Mather and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2022-088 (5 October 2022)
- Susie Staley MNZM (Chair)
- John Gillespie
- Tupe Solomon-Tanoa’i
- Damon Mather
BroadcasterTelevision New Zealand Ltd
[This summary does not form part of the decision.]
The Authority has declined to determine three complaints about different programmes broadcast on TVNZ channels on 4 July 2022 as the concerns related to the complainant’s personal preferences on what should be broadcast, and other issues raised have recently been dealt with and did not warrant further determination.
Decline to determine (section 11(b) in all the circumstances the complaint should not be determined): Offensive & Disturbing Content; Discrimination & Denigration
 On 4 July 2022, episodes of Shortland Street, The Simpsons, and Everybody Hates Chris were broadcast on TVNZ channels. A short summary of each programme, and the specific episodes, follows:
- Shortland Street is a serial drama based on a fictitious hospital in Auckland. Its storylines predominantly centre on the personal and professional lives of hospital staff. The episode started with a recap of previous events, where a nurse confronted a patient about their behaviour live-streaming their stay in the hospital, and in refusing a tetanus vaccine. The confrontation is uploaded to social media, leading to another character entering the hospital and spitting in the nurse’s face. Throughout the episode, the nurse refers to vitriol she receives online due to the video, and decides to upload her own perspective on the issue, referring to the benefits of vaccines and the difficulties health workers are going through during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Everybody Hates Chris is a sitcom based on comedian Chris Rock’s teenage years in Brooklyn, New York, in the 1980s. The sitcom is narrated by Rock. The complaint is about two episodes broadcast on the day:
(a) At 1pm, where a new Black kid starts at the protagonist’s school (prior to which, Rock was the only one).
(b) At 7pm, where the family celebrate Kwanzaa instead of Christmas, and Rock is given a homework assignment to help someone in the community.
- The Simpsons is a long-running satirical sitcom revolving around the Simpsons family. In this episode, Homer and his friends form a bowling team to cheer up their friend Moe. While at the bowling alley, a man offered to ‘polish your balls’ and, separately, asked ‘may I wax your alley?’
 Damon Mather complained the broadcasts breached the following broadcasting standards as:
- Shortland Street – Offensive and Disturbing Content – it is ‘pushing’ a Māori ‘vs all others story line, this is feeding racism created by this government’ and is otherwise ‘forcing’ te reo Māori ‘upon all of NZ’. It also portrayed people who are not vaccinated in an ‘unacceptable and disgusting and highly offensive’ fashion and goes some way towards ‘alienating one part of society labelling them as something they are not’.
- Everybody Hates Chris – Discrimination and Denigration – the ‘programme is openly racist toward white people in a comedic fashion’. Although the complainant referred to two broadcasts of the programme (at 1pm and 7pm), no particular comments were identified as breaching the standard.
- The Simpsons – Offensive and Disturbing Content – it included adult innuendo which should not be viewed by children yet is broadcast at a time when children would be watching.
 The complainant also raised other general concerns which were unrelated to the above programmes, including about the COVID-19 vaccine.
 Upon referral to the Authority, the complainant sought to raise additional standards, including the children’s interests standard with regards to The Simpsons complaint.
 Under section 8(1B) of the Broadcasting Act 1989, the Authority is only able to consider complaints under the standard(s) raised in the original complaint to the broadcaster. However, in limited circumstances, the Authority can consider standards not raised in the original complaint where it can be reasonably implied into the wording, and where it is reasonably necessary in order to properly consider the complaint.1
 We accept the children’s interests standard can be reasonably implied into the wording of the original complaint (paragraph ). However, in the circumstances of the complaints, and for the reasons that follow, we do not consider it reasonably necessary to imply additional standards into the complaints for their proper consideration.
The broadcaster’s response
 TVNZ did not uphold the complaints for the following key reasons:
- Shortland Street – the perspectives on the right to protest and value of vaccines were consistent with the storyline and reflected common discussions happening in Aotearoa New Zealand. To the extent the complaint concerned the use of te reo, this episode ‘did not contain any discussion about te reo Māori’.
- Everybody Hates Chris – no material was identified in the episode that had the potential to cause harm at a level justifying restricting freedom of expression (and it recognised the complainant did not cite any specific material). Further, the show is ‘more concerned with making jokes about the black community.’
- The Simpsons – the programme, and its satirical nature, is well-known; it is not considered to be a ‘child’s cartoon’. Regarding the specific comments referenced, these were a ‘very small part of the programme’ and operated ‘as a double entendre… rather than being sexualised, the comments are intended to be humorous.’
Outcome: Decline to determine
 Section 11(b) of the Broadcasting Act 1989 authorises the Authority to decline to determine a complaint if it considers that, in all the circumstances of the complaint, it should not be determined by the Authority.2
 In the circumstances, the Authority considers it should not determine the complaints:
- Generally, the concerns raised in the complaints about Shortland Street and Everybody Hates Chris, relating to the use of te reo and issues with particular storylines of programmes, are matters of personal preference and editorial discretion, which are not capable of being addressed by the broadcasting standards complaints process.3
- In addition, we note the fictional portrayal of nurses and people who are not vaccinated was consistent with audience expectations of the programme and its storyline. The complaint concerns the complainant’s personal preference of what the storyline should have been. We would also note the portrayal of nurses reflects the reality of some healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.4
- Other concerns, such as a broad allegation of racism in Everybody Hates Chris, the use of innuendo, and the appropriateness of The Simpsons for children, have been dealt with by the Authority in recent decisions.5
- TVNZ provided substantive responses to each of the complaints.
- In the context of multiple complaints that have been adequately addressed by the broadcaster and in light of the particular comments (or lack of comments) referred to, we do not consider the concerns justify revisiting these issues.
For the above reasons the Authority has declined to determine these complaints.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
5 October 2022
The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1 Damon Mather’s formal complaint to TVNZ – 4 July 2022
2 TVNZ’s response to complaint – 2 August 2022
3 Mather’s referral to the Authority – 4 August 2022
Everybody Hates Chris
4 Mather’s formal complaint to TVNZ – 4 July 2022
5 TVNZ’s response to complaint – 2 August 2022
6 Mather’s referral to the Authority – 2 August 2022
7 Mather’s formal complaint to TVNZ – 4 July 2022
8 TVNZ’s response to complaint – 2 August 2022
9 Mather’s referral to the Authority – 4 August 2022
10 TVNZ’s confirmation of no further comments – 9 August 2022
1Attorney General of Samoa v TVWorks Ltd  NZHC 131,  NZAR 407 at 
2 Broadcasting Standards Authority | Te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho “Guidance: BSA power to decline to determine a complaint” <bsa.govt.nz>
3 As above; and KS and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2020-135
4 See “Covid-19: Hospital staff report increase in being spat on” RNZ (online ed, 2 April 2020); Libby Wilson “Nurses and mental health workers bear the brunt of assaults at Waikato DHB” Stuff (online ed, 7 March 2021); and Sarah Johnson “Spat at, abused, attacked: healthcare staff face rising violence during Covid” The Guardian (online ed, 7 June 2021)
5 For broad allegations of racism, see McKinley and Discovery NZ Ltd, Decision No. 2022-040; for use of innuendo see Carswell and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2022-037; and for the appropriateness of The Simpsons for children, see Zacharias and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2021-104