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Hall & Large and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2018-061 (10 October 2018)

  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Paula Rose QSO
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Wendy Palmer
  • Denis Hall & Peter Large
Shortland Street


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

Two complaints regarding an episode of Shortland Street were not upheld. In the episode a new character appointed CEO of the Shortland Street hospital commented, ‘Puffed up, privileged Pakeha men drunk on control, terrified of change… we are the future, Esther, not them,’ referring to the hospital’s management. Complaints were made that this statement was sexist, racist and offensive to white men. The Authority reviewed the programme and relevant contextual factors, including established expectations of Shortland Street as a long-running, fictional soap opera/drama, and concluded the character’s statement did not breach broadcasting standards. It found upholding the complaints in this context would unreasonably limit the right to freedom of expression.

Not Upheld: Discrimination and Denigration, Good Taste and Decency, Balance, Accuracy, Fairness 

The broadcast

[1]  A Shortland Street episode featured a new CEO, Te Rongopai, starting at Shortland Street hospital. During the episode Te Rongopai had a conversation with another character, Esther, who was recently a victim of domestic violence:

Te Rongopai: Are you still with him, Chris’ son?
Esther: We’re not living together at the moment.
Te Rongopai: That’s not an answer.
Esther: I’m sorry I should never have let it…
Te Rongopai: Here’s what’s going to happen [she outlines a plan to help Esther]…
Esther: Why are you doing this?
Te Rongopai: You know what I see in this hospital? The last gasp of a dying age. Puffed up, privileged Pakeha men drunk on control, terrified of change. And we are the future, Esther, not them. Oh they’ll struggle as they fall but they will fall, and I'm here to make sure the right people take their place, kei te pai?

[2]  This episode was broadcast at 7pm on 14 June 2018 on TVNZ 2.

The complaints

[3]  Denis Hall complained this scene was ‘blatantly racist, sexist and ageist’ for its portrayal of ‘white males’ as ‘unreasonable, arrogant and dangerous with nothing to offer’. Mr Hall submitted the phrase ‘puffed up, privileged Pakeha’ in this scene and the implication that white males are a problem that need to be replaced was ‘offensive’ and ‘a dangerous discourse to introduce to the type of impressionable young people who tend to watch Shortland Street’.

[4]  Peter Large complained the scene, in particular Te Rongopai’s use of the phrase ‘puffed up Pakeha privilege’, was ‘subversive’ and ‘disgusting’. Mr Large submitted that if ‘Māori’ replaced ‘Pakeha’ in the line, it would be considered racist. Therefore the Authority should uphold his complaint.

[5]  Both complainants submitted the episode breached the discrimination and denigration standard of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. Mr Large considered the broadcast also breached the good taste and decency, balance, accuracy and fairness standards.

The broadcaster’s response

[6] TVNZ did not consider the nominated broadcasting standards were breached, for the following reasons:

  • Discrimination and denigration: The scene complained about was part of a legitimate drama (guideline 6c).
  • Good taste and decency: The scene was unlikely to offend a significant number of viewers taking into account the following contextual factors:
    • Shortland Street is aimed at adult and teen/older child viewers.
    • The episode was appropriately classified PGR (Parental Guidance Recommended).
    • The Authority has previously found that ‘Shortland Street is targeted towards a relatively sophisticated young adult audience which is familiar with the media and theatrical techniques…’
    • It is a common dramatic technique to have characters behave in a controversial or nasty way to progress the storyline. In the case of Te Rongopai, the comments gave viewers an insight into her agenda and potential issues for other characters in the hospital. 
  • Balance and Accuracy: Shortland Street is a serial drama and not a news, current affairs or factual programme to which these standards apply.
  • Fairness: This standard is designed to protect individuals and organisations taking part or referred to in a broadcast. Mr Large did not identify who he believed was treated unfairly.

The standards

[7]  The discrimination and denigration standard (Standard 6) protects against broadcasts which encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, any section of the community on account of sex, sexual orientation, race, age, disability, occupational status, or as a consequence of legitimate expression of religion, culture or political belief. Guideline 6c states the standard is not intended to prevent the broadcast of legitimate humour, drama or satire.

[8]  The purpose of the good taste and decency standard (Standard 1) is to protect the audience from material that is likely to cause widespread undue offence or distress, or undermine widely shared community standards.

[9]  The balance standard (Standard 8) states that when controversial issues of public importance are discussed in news, current affairs and factual programmes, broadcasters should make reasonable efforts, or give reasonable opportunities, to present significant points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest.

[10]  The accuracy standard (Standard 9) states that broadcasters should make reasonable efforts to ensure that news, current affairs and factual programming is accurate in relation to all material points of fact, and does not mislead.

[11]  The fairness standard (Standard 11) states that broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to in a programme.

Our findings

[12]  This complaint relates to a well-known New Zealand programme which frequently raises community issues. The issue for the Authority is to determine whether in this fictional drama the broadcaster has fulfilled the responsibilities that go with the right to freedom of expression. In New Zealand we value the right to freedom of expression enshrined in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990. When we determine a complaint we weigh the value of the programme, and the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression, against the level of actual or potential harm that might be caused by the broadcast. This could be harm to an individual, or, as alleged in this case, harm to society or the audience generally.

[13]  As noted above, the discrimination and denigration standard is not intended to prevent the broadcast of legitimate drama. Shortland Street is a long-running New Zealand medical soap opera/drama series that often employs creative licence to include controversial characters or themes, for the purposes of character and plot development. It carries some value in that it often uses plot to highlight relevant social issues.1 In this context we do not agree that the character’s fictional dialogue encouraged the denigration of, or discrimination against, any section of the community.

[14]  Nor do we consider that the segment would have unduly offended or distressed viewers given the wider context of the broadcast, including that it was a fictional drama classified PGR, with well-established audience expectations. The scene in question was crucial in the development of Te Rongopai’s character in the narrative and helped establish her perspective for viewers. We acknowledge the complainants found Te Rongopai’s comments offensive. However, we do not believe this scene took the episode beyond audience expectations, or that it elevated the programme to a level which threatened community norms of good taste and decency.

[15]  The balance and accuracy standards only apply to news, current affairs and factual programmes. Shortland Street is a fictional drama programme so neither of these standards applies.

[16]  The fairness standard only applies to individuals or organisations taking part or referred to in a broadcast. Mr Large has not identified any person or organisation as being the subject of any unfairness arising from the broadcast. The complainants’ concerns are better addressed under the discrimination and denigration standard, with reference to sections of the community rather than a specific individual or organisation. As noted above, we do not find a breach of that standard.

[17]  Overall, taking into account well-established audience expectations of Shortland Street as a long-running, local drama series, we do not consider the segment complained about reaches the threshold to justify limiting the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression. We have therefore not upheld any aspect of the complaints.

For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaints.


Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Peter Radich
10 October 2018



The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
Denis Hall’s complaint
1 Denis Hall’s formal complaint – 19 June 2018
2 TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 17 July 2018
3 Mr Hall’s referral to the Authority – 27 July 2018
4 TVNZ’s confirmation of no further comment – 21 September 2018
Peter Large’s complaint
5 Peter Large’s formal complaint – 18 June 2018
6 TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 16 July 2018
7 Mr Large’s referral to the Authority – 30 July 2018
8 TVNZ’s confirmation of no further comment – 21 September 2018

1 See for example: Lobb and Television New Zealand Ltd (Decision No. 2017-013)