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Burnell and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2008-082

  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Robert Burnell
Close Up
TV One

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Close Up – language in interview with chef Gordon Ramsay – allegedly in breach of children’s interests standard

Standard 9 (children’s interests) – children unlikely to be watching unsupervised – Gordon Ramsay famous for use of bad language so not unexpected – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1]   In an episode of Close Up, broadcast on TV One at 7.30pm on Monday 23 June 2008, the programme’s host interviewed Gordon Ramsay, a well-known and hot-tempered chef. During the interview, the host asked him, “So no swearing at home then?” Mr Ramsay replied that although he and his family did not swear at home, he could not stop his children hearing swear words at school in the playground, and his eight-year-old son had recently been taught the word “wanker” by his schoolmates.

[2]   Close Up’s host asked Mr Ramsay if he was hard to get along with. Mr Ramsay said that he was “very firm... very fair, hard in the kitchen, yeah course I am”. Then an excerpt from his television series Hell’s Kitchen was shown, in which the following exchange took place between Mr Ramsay and a contestant on the show:

Ramsay:            Listen you stupid [bleep] fat mouth bitch...

Contestant:       You’re right chef.

Ramsay:            Why won’t you [bleep] shut up!

[3]   Mr Ramsay then told the host that outside the kitchen he was “a different guy”. At the end of the interview after discussing his critics, Mr Ramsay said “[bleep] them”.


[4]   Rob Burnell made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the programme breached the children’s interests standard. He said that the interview contained “poor language including ‘wanker’ and also ‘fat mouth bitch’”, and that:

With prior knowledge of Gordon Ramsay’s colourful language, why some words were bleeped out and not these others astonished me. Try explaining to a seven-year-old what a wanker is OR who a fat mouth bitch might be!

[5]   Mr Burnell said he wanted to know what TVNZ’s explanation was for its “inconsistent use of the bleep machine”.


[6]   TVNZ assessed Mr Burnell’s complaint under Standard 9 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which provides:

Standard 9 Children’s Interests

During children’s normally accepted viewing times (see Appendix 1), broadcasters are required, in the preparation and presentation of programmes, to consider the interests of child viewers.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[7]   TVNZ considered that “it is expected that children will be watching current affairs programmes in the company of a parent or other adult”. It maintained that the audible language used by Mr Ramsay was acceptable within the PGR time-band, and “bleeping of language occurred in the item to mask the more offensive language which was considered appropriate to a PGR time-band”. It noted that Mr Ramsay was “famous for using bad language” and therefore “there would be considerable audience expectation that he would use bad language”.

[8]   TVNZ concluded that the interests of child viewers were adequately taken into account in screening the interview during Close Up. The coarse language was bleeped, and the words “bitch” and “wanker” were acceptable within the PGR time-band. The broadcaster declined to uphold the Standard 9 complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[9]   Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response, Mr Burnell referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

[10]   The complainant agreed with TVNZ that it was expected that children watching current affairs programmes would be supervised. However, he took “strong exception” to TVNZ’s argument that Mr Ramsay’s language was acceptable within the PGR time-band. He questioned why TVNZ saw fit to “take the time and consider bleeping some offensive language and not other words”.

[11]   The complainant said that he resented TVNZ’s statement that Mr Ramsay was famous for using bad language, because it implied that viewers should just accept offensive language. He asked if TVNZ did “not realise as a national broadcaster the guardianship role they hold on modern language and influence as to what is or is not acceptable?”

Authority's Determination

[12]   The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

[13]   Standard 9 requires broadcasters to consider the interests of child viewers. The Authority considers that, as Close Up was a current affairs programme screened directly after the news and not aimed at children, children were unlikely to be watching the programme unsupervised.

[14]   Further, because Mr Ramsay is well known for his use of bad language, the Authority is of the view that it was acceptable for the broadcaster to assume that most adult viewers would have anticipated that the interview would be themed accordingly. This was also clearly signposted by the Close Up host’s introduction: “His language is so legendary that even one of his series is called The ‘F’ Word”. In the Authority’s view, adults were given an adequate opportunity to exercise discretion with regard to their children’s viewing.

[15]   The complainant objected to Mr Ramsay’s use of the word “wanker” during the interview. The Authority has previously considered the use of this word in a programme screened at 7pm and concluded that it was acceptable for broadcast in a PGR timeslot (Decision No. 2004-201). Here, Mr Ramsay’s use of the word “wanker” was not gratuitous; in response to the host’s question about whether he swore at home, Mr Ramsay used the word to give an example of the language that children inevitably learn from their peers.

[16]   Mr Burnell also complained about the clip screened during the interview in which Mr Ramsay yelled at another chef, “Listen you stupid [bleep] fat mouth bitch”. The Authority considers that, although the clip was not particularly pleasant to watch, it was used to illustrate Mr Ramsay’s admission that he was “hard in the kitchen”. Further, the worst of the language was censored.

[17]   In the Authority’s view, both segments were acceptable in the context of an unclassified current affairs programme broadcast in a PGR timeslot and not aimed at children. The fact that the interview might contain some bad language was also clearly signposted by the host’s introduction. In these circumstances, the Authority considers that the broadcaster sufficiently considered the interests of child viewers on this occasion.


For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Joanne Morris
21 October 2008


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

1.           Rob Burnell’s formal complaint – 23 June 2008
2.          TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 17 July 2008
3.          Mr Burnell’s referral to the Authority – 20 July 2008
4.          TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 22 August 2008