BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

McCaughan and Discovery NZ Ltd - 2020-165 (25 May 2021)

  • Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Paula Rose QSO
  • Susie Staley MNZM
  • Dermott McCaughan


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

The Authority did not uphold a complaint that the phrase ‘pissed off’ in the opening to a news item breached the good taste and decency and children’s interests standards. The phrase was unlikely to cause widespread undue offence or cause specific harm to a child audience.

Not Upheld: Good Taste and Decency, Children’s Interests

The broadcast

[1]  An item on Newshub Live at 6pm, broadcast on 9 October 2020, was introduced:

A Carterton mum says she's pissed off with ACC after they refused to fund a surgery scheduled for next week, then changed their minds 24 hours later.

The complaint

[2]  Mr McCaughan complained the use of the phrase 'pissed off' was unacceptable in a news programme and at a time children could be watching.

The broadcaster’s response

[3]  The broadcaster did not uphold Mr McCaughan’s complaint, responding:

  • Newshub Live at 6 pm has an adult target audience and is ‘unlikely to be watched by unsupervised young children who, given the choice, are more likely to watch programming directed at them screening on other channels’.
  • ‘The language used was directly quoting the young woman at the centre of the story and it was used to demonstrate the depth of her frustration and disappointment with ACC.’
  • ‘The phrase “pissed off” is considered to be at the mild end of the coarse language spectrum and is acceptable to screen in a parental guidance setting like the news.’
  • ‘…the phrase does not feature in the Broadcasting Standards Authority's 2018 research Language That May Offend in Broadcasting’.
  • In the context of reporting on a young woman's intense frustration, ‘paraphrasing her sentiment that she was “pissed off”…was unlikely to be unacceptable to a significant number of viewers’.

The standard

[4]  The good taste and decency standard1 states current norms of good taste and decency should be maintained, consistent with the context of the programme. The standard is intended to protect audiences from content likely to cause widespread undue offence or distress, or undermine widely shared community standards.2

[5]  The children’s interests standard3 requires broadcasters to ensure children are protected from broadcasts which might adversely affect them. Material likely to be considered under this standard includes violent content or themes, offensive language, social or domestic friction and dangerous, antisocial or illegal behaviour where such material is outside the expectations of the programme’s classification.4

Our analysis

[6]  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.

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

[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.5

[9]  We have previously found the words and phrases ‘piece of piss’,6 ‘pissing down’7 and ‘pissed off’8 do not breach the good taste and decency standard when aired during the PG (previously PGR) timeband and in children’s viewing times. In addition to these previous decisions, we also considered the following contextual factors:

  • The phrase was used once.
  • The language was not used in an aggressive or vitriolic way.
  • The language was not directed at an individual.
  • Newshub Live at 6pm 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.

[10]  The words ‘piss’ and ‘piss off’ were not tested in our 2018 Language That May Offend in Broadcasting research, due to their low ranking in our 2013 research.9 They were also not commonly raised by respondents when asked to identify ‘other unacceptable words’.10 This suggests the general level of unacceptability for the phrase is low.

[11]  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.

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


Judge Bill Hastings


25 May 2021



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

1  Dermott McCaughan’s formal complaint – 9 October 2020

2  MediaWorks’ response to the complaint – 5 November 2020

3  Mr McCaughan’s referral to the Authority – 27 November 2020

4  Discovery NZ’s confirmation of no further comments – 2 December 2020

1 Standard 1 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice
2 Commentary: Good Taste and Decency, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 12
3 Standard 3 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice
4 Guideline 3a
5 Guideline 1a
6 McCaughan and MediaWorks TV Ltd, Decision No. 2016-062
7 Jefferies and TVNZ Ltd, Decision No. 2020-081
8 Lockyer and TVNZ Ltd, Decision No. 2012-089
9 See Broadcasting Standards Authority (June 2018) “Language That May Offend in Broadcasting” <>, page 32
10 As above, page 13