BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Langford and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2001-101

  • P Cartwright (Chair)
  • R Bryant
  • J H McGregor
  • B Hayward
  • A M Langford

TV2 Big Comedy Gala – offensive language – "fuck, shit, motherfucker" – religious skit – denigrated Christians

Standard G2 – stand-up comedy – AO time – preceded by a warning – offensive language used infrequently – not inappropriate in context – no uphold

Standard G13 – did not amount to denigration – no uphold

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


The programme TV2 Big Comedy Gala, featuring stand-up comedians in a night club setting, was broadcast on TV2 at 10.05pm on 19 May 2001.

A M Langford complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that some of the language was very offensive, and one skit ridiculed the Christian faith.

In reply, TVNZ acknowledged that the broadcast might not have been to everyone’s taste. Nevertheless, given the programme’s classification (AO), the time of the broadcast, and the warning, TVNZ contended that the standard requiring good taste and decency had not been contravened. TVNZ maintained that the religious skit in the programme had not denigrated Christians.

Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, Mrs Langford referred her complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

For the reasons below, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.


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 this complaint without a formal hearing

The programme TV2 Big Comedy Gala was broadcast on TV2 on Saturday 19 May beginning at 10.05pm. It featured stand-up comedians in a night club setting in front of a live audience.

A M Langford complained to TVNZ that the programme included "the foulest language" she had ever heard on television. Moreover, she considered that one skit with a religious theme offended Christians. She concluded:

After watching this programme I feel dirty and ashamed at being a New Zealander.

TVNZ assessed the complaint under standards G2 and G13 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice which require broadcasters in the preparation and presentation of programmes:

G2  To take into consideration currently accepted norms of decency and taste in language and behaviour, bearing in mind the context in which any language or behaviour occurs.

G13  To avoid portraying people in a way which represents as inherently inferior, or is likely to encourage discrimination against, any section of the community on account of race, age, disability, occupational status, sexual orientation or the holding of any religious, cultural or political belief. This requirement is not intended to prevent the broadcast of material which is:

i) factual, or
ii) the expression of genuinely-held opinion in a news or current affairs programme, or
iii) in the legitimate context of a humorous, satirical or dramatic work.

TVNZ said it accepted that Mrs Langford had been deeply offended and acknowledged that the broadcast would have offended some viewers. Turning to standard G2, TVNZ noted the following contextual issues:

  •  the programme did not start until 10.05pm
  •  the programme was classified AO and the AO symbol was broadcast after each commercial break
  •  the programme was preceded by a written and verbal warning which specifically referred to language
  •  late teens and young adults were the target audience and they would be accustomed to such humour.

Accordingly, while acknowledging that the programme contained coarse language, TVNZ argued that it was not unacceptable to a late-night audience. With regard to the religious skit, TVNZ pointed out that religion had been the subject of humour for many years. Further, TVNZ said the language in the skit was humorous rather than unkind. TVNZ did not accept that that the skit denigrated Christians, and it declined to uphold both the standard G2 and G13 aspects of the complaint. It concluded:

... the [Complaints Committee] was sorry you were offended, and recognised that the context of stand up humour is not to everyone’s liking. However it did not believe that this broadcast was in breach of the Codes … .

When she referred her complaint to the Authority, Mrs Langford reiterated that the standards had been breached. She commented that many young people watched television at 10.00pm on Saturday night, and she insisted that the religious skit ridiculed Christians. In a later letter, Mrs Langford described TVNZ’s reasoning as devious, and expressed the opinion that "ordinary public have no influence" about which programmes were broadcast on television.

The Authority’s Findings

When the Authority considers a complaint under standard G2 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, it takes into account the context in which the broadcast complained about occurred. The context is relevant, but not decisive, to the Authority’s determination as to whether the broadcast breached community standards of good taste and decency.

The relevant contextual matters on this occasion include time of broadcast, the classification, the graphic and verbal warning which preceded the broadcast, and the type of programme – stand-up comedy. The Authority accepts that stand-up comedy is often audacious but also notes the broadcast’s relatively limited amount of offensive language. Taking these contextual matters into account, the Authority considers that standard G2 was not breached.

Turning to standard G13, the Authority records that it has stated on a number of occasions that the threshold for transgressing this standard is relatively high compared to other standards. While it appreciates that Mrs Langford was offended by the skit which referred to Easter, the Authority does not accept that the boundary was crossed. Accordingly, it concludes, the standard was not breached.


For the reasons above, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Peter Cartwright
16 August 2001


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

  1. Mrs A M Langford’s Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – May 2001
  2. TVNZ’s Response to Mrs Langford – 6 June 2001
  3. Mrs Langford’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 15 June 2001
  4. TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 21 June 2001
  5. Mrs Langford’s Final Comment – 30 June 2001
  6. TVNZ’s Response – 9 July 2001