BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

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Bucknell and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2004-042

  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
  • Diane Musgrave
  • V J Bucknell
Father Ted
TV One

Complaint under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Father Ted – alleged crude humour – alleged disgraceful portrayal of Christian leaders

Standard 6 (fairness) – Guideline 6g – Father Ted does not encourage denigration of or discrimination against Roman Catholic priests – legitimate work of humour – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1] Father Ted is a long running British comedy series. A repeat of episodes from the second series screened on TV One on Saturday evenings in November 2003 at 7.30pm. Television New Zealand Ltd described Father Ted as a series which “makes fun of human foibles through the adventures of a small group of Roman Catholic priests assigned to a remote, fictional island off the coast of Ireland.” The complainant watched the episodes broadcast on 22 and 29 November.


[2] V J Bucknell complained to TVNZ, the broadcaster, that Christian ministers were hard working, caring members of the community who “don’t deserve such treatment.” The complainant wrote:

In no other circumstances would the leaders of other religions be portrayed in such a disgraceful way here in NZ. So why pick on Christian Leaders. … Their calling is so often sacrificial. They need our support not our extreme portrayal of crude humour. Don’t spend our money on these type of programmes.


[3] TVNZ assessed the complaint against Standard 6 and Guideline 6g of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which read:

Standard 6 Fairness

In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are required to deal justly and fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to.


6g  Broadcasters should avoid portraying persons in programmes in a manner that encourages denigration of, or discrimination against, sections of the community on account of sex, sexual orientation, race, age, disability, or occupational status, or as a consequence of legitimate expression of religious, cultural or political beliefs. This requirement is not intended to prevent the broadcast of material which is:

i) factual, or

ii) the expression of genuinely held opinion in news, current affairs or other factual programmes, or

iii) in the legitimate context of a dramatic, humorous or satirical work.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[4] TVNZ advised the complainant that the first episode of Father Ted screened in New Zealand eight years ago, and that the series had proved to be among the most popular of all programmes screened by TVNZ.

[5] TVNZ did not accept that Father Ted portrayed the priesthood in a “disgraceful” light. Rather, it said the humour was “entirely affectionate, the weaknesses and foibles of the priests being those recognised as familiar to every viewer.” TVNZ referred to a long tradition of humour in the Roman Catholic faith (and in other religious and particularly Christian denominations) directed at the Church’s image and institutions.

[6] TVNZ said it seemed that churchmen themselves enjoyed humour based around their church’s institutions and, if anecdotal evidence was to be believed, Catholic priests in New Zealand were “among the most ardent of Father Ted fans.”

[7] TVNZ disputed that other religions were not made the subject of humour, citing as an example the lampooning of the “Indian ‘holy man’, legs crossed and perched high on a mountain top.” In TVNZ’s view, comedy could not succeed unless its subject matter was familiar to viewers, and it was therefore natural that in a largely Christian community such as New Zealand, there would be more humour about Christianity than other religious faiths.

[8] TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint as a breach of Standard 6, stating that it did not believe that Father Ted treated either the priesthood or adherents of Roman Catholicism unfairly. It said the series did not denigrate priests, and there was “no sense in which viewers are encouraged to discriminate against them.” TVNZ noted that, in any case, clause (iii) of Guideline 6b specifically stated that the requirement that broadcasters avoid portraying persons in a manner encouraging denigration or discrimination “was not intended to prevent the broadcast of material which is in the legitimate context of a dramatic, humorous or satirical work.”

[9] TVNZ said it was sorry that the series caused the complainant offence. It noted that the enjoyment of comedy was a subjective matter.

Referral to the Authority

[10] Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, V J Bucknell referred the complaint to the Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[11] TVNZ advised the Authority that it had nothing further to add to its response to the complainant.

Complainant’s Final Comment

[12] V J Bucknell considered TVNZ’s example of other religions being the subject of humour “inadequate to uphold their argument.” The complainant stated:

My complaint was that not only did the programme show extreme denigration of religious leaders in the Christian Faith, but that it was one sided, in that other “faiths” would never be treated with such “extreme humour” ie how would such be received if say Muslim leaders were the butt of such ridicule in these days.

It was the extreme crudity that I objected to.

[13] V J Bucknell advised the Authority that s/he had seen the episodes broadcast on 22 and 29 November 2003, and wrote:

I do not know if all of them were so extreme in their content.

Authority's Determination

[14] The members of the Authority have viewed tapes of the episodes of Father Ted broadcast on 22 and 29 November 2003, and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

[15] Guideline 6g of Standard 6 requires broadcasters to avoid portraying persons in programmes in a manner that encourages denigration of, or discrimination against, sections of the community as a consequence of, among other things, the legitimate expression of their religious beliefs. Clause (iii) of Guideline 6g states that the requirement is not intended to prevent the broadcast of material which is “in the legitimate context of a dramatic, humorous or satirical work”.

[16] The Authority accepts that Roman Catholic priests are a section of the community protected under Guideline 6g. It does not accept, however, that Father Ted portrays priests in a manner that encourages denigration of, or discrimination against, them. Furthermore, it notes that Father Ted is exempt from the requirements of Guideline 6g, as it is a legitimate work of humour. While it accepts that the humour is not to V J Bucknell’s liking, the Authority could find no examples of the “extreme crudity” objected to.

[17] The Authority points out that Father Ted is an entirely fictitious work, and that the story lines of the two episodes it viewed were particularly unrealistic. The Authority agrees with TVNZ that the enjoyment of comedy is very much a subjective matter, and that the hum­our in Father Ted is “entirely affectionate”.


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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Joanne Morris
6 May 2004


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

  1. V J Bucknell’s Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 30 November 2003
  2. TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 4 February 2004
  3. V J Bucknell’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 12 February 2004
  4. TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 20 February 2004
  5. V J Bucknell’s Final Comment – 26 February 2004