Irvine and 95bFM - 1995-066
- J M Potter (Chair)
- W J Fraser
- R McLeod
- L M Loates
- Mike Irvine
A song entitled "Oh Shit" was broadcast on Auckland University student radio station
95 bFM on 27 March 1995 at about 5.30pm and one entitled "Body Count" was
broadcast at 5.10pm on 19 April 1995.
Mr Irvine complained that both songs contained considerable swearing and that the
violence and sense of hopelessness they portrayed was damaging to society.
Furthermore, he argued, such lyrics were unsuitable for children.
In response, Harriet Crampton, Station Manager of 95 bFM, argued that in the context
of the songs, the language used was not unacceptable, and pointed out that in the case
of "Oh Shit" most of the lyrics were unintelligible anyway and therefore unlikely to
have caused offence. For the same reason it was argued that children would not have
been harmed by the broadcast of the songs. Discussing the use of violent themes, 95
bFM maintained that neither song contained violent lyrics and, in addition, noted that
the average frequency that they were played was approximately once every three
months. Dissatisfied with 95 bFM's decision, Mr Irvine referred the complaint to the
Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
For the reasons given below, the Authority upheld the complaint that the broadcast of
the songs breached standard R2 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.
The members of the Authority have listened to a tape of the songs complained about
and have read the correspondence (summarised in the Appendix). As is its usual
practice, the Authority determined the complaint without a formal hearing.
Songs broadcast on Auckland University radio station 95 bFM included "Oh Shit" on
27 March 1995 at about 5.30pm and "Body Count" on 19 April 1995 at about
Mr Irvine complained that the language in the song "Oh Shit" breached standards of
good taste and decency, particularly at an hour when children would be listening. In
his view, New Zealand faced enough social problems without the violence and sense of
hopelessness portrayed in the song. In a second letter, in which he listed standards
allegedly breached, he added the song "Body Count" to his complaint, alleging that it
appeared to promote violence and anger. He expressed his concern that children might
be listening and influenced by this type of music, adding that the scheduling of a
children's programme on Sunday mornings indicated that 95 bFM was expressly
targeting younger listeners.
For 95 bFM, Harriet Crampton, the Station Manager, responded that the complaint
had been considered under the following standards, which require broadcasters:
R2 To take into consideration currently accepted norms of decency and
good taste in language and behaviour, bearing in mind the context in
which any language or behaviour occurs.
R3 To be mindful of the effect any programme may have on children
during their generally accepted listening periods.
R6 To respect the principles of law which sustain our society.
In addition, the complaint had been assessed under the following standards which
require that broadcasters recognise:
R22 The use of violence in any programmes should aim to sharpen not to
blunt human sensitivities and its inclusion can only be justified in the
dramatic context in which it is heard.
R25 Dramatic truth may occasionally require the portrayal of a sadistic
character, but there can be no defence of violence, included solely for
its own sake, or the gratuitous exploitation of sadistic or other
R27 People seldom listen to just one programme and it should be recognised
that unless some care is taken, an acceptable level of violence in each
individual programme could add up to an intolerable level over a larger
R30 Programming must not take advantage of the natural credulity of
R31 Where programme content is likely to disturb or encourage deviant
behaviour by people under the age of 15 years, broadcasters should use
reasonable endeavours to schedule programme content outside of
normal listening hours for children.
R32 When programme content may contain material which may be sensitive
to children it shall be handled positively and responsibly by
broadcasters. Examples of such content include programmes relating to
anger, sexuality, violence, relationships, family conflict and alcohol and
drug abuse to which children may be sensitive.
Dealing with the good taste aspect of the complaint first, 95 bFM maintained that the
lyrics of the songs were barely intelligible to most listeners but even those who did
hear the words would be unlikely to be offended by the use of the word "shit".
Noting that the word "motherfucker" was used in the song "Body Count" six times,
95 bFM argued that in the context of singer Ice T's repertoire and language the word
was used as an expression of endearment and, while probably not acceptable to most
people, in that context was not in breach of the good taste standard.
Turning to the allegations that children would be detrimentally affected by listening to
the lyrics, 95 bFM responded that it did not believe children would be damaged by
hearing words such as "shit" and "motherfucker" which they had probably heard
already from other sources. 95 bFM appended an article titled "Nanny Knows Best"
in which the author encouraged parents of young children not to think of words used
for bodily functions (which have now become swear words) as forbidden words.
With respect to the complaint that the songs breached the violence standards and did
not respect the principles of law, 95 bFM denied that either of the songs contained
incitement to violence or law-breaking. While it acknowledged that "motherfucker"
was a word which could have violent overtones, it argued in the context of the song
"Body Count" it was not used in a violent sense. 95 bFM also pointed out that since
neither song was on the regular play list, the average frequency with which they were
played was approximately once every three months. In those circumstances, it
argued, this was not an intolerable level, even if they did contain violent themes.
This is the second occasion on which the Authority has had to consider lyrics of songs
played on a student radio station. In the earlier decision (No: 145/93, dated 15
November 1993), the Authority wrote:
At the outset, the Authority accepted that student radio was a distinct genre of
radio and was largely managed by young people who were targeting other
young people. It acknowledged that the boundaries of what was acceptable
might well be wider for student radio than for mainstream stations, but noted
that the requirements of the Broadcasting Act 1989 and the standards set down
in the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice still applied to student radio
Based on this premise, the Authority examined the complaint under the standards
raised. It decided that the while the words of the songs were barely intelligible, some
words, such as "shit" and "motherfucker", were clear and were repeated many times in
a strident and aggressive tone. At the time of the day the songs were played (around
5.00pm), the Authority concluded that that language was not acceptable.
Consequently, it upheld the complaint that the broadcast of the two songs was in
breach of standard R2, which requires broadcasters to observe standards of good taste
and decency in context.
Because it considered that the heart of the complaint was the allegation of a breach of
good taste and decency, the Authority decided in this instance to subsume the other
aspects of the complaint related to observing the principles of law, effects on children
and allegations of violence. As noted above, the principal reason for upholding the
breach of R2 was that the broadcast of such language at that time of day might
encourage young people to believe that strident aggressive speech is acceptable when,
in the Authority's view, it is clearly not consistent with values held by most New
Zealanders. As to the allegations of violence, the Authority considered that because
the lyrics were so unintelligible, it was difficult to ascertain such a theme.
For the reasons set forth above, the Authority upholds the complaint that the
broadcast by Auckland University radio station 95 bFM of the songs "Oh Shit"
on 27 March at 5.30pm and "Body Count" on 19 April 1995 at 5.10pm breached
standard R2 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.
The Authority declines to uphold any other aspect of the complaint.
Having upheld a complaint, the Authority may make an order under s.13(1) of the
Broadcasting Act 1989. The Authority regards its task on this occasion as being of an
advisory nature as to the type of songs that student radio stations may play –
especially in the early evening. It does not intend to make an order on this occasion.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
27 July 1995
Mr Irvine's Complaint to 95 bFM – 16 April 1995
Mr Mike Irvine of Auckland complained to the Auckland University student radio
station (95 bFM) that the language of some songs and of the DJs at the station was
unacceptable, especially at times when children might be listening.
In particular, he complained about the song "Oh Shit", broadcast at 5.30pm on 27
March, and "Body Count" at 5.10pm on 19 April 1995. Mr Irvine stated that both
songs contained considerable swearing and that "Body Count" appeared to promote
violence and anger. In his view, New Zealand society had enough tension without
promoting such attitudes.
Noting that the station actively promoted a children's show on Sunday mornings, he
maintained that children would be likely to listen to, and be influenced by, the type of
music broadcast at other times.
He cautioned the station to consider the effects on impressionable children, quoting
passages from the Bible in support of his views.
95 bFM's Response to the Formal Complaint – 16 May 1995
Commenting first on Mr Irvine's request that the Station consider biblical injunctions
on acceptable speech, Harriet Crampton (the Station Manager) on its behalf claimed
that when the Old Testament was completed in the late 6th century BC, words like
fuck and cunt were acceptable usage and that it was not until that beginning of the
19th century AD that they became swear words.
Turning to the standards allegedly breached, 95 bFM commented that as far as the
acceptability of the language used, most of the words in "Oh Shit" were unintelligible
and further, that most people would be unlikely to be offended by the use of the word
"shit". With respect to the song "Body Count" 95 bFM noted that the word
"motherfucker" was used six times and, while it acknowledged that the word was not
acceptable to most people, it expressed the opinion that the singer Ice T used the
word as a term of endearment. In that context, it argued, there was no breach of the
good taste and decency standard.
With respect to the argument that such language was inappropriate for children, 95
bFM referred to an article entitled "Nanny Knows Best" which discussed child rearing
and asked why the words for natural bodily functions had become swear words.
95 bFM dismissed the claim that the principles of law were breached, noting that
neither song mentioned law breaking nor incited law breaking.
Turning to the claim that the violence standards were breached, 95 bFM argued that
while it could be maintained that the word "motherfucker" was a violent one, its use in
the context of the song "Body Count" was not violent. With respect to the song "Oh
Shit", 95 bFM repeated that although the words were barely intelligible, there was no
mention of violence. In addition, 95 bFM noted that neither song was on the playlist,
and therefore the average frequency they could be played was approximately once
every three months.
Next, 95 bFM examined the alleged breaches of standards relating to children. It did
not accept that the natural credulity of children would be taken advantage of, or that
listening to the songs would disturb children or encourage deviant behaviour. It denied
that either song contained material which would be sensitive to children. In
conclusion, 95 bFM advised:
Our Programme Director has already instructed our DJs to use discretion in the
playing of tracks which may contain violence or excessive use of swear words
and directed them to be aware that these tracks should be played late at night
or at least outside of children's generally accepted listening times.
Mr Irvine's Complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 7 June 1995
Dissatisfied with 95 bFM's response, Mr Irvine referred the complaint to the
Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
Mr Irvine argued that the station manager demonstrated the use of a double standard
when she claimed that the DJs were not to swear and yet continued to broadcast songs
with "blatant swearing". In his view, most New Zealand families would object to such
use of language around children.
He repeated that 95 bFM had a "kiddies' show" on Sundays and in his view that only
encouraged children to listen to the potentially more harmful material being broadcast.
Mr Irvine noted New Zealand had the highest rate of suicide for young men and the
third highest for young women in the world, facts which pointed to a confused
generation of youth.
95 bFM's Response to the Authority – 16 June 1995
The station manager, Ms Crampton, asserted that Mr Irvine was wrong to suggest
that she had double standards. She argued that a DJ swearing on air and the playing of
a track that contained swear words were not the same thing.
Mr Irvine's Final Comment – 21 June 1995
When asked to make a brief final comment, Mr Irvine stated that he stood by all that
he had written, adding that he was thankful that there are broadcasting standards to be
adhered to in New Zealand. He sought the Authority's power in ensuring justice was
done and standards upheld.