BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Millar and Discovery NZ Ltd - 2021-064 (24 August 2021)

Members
  • Susie Staley MNZM (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Paula Rose QSO
Dated
Complainant
  • Monica Millar
Number
2021-064
Programme
New Zealand Today
Broadcaster
Discovery NZ Ltd
Channel/Station
Three

Summary  

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

The Authority has not upheld a complaint about a comment referring to a sex act during an episode of New Zealand Today, which the host and interviewee both laughed at. The programme was classified 16-LSC, preceded by a full-screen warning and screened at 9pm. Given audience expectations for the programme, the classification, the warning and the scheduling, the Authority found the comment would not cause widespread undue offence and audiences were able to make their own viewing choices. The remaining standards either did not apply or were not breached.

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


The broadcast

[1]  An episode of New Zealand Today, broadcast on Three at 9pm on 13 May 2021, had a segment covering boy racers in Christchurch. Host Guy Williams had the following conversation with one interviewee:

Williams:        I'm in Christchurch to infiltrate New Zealand's most infamous car culture and bring it down from the inside. I needed a ride, so I met up with [a] notorious underground Canterbury car dealer... This is unbelievable. What is this?

Interviewee:   Oh, it's my place. We've got a few cars out back.

Williams:        It looks like the parking lot to a fuckin’ AC/DC concert or something. You must have like a million dollars’ worth of cars here.

Interviewee:   Yeah, over that, but yeah.

Interviewee:   This is a Demio.

Williams:        This is, this is my favourite car for sure.

Interviewee:   Nobody wants to drive it though.

Williams:        Why does no one want to drive it?

Interviewee:   Well, one of my flatmates decided to anally fist a lovely lass in the backseat. Yeah so now nobody wants to drive it because apparently it's got fisting juices on the steering wheel.

[both laugh]

The complaint

[2]  Monica Millar complained about the comment ‘one of my flatmates decided to anally fist a lovely lass in the backseat…it’s got fisting juices on the steering wheel’:

  • She understood from advertising that ‘this was a show about boy racers in Christchurch’ and wasn’t expecting ‘a conversation about a “sexually violent” act that would be classed as “humour”.’
  • The comment was ‘hideous, repulsive and completely denigrating’. ‘It is completely offensive to women and borders on…acceptance of sexual violence’.
  • ‘To exclude this comment would have made no difference to the content of the programme and I believe it was added for the shock factor…’
  • ‘At 9:00pm on a Thursday evening there are plenty of children who would have seen or heard this, regardless of the rating provided we know that vulnerable children are left to their own devices.’
  • ‘The fact that the TV presenter found the comment amusing shows his poor taste.’

The broadcaster’s response

[3]  Discovery did not uphold the complaint, noting with regard to good taste and decency and children’s interests:

…viewers had ample information to make an informed viewing decision that reflected their own sensibilities… [there is] a very high level of audience awareness of the show’s nature and therefore a high level of expectation that it regularly contains challenging content…the brief reference to “anal fisting” might not be to everyone’s taste as a subject for comedy, but in the New Zealand Today context…this material was unlikely to have caused widespread undue offense or distress…

…there was sufficient information (16 classification, audience advisories L, S and C and a full-screen visual warning) in order for parents to make an informed viewing decision on behalf of their children…

[4]  It provided contextual factors supporting this:

  • The programme was classified 16-LSC, meaning it contained coarse language (L), sexual material (S) and content that may offend (C).
  • It was preceded by a full-screen visual warning: ‘16 - LSC This programme is 16.  It contains coarse language (L), sexual material (S) and content that may offend some people (C)’.
  • ‘The classification symbol 16 LSC was also shown on screen straight after the full-screen warning and after each commercial break.’
  • ‘It was broadcast at 9.03pm after 7 Days, which was classified 16-LC and well into adult viewing time.’
  • New Zealand Today is a local programme featuring Guy Williams who is known for his satirical and irreverent perspective on current events and popular culture.’
  • New Zealand Today is in its second season on Three. It targets adult viewers and there is a high level of expectation that it regularly contains challenging content for the amusement of its older target audience.’

[5]  Discovery also noted:

  • Violence: The broadcast did not contain violence in the sense intended by this standard.
  • Discrimination and denigration: The segment was ‘intended to be humorous and lighthearted rather than malicious’ and would not have breached the standard.

The relevant standard

[6]  We focused our consideration on the good taste and decency standard as that was most relevant to the substance of the complaint. We deal with the remaining standards below at paragraph [14].

[7]  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

Our analysis

[8]  We have watched the broadcast and read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

[9]  As a starting point, we considered the important right to freedom of expression. As we may only intervene when the limitation on the right to freedom of expression is reasonable and justified, we weigh the right to freedom of expression against any harm potentially caused by the broadcast.3

Good Taste and Decency

[10]  The standard’s purpose is not to prohibit challenging material, or material that people may find offensive. It is to ensure sufficient care is taken so that such material is played only in an appropriate context, and that the material is not so offensive that it is unacceptable regardless of context.4 The context in which the content occurs, and the wider context of the programme, are relevant to the assessment of a complaint under this standard.5 The question is whether this broadcast exceeded what the community would consider to be acceptable, in this context.

[11]  We note and acknowledge the complainant’s genuine concern and offence at the comment. However, in this case, the contextual factors mitigated the potential harm, including:6

  • The nature of the programme: New Zealand Today is a satirical news programme, hosted by comedian Guy Williams, taking ‘an irreverent trip around Aotearoa’.7
  • The programme’s classification and scheduling: The programme was classified 16LSC and screened at 9pm.
    • The 16 classification indicates programmes might contain stronger material outside the M classification, such as a greater degree of offensive language and stronger adult themes. Programmes classified 16 may be screened after 8.30pm.8
    • The L indicates the programme contains offensive language, S refers to sexual content and C indicates content which may offend some viewers.9
  • The use of audience advisories: A full-screen written warning appeared prior to the programme which stated: ‘This programme is 16. It contains coarse language (L), sexual material (S) and content that may offend (C).’
  • Audience expectations of the programme: The comment was within general audience expectations of a comedy show airing at 9pm.10

[12]  Comedy and satire are important and valued forms of expression and entertainment.11 We have recognised the use of humour as a valuable way to create awareness about social issues and diverse perceptions and to inject new ideas.12 Guy Williams and his comedic style are known to New Zealand audiences,13  and he has positioned himself as an ‘alternative’ commentator, often using ‘shock value’ in his at times unusual approach to comedy. This comment, while offensive to some viewers, was within audience expectations for the nature of the programme. In addition, the programme screened half an hour after the start of the period in which 16 classified programmes may screen and was preceded by an on-screen warning and appropriate labels. We are satisfied audience members had adequate information to allow them to make their own viewing choices.14

[13]  Therefore we do not uphold the complaint under good taste and decency.

The remaining standards

[14]  With reference to the same contextual factors listed in paragraph [11] we found the remaining standards were not breached:

  • Children’s Interests:15 given the rating (16-LSC) and the scheduling (9pm, outside of children’s normally accepted viewing times)16 of the programme, we found the broadcaster took sufficient steps to ensure children would be protected from a broadcast which may adversely affect them.
  • Violence:17 the comment did not suggest the act was non-consensual, and did not amount to a portrayal of violence as envisaged by the standard, which is designed to protect audiences from unduly disturbing violent content.18
  • Discrimination and Denigration:19 The complainant alleged the broadcast was ‘offensive to women'. The standard is designed protect sections of the community from verbal and other attacks.20 In our view the comment did not reach the threshold required by the standard,21 which is not intended to prevent the broadcast of material that is legitimate humour, drama or satire.22

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

  

Susie Staley
Acting Chair
24 August 2021

 

 

Appendix

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

1  Monica Millar’s complaint to Discovery – 15 May 2021

2  Discovery’s decision on the complaint – 15 June 2021

3  Ms Millar’s referral to the BSA – 15 June 2021

4  Discovery’s confirmation of no further comments – 23 June 2021


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 Commentary: Freedom of Expression, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 6
4 Cherry and MediaWorks Radio Ltd, Decision No. 2017-077 at [10]
5 Guideline 1a
6 Guideline 1a
7 NZ On Air (1 October 2020) “Don’t worry – there’s plenty to laugh about in 2021” <www.nzonair.govt.nz>
8 Guideline 2a
9 Guideline 2g
10 Fransen and Discovery NZ Ltd, Decision No. 2020-122
11 Taiuru and New Zealand Media and Entertainment, Decision No. 2015-045 at [7]. See also Cameron and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2017-011 at [11]
12 Young and TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2012-085 at [8]
13 Duncan Greive “Review: Guy Williams finally gets out from under Jono and Ben on NZ Today” The Spinoff (online ed, 23 August 2019)
14 Fransen and Discovery NZ Ltd, Decision No. 2020-122 at [13]
15 Standard 3 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice
16 Children’s normally accepted viewing times for free-to-air television are usually up until 8.30pm. See: Definitions, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 9
17 Standard 4 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice
18 Commentary: Violence, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 14
19 Standard 6 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice
20 Commentary: Discrimination and Denigration, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 16
21 Guideline 6b
22 Guideline 6c