BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Mullin and NZME Radio Ltd - 2020-106 (9 December 2020)

Members
  • Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Paula Rose QSO
  • Susie Staley MNZM
Dated
Complainant
  • Brian Mullin
Number
2020-106
Programme
Long Gone
Channel/Station
Newstalk ZB # 2

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

Summary

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

The Authority has not upheld a complaint about a broadcast of the song Long Gone by Six60, which included four instances of the line ‘Someday, when you give a fuck’, censored so the word ‘fuck’ was partially silenced. In the context, including the nature of the programme and intended audience, the Authority found the song was unlikely to have caused widespread undue offence or distress, or harm to children.

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


The broadcast

[1]  An edited version of the song Long Gone by Six60 was broadcast on Newstalk ZB at 9.55am on 25 July 2020. The song included four instances of the line, ‘Someday, when you give a fuck’, which were censored so the word ‘fuck’ was partially silenced. The initial ‘f’ consonant could still be heard.

The complaint

[2]  Brian Mullin complained the broadcast of the song breached the good taste and decency and children’s interests standards of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice, saying:

  • ‘My complaint is that such songs are totally incompatible with a Saturday morning broadcast.’
  • ‘I’m appalled that this language should be broadcast at that time of day (or any time of day on our family radio stations)…’
  • ‘[T]he words “when you give a f..k” were plain enough for all to hear insofar as the word f..k did have the ‘uck' deleted but ALL who heard it were under no illusion whatsoever what the word was because the F was heard quite distinctly.’
  • ‘[T]his gutter language might be ok in the “privacy" of a nightclub but I do think that the programme should face some sort of discipline for this blatant disregard of our standards.’

 The broadcaster’s response

[3]  NZME did not find any breach of broadcasting standards for the following reasons:

  • Newstalk ZB is an adult-targeted radio station for 30 to 64-year-olds.
  • Any children listening would likely be doing so under parental supervision.
  • No offensive language was broadcast (the expletive was censored).

The standards

[4]  The good taste and decency standard states that current norms of good taste and decency should be maintained, consistent with the context of the programme and the wider context of the broadcast. The purpose of the standard is to protect audience members from viewing or listening to broadcasts likely to cause widespread undue offence or distress, or undermine widely shared community standards.1

[5]  The children’s interests standard states broadcasters should ensure children can be protected from broadcasts which might adversely affect them. The standard focuses on harm that may be unique to children. Content that could be considered harmful to children may not be harmful or unexpected when considering the audience in general. Thus, the children’s interests standard may be more rigorous than the general good taste and decency standard.2

Our decision

[6]  We have listened to a recording of the broadcast and read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

[7]  We have also considered the important right to freedom of expression, which is our starting point. This includes the broadcaster’s right to offer a range of content and information and the audience’s right to receive and listen to that content. We may only intervene and uphold a complaint where the broadcast has caused actual or potential harm at a level that justifies placing a reasonable limit on the right to freedom of expression. For the reasons below, we have not found any such harm in this case and we have not found any breach of standards.

Good taste and decency

[8]  Context is crucial to assessing whether a programme breached the good taste and decency standard, including the context in which the material complained about occurred, and the wider context of the broadcast.2 In this case, the key contextual factors were:

  • Newstalk ZB is an adult-targeted radio station for 30 to 64-year-olds.
  • The song was broadcast at 9.55am on a Saturday, when children may have been listening (although they were not the target audience).
  • The expletive complained about was censored and not said in full.
  • The expletive occurred within the context of a song, as a form of artistic expression.

[9]  In light of the above factors, the broadcast of the song Lone Gone on Newstalk ZB, in a censored form, did not in our view undermine widely shared community standards. While listeners familiar with the word would have realised what was being said, the language was adequately censored in the broadcast so that others (including young children) would not have. The tone of the song was also upbeat and musical rather than aggressive or abusive. Finally, the Authority’s research into potentially offensive language suggests the level of acceptability of the word complained about is increasing, depending on the context.3

[10]  Accordingly, we do not uphold the complaint under the good taste and decency standard, as we have not found actual or potential harm to the general audience that outweighed the important right to freedom of expression.

Children’s interests

[11]  Context is equally important when assessing a complaint under the children’s interests standard.

[12]  Applying those same factors and for the same reasons outlined above, we found the broadcaster in this case adequately considered children’s interests by censoring the language complained about. In its censored form the song was unlikely to adversely affect any children who happened to be listening.

[13]  Therefore we also do not uphold the complaint under the children’s interests standard, on the basis no actual or potential harm has been caused to child listeners that justifies regulatory intervention.

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

  

Judge Bill Hastings

Chair

9 December 2020

 


Appendix

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

1  Brian Mullin’s original complaint – 25 July 2020

2  NZME’s decision on the complaint – 20 August 2020

3  Mr Mullin’s referral to the Authority – 21 August 2020        

4  NZME’s response to the referral – 16 September 2020

5  Mr Mullin’s final comments – 17 September 2020

6  NZME’s confirmation of no further comment – 30 September 2020


1 Commentary: Good Taste and Decency, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 12
2 Guideline 1a
3 Language That May Offend in Broadcasting, (Broadcasting Standards Authority, June 2018), page 22