BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

O'Brien and Mediaworks - 2020-062 (28 September 2020)

Members
  • Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Paula Rose QSO
  • Susie Staley MNZM
  • Judge Bill Hastings
Dated
Complainant
  • Tony O’Brien
Number
2020-062
Programme
Newshub
Broadcaster
MediaWorks TV Ltd
Channel/Station
Three

Summary  

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

The Authority has not upheld a complaint that visually displaying the word ‘dickhead’ onscreen during a Newshub item breached the good taste and decency standard. The Authority considered that in the context of the item, which canvassed public opinion towards Simon Bridges, the visual depiction of the word ‘dickhead’ would not have caused widespread undue offence, or distress, and would not have undermined widely shared community values.

Not Upheld: Good Taste and Decency


The broadcast

[1]  An item on Newshub Live at 6pm included a report on the results of a Newshub-Reid Research Poll which asked participants to describe, using one word, the then-Leader of the National Party, Simon Bridges and the Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern.

[2]  The results of the poll were depicted visually in two word-clouds, one with a group of words describing the Prime Minister and the other, words describing Mr Bridges. The font size of the words in the word-clouds correlated to how common the response was, with the most common responses displayed in larger text and the least common responses in smaller text.

[3]  One of the words used to describe Mr Bridges was the word ‘dickhead’, which was displayed in the word-cloud in medium-sized text.

[4]  The item was broadcast during the 6pm news on 19 May 2020 on Three. In considering this complaint we have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

The complaint

[5]  The complaint was that the broadcast breached the good taste and decency standard of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice, on the grounds that the depiction of the word ‘dickhead’ was unnecessary as it is an ‘ugly, denigrating and indecent word’. The complainant submitted that ‘political debate should not be about this sort of undignified name calling’.  

The broadcaster’s response

[6]  MediaWorks did not find any breach of the good taste and decency standard, saying:

  • Newshub Live at 6pm is an unclassified news programme targeted at an adult audience.
  • News programmes often contain disturbing or confronting material.
  • The word ‘dickhead’ appeared in the ‘word-cloud’ but was not spoken or dwelled on by the reporter.
  • The inclusion of the word ‘dickhead’ as part of a graphic did not exceed the boundaries of the standard and was unlikely to be unacceptable to a significant number of viewers.
  • The Authority has previously determined that inclusion of the word ‘dickhead’ in a 6pm news bulletin did not breach this standard.1
  • The word ‘dickhead’ does not feature in the BSA’s 2018 Language That May Offend in Broadcasting research.2

The standard

[7]  The good taste and decency standard (Standard 1) 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 broadcasts that are likely to cause widespread undue offence or distress, or undermine widely shared community standards.3

Our analysis

[8]  In New Zealand we value the right to freedom of expression. Accordingly, when we consider a complaint that a broadcast has breached broadcasting standards, we weigh the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression against the level of actual or potential harm that might be caused by the broadcast.

[9]  In considering the level of harm in this case, we note that context is crucial to assessing whether a programme has breached the good taste and decency standard, including the context in which the material complained about occurred, and the wider context of the broadcast.4

[10]  In this case, we noted the following contextual factors as being relevant:

  • Newshub Live at 6pm is an unclassified news programme targeted at an adult audience.
  • The word ‘dickhead’ was visually depicted and was not spoken by the reporter.
  • The word was displayed briefly as one of many words featured in the ‘word-cloud’. It did not dominate the broadcast, and it was not the focus of the item.
  • The item as a whole, which canvassed public opinion towards Jacinda Ardern and Simon Bridges through the poll conducted, carried public interest. The visual depiction of the word complained about was relevant to this focus.

[11]  In this context, we do not consider the word exceeded audience expectations or would have unduly offended or distressed most viewers. As noted by the broadcaster, while the Authority’s research on Language that may Offend in Broadcasting,5 did not feature the word ‘dickhead’, the word ‘dick’ ranked 26th out of 31 words tested for offensiveness.

[12]  Accordingly, we are satisfied that the use of the word ‘dickhead’ did not threaten current community standards of good taste and decency in the context, or cause actual or potential harm that warrants restricting the right to freedom of expression. We therefore do not uphold the complaint.

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

 

Judge Bill Hastings

Chair

28 September 2020

 


Appendix

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

1  Mr O’Brien’s original complaint to MediaWorks – 23 June 2020

2  MediaWorks’ response to Mr O’Brien’s complaint – 18 June 2020

3  Mr O’Brien’s referral to the Authority – 24 June 2020

4  MediaWorks’ confirmation of no further comments – 24 June 2020

5  Mr O’Brien’s confirmation of intention to proceed under original standards raised – 30 August 2020 


1 Schwabe and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2011-041
2 Language That May Offend in Broadcasting (Broadcasting Standards Authority, June 2018), page 4
3 Commentary: Good Taste and Decency, Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 12
4 Guideline 1a
5 Language That May Offend in Broadcasting (Broadcasting Standards Authority, June 2018), page 6