BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Fransen and Discovery NZ Ltd - 2020-122 (9 March 2021)

Members
  • Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Paula Rose QSO
  • Susie Staley MNZM
Dated
Complainant
  • Jane Fransen
Number
2020-122
Programme
7 Days
Broadcaster
Discovery NZ Ltd
Channel/Station
Three

Warning: This decision contains language that some readers may find offensive

Summary  

[This summary does not form part of the decision.]

The Authority has not upheld a complaint that the repetitive use of ‘fuck’ in an episode of 7 Days broadcast at 8.30pm, breached the good taste and decency and children’s interests standards. In this context, the language used would not have caused audiences undue offence or harm and it was not beyond what viewers would reasonably expect from the programme. The programme was adequately signposted to enable audiences to protect children.

Not Upheld: Good Taste and Decency and Children’s Interests


The broadcast

[1]  7 Days is a comedy satire show on TV3 hosted by Jeremy Corbett featuring a panel of stand-up comedians, organised in two teams, who compete in a quiz format by providing commentary on news and current affairs.

[2]  The complaint relates to the 20 August 2020 episode. Examples of the language that featured in the broadcast:

  • ‘OK, just stop fucking doing anything. We can't lose just stop fucking it up, ok. And be kind.’
  • ‘So they swim out there and would have to stop 10 metres away and go kick, kick, ah you fucked it.’
  • ‘Who drives like a Mazda Demio but fucks like a Ford ranger?’
  • ‘So who’s out there being sexy and popular? This mother-fucker…’
  • ‘One person would get five to seven and a half, but the couples themselves would have 10 to 15 desserts. Get the fuck out of here.’
  • ‘Man’s mask doing fuck all for COVID’.

The complaint

[3]  Ms Fransen complained the broadcast breached the good taste and decency and children’s interests standards because of the repetitive use of the ‘f-word’.

[4]  The complainant argued the language used was inappropriate for a broadcast airing at 8.30pm, when children could be exposed to the content.  She also referred to an earlier interview of two of the 7 Days comedians on The Project where it was ‘implied’ viewers would not hear bad language on the programme (due to its move from 9.30pm to the earlier 8.30pm timeslot). After this, it came as a surprise ‘to hear two ‘F’ words within the first five minutes.

The broadcaster’s response

[5]  Mediaworks TV Ltd did not uphold Ms Fransen’s complaint for the following reasons:

  • The language was acceptable within the context of the show and was unlikely to cause widespread undue offence or distress to the regular viewers of the show.
  • The broadcast was classified 16 with an audience advisory symbol L which was shown on screen at the start of the programme. It also featured a verbal warning which explained that the programme would contain strong language. These features gave viewers a clear indication of the programme’s nature, allowing viewers to make an informed viewing decision.
  • There is a high level of audience expectation that 7 Days will regularly contain challenging material, including strong language, particularly given the unscripted and improvisational nature of the show.
  • Sufficient care was taken to ensure the material was acceptable in its context.
  • The language was acceptable for a programme rated 16 and scheduled at 8.30pm.
  • The programme screened in an adults-only timeband.
  • The programme did not target young children and the classification and warning indicated it would not be appropriate for them.
  • There was sufficient time for parents to make an informed decision as to whether or not they wished their children to watch the broadcast. Following the warnings, the first instance of coarse language occurred four minutes and 38 seconds into the programme.

The standards

[6]  The good taste and decency standard1 states current norms of good taste and decency should be maintained, consistent with the context of the programme. The standard protects audiences from content likely to cause widespread undue offence or distress, or undermine widely shared community standards.2

[7]  The children’s interests standard3 requires broadcasters to ensure children are 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.4

Our analysis

[8]  We have watched the broadcast and read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. We have also watched The Project interview referred to in paragraph [4] above.

[9]  The right to freedom of expression is an important right in a democracy. It is important we weigh the right to freedom of expression against the harm potentially caused by the broadcast. We may only intervene when the limitation on the right to freedom of expression is reasonable and justified.

Good Taste and Decency

[10]  The context in which such a statement occurs and the wider context of the broadcast are relevant to assessing whether a programme has breached the good taste and decency standard.5 The relevant contextual factors considered here include:

  • The nature of the programme and target audience: 7 Days is a comedy satire show with an adult target audience.
  • Classification and scheduling: The programme airs at 8.30pm and is classified for audiences aged 16 and above. It featured an audience advisory symbol for language.  
  • Audience expectations: The use of language was within audience expectations of a comedy show airing at 8.30pm.
  • Other factors: The language was used in exclamation and colloquially rather than in an aggressive or vitriolic way.

[11]  As noted at paragraph [4], the complainant relies upon an earlier interview on The Project as implying viewers would not hear bad language on 7 Days. However, nothing said in that earlier interview specifically indicated there would not be any explicit language in 7 Days. Further, regardless of any comments made on The Project, the programme classification and ‘L’ audience advisory for the particular 7 Days episode provide an indication of the type of language that could be expected from the show.

[12]  Also relevant to our consideration are the following factors:

  • In our 2018 Language That May Offend in Broadcasting research, ‘fuck’ was ranked 13 out of 31 in the list of the most unacceptable words.6 Of those surveyed 39% of respondents found the word ‘fuck’ unacceptable in all scenarios.7
  • While there has been a slight increase in tolerance for the use of the word since 2013, when the general unacceptability of the word was ranked 9 out of 31 words,8 the unacceptability rating of the word remains high.

[13]  However, overall, considering the factors outlined above, in particular the displays of the appropriate classification and language warning, the broadcast was not likely to cause widespread undue offence or distress, or undermine widely shared community standards. Any potential for harm was outweighed by the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression on this occasion.

[14]  Accordingly, we do not uphold the complaint under this standard.

Children’s Interests

[15]  The focus of this standard is on harm that may be unique to children. Content that could be considered harmful to children may not be harmful or unexpected when considering the audience in general. Thus, the children’s interests standard may be more rigorous than the general good taste and decency standard.9

[16]  The contextual factors mentioned under the good taste and decency standard above are also relevant in our consideration here.10 The ‘16’ classification advised viewers that the programme contained stronger material and a greater degree of offensive language outside of the M classification.11 The offensive language warning was adequate to provide audiences sufficient opportunity to protect children in their care from hearing inappropriate content.12 Upholding the complaint would unreasonably limit the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression on this occasion.

[17]  For the above reasons, we do not uphold the complaint under the children’s interests standard.

For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

 Judge Bill Hastings

Chair

9 March 2021

 


Appendix

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

1  Jane Fransen’s formal complaint – 20 August 2020

2  MediaWorks’ response to Ms Fransen – 17 September 2020

3  Ms Fransen’s referral to the Authority – 17 September 2020

4  MediaWorks’ confirmation of no further comment – 17 September 2020


1 Standard 1 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice
2 Commentary: Good Taste and Decency, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 12
3 Standard 3 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice
4 Guideline 3a
5 Guideline 1a
6 See Language That May Offend in Broadcasting (Broadcasting Standards Authority, June 2018), page 6
7 As above
8 As above
9 Commentary: Children’s Interests, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 14
10 Commentary: Children’s Interests, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 13
11 Definition: Classifications, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 9
12 Guideline 3d