BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Harvey and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2020-023 (24 August 2020)

Members
  • Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Paula Rose QSO
  • Susie Staley MNZM
Dated
Complainant
  • Melissa Harvey
Number
2020-023
Programme
Seven Sharp
Channel/Station
TV One

Summary  

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

The Authority has not upheld a complaint about the use of the term ‘bugger’ by weather presenter Dan Corbett during a broadcast of Seven Sharp. The Authority considered the term constituted low level coarse language which would not have offended a significant number of listeners in the context of the broadcast.

Not Upheld: Good Taste and Decency


The broadcast

[1]  In a broadcast of Seven Sharp, weather presenter Dan Corbett used the term ‘bugger’ when describing an obstructive weather system that was preventing rainfall.  He stated ‘that big blocking eye is being a bit of a bugger’.

[2]  The episode was broadcast on TVNZ 1 at 7pm on 19 February 2020. In considering this complaint, we have viewed a recording of the broadcast and read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

The complaint

[3]  The complainant submitted that the broadcast breached the good taste and decency standard of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice,1 on the grounds that the term ‘bugger’ is a swearword, is very offensive, and should not be used on Seven Sharp.

The broadcaster’s response

[4]  TVNZ responded that the use of the word ‘bugger’ in the broadcast did not breach the good taste and decency standard for the following reasons:

  • It was used in a conversational and light-hearted manner to describe adverse weather conditions.
  • It was not used abusively or with vitriol and was not directed at an individual.
  • The BSA has previously recognised the term ‘bugger’ as being at the low end of the spectrum of potentially offensive language.
  • A previous BSA decision found that the term, when used in a context similar to that of the present complaint, did not meet the threshold of breaching the standard of good taste and decency.
  • In the BSA report Language that May Offend in Broadcasting ‘bugger’ was not among the list of words surveyed which indicates its low and decreasing level of offensiveness.
  • The broadcast was unlikely to have caused widespread undue offence or distress.

The standard

[5]  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.2

Our analysis

[6]  In New Zealand we value the right to freedom of expression. Accordingly, 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.

[7]  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.3

[8]  In this case, we are influenced by the following contextual factors:

  • ‘Bugger’ was used once during the half hour broadcast and did not dominate the broadcast.
  • Immediately following the comment, one of the hosts said ‘Language Dan. Never stop trying though.’
  • The term was used to express an issue with the weather.
  • Seven Sharp is a news and current affairs programme with an adult target audience.
  • We consider the use of this term was within audience expectations of Seven Sharp.

[9]  While the word ‘bugger’ may not be everyone’s language of choice, it has become a colloquial term used frequently in New Zealand and would be unlikely to surprise or offend a significant number of listeners.4 As identified in our 2018 Language That May Offend in Broadcasting research, the term was one of the words the Authority chose to cease testing in order ‘to be reflective of New Zealand society’ at the time and it was not raised by respondents when asked to identify any other words they would personally find unacceptable.5

[10]  While our assessment of the broadcast’s compliance with the good taste and decency standard is based on the specific context in which the term is used, we note previous complaints on the use of ‘bugger’ in the context of news/current affairs broadcasts have not been upheld.6

[11]  We are satisfied that the term ‘bugger’ sits at the low end of the spectrum of potentially offensive language and did not meet the threshold for breaching the good taste and decency standard in the context of this broadcast.

[12]  We do not consider that the term was likely to cause widespread undue offence or distress, or undermine widely shared community standards. Any potential for harm is outweighed by the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression on this occasion.

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


Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Judge Bill Hastings

Chair

24 August 2020    

 


Appendix

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

1  Melissa Harvey’s original complaint to TVNZ - 19 February 2020

2  TVNZ’s response to Ms Harvey’s complaint - 6 March 2020

3  Ms Harvey’s referral to the BSA - 6 March 2020

4  TVNZ’s confirmation of no further comments - 22 June 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 Commentary:  Good Taste and Decency, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 12
3 Guideline 1a
4 Tanner and Mediaworks Radio Ltd, Decision No. 2015-085 at [9]
5 Language That May Offend in Broadcasting (Broadcasting Standards Authority, June 2018), pages 4 and 32
5 See, for example, Tanner and Mediaworks Radio Ltd, Decision No. 2015-085 and Schwabe and Radio New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2001-070, 2000-080 and 2000-067