BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Poll and Discovery NZ Ltd - 2020-175 (28 April 2021)

Members
  • Judge Bill Hastings (Chair)
  • Leigh Pearson
  • Paula Rose QSO
  • Susie Staley MNZM
Dated
Complainant
  • Maggie Poll
Number
2020-175
Broadcaster
Discovery NZ Ltd
Channel/Station
Three

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 that language used in Million Dollar Listing LA breached the good taste and decency and children’s interests standards. The programme was rated G and broadcast at 2.20pm on a Sunday. In the context, and given most of the words were censored and did not appear until the final five minutes of the 55-minute programme, overall it was unlikely to likely to cause widespread undue offence or distress, or undermine widely shared community standards. It was also unlikely to alarm or distress any children who were watching. The audible words did not go beyond what viewers would reasonably expect from the programme.

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


The broadcast

[1]  Million Dollar Listing LA is a reality TV show on Bravo following the lives of Los Angeles’ real estate brokers. This complaint relates to the language used in an episode broadcast at 2.20pm on Sunday 15 November 2020, rated G, which included (with timestamps indicating where it occurred in the programme):

  • [0:15:22] ‘Oh wow, look at that view, holy s***.’ (bleeped)
  • [0:36:33] ‘I don’t want camels, I don’t want any of that weird s***.’ (bleeped)
  • [0:51:25] ‘What the f*** (bleeped) are you doing here in my house?’
  • [0:51:28] ‘Get the f*** (bleeped) out of my office.’
  • [0:51:31] ‘You’re a lazy bitch.’
  • [0:51:35] ‘You’re full of s***.’ (bleeped)
  • [0:51:37] ‘If you talk s*** (bleeped) about me…’
  • [0:51:24] ‘At least I can be real about my s***.’ (bleeped)
  • [0:51:44] ‘The biggest full-of-s*** (bleeped) agent in Beverly Hills.’
  • [0:51:45] ‘F*** (bleeped) you.’
  • [0:55:14] ‘…seriously don’t say anything to piss them off.’

The complaint

[2]  Ms Poll complained the broadcast breached the good taste and decency standard and children’s interests standard on the basis the ‘swearing – some of which was bleeped out but not all like ”bitch” and ”piss off” was totally inappropriate for that time of day’.

The broadcaster’s response

[3]  Discovery NZ apologised to Ms Poll for the offence caused but did not uphold the complaint for the following reasons:

  • ‘The term “pissed off” is at the lower end of the offensive language scale’.
  • The term ‘bitch’ as it was used in this context (in a light-hearted tone between two men accompanied by a comedic punch soundtrack) is toward the lower end of the offensive language scale.
  • The terms were ‘unlikely to have caused widespread undue offence or distress to Million Dollar Listing LA’s regular audience.’
  • The programme is targeted at an adult audience.
  • Based on 2020 research, 95% of the Bravo audience for the relevant time period is aged 18 or over, and almost 90% is aged 30 or over.
  • Most of the offensive language was ‘well-bleeped’.

The standards

[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

[5]  The children’s interests standard3 requires broadcasters to enable children to be protected from broadcasts which might adversely affect them. Material likely to be considered under this standard includes violent content or themes, offensive language, social or domestic friction and dangerous, antisocial or illegal behaviour where such material is outside the expectations of the programme’s classification.4

Our analysis

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

[7]  As our starting point, we considered the right to freedom of expression. As we may only intervene when the limitation on the right to freedom of expression is reasonable and justified, it is important we weigh the right to freedom of expression against any harm potentially caused by the broadcast.5 In this case we have not found actual or potential harm at a level that justifies regulatory intervention or limiting the right to freedom of expression.

Good Taste and Decency

[8]  The context in which the language occurred and the wider context of the broadcast are relevant to assessing whether the programme has breached the good taste and decency standard.6 Relevant broader contextual factors in this case include:

  • The nature of the programme: Million Dollar Listing LA is a reality television series following real estate brokers in Los Angeles and the properties they list and sell. It features some outspoken and at times feisty personalities.
  • Classification and scheduling: The programme was classified G and broadcast at 2.20pm on Sunday.
  • The target and likely audience: Bravo TV is a television channel focused on offering reality television programmes targeted at an adult audience. The particular programme in this case is targeted at an adult audience and unlikely to appeal to most child viewers.
  • Audience expectations: This episode was the final in the particular series (season 11) of Million Dollar Listing LA. By that stage viewers were likely to be familiar with the relevant characters and the nature of the programme. The programme has been broadcast on more than one channel since it was first released in 2016. Several series in the programme are also available on demand.

[9]  Also relevant to our consideration are the following factors, relating to the language specifically:

  • The language did not dominate the broadcast. Except for two instances of ‘s***’ (bleeped), all of the language occurred more than 51 minutes into the programme. By that time, viewers would be familiar with the style of the programme and had ample opportunity to make a different viewing choice.
  • The worst of the potentially offensive language was sufficiently bleeped out so that the words were not heard in full.7
  • With respect to the words that were not censored, in the Authority’s 2018 Language That May Offend in Broadcasting research:
    • The word ‘bitch’ ranked 25th out of 31 in the list of most unacceptable words in broadcasting (45% of respondents found the word unacceptable in a reality TV context).8
    • The phrase ‘piss off’ was last tested in 2013 and not included in the 2018 research. In 2013 the phrase ranked 22nd out of 31 potentially offensive words tested (29% of respondents found the word unacceptable in a reality TV context).9  

[10]  We acknowledge the complainant’s concern, in that the programme had a G classification (indicating it was approved for general viewing) and was aired at a time when children may be watching. As the research shows, some people, including the complainant, may have found these two terms unacceptable.

[11]  However, taking the programme as a whole, we do not consider the content overall went beyond reasonable audience expectations of this programme, or was likely to unduly disturb or offend most viewers. Considering all of the factors outlined above, in particular the adequate censoring of the coarser language (almost all of which did not occur until the final five minutes of the 55-minute programme), the nature of the channel and the programme, and audience expectations, we do not find the broadcast was likely to cause widespread undue offence or distress, or undermine widely shared community standards. Any potential for harm is outweighed by the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression on this occasion.

[12]  Accordingly, we do not uphold the complaint under this standard.

Children’s Interests

[13]  The focus of this standard is on harm that may be unique to children, as content that could be considered harmful to children may not be harmful or unexpected when considering the audience in general (under the good taste and decency standard).

[14]  The contextual factors listed in paragraphs [8] and [9] above are equally relevant to our consideration of whether the broadcaster adequately considered children’s interests.10 For the same reasons discussed in relation to good taste and decency, we do not find the programme’s content overall was outside audience expectations of the programme,11 or likely to alarm or distress children. Upholding the complaint would unreasonably limit the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression on this occasion.

[15]  We therefore do not uphold the complaint under the children’s interests standard.

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

 

Judge Bill Hastings

Chair

28 April 2021


 

Appendix

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

1  Maggie Poll’s formal complaint to Discovery NZ – 27 November 2020

2  Discovery NZ’s decision on the complaint – 14 December 2020

3  Ms Poll’s referral to the Authority – 14 December 2020

4  Discovery NZ’s response to the referral – 18 December 2020

5  Ms Poll’s final comments – 5 February 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 Standard 3 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice
4 Guideline 3a
5 Freedom of Expression: Broadcasting Standards in New Zealand Codebook, page 6
6 Guideline 1a
7 Moffat and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2014-161 at [10]
8 Broadcasting Standards Authority (June 2018) ”Language that may offend in broadcasting” <www.bsa.govt.nz>, pages 6 and 25
9 Broadcasting Standards Authority (2013) ”What not to swear: the acceptability of words in broadcasting” <www.bsa.govt.nz>, pages 12 and 19
10 Guideline 3c
11 Guideline 3a