BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Blackburn and TV3 Network Services Ltd - 2001-211

  • P Cartwright (Chair)
  • R Bryant
  • J H McGregor
  • B Hayward
  • Owen Blackburn
Albino Alligator
TV4 # 2

Film – Albino Alligator – repeated and overwhelming use of fuck and motherfucker – offensive language

Standard G2 – overwhelming and repetitive use of fuck and motherfucker was gratuitous – uphold

No Order

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1] The film Albino Alligator was broadcast on TV4 on 28 June 2001 beginning at 9.30pm. It was a police drama involving a robbery and a hostage taking.

[2] Owen Blackburn complained to TV3 Network Services Ltd, the broadcaster, that the repeated use of the "f" word in the scene when a reporter interviewed a police officer, was unnecessary.

[3] In response, TV3 said that film was rated AO, and preceded by a written and verbal warning. Moreover, 56 cuts had been made by TV4’s appraiser because of the language, and screening was prohibited before 9.30pm. TV3 said that profuse swearing in the scene complained about was important in context, and it declined to uphold the complaint.

[4] Dissatisfied with TV3’s response, Mr Blackburn referred his complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

For the reasons below, the Authority upholds the complaint.


[5] The members of the Authority have viewed a tape of the programme complained about and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

The Programme

[6] The film Albino Alligator was broadcast on TV4 on 28 June 2001 beginning at 9.30pm. It was a police drama involving a robbery and a hostage taking.

The Complaint

[7] Owen Blackburn complained to TV3 Network Services Ltd, the broadcaster, about a scene in which a police officer was being interviewed by a reporter. The police officer, he stated, used the "f" word repeatedly which, he said, was "totally unnecessary".

[8] Moreover, he noted, the listing for the film in "TV Guide" had not carried a rating.

The Standard

[9] TV3 assessed the complaint under standard G2 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which requires broadcasters in the preparation and presentation of programmes:

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.

The Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[10] TV3 advised that the film was rated AO and that it had been preceded by a written and verbal warning which stated: "This film contains scenes of violence and coarse language intended for adult audiences". Moreover, TV3 wrote, TV4’s appraiser had made 56 cuts for language and restricted the screening until after 9.30pm.

[11] Turning to the specific scene complained about, TV3 explained that the police officer swore profusely during an interview to ensure that the news report would not be screened. It continued:

The scene is important in the context of the movie as it introduces the female reporter, who later manages to aggravate the hostage situation when she broadcasts a picture of another known criminal in the bar, who police assume (incorrectly) is the mastermind of the heist. This contextual importance means that the scene could not be removed in its entirety.

Furthermore, it is important for the viewer to hear the police officer’s swearing as it explains how he manages to prevent the broadcast of his comments by the intrusive press. The humour of the scene would have been destroyed if the "f-words" were "bleeped".

[12] TV3 did not consider that the short burst of swearing in the context amounted to a breach of the standards. In response to Mr Blackburn’s complaint that the film’s rating was not included in the TV Guide, TV3 advised that the rating had been included in the press material sent to the TV Guide.

The Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority

[13] When he referred his complaint to the Authority, Mr Blackburn emphasised the point that he did not find the use of the "f-word" acceptable, explaining that it was not important to hear swearing.

[14] Mr Blackburn acknowledged that a viewer had the option to switch off. However, on this occasion, he pointed out, he had changed channels during the advertisements and he had had no warning of what he would hear. He noted:

It is reasonable for a viewer to expect that one or two occasional swear words be accepted without prior warning but not a string of one of the worst words that could be used.

[15] Mr Blackburn did not accept that the sequence was acceptable in context, and advocated the need for standards which promoted decency.

The Complainant’s Final Comment

[16] In his final comment, Mr Blackburn wrote:

The situation in our TV industry is absolutely deplorable. There are no real moral standards anymore and TV companies are allowed to be self-policing which I believe means that whenever a complaint arises, they take a view which is biased towards their favour so that they can continue to serve up material that continually degrades morality in this country.

The Authority’s Determination

[17] The Authority’s task in assessing this complaint under standard G2 is to determine whether the language complained about breached currently accepted norms, in the context in which it occurred. The context is relevant, but not decisive, to the Authority’s determination of whether the programme breached standards of good taste and decency.

[18] Mr Blackburn complained about the repeated use of the "f" word in one particular scene in the film Albino Alligator. The broadcaster referred to the "f word". The Authority has viewed the film and notes that the scene complained about contained concentrated use of the words "fuck" and "motherfucker". It notes as well that the word "fuck " featured reasonably regularly in the rest of the film.

[19] The broadcaster argued that the following contextual factors were relevant in declining to uphold the complaint: the AO rating; the verbal and written warning which preceded the broadcast of the film; the time of screening (one hour after the AO watershed); and the essential use of the language in the scene complained about. The broadcaster also noted that it had made 56 cuts to the film for language prior to the broadcast.

[20] The Authority has considered these contextual matters carefully and concludes that they do not outweigh the repeated use of the word "motherfucker" in the scene. The Authority does not accept that the full scene was essential to the film. The introduction of the reporter was essential and, the Authority believes that aspect could have been included. The reporter’s interview with the senior investigator during which the language was used extensively, was in the Authority’s opinion not necessary. Accordingly, it regards the repeated use of the language as gratuitous.

[21] The Authority also notes that the broadcaster is not responsible for the publication of the listings in "TV Guide" provided that it is provided with the correct rating, as occurred in this instance.

[22] In conclusion, the Authority considers that the use of the word "fuck, and especially the word "motherfucker", was overly repetitive. Given that the scene in the film Albino Alligator was not essential to the storyline, even though the broadcaster pointed to the intended irony of the scene, the language was gratuitous in the Authority’s opinion. Accordingly, it concludes that the broadcast breached standard G2.

[23] In reaching this decision, the Authority records that it has considered whether the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression, as contained in s.14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, is unjustifiably infringed. The Authority is satisfied that its decision to uphold this complaint is made under its empowering legislation. The Authority is also satisfied that the exercise of its power on this occasion does not unduly restrict the broadcaster’s right to express itself freely. Indeed, it considers that the upholding of this complaint is reasonable and demonstrably justified especially given the repeated use of the word "motherfucker", while giving effect to the intention of the Broadcasting Act. In coming to this conclusion, the Authority has taken into account all the circumstances of this complaint, including the nature of the error and the potential impact of the order.


For the reasons above, the Authority upholds the complaint that the broadcast of Albino Alligator by TV4 Network Ltd at 9.30pm on 28 June 2001 breached standard G2 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[24] Having upheld a complaint, the Authority may make an order under ss 13 and 16 of the Broadcasting Act 1989. It notes that the broadcaster made an effort to ensure that the film as broadcast complied with the standards. Consequently, it is of the view that the error of judgment does not merit the imposition of a penalty. Accordingly, no order is imposed.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Peter Cartwright
6 December 2001


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

  1. Owen Blackburn’s Complaint to TV3 Network Services Ltd – 12 July 2001
  2. TV3’s Response to Mr Blackburn – 16 August 2001
  3. Mr Blackburn’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 22 August 2001
  4. TV3’s Response to the Authority – 18 September 2001
  5. Mr Blackburn’s Final Comment – 28 September 2001