Richards and Radio New Zealand Ltd - 2018-006 (28 March 2018)
- Peter Radich (Chair)
- Paula Rose QSO
- Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
- Wendy Palmer
ProgrammeGo Ahead Caller
BroadcasterRadio New Zealand Ltd
Channel/StationRadio New Zealand National
[This summary does not form part of the decision.]
An episode of the satirical series Go Ahead Caller, in which host Ken Oath ‘equates our majority government with those in some other countries where socialism failed’, featured a phone call from a fictional caller, who used the word ‘shit’. The Authority did not uphold a complaint that the broadcast and the use of this word breached the good taste and decency standard. The Authority found that the use of the word complained about was unlikely to cause widespread undue offence or distress, in the context of the broadcast. The Authority also found that, given the satirical nature of the programme and audience expectations, the broadcast did not threaten community norms of good taste and decency, or justify restricting freedom of expression.
Not Upheld: Good Taste and Decency
 An episode of the satirical series Go Ahead Caller, in which host Ken Oath ‘equates our majority government with those in some other countries where socialism failed’, featured a phone call from a fictional caller, who used the word ‘shit’.
 Josephine Richards complained that the use of this word was distasteful and that the broadcast as a whole was ‘disgusting’ and catered to the ‘lowest common denominator’.
 The issue raised in Ms Richards’ complaint is whether the broadcast breached the good taste and decency standard of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.
 The episode was broadcast on RNZ National at 3.45pm on 24 November 2017. The members of the Authority have listened to a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.
Did the broadcast threaten current norms of good taste and decency?
 The good taste and decency standard (Standard 1) aims to protect audience members from listening to and viewing broadcasts that are likely to cause widespread undue offence or distress, taking into account the context. 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 parties’ submissions
 Ms Richards submitted:
- The use of the word complained about during the broadcast was distasteful.
- The references to communism were also distasteful.
- The broadcaster should uphold a high standard of good taste and decency that does not lapse into a ‘coarse offensive unsavoury style’.
- The item as a whole was ‘disgusting’ and pandered to the ‘lowest common denominator’.
 RNZ submitted:
- The BSA's research into the acceptability of language used in broadcasting shows a low level of unacceptability in relation to the word ‘shit’, which was found to be ‘totally’ unacceptable by 11% of those surveyed, and ‘fairly’ unacceptable by a further 12% of respondents. In this sense the research shows a ‘clear tolerance’ for the use of this word.
- On this occasion, the word was used in a fleeting, humorous manner and it was not gratuitous.
- The word used was a relatively low-level example of strong language and unlikely to have caused significant widespread offence to the programme’s adult target audience.
 When we determine a complaint alleging a breach of broadcasting standards, we first give consideration to the right to freedom of expression. We weigh the value of the broadcast, as well as the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression, against the level of actual or potential harm that might be caused by the broadcast.
 In considering the level of actual or potential harm that might be caused, and the good taste and decency standard as a whole, context is highly relevant. Relevant contextual factors in this case include:
- Go Ahead Caller is a satirical series with an adult target audience.
- This episode was broadcast at 3.45pm.
- The word complained about was used only once in the broadcast.
- There is an audience expectation that, as a satirical programme, Go Ahead Caller will, at times, feature edgy or challenging humour.
 The Authority will only find a breach of this standard if we consider certain language violated currently held community norms of good taste and decency, to the extent that limiting the right to free speech is justified. While the word used in this case may not be everyone’s preferred choice of language, the right to freedom of expression allows individuals to express themselves in the way they choose, so long as standards are maintained. Satire and humour are important and valued parts of freedom of expression, and programmes of this kind will often contain words that may offend some people, for the purposes of comedic effect.
 Additionally, the Authority’s research into the acceptability of words in broadcasting found that only 11% of those surveyed considered the word ‘shit’ to be totally unacceptable in any broadcasting context, placing this word at the lower end of the scale of offensiveness.1
 With respect to the broadcast as a whole, taking into account the satirical nature of Go Ahead Caller and audience expectations, we do not consider the broadcast went beyond these expectations, or that it threatened community norms of good taste and decency.
 For these reasons, we find the broadcast did not reach the threshold necessary to breach the standard, or to justify limiting 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
28 March 2018
The correspondence listed below was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1 Josephine Richards’ formal complaint – 24 November 2017
2 RNZ’s response to the complaint – 12 December 2017
3 Ms Richards’ referral to the Authority – 2 January 2018
4 RNZ’s confirmation of no further comment – 13 February 2018
1 What Not to Swear: The Acceptability of Words in Broadcasting (Broadcasting Standards Authority, 2013) at page 9