BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

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Jefferies and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2020-081 (24 November 2020)

  • Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
  • Paula Rose QSO
  • Susie Staley MNZM
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Elizabeth Jefferies
Seven Sharp


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

An episode of Seven Sharp included an item about a tornado and thunderstorm that occurred in New Zealand and an eye witness account from a resident. Considering the contextual factors and the nature of the programme, the Authority did not uphold a complaint that the language used breached the good taste and decency standard.

Not Upheld: Good Taste and Decency

The broadcast

[1]  During an episode of Seven Sharp broadcast at 7pm on 29 June 2020, hosts Hilary Barry and Jeremy Wells reported on a tornado and thunderstorm that had occurred in New Zealand. A resident provided an eye witness account and was later interviewed by the hosts.

[2]  The resident said:

I was going what the hell is that? Strong wind and the whole window started and I thought shit this is gonna bloody explode my windows…

….we brought the weather again today. I don’t know if it’s going to be a tornado, but, Jesus it’s really pissing down…

[3]  In considering this complaint, we have viewed a recording of the broadcast and read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

The complaint

[4]  Ms Jefferies complained the broadcast breached the good taste and decency standard of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice on the basis the language used was ‘appalling’ and unsuitable for children. She also complained the hosts reacted by laughing.

The broadcaster’s response

[5]  TVNZ did not uphold Ms Jefferies’ complaint responding:

  • Seven Sharp is aimed at an adult audience.
  • The Authority has previously recognised there is an expectation that parents exercise discretion when viewing news and current affairs programmes with their children.
  • Seven Sharp occasionally includes mild or low-level coarse language.
  • The Authority’s research ‘Language That May Offend in Broadcasting’ published in 2018 found the word ‘shit’ was acceptable depending on the context, for 82 percent of respondents. The word ‘pissing’ was not included in the research which indicates the Authority does not consider this word is likely to cause widespread offence.
  • The words were the natural vernacular of the eyewitness to describe the strength of the storm and were not used in a nasty or aggressive way.
  • The segment was consistent with the kind of quirky and interesting topics which often feature on the programme and the tone was typical of the light-hearted approach which would be expected by viewers.

The standard

[6]  The good taste and decency standard (Standard 1) states current norms of good taste and decency should be maintained, consistent with the context of the programme. The Authority will consider the standard in relation to any broadcast that portrays or discusses material in a way that is likely to cause widespread undue offence or distress, or undermine widely shared community standards.1

Our analysis

[7]  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 caused.

[8]  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.2

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

  • Each relevant term (hell, shit, bloody, Jesus, pissing) was used once.
  • The language was not used in an aggressive or vitriolic way.
  • The language was not directed at an individual. It was used as an exclamation in describing severe weather.
  • Seven Sharp is a news/current affairs programme with an adult target audience screening during the PG timeband.
  • The Authority has previously recognised that adult supervision is expected, and parents will exercise discretion, around viewing of unclassified news programmes as these programmes are likely to contain material inappropriate for children.
  • The item was a story told from the perspective of a local describing her own experiences of the tornado. It was consistent with the kind of light-hearted and colloquial interviews featured on Seven Sharp. The tone and language used does not go beyond what the audience would expect from the programme.

[10]  In our 2018 Language That May Offend in Broadcasting research we examined the responses to potentially offensive language. Overall, the words ‘Jesus Christ’ and ‘shit’ were ranked as 29 and 30 respectively out of 31 in the list of the most unacceptable words.3 Of those surveyed 29% of respondents found the word ‘Jesus Christ’ unacceptable in the context of television or radio interviews and 33% of respondents found the word ‘shit’ unacceptable in that context.4

[11]  The word ‘bloody’ was not tested in our 2018 research, given its low ranking in the previous 2013 research.5 ‘Bloody’ ranked 29 out of 31 in the unacceptability of words and phrases list from 2013, with only 12% of survey respondents finding the word unacceptable in the context of television or radio interviews.6 The words ‘pissing’ and ‘hell’ were not tested in either the 2013 or 2018 research. They were also not commonly raised by respondents when asked to identify ‘other unacceptable words’.7  This suggests the general level of unacceptability for these expressions is low.

[12]  Overall the language in this broadcast sits at the low end of the spectrum of potentially offensive language. It was unlikely to cause widespread undue offence or distress, or undermine widely shared community standards.

[13]  Accordingly, we do not uphold this complaint.

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


Judge Bill Hastings


24 November 2020


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

1  Elizabeth Jefferies’ formal complaint – 29 June 2020

2  TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 22 July 2020

3  Ms Jefferies’ referral to the Authority – 23 July 2020

4  TVNZ confirming no further comments – 1 September 2020

1 Commentary: Good Taste and Decency, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 12
2 Guideline 1a
3 See Language That May Offend in Broadcasting (Broadcasting Standards Authority, June 2018), page 6
4 As above, page 21
5 As above, page 32
6 See What Not to Swear: The Acceptability of Words in Broadcasting (Broadcasting Standards Authority, 2013), pages 9 and 18
7 As above, page 28, although ‘hell’ was on the list of other words raised. See also Language That May Offend in Broadcasting (Broadcasting Standards Authority, June 2018), page 13