BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Moir and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2021-016 (29 June 2021)

  • Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Paula Rose QSO
  • Susie Staley MNZM
  • Alan Moir

Warning: This decision contains language that some readers may find offensive


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

The Authority has not upheld a complaint about offensive language on the broadcast of the Best Foods Christmas Comedy Gala. Comedy is a valuable form of expression and entertainment and the broadcast was adequately signposted with a written and verbal warning, and clearly visible audience advisories at the end of each ad-break.

Not Upheld: Good Taste and Decency

The broadcast

[1]  At 8.30pm on 20 December 2020, TVNZ 2 broadcast a recording of the live comedy event, Best Foods Christmas Comedy Gala. The show was a series of stand-up comedy gigs featuring New Zealand comedians. The broadcast was certified 16L. The show contained coarse language, some examples of which follow:

[at 00:02:17]    ‘Fuckin waste of time…’

[at 00:11:00]    ‘Sorry to be a pain in the arsehole here…’

[at 00:23:23]    ‘I’ll tell you what’s not social distancing after lockdown, my fucking thighs.’

[at 00:39:21]    ‘Fuck myself to death? Well I’ll try yea, fuck myself to the day I fucking die.’

[at 00:51:42]    ‘Now look, I’ve been an arsehole to this guy right? He doesn’t even know I’ve been an arsehole to him.’

[at 01:15:59]    ‘Fuck cocaine man, I’m not going to pay four hundred dollars to be confident, in New Zealand.’

The complaint

[2]  The complainant argued that the broadcast breached the good taste and decency standard:

  • The words fuck and asshole were used multiple times throughout the show.
  • ‘This is meant to be a Christmas show…at this time of the year parents will allow their children to stay up a little later as school has finished. Some will have tuned into this programme.’

The broadcaster’s response

[3]  TVNZ did not uphold the complaint for the following reasons:

  • The show was certified 16L.
  • 16L programmes are permitted to screen at 8.30pm even during the school holidays.
  • The programme was preceded by a written and verbal warning.
  • The Best Foods Christmas Comedy Gala was not aimed at child viewers.
  • Sufficient information was provided to viewers so that they could make an informed decision about whether they wished to view such material or allow children in their care to view it.
  • The coarse language ‘is acceptable in the context of the 16L certificate and would be expected by viewers in the context of a stand-up comedy programme.’

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

Our analysis

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

[6]  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

[7]  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 in 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.

[8]  The relevant contextual factors considered include6:

  • The nature of the programme: The Best Foods Christmas Comedy Gala is a live comedy event featuring stand-up comedy gigs from New Zealand comedians.
  • The programme’s classification and scheduling: The show is classified 16L. 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.7 The L indicates the programme contains offensive language.8
  • Whether the programme was pre-recorded or live: The programme was a recording of a live show.
  • Audience expectations of the programme: The use of language was within general audience expectations of a comedy show airing at 8.30pm.9

[9]  Also relevant are the following factors:

  • A written warning appeared prior to the programme which stated: ‘This programme is rated 16. It contains frequent use of coarse language.’10
  • In conjunction with the written warning was the following verbal warning: ‘The following programme is classified 16. People under 16 years should not view.’11
  • The 16L warning appeared in the right hand corner of the screen at the end of each ad-break.12

[10]  We have referred to our 2018 research into community views about the acceptability of certain words being broadcast:13

  • The term ‘arsehole’ ranked low in overall unacceptability: 24 (out of 31) for words considered ‘totally unacceptable in all scenarios’.14
  • The term ‘fuck’ ranked 13 (out of 31) for words considered totally unacceptable in all scenarios.15

[11]  Comedy and satire are important and valued forms of expression and entertainment.16 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.17 Stand-up comedy shows are an important platform for comics to present their ideas, and to entertain. A high threshold is required to justify limiting each comic’s right to freedom of expression. We consider the content to be within what viewers could reasonably expect from a stand-up comedy show, particularly given the warnings provided. Those who did not wish to hear the relevant language could turn the programme off, as the complainant indicated he did. We are satisfied audience members had adequate information to allow them to make their own viewing choices.18

[12]  Given the above, the broadcast was unlikely to cause widespread undue offence or distress, or to undermine widely shared community standards. Any potential for harm was outweighed by the right to freedom of expression on this occasion.

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


Judge Bill Hastings


29 June 2021



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

1  Alan Moir complaint to TVNZ – 21 December 2020

2  TVNZ’s response to Mr Moir – 10 February 2021

3  Mr Moir’s referral to the Authority – 1 March 2021

4  TVNZ confirming no further comments – 16 April 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 Guideline 2a
8 Guideline 2g
9 Fransen and Discovery NZ Ltd, Decision No. 2020-122
10 Guideline 2c
11 Guideline 2c
12 Guideline 2c
13 Broadcasting Standards Authority (June 2018) “Language that May Offend in Broadcasting” <>
14 As above, at page 6
15 As above
16 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]
17 Young and TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2012-085 at [8]
18 Fransen and Discovery NZ Ltd, Decision No. 2020-122 at [13]