BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Marshall and TVWorks Ltd - 2011-143

  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
  • Adam Marshall
TVWorks Ltd
TV3 (TVWorks)

Te Raumawhitu Kupenga declared a conflict of interest and did not participate in the determination of this complaint.

Complaint under section 8(1) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Labour Party Asset Sales Advertisement – used the word “damn” – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency standard

Standard E1 (election programmes subject to other Codes) – Standard 1 (good taste and decency – “damn” is very low-level language and would not have offended most viewers – complaint frivolous and trivial – decline to determine under section 11(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1]  An advertisement for the New Zealand Labour Party was broadcast on TV3 on 14 November 2011 at approximately 10pm. The advertisement contained the following voiceover:

If you think power prices are high now, wait until we don’t own a damn thing. You have a choice: vote National and kiss your assets goodbye, or vote to own your future.

[2]  Adam Marshall made a formal complaint alleging that the word “damn” was “considered to be a profanity, regardless of how mild or coarse”, and that the advertisement therefore breached standards of good taste and decency.

[3]  The issue is whether the use of the word “damn” breached Standard E1 (election programmes subject to other Codes) of the Election Programmes Code, and Standard 1 (good taste and decency) of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, which states that broadcasters should observe standards of good taste and decency.

[4]  The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

Did the advertisement breach standards of good taste and decency?

[5]  In our view, the use of such low-level language in the context of a political party advertisement, broadcast in a robust political environment, does not raise any issues of broadcasting standards of a level which warrants our consideration. Section 11(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989 allows the Authority to decline to determine a complaint which it considers to be frivolous, vexatious, or trivial. Pursuant to this section, we decline to determine Mr Marshall’s complaint on the grounds that it was frivolous and trivial.

[6]  In any case, we note that both the broadcaster and the Labour Party argued that the word “damn” is “very mild language that may perhaps only offend very sensitive viewers”. We agree. This is supported by the absence of the word in the Authority’s research into the acceptability of words in broadcasting.1  We are satisfied that the use of the word “damn” in the advertisement did not threaten current norms of good taste and decency, and that most viewers would not have been offended.


For the above reasons the Authority declines to determine the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Peter Radich
25 November 2011


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

1                  Adam Marshall’s formal complaint – 14 November 2011

2                 TVWorks’ response to the complaint – 16 November 2011

3                 New Zealand Labour Party’s response to the complaint – 21 November 2011

1See What Not to Swear: The Acceptability of Words in Broadcasting (Broadcasting Standards Authority, 2010) at page 22, and Freedoms and Fetters: Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand (Broadcasting Standards Authority, 2006) at pages 96–97.