McCaughan and MediaWorks TV Ltd - 2016-062 (2 December 2016)
- Peter Radich (Chair)
- Leigh Pearson
- Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
- Paula Rose QSO
- Dermott McCaughan
BroadcasterMediaWorks TV Ltd
[This summary does not form part of the decision.]
During three items on Newshub, interviewees used potentially offensive language, including ‘piece of piss’ and ‘shit’. The Authority did not uphold a complaint that multiple instances of allegedly ‘foul language’ during a news programme were unacceptable. The Authority emphasised that the expressions reflected the interviewee’s choice of language to convey their response to the issues discussed, and were not abusive or directed at any individual. The Authority recognised that in our diverse New Zealand society, people may communicate using different kinds of language, and this will usually be acceptable so long as standards are maintained. In the context of a news programme aimed at adults, and items which carried relatively high value in terms of public interest and freedom of expression, the Authority was satisfied that the language would be unlikely to cause widespread undue offence among the general audience.
Not Upheld: Good Taste and Decency
 A Newshub bulletin included three items which featured the use of potentially offensive language. The first item reported on the Labour Party’s plan to build 10,000 new houses per year, and featured an interview with the founder of a pre-fabricated house manufacturer. The interviewee used the phrase ‘piece of piss’.
 The second item reported that New Zealand could be in the midst of another ‘P epidemic’, and featured an interview with a Black Power gang member who works to stop his fellow gang members using the drug. He said, ‘I hate that shit,’ referring to the drug.
 The third item featured an interview with two long-serving Mongrel Mob gang members, who are publicly supporting a member of rival gang Black Power, who has been suspended from prison volunteer work due to his gang affiliations. The two gang members said:
- ‘It’s bullshit.’ (referring to the suspension of the rival gang member)
- ‘No... wouldn’t have a shit show.’ (in response to the reporter’s question, ‘Do you think he could do the work that he has been doing if he was a former Black Power member?’)
 Dermott McCaughan complained that the multiple instances of ‘foul language’ during a news programme were unacceptable.
 The issue is whether the broadcast breached the good taste and decency standard as set out in the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.
 The items were broadcast during the 6pm news on TV3 on 11 July 2016. 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 broadcast threaten current norms of good taste and decency?
 The good taste and decency standard (Standard 1) aims to protect audience members from viewing broadcasts that are likely to cause widespread undue offence or distress, taking into account the context of the broadcast.
The parties’ submissions
 Mr McCaughan considered the words were unacceptable during a ‘family viewing period’. He submitted that the broadcaster should have ‘bleeped out’ the expletives, as use of this technique would not have affected the news stories.
 MediaWorks submitted that this standard was not breached for the following reasons:
- Newshub is a news programme that screens at a scheduled time each day and has an adult target audience.
- News and current affairs programmes are unlikely to be viewed by unsupervised young children.
- The terms used were relatively low-level examples of strong language and unlikely to have caused significant widespread offence to the adult target audience.
- The Authority’s ‘What Not to Swear’ research shows a ‘clear tolerance’ for use of these terms in a factual context, particularly – as in this broadcast – when interviewees are expressing themselves in their own words.
 When we consider a complaint under the good taste and decency standard, we take into account the context of the broadcast, which here includes:
- Newshub is an unclassified news programme screened at 6pm each weekday
- Newshub is targeted at an adult audience
- the nature of news programmes, which frequently contain strong or adult material such as crime or violence. As such, the Authority recognises that children are unlikely to be watching these programmes unsupervised
- the language was used by the individuals interviewed during the items, rather than by the broadcaster
- the specific language used and the context in which it was said; the language did not form part of abuse or criticism directed at any person, but was the interviewees’ choice of language to get their message across
- the language used reflected the reality of some aspects of New Zealand society
- the relatively high public interest in the items subject to complaint
- the importance of the right to freedom of expression, including the right of the broadcaster, of the interviewees, and of the audience to receive the information broadcast.
 The Authority will only find a breach of this standard if we consider certain language violated currently held community norms of good taste and decency to the extent that limiting the right to free speech is justified. While words such as ‘piss’ and ‘shit’ may not be everyone’s preferred choice of language, the right to freedom of expression allows individuals to express themselves in the way they choose, so long as standards are maintained. In our view, audiences should accept that in a diverse society such as New Zealand, people may communicate differently. The expressions subject to complaint represented an authentic use of language by the interviewees featured in the items, to convey their response to the issues discussed.
 Additionally, the Authority’s ‘What Not to Swear’ research found that only between 9 and 12 percent of those surveyed considered the words ‘bullshit’, ‘shit’ and ‘piss’ to be totally unacceptable in any broadcasting context, placing these terms at the lower end of the scale of offensiveness.1
 In light of these factors, we consider the language used during Newshub did not reach the threshold necessary for finding a breach of the good taste and decency standard. Accordingly we do not uphold the complaint under Standard 1.
For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
2 December 2016
The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1 Dermott McCaughan’s formal complaint – 11 July 2016
2 MediaWorks’ response to the complaint – 5 August 2016
3 Mr McCaughan’s referral to the Authority – 12 August 2016
4 MediaWorks’ response to the Authority – 12 September 2016
5 Mr McCaughan’s final comments – 25 September 2016
1What Not to Swear: The Acceptability of Words in Broadcasting (Broadcasting Standards Authority, 2013) at 9