Conn and Television New Zealand - 2020-011 (16 June 2020)
- Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
- Paula Rose QSO
- Susie Staley MNZM
- Carey Conn
BroadcasterTelevision New Zealand Ltd
Warning: This decision contains language that some readers may find offensive
[This summary does not form part of the decision.]
The Authority did not uphold a complaint that the usage of the word ‘root’ in a Seven Sharp item breached the good taste and decency and children’s interests standards. The Authority took into account the relevant contextual factors including the nature of the discussion, the nature of the programme and the audience expectations of the programme. The Authority did not consider that the use of the word threatened community norms of good taste and decency, or that any potential harm justified restricting the right to freedom of expression.
Not Upheld: Good Taste and Decency, Children’s Interests
 On 19 December 2019, an item on Seven Sharp discussed the Kiwi accent being nominated the sexiest accent and featured some clips of popular romantic movies that had been dubbed with some characters speaking in a Kiwi accent.
 One of the clips was a scene taken from Team America World Police. In that clip, a female character said, ‘shush, you’re a good root.’ Immediately following this clip, the viewers were introduced to another Seven Sharp reporter and her three children who joined the presenters in the studio.
 The episode was broadcast on TVNZ 1 at 7pm. In considering this complaint, we have viewed a recording of the broadcast and read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.
 Carey Conn complained that the broadcast breached the good taste and decency and children’s interests standards of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice1.
 Ms Conn found the usage of the term ‘root’ was ‘vulgar and unnecessary’ and expressed that she was shocked that the word was used ‘especially when children were on the show and would no doubt have lots of their friends watching.’
The broadcaster’s response
 TVNZ did not uphold the complaint. TVNZ was of the view that the word did not reach the threshold of being unacceptable to a significant number of viewers in the context in which it was aired and therefore was unlikely to cause widespread undue offence or distress.
 TVNZ in its response stated that it had considered the following contextual factors when making its decision:
- Seven Sharp is aimed at an adult audience and screens during PGR (Parental Guidance Recommended) time.
- There is an expectation that parents will monitor their child’s viewing of the programme.
- Seven Sharp is known for its informal and conversational tone and viewers would expect it to sometimes contain ‘more mature humour’.
- The term ‘root’ is a commonly used colloquial term referencing sex. ‘It is not a swear word’ and does not appear in the Language that may Offend in Broadcasting research.2
- The clip from Team America World Police was intended to be humourous, and not ‘sexualised or titillating’. TVNZ’s view is that this was similar to a previous Authority decision3 about an interview of Robbie Williams on Seven Sharp. In that decision, the Authority found that Mr Williams’ comments were intended to be humourous rather than titillating. It did not contain explicit sexual references.
- The humour is consistent with what viewers would expect to see on Seven Sharp.
- The children in the studio were with their mother, and there was no discussion of the clip.
- The Authority has previously found that the word ‘rooted’ is unlikely to cause widespread undue offence or distress.4
 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.5 Audience expectations are crucial. Audiences who know what they are getting can usually avoid material or supervise their children’s exposure to it.6
 The children’s interests standard (Standard 3) states that broadcasters should ensure children can be 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.7
 In New Zealand we value the right to freedom of expression and the importance of it in our democratic society. 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.
Good Taste and Decency
 When we determine whether a programme has breached the good taste and decency standard an assessment of context is important.8 In this case we have considered the context in which the word occurred and the wider context of the broadcast.
 We consider the following contextual factors of most relevance to our assessment:
- The particular discussion was a light-hearted one about the Kiwi accent being nominated as the sexiest accent and the series of clips were a humourous take on the Kiwi accent being called sexy.
- The clip in question was consistent and in the same tone as the rest of the clips that were played.
- The term was used once during the broadcast.
- The term was not used in an explicit manner and the content was not intended to be sexual but rather, humourous.
- Seven Sharp is a news and current affairs programme that is aimed at an adult audience and is known for taking an informal, entertainment-based approach to current affairs. It often includes material that some audiences may find challenging.9
 ‘Root’ is a slang term often used to infer sexual intercourse. We note that this term was not identified as a concern by participants in the Language that may Offend in Broadcasting10 research that was conducted in 2018 or in our similar survey in 2013.11
 Having regard to our research and the contextual factors above, we do not consider that the use of this term was likely to cause widespread undue offence or distress, or undermine widely shared community standards. Any potential for harm arising from the use of the word ‘root’ is outweighed by the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression on this occasion.
 With regard to the children’s interests standard, the complainant has expressed concern that the term was broadcast when children were on the programme so many of their friends may have been watching.
 Seven Sharp is a news and current affairs programme that is unclassified and broadcast within a PGR timeband (between 9am and 4pm and after 7pm until 6am).12 Parental supervision can be expected for children watching the programme, mitigating any potential harm that may be caused to children.
 The children’s interests standard is not directed at children who appear in programmes. However, we also note that the children appearing on the programme were with their mother.
 Taking into account the above contextual factors and the audience expectations for Seven Sharp, we do not consider that the comment would have adversely affected child viewers.
 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
16 June 2020
The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1 Carey Conn’s formal complaint – 20 December 2019
2 TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 5 February 2020
3 Ms Conn’s referral to the Authority – 10 February 2020
4 TVNZ’s confirmation of no further comments – 1 May 2020
1 The Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice was refreshed with effect from 1 May 2020. This complaint has been determined under the April 2016 version of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice as the relevant broadcast pre-dated the 1 May 2020 version.
2 Language That May Offend in Broadcasting (Broadcasting Standards Authority, June 2018)
3 Doorey and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2015-088
4 Taylor and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2018-106
5 Commentary: Good Taste and Decency, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 12
6 As above
7 Guideline 3a
8 Guideline 1a
9 Doorey and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2015-088 at para 
10 Language That May Offend in Broadcasting (Broadcasting Standards Authority, June 2018)
11 What Not to Swear: The Acceptability of Words in Broadcasting (Broadcasting Standards Authority, September 2013)
12 Definitions, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 9