BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Mould and Mediaworks TV Ltd - 2020-017 (29 June 2020)

Members
  • Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
  • Paula Rose QSO
  • Susie Staley MNZM
Dated
Complainant
  • Margaret Mould
Number
2020-017
Programme
The Project
Broadcaster
MediaWorks TV Ltd
Channel/Station
Three

Summary

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

The Authority did not uphold a complaint under the good taste and decency standard about a brief segment on The Project displaying an image of a scented candle developed by celebrity Gwyneth Paltrow. The complaint was that the name of the candle was disgusting and vile and unnecessary to report on. The Authority acknowledged that this content could have been better signposted for viewers, and some may have been surprised by it and found it distasteful. However reporting the name of the candle in itself did not threaten standards of good taste and decency at a level which warranted limiting freedom of expression, taking into account the wider context of the broadcast. The segment reported on a real product available for sale and the item viewed in its entirety was consistent with audience expectations of The Project and its typical style of presentation and humour.

Not Upheld: Good Taste and Decency


The broadcast

[1]  The first episode of The Project for 2020, broadcast at 7pm on 21 January 2020 on channel Three, began by briefly recapping events in the first 20 days of 2020. One part of this recap segment noted that Tom Hanks was evidently offended by some comments Ricky Gervais made while hosting the Golden Globe awards. The Project host Jeremy Corbett then said that Tom Hanks ‘may or may not have then gone home to relax with one of his fellow celebrity’s [Gwyneth Paltrow’s] range of scented candles – yes, engineered to smell like her own vagina’. A picture of the scented candle was shown, labelled, ‘This smells like my vagina’, along with an onscreen banner, ‘Essence of Gwyneth Paltrow’.

The complaint and the broadcaster’s response

[2]  The complainant argued that this segment breached the good taste and decency standard of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice1, on the grounds that:

  • ‘The name of the candle was disgusting vile... I just do not have the words to describe how I felt when I saw that segment. It nauseated me and still does. I immediately stopped watching the show and will not watch it again. …Your standards are not good if you think that we New Zealanders find that kind of thing entertaining.’ (in her original complaint to the broadcaster)
  • ‘Reporting on the name of an actress’ perfume… I thought it was not necessary to do that.’ (in her referral to the Authority)

[3]  MediaWorks did not uphold the complaint, saying:

We apologise for the offence this Broadcast caused for you, and we have flagged your concerns with The Project’s production team. However we do not agree that this broadcast breached Standard 1 and have found no grounds to uphold your complaint. We are satisfied that the content was in line with audience expectations for this programme.

The relevant standard

[4]  The good taste and decency standard (Standard 1) requires broadcasters to maintain current norms of good taste and decency consistent with the context of the programme and the wider context of the broadcast. Relevant contextual factors include the programme classification, time of broadcast, any audience advisories (including warnings), the target and likely audience, and audience expectations. This standard is usually considered in relation to offensive language, sexual material, nudity and violence, but may also apply to other material presented in a way that is likely to cause offence or distress.2

Our analysis and the outcome

[5]  In considering this complaint, the members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

[6]  When we consider any complaint about broadcasting standards, our starting point is to recognise the importance of the right to freedom of expression, including both the broadcaster’s right to offer ideas and information and the audience’s right to receive those. The value placed on this right in New Zealand, and the fact it is protected under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, means that we may only interfere and uphold a complaint where we find actual or potential harm caused by a broadcast at a level which justifies regulatory intervention and placing a reasonable limit on freedom of expression.

[7]  As we have noted above, context is crucial to our assessment of potential harm under the good taste and decency standard, including the context of the programme and the wider context of the broadcast. In this case, the members of the Authority acknowledged that the particular segment complained about and the reference to the name of the candle could have been better signposted, and that some viewers may have been surprised by it and found it distasteful.

[8]  However, the broadcasting standards Codebook recognises that:3

Attitudes towards taste and decency differ widely and continue to evolve in a diverse society such as ours. Caution must therefore be exercised when considering matters of taste. The feelings of the particularly sensitive cannot be allowed to dictate what can be broadcast. However, there are limits, and the broad limit is that a broadcast must not seriously violate community norms of taste and decency.

[9]  Overall, we did not consider that the segment reached the point of seriously violating community norms of taste and decency, taking into account the wider context of the broadcast. The key factors supporting this view were:

  • The Project is an unclassified news and current affairs programme (it is not required to carry a rating).
  • The Project is targeted at an adult audience.
  • There is an established audience expectation of the style of presentation and humour offered on The Project, notwithstanding that it airs in a traditional current affairs timeslot. It includes a mixture of news and entertainment, and frequent comedy and banter among the hosts (some of whom are well-known comedians, including Jeremy Corbett).
  • The candle segment was very brief in the context of the 3-minute item as a whole.
  • The item viewed in its entirety was consistent with audience expectations of The Project and the typical humour, for example the preceding story featured reported, ‘Meghan and Harry created the biggest Royal scandal since the Game of Thrones finale by ditching the Royal Family – “no, grandma, I won’t be picking up any more Corgi poo”.’
  • Although it would not be to everyone’s taste, the candle segment was also clearly intended to be humorous through commenting on the unusual title of the candle, and was met with some laughter.
  • The segment reported on the name of a real product that is available to purchase, developed by celebrity Gwyneth Paltrow.

[10]  In these circumstances, we do not uphold the complaint, on the basis we have not found actual or potential harm at a level which warrants limiting the right to freedom of expression. We wish to acknowledge that, although it did not reach the threshold for finding a breach of standards, the broadcaster has nevertheless apologised to the complainant for the offence caused by the item and passed on her concerns to The Project’s production team.

For the above reasons the Authority does not uphold the complaint.


Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

 

Judge Bill Hastings

Chair

29 June 2020   

 

 

Appendix

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

1.               Margaret Mould’s formal complaint – 21 January 2020

2.               MediaWorks’ decision on the complaint – 20 February 2020

3.               Ms Mould’s referral to the Authority – 20 February 2020

4.               MediaWorks’ confirmation of no further comment – 27 May 2020


1 The Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice was refreshed with effect from 1 May 2020. This complaint has been determined under the April 2016 version of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice as the relevant broadcast pre-dated the 1 May 2020 version.
2 Commentary: Good Taste and Decency, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 12
3 As above