BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Klaassen and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2004-046

  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Bert Klaassen
Believe Nothing
TV One

Complaint under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Believe Nothing – comedy – reference to cannibalism and consuming body and blood of Jesus Christ – allegedly offensive – allegedly discriminated against Catholicism

Standard 1 (good taste and decency) and Guideline 1a – context – standard not threatened – not upheld

Standard 6 (fairness) and Guideline 6g (discrimination) – context and satirical series – no discrimination – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1] Believe Nothing is a satirical series lampooning aspects of British and Western culture, constructed around the character of Adonis Cnut played by comedian Rick Mayall. The episode broadcast on TV One at 10.40pm on 11 January 2004 used Hannibal Lechter imagery and involved references to cannibalism and church practices.


[2] Bert Klaassen complained formally to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, about aspects of the programme. He objected to equating the eating of human flesh with the consumption of the “Body and Blood of Jesus Christ”, describing it as an attack on sacredly held Catholic beliefs.

[3] Anticipating TVNZ’s defence of the programme, Mr Klaassen commented that it now appeared fashionable to “knock” the Catholic Church, and he said that such insults would no longer be tolerated. He expected a public apology.


TVNZ assessed the complaint under Standards 1 and 6, and the relevant Guidelines, in the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice. They read:

Standard 1

In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are responsible for maintaining standards which are consistent with the observance of good taste and decency.


1a  Broadcasters must take into consideration current norms of decency and taste in language and behaviour bearing in mind the context in which any language or behaviour occurs. Examples of context are the time of the broadcast, the type of programme, the target audience, the use of warnings and the programme’s classification (see Appendix 1). The examples are not exhaustive.

Standard 6

In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are required to deal justly and fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to.


6g  Broadcasters should avoid portraying persons in programmes in a manner that encourages denigration of, or discrimination against, sections of the community on account of sex, sexual orientation, race, age, disability, or occupational status, or as a consequence of legitimate expression of religious, cultural or political beliefs. This requirement is not intended to prevent the broadcast of material which is:

i) factual, or

ii) the expression of genuinely held opinion in news, current affairs or other factual programmes, or

iii) in the legitimate context of a dramatic, humorous or satirical work.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[5] TVNZ questioned whether Mr Klaassen’s concern amounted to a formal complaint, or was a matter of “personal preference” to which the formal complaints process did not apply. It wrote:

  • The particular sketch to which you objected featured an imprisoned intellectual who had been found guilty of cannibalism. In answer to a question about when he last tasted human flesh he replied that it was at Christmas time when he was invited by the priest to consume the “body of Christ” and so bit off the priest’s arm at the elbow. It seemed to the committee the sketch had a touch of the Monty Python about it!

[6] Referring to what it said was a long tradition among Christian denominations of enjoying humour at their own expense, TVNZ considered that there was nothing wrong in joking at familiar aspects of the culture. It declined to uphold the Standard 1 (good taste and decency) aspect of the complaint in view of the following contextual matters:

  • Time of broadcast (10.40pm)
  • Type of programme (satire)
  • AO classification.

[7] As for Standard 6 (encouraging discrimination and denigration), TVNZ argued that there was nothing in the skit which would encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, Catholics. Moreover, it pointed out that Guideline 6g (iii) included an exemption for humorous or satirical items. It declined to uphold the Standard 6 aspect.

Referral to the Authority

[8] Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response, Mr Klaassen referred his complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. Mr Klaassen argued that a skit dealing with cannibalism was outside the boundaries of good taste and decency. He objected to TVNZ’s comment that mocking Catholicism was merely a matter of personal preferences.

[9] Mr Klaassen contended that the image of a priest equating the “body of Christ” with human flesh was highly offensive, adding “it is not even satire, it’s sick”. The broadcast of the item, he continued, displayed a lack of sensitivity and a “couldn’t care less attitude”. He concluded:

I repeat, the ‘skit’ denigrates the Church, ordained Catholic priests in general and attacks the very essence of sacredly held Catholic religious beliefs – mine and those of thousands of New Zealanders.

Complainant's Final Comment

[10] Mr Klaassen expressed his indignation that his tax dollars and those of thousands of other Catholics were being used to finance TVNZ which insulted his religious beliefs and those of others. He repeated his expectation of a written apology from TVNZ.

Authority's Determination

[11] The members of the Authority have viewed a tape of the programme complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing

[12] When the Authority determines a complaint that an item breaches Standard 1 (good taste and decency), it is required under Guideline 1a to take into account the context of the broadcast complained about.

[13] In the Authority’s view the most relevant matter of context on this occasion is the programme genre. Believe Nothing is a satirical series and the remarks complained about were made as part of a satirising of the Christian church. Furthermore, as TVNZ pointed out, the programme was classified AO and broadcast at 10.40pm – more than two hours after the AO watershed. The Authority does not accept that the content, in these circumstances, came anywhere near breaching the requirement in Standard 1.

[14] As for complaint under Guideline 6g (encouraging discrimination or denigration), the Authority again considers that the requirement was not threatened. The comments were made in a satirical context in which Christianity was lampooned. In the Authority’s opinion, such religious beliefs are sufficiently robust to withstand humour of this type.


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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Joanne Morris
6 May 2004


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

  1. Bert Klaassen’s Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 27 January 2004
  2. TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 11 February 2004
  3. Mr Klaassen’s Referral to the Authority (plus attachment) – 9 March 2004
  4. TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 16 March 2004
  5. Mr Klaasen’s Final Comment – 22 March 2004