BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Slaney and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2011-107

Members
  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
  • Leigh Pearson
Dated
Complainant
  • Lynda Slaney
Number
2011-107
Programme
TVNZ News at 8pm
Channel/Station
TVNZ 7

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
TVNZ News at 8pm – newsreader used the phrase, “Christ that hurt” – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency standard

Findings
Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – viewers may have considered the comment mildly inappropriate in the context of a news programme – but was clearly intended to be humorous – within broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]  An item on TVNZ News at 8pm, broadcast on TVNZ 7 at 8pm on Tuesday 12 July 2011, reported on the birth of a 16-pound baby in Texas, named Ja. During the item, the newsreader commented, “Ja means, ‘Christ that hurt’.”

Complaint

[2]  Lynda Slaney made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the newsreader’s use of the word “Christ” to express his opinion was inappropriate and breached standards of good taste and decency.

Standards

[3]  Standard 1 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice is relevant to the determination of this complaint. It provides:

Standard 1 Good Taste and Decency

Broadcasters should observe standards of good taste and decency.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[4]  TVNZ contended that to constitute a breach of Standard 1, the broadcast material must be unacceptable in the context in which it was shown, including the programme’s classification, time of broadcast, the target audience, and the use of warnings. It noted that, on this occasion, TVNZ News at 8pm was aimed at an adult audience.

[5]  The broadcaster considered that the newsreader used the word “Christ” as a “mild exclamation” and that it was not intended to cause offence. It said, “Newsreaders routinely offer their personal opinions, particularly for items that are light-hearted. On this occasion the presenter’s comment was intended to be comedic.”

[6]  TVNZ also argued that this type of language was not considered offensive by the majority of New Zealanders. It noted that the Authority had previously pointed out that the phrase “Jesus Christ” was defined in the Concise Oxford Dictionary as a commonly used exclamation expressing irritation, dismay or surprise, and had declined to uphold a Standard 1 complaint about the use of the phrase in a promo.1

[7]  TVNZ concluded that the use of the word “Christ” on this occasion did not threaten current norms of good taste and decency in breach of Standard 1, and it declined to uphold the complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[8]  Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Ms Slaney referred her complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. She argued that the use of the word “Christ” was offensive to Christians and belittled their beliefs in breach of Standard 7 (discrimination and denigration).

Authority’s Determination

[9]  The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

Preliminary Matter

[10]  TVNZ assessed Ms Slaney’s complaint under Standard 1. In her referral, Ms Slaney raised Standard 7 (discrimination and denigration). The Authority’s task is to review the broadcaster’s decision. In our view, the complainant did not raise Standard 7, either implicitly or explicitly, in her original complaint, such that the broadcaster should have addressed that standard in its response. Accordingly, we do not have jurisdiction to consider Standard 7, and we have limited our determination to Standard 1.

Standard 1 (good taste and decency)

[11]  When we consider an alleged breach of good taste and decency, we take into account the context of the broadcast. On this occasion, the relevant contextual factors include:

  • TVNZ News at 8pm was an unclassified news programme
  • the comment was broadcast during children’s viewing times
  • the programme’s adult target audience.

[12]  While we accept that some viewers may have considered the newsreader’s comment mildly inappropriate in the context of a news programme, we are satisfied that the comment was not intended to cause offence. The newsreader was offering his own personal commentary on the subject matter of the item, in a manner that was intended to be humorous. In our view, this clearly falls within the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression, and did not threaten current norms of good taste and decency, taking into account the above contextual factors, in particular that the comment was broadcast as part of an unclassified news programme targeted at adults.

[13]  Accordingly, we decline to uphold the complaint that the newsreader’s comment breached Standard 1.

 

For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
18 October 2011

Appendix

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

1                  Lynda Slaney’s formal complaint – 13 July 2011

2                 TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 10 August 2011

3                 Ms Slaney’s referral to the Authority – 10 August 2011

4                 TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 1 September 2011


1See Swale and TVNZ, Decision No. 2003-098