BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Irvine and 95bFM - 1995-066

Members
  • J M Potter (Chair)
  • W J Fraser
  • R McLeod
  • L M Loates
Dated
Complainant
  • Mike Irvine
Number
1995-066
Programme
Two songs
Broadcaster
95bFM
Channel/Station
95bFM

Summary

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.

Decision

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

5.10pm.

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

                        perverted practices.

            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

                        period.

            R30      Programming must not take advantage of the natural credulity of

                        children.

            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

stations.

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

 

Judith Potter
Chairperson
27 July 1995

Appendix

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.