BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Schwabe and Television New Zealand Ltd - 1999-163

Members
  • S R Maling (Chair)
  • R McLeod
  • L M Loates
  • J Withers
Dated
Complainant
  • Paul Schwabe
Number
1999-163
Programme
One Network News
Channel/Station
TV One

Summary

A man who emulated the lifestyle of the fictional Austin Powers character was the subject of a news report on TV One broadcast between 6.00–7.00pm on 11 July 1999. In that context, reference was made to the recently released Austin Powers film "The Spy Who Shagged Me".

Mr Schwabe complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that the word "shagged" was an offensive macho term which degraded women and was not acceptable during a family hour broadcast.

TVNZ acknowledged that the word "shagged" contained strong sexual innuendo, but argued that its level of offensiveness had been considerably moderated. It noted that the word was used only once during the item and that was in the context of the film’s title. It did not consider that that single reference breached any broadcasting standards.

Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s decision, Mr Schwabe referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

For the reasons given below, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Decision

The members of the Authority have viewed a tape of the item complained about and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. On this occasion, the Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

A news item broadcast on TV One on 11 July 1999 between 6.00–7.00pm reported that a young New Zealand man was such an admirer of the Austin Powers character that he had built a lifestyle around it. The report noted that the second Austin Powers film,"The Spy Who Shagged Me" was currently showing in cinemas throughout the country.

Mr Schwabe complained to TVNZ Ltd that the word "shagged" in the film’s title was offensive and inappropriate for broadcast during family viewing time. The word, he said, was an offensive macho term which degraded women. He suggested that should it be necessary to promote this "sick Austin Powers movie" in the future, TVNZ should refer to it as "Austin Powers 2", as – by his account – did the cinemas. He contended that the use of the word "shagged" in the item breached s.4(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989 and standards G2 and G12 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

TVNZ assessed the complaint under the standards nominated by Mr Schwabe.

Section 4(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act reads:

s.4(1) Every broadcaster is responsible for maintaining in its programmes and their presentation, standards which are consistent with –

The observance of good taste and decency

Standard G2 requires broadcasters:

G2  To take into consideration currently accepted norms of decency and taste in language and behaviour, bearing in mind the context in which any language or behaviour occurs.

The other standard reads:

G12  To be mindful of the effect any programme may have on children during their normally accepted viewing hours.

The complaint arose, TVNZ noted, out of an item about a young man who had built a lifestyle around the Austin Powers character, extending even to his open-topped car. In that context, the title of the Austin Powers film which is currently screening was referred to. TVNZ acknowledged that the word "shagged" contained sexual innuendo and that in the past it would have been considered a strong and offensive term. However, TVNZ argued that the level of offensiveness of the word "shagged" had been considerably moderated by its incorporation into the film’s title.

TVNZ disagreed with Mr Schwabe’s suggestion that it should promote the film as "Austin Powers 2", and provided copies from the entertainment pages of the newspaper which showed that the film’s full title was used in its publicity.

Turning to the complaint about the breach of good taste, TVNZ subsumed the s.4(1)(a) aspect under standard G2, on the basis that that standard set out in more detail how the matter of good taste and decency was to be approached. TVNZ argued that the key element was context. The word "shagged", it said, was not used as a term of sexual derogation but as an accurate description of the film’s title. It believed it would have been "unduly sanctimonious" had it declined to name the film on the basis of the word "shagged" in its title. Given that the film had been widely publicised and seen by thousands of cinema goers, TVNZ concluded that the naming of the film did not breach standard G2.

As far as standard G12 was concerned, TVNZ considered that as the title was widely publicised in newspapers, cinema billboards, and even on the back of city buses, the single reference to the film on One Network News did not breach the standard.

When he referred the complaint to the Authority, Mr Schwabe pointed out that the film had not been released under this title in some other countries. He reiterated that the item could easily have been presented without reference to the offensive word "shagged" by referring to the film as "Austin Powers 2".

Mr Schwabe took issue with TVNZ’s contention that by its use in the film’s title, the word "shagged" had gained respectability. He did not agree with TVNZ’s decision to subsume the statutory requirement of s.4(1)(a), and considered that it had adopted an "extreme interpretation" of standard G2. He said he was "entirely dissatisfied" with TVNZ’s response.

In its report to the Authority, TVNZ advised that it had no further comment to make.

The Authority interprets the good taste requirement of s.4(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989 in conjunction with standard G2 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice promulgated under s.4(1)(e) of the Act. The reference to a community standard of acceptability is fundamental to the application of this standard. The task for the Authority is to determine whether, in the context, the use of the word "shagged" exceeded norms of good taste and decency. In reaching its conclusion that no breach of the standard occurred on this occasion, it takes into account the fact that the word was not used gratuitously, that it was part of the actual title of a film which had already received wide publicity, and the reference itself was brief.

As for the complaint that standard G12 was breached, the Authority concludes that as the film had been widely publicised in all other media by its full title, TVNZ’s brief reference to it in a news item did not contravene the standard.

 

For the reasons set forth above, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Sam Maling
Chairperson
7 October 1999

Appendix

The following correspondence was received and considered when the Authority detemined this complaint:

1.    Paul Schwabe’s Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 23 July 1999

2.    TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 12 August 1999

3.    Mr Schwabe’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 21 August 1999

4.    TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 30 August 1999