[9]  We have viewed the broadcasts and read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

[10]  The right to freedom of expression is an important right in a democracy. It is important we weigh the right to freedom of expression against the harm potentially caused by the broadcast. We may only intervene when the limitation on the right to freedom of expression is reasonable and justified.

Good Taste and Decency

[11]  The context in which such a statement occurs and the wider context of the broadcast are relevant to assessing whether a programme has breached the good taste and decency standard.3 The relevant contextual factors considered here include:

  • The nature of the programme: The Hotel Inspector is a documentary television series where Alex Polizzi attempts to salvage some of Britain’s worst-run hotels.
  • Classification and scheduling: The programme airs at 7:30pm on Sundays. Both the 11 and 18 July episodes are classified ML (for mature audiences 16 years and over containing language that may offend).4  The classification and warning appears at the bottom of the screen at the beginning of each programme and remains for about 10 seconds. The classification appears at the bottom of the screen when the programme returns from ad-breaks.
  • The target and likely audience: It is targeted to an adult audience.
  • Audience expectations: The particular broadcasts are episodes in the 16th season of the show. Ms Polizzi has been its host since 2008 and is known for her honest advice and no-nonsense approach.5
  • Other factors: The language was not used in an aggressive or vitriolic way rather Ms Polizzi used the language to express her frustration. The language did not dominate the broadcast. It was used on four occasions in the 11 July episode and twice in the 18 July episode. It was not used to insult an individual. It was used either in a conversational way or when Ms Polizzi was talking to herself.

[12]  Also relevant to our consideration are the following factors:

  • In our 2018 Language That May Offend in Broadcasting research, ‘fuck’ was ranked 13 out of 31 in the list of the most unacceptable words.6 Of those surveyed 39% of respondents found the word ‘fuck’ unacceptable in all scenarios and 61 percent of people found the word unacceptable when used in the context of a reality TV programme.7
  • While there has been a slight increase in tolerance for the use of the word since 2013, when the general unacceptability of the word was ranked 9 out of 31 words.8 The unacceptability rating of the word remains high.

[13]  However, when broadcasters take effective steps to inform their audiences of the nature of a programme, enabling them to regulate their own and their children’s viewing behaviour, they are less likely to breach this standard.9 Overall, considering the factors outlined above, in particular the displays of the appropriate classification and language warning, the broadcast is not likely to cause widespread undue offence or distress, or undermine widely shared community standards. Any potential for harm is outweighed by the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression on this occasion.

[14]  Accordingly, we do not uphold the complaint under this standard.

Children’s Interests

[15]  The focus of this standard is on harm that may be unique to children; content that could be considered harmful to children may not be harmful or unexpected when considering the audience in general. Thus, the children’s interests standard may be more rigorous than the general good taste and decency standard.10

[16]  The contextual factors mentioned in paragraphs [11] and [12] above are also relevant in our consideration here.11 While the broadcast was within children’s normally accepted viewing times,12 the offensive language warning was adequate to provide audiences sufficient opportunity to protect children in their care from hearing inappropriate content.13 Upholding the complaint would unreasonably limit the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression on this occasion.

[17]  For the above reasons, we do not uphold the complaint under the children’s interests standard.

For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Judge Bill Hastings


9 December 2020



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

1  Carole Bennett’s formal complaint – 18 July 2020

2  TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 31 July 2020

3  Ms Bennett’s referral to the Authority – 5 August 2020

4  TVNZ’s confirmation of no further comment – 1 September 2020

1 Commentary: Good Taste and Decency, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 12
2 Guideline 3a
3 Guideline 1a
4 Guideline 2a
5 <>
6 See Language That May Offend in Broadcasting (Broadcasting Standards Authority, June 2018), page 6
7 As above, pages 6 and 25
8 As above, page 6
9 Guideline 1b
10 Commentary: Children’s Interests, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 14
11 As above, page 13
12 Definition: Children’s normally accepted viewing times, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 9
13 Guideline 3d